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Public sector profligacy and Nigeria’s wasted multi-million-dollar satellite project

I didn’t write the article you are about to read. My friend, John Ogunlela, scientist of profound intellectual capacity did. John is a consummate reader and, although he is not in any school faculty, he is also a teacher. His picturesque rendition of science stories has made me understand a lot of stuff I hitherto considered alien t my arts-oriented intellect.
Unlike the thrill and excitement that hit me when I read John’s explorative space, physics and scientific agriculture stories, I almost cried reading this one.


These are truly alarming things going on in Nigeria, and I am talking just about NIGCOMSAT, particularly about NigComSat-1R, the country’s $300 million satellite hurtling about in space at this time – and for the past 10 years all to no purpose. 

The 5-ton satellite was launched in 2007 atop a Chinese Long March 3 rocket into a parking orbit over much of Africa. Parking orbit (or, geosynchronous or, geostationary orbit) satellites have the advantage of the ability to serve as observation posts, weather monitors and internet service providers. It will also serve well in communications although there will be a tiny lapse due to its high altitude of about 34,000km at both its highest and lowest points in the sky. But that is a given in geostationary orbits.

Now, can you imagine that satellite has been flying about since 2011 (the first satellite failed and was replaced as per insurance policy in 2011) doing nothing. No patronage. No patronage for a satellite that covers over 60 countries by virtue of its location in space. In any case, patronage landed on its laps a few years ago during the recent digitisation of broadcasting services in Nigeria. The satellite simply came handy, ready to serve. However, the federal authorities refused to use NigComSat-1R but instead went to sign deal with Eutelsat of Europe. Their reason is that unlike Eutelsat, NigComSat-1R has no backup facilities, in the words of Lai Mohammed, Minister for Information, from the standpoint of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, according to newspaper reports. The position of the Ministry not Communication is that the federal government will purchase two backup satellites at the cost of $550 million soon to serve NigComSat-1R, bringing the whole NigComSat project to $850 million.

This Frankenstein deal should simply be investigated by the National Assembly because of the unbelievable inconsistencies and possible fraud inherent therein apart from the vast losses the nation has incurred. Nearly a billion dollars on a single satellite project even without any hardware or field work! Without building a single vehicle or testing any launch system? Even at that, the whole project is desolate as we speak, the potential left latent and wasted.

How can the Ministry of Communications claim they want to procure a pair of backup satellites for $550 million dollars! The other time the US Ministry of Defence sampled prices from private companies for high altitude launches, Space X submitted a quote of around $32 million while ULA was on about $80 million for geosynchronous launches. Space X is cheaper because it operates reusable rockets. The cost of building the satellite proper cannot be more than $50 to 70million. This is not a defence satellite that needs elaborate frequency hopping and possible orbital changes. Comms satellites are not so expensive! You can easily reach a deal to pile that satellite in a batch and share a ride with other satellites being launched to reduce costs. The rocket will drop off each of the devices at the right location. Nigeria does not need to spend anything above $100m on the two back up satellites.

How can public assets and trust be wasted this way and nobody is even indicted? How can the managers of that satellite tell us they couldn’t get any country in the vast coverage area to buy transponders on the satellite? What unthinkable inefficiency!

And why not load our signals on NigComSat-1R, as is, backup or no backups just to make a good use of the satellite we spent $300m in putting to space? That device has a lifespan of 15 years which means it will deorbit and burn off just in 2026 – mere five years from now. Where is the due process office supervising the decisions that chose Eutelsat and how did the monies walk? These are issues all behind this matter must provide answers to.

How can public assets and trust be wasted this way and nobody is even indicted? How can the managers of that satellite tell us they couldn’t get any country in the vast coverage area to buy transponders on the satellite? What unthinkable inefficiency!

I believe our space policies are terribly mired in corruption and NIHCOMSAT should just be pulled from the socket at this time and sold. That place is a cesspool of rot, reeking with crass inefficiency. It should be sold and the workers all spilled into the labour market whole those responsible for this humongous waste should be sent to do time.


Ikem Okuhu is a journalist, a Public Relations professional, brand strategist and teacher. With a career that traversed Print Media, Oil & Gas, Banking and entrepreneurship, Ikem is the author of wave-making book; PITCH: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, a dispassionate exposition of the dos and don’ts of successful engagement in the marketplace, especially the Nigerian marketplace. He is the founder/publisher of BRANDish, Nigeria’s first nationally circulating Brands and Marketing magazine. He has also handled the PR and reputation management consultancies for a number of brands, businesses and public figures.

  • Aniekan Ezekiel

    Happy to meet another fan of John Ogunlela’s writings. Again, Mr Ogunlela brings up another out-of-public-glare area where Nigeria is doing one of the two things we know how to do better than any other country in the world – to waste things. The other is to mess things up. The thing that Nigeria cannot waste or mess up is yet to be created.

    We need more people like you and Mr Ogunlela shining the searchlight on these hidden areas in our national polity. It will help in no small way to reduce the high possibility that they’re being used to perpetrate corrupt endeavours because they’re usually not in public glare or don’t face the same public scrutiny as other areas.

    May 18, 2021 at 12:37 pm Reply
      • Chidiebere Nick Ugwoke

        Thank you Mr. Ogunlela for this brilliant piece. But I must confess, your revelations can make someone sad.

        May 18, 2021 at 7:31 pm Reply
  • Felix Oguejiofor Abugu

    This is just not right. Why do they run Nigeria like this? I mean, aren’t there people in government or out of it who love this country well enough to want to do things right for its sake?
    Obviously, there is nothing wrong with our NICOMSAT, backup or not. As Ogunlela (yes, the guy makes scientific stuffs read like good political prose), we could actually hook onto the satellite as it is. The problem is that those who would make the recommendation won’t have any kickbacks to share. And so we must hook onto to Eutelsat, willy nilly! That’s the way we are and it’s such a. mess.
    Permission to run this on AbeyaNews, please.

    May 18, 2021 at 1:21 pm Reply
  • Prof Tony Onyishi

    This is a startling revelation yet it’s not by any means strange in our clime. Bravo to Ogunlele for breaking down the ‘political technology’ in which high profile graft has always been shrouded, particularly in the so called scientifically and technically specialised sub-sectors of our economy. I think the National Assembly already has it’s “matter of urgent national importance” cut out for it upon resumption from Sallah break on 24th instan, QED.

    May 18, 2021 at 4:58 pm Reply

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