The Guardian
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Mohammed would support African exit from SKA


Professor Saidu Mohammed

Professor Saidu Mohammed

The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), is yet to come terms with Nigeria’s exclusion from the historic Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

However, Director General of the agency, Professor S.O. Mohammed, has signaled his support for the sympathetic exit of sub-Saharan states, should the rebuff continue.

Speaking on the matter at his Abuja office, Mohammed disclosed that the African Union had worked hard in support of South Africa’s bid to host the world’s largest
radio telescope.

He said: “I am proud we were able to work together, as Africans to bring SKA to this continent. But I must tell you, some politics has been introduced; It has long been known that in the field of astronomy, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria are the most active countries on the continent.

“So, some of us are surprised, and astonished, at Nigeria’s continued exclusion, while less advanced countries are partners. We have no explanation for it.”

SKA consists of several thousand radio receiving dishes and antennas which, when fully operational, will be the largest astronomical observing system ever and centred mainly in Australia and South Africa, the array will have units in 11 countries, with a combined signal collecting area of one square km—hence “SKA”.

China, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia vied to host the main sections. But in 2012, the U.K-based SKA Organization chose Australia and
South Africa.

According to the SKA Telescope website, New Zealand was to join Australia, with a share of South Africa’s largesse accruing to worthy sub-Saharan states. Augmenting the central South African complex, are stations in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia.

Muhammed complained that Nigeria remains conspicuously absent “despite several attempts, through various means, we’ve been unable to break through.”

Saying that the reason could be disputed, President, Astronomical Society of Nigeria, Professor Chidi E. Akujor, blames the Federal Government, adding that South African experts had identified three satellite dishes in Nigeria, which could be converted to radio telescopes. But no one has been released.

“The problem,” Akujor insisted, “is not whether South Africa will ‘allow’ us to be involved. It’s our failure to do the things we should do to get into SKA”.

Mohammed, on his part, considers Nigerians who hold such views “naïve” and “uninformed”.

“It’s not a matter of converting satellite dishes to telescopes,” he maintained. “South Africa is simply playing politics with SKA”.

Apparently corroborating NASRDA is the fact that most African participants have little experience in astronomy and that in 2015,
Mauritius had no large dish.

Mohammed postulated, that the Government would make all the required budgetary and logistical provisions, when Nigeria is officially designated
a partner.

Responding to The Guardian’s inquiry if the agency would be in accord with a sub-Saharan boycott of SKA, should South Africa persist in humiliating Nigeria, Mohammed said he could not tell any sovereign state, how to pursue its national interest.

“But if such a decision were taken, I would support it,” he stated.

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