Dr. Halilu Shaba Ahmad is the Director-General, National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).
In this exclusive interview with Francis Kadiri and Mohammmed Bilal, the Remote Sensing Expert says the agency is fulfilling its mandate in line with global best practices, stating that the current management is committed to research and development, noting that although remarkable success was recorded in the area of funding, but the fall of the Naira to Dollar has submerged the desire to acquire equipment in space research.
Ahmad said NASRDA is working to drive Nigeria’s quest for advancement in space technology.
How important is space technology in the current scheme of things?
The satellite came in after the Second World War in preparation for the third World War. The satellite technology was originally a military strategy. This is because you need communication to win the war. You also need communication to do propaganda and to identify the strength and location of the enemy. As such, it was a military technology.
But because a lot of people are going to use it to the disadvantage of those who have no satellite, the Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space demanded that the satellite technology should be made available to civilians because it is the civilians who use the technology more than the military.
If it was restricted to the military, it was going to be a restricted technology. So, in order to liberalize space science and technology, it was extended to the public and you now have citizenry participation in satellite administration.
If it was not important from the onset, it would not have been a military technology.
A major strength of the satellite technology is that it is not a device that the enemy can bring down. So, while it takes cognizance of the location and activities of the enemy, the enemy remains unaware of the fact that they are being watched and monitored.
The satellite technology also tells you what the enemy has, their weapons and so on. It also gives you information about the terrain you are about to get into. So, space technology is very instrumental in the planning and execution of military campaigns and reinforcements. It is also used to block attacks and to identify strategic positions.
GPS and the internet are all space technology. Space technology has actually been degraded for civilian use. The military grade is able to reveal the precise location of who you may want to attack, and then you can send a missile there.
How is Nigeria deploying space technology to address security challenges?
Nigeria is still developing and yet, the satellite technology has been deployed to some extent. For example, a train was attacked in Kaduna, and the public was able to see the location through a satellite image. It provided a lot of useful information.
There is a need for the establishment of a special police that is trained specifically for train protection. Then there should be special training and simulation for them to know the terrain. There should be something that familiarizes them with the terrain so that they would know where to turn to when a problem arises along a route. You cannot know the terrain without a satellite image. So, we are doing our best and we are working on more research and development in order to maximize our potential.
How about the military, are they also deploying space technology to combat insecurity?
I would not say that the military is not using space technology. The point is that there are a lot of limitations. When it comes to security information, there are serious limitations to what you can share, and it is in the interest of the public.
Security information and strategies are not for public consumption. This is a welcomed policy because security strategies must be kept secret. It is not wise for a nation to publicly discuss its security information. For this reason, the military should not divulge the progress they are making, therefore we may not be able to adequately appreciate the effort of the military to address Nigeria’s security issues. But I assure you that they are doing their best.
There may be other limitations and they are working with relevant authorities to address the challenges.
To what extent would you say that NASRDA is delivering its mandate?
As a space research institution, NASRDA is achieving its set goals in line with global best practices. For example, as an institution, we can tell you how Sambisa looks like, and the extent to which it has changed. This is one of the products of our research.
We have also studied Lake Chad. Many years ago, Nigerians were moving into Lake Chad. Again there are ungoverned spaces and we are monitoring them. The government wants to know the ungoverned spaces so that it can reach out to them. Information could be available from the civilian to the military, but do not expect that military security information will be made available to the civilian public.
We generate information, but it is people-driven because we concentrate on what people need at this particular time. NASRDA is making a lot of engagements in this regard and we are succeeding.
What is your rating of Nigeria in terms of modern policing?
When you compare Nigeria to some other countries, you will agree that in some countries, you have what it takes to trace somebody to his hometown and even to his bedroom. Although Nigeria is not yet at that stage, the country is making progress to get to that stage. In advanced space technology, information is cascaded even to his bedroom. So criminals who change location are easily tracked and apprehended using technology.
In Nigeria, policing is difficult because we have not been able to modernize. In modern policing, space technology helps you expose even criminals who are hiding and who have changed location because there is information about every space. With modern policing, you can trace somebody to his town, his house and even his bedroom. Unfortunately, this type of policing is difficult to carry out in Nigeria because we have not modernized to the requisite space technology.
Modern policing has information about everybody and every space in the country. This means every house is captured in their database of space. If you don’t have this technology, you may not be able to police effectively.
Bandits are in the forests but you cannot track where they are going to even when you can view them. Satellite imaging should be able to tell you because it gives you the pattern. What this means is that through satellite imaging, you can gather information about the movement of a fleeing bandit for a month, you will be able to understand his pattern of movement and predict his movement. You can also understand why he moves to the particular places at a particular time.
How about the Defence Space Administration, what are they doing about security?
I believe they are also doing a lot to secure the country, but like I said, in the military, security information is not for public consumption.
What solutions so you propose to address the challenge?
There should be greater synergy between the various security agencies and institutions like NASRDA. Although we all work in different ways, we are working toward the same goal of securing the country. There is the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the military and other security agencies. I think we all need to work together, share relevant information and achieve set goals.
What are your short terms goals in office as Director General of NASRDA?
My short terms goal is to see that NASRDA regains its status as a standard space agency with all the facilities for research in place. We need to focus on research. We are refocusing our agenda, we have decided to strictly pursue and fulfill our mandate, which is space research and development.
What is the level of funding available for the realization of set goals?
Space research is capital intensive. There is improvement in budgetary funding of the agency. Unfortunately, it is not adequate because the Naira to Dollar exchange rate has become very high and there is nothing to write home about when you convert available fund to Dollar.
In addition to being a sensitive issue of national security, the capital intensive nature of space research is handled by only state actors. Space matters are handled by governments, not individuals and it is very expensive.