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Nigeria’s space research agency defends employment of staff without scientific or technical skills


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Space Research and Development Agency, NASRDA, had defended the recruitment of candidates with religion degrees as full-time staff.

NARSDA image-maker, Felix Ale who spoke to The ICIR, said  employing young Nigerians at the space centre irrespective of their educational discipline is not a problem if it addresses the issues of unemployment in the country.

He made this comment against the background of the comment made recently by Senator Ajayi Boroffice, the deputy Senate majority leader.

Boroface made a shocking revelation at its last annual national conference on space science and technology organised by the  Space Research and Development Agency, NASRDA on June 2020.

At the event held in Abuja, Senator Boroffice said the space agency had engaged in actions, he described as “misemployment” by employing graduates of religious studies and other unrelated courses as support staff constituting 80 per cent of its workforce.

“How can you be taking people with religious studies in the space centre? It is misemployment when the support staff constitute about 80 per cent of the workforce. It is wrong.

“I also learnt that the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC is around, scrutinising employment documents, I heard employment at the space centre is earned for between N2 million to N2.5 million. It is sad,” he said.

Borroffice who was the pioneer Director-General of NASRDA said the agency needs scientists to make up 70 per cent of the workforce for efficiency.

Ogbonnaya Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology who was also at the event corroborated Senator Boroffice allegations stating the Federal Government was determined to correct the mistakes already made.

“I will like to assure the deputy majority leader of the Senate that we agree with you about the mistakes that were made here,” he said.

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NASRDA had pitched an ambitious goal in 2016, to send a Nigerian trained astronaut to space, locally design and build a satellite that would be launched from a spaceport in Nigeria by 2030.

The space agency is saddled with the responsibility of providing disaster and environmental monitoring, scientific research support, and security intelligence for the country.

Four years after, the short term goals of the space agency still appear bleak. The ICIR  found that the affairs of NARSDA which is burdened by misplaced priorities as a majority of its staff are not skilled in space science.

Seidu Mohammed, former Director-General of NASRDA in an interview with CNN in 2016 revealed that NASRDA staff strength was 2,000 employees. The number of scientists with PhD degrees at the time was 70, while 50 employees of the agency were studying for advanced degrees.

Checks made by The ICIR revealed that in 2016, NASRDA spent N1.44 billion ($2.9 million) on personnel costs comprising of salaries and allowances of staff, including office running costs while ₦777.75 million ($2.04 million) was utilised on its capital projects.

This indicates that 58.7 per cent of NARSDA’S total spending for 2016 had been on salaries and allowances of its staff and the daily running cost of agency for which over 80 per cent of its staff were not specialised space engineers and scientists.

NASRDA spent 46 per cent of its total allocation of ₦2.22 billion in 2016 on salaries compared to the South Africa National Space Agency, SANSA, which spent 92.8 per cent of its total budget which is pegged at R1.11 billion rand ($73.9 million) on its capital projects.

However, SANSA spent R96.08 million ($6.5 million) which is 7.17 per cent of its total budget on workers salaries and allowances in 2016 whose staff strength was 183.

The turnover profits of the South African space agency for 2016 was R110.4 million ($7.6 million) while its Nigerian counterpart did not record any profit for the same year, despite its large employee strength.

Between 2012 and 2018, NARSDA had been appropriated a total of N12.6 billion of which N9.05 billion was released by the Federal Government for NARSDA to carry out its capital projects and cater to the salaries and allowances of its staff with more than 50 per cent of its revenue on personnel costs.

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Infographic

Nigeria ranks joint third in Africa, alongside Algeria among the 11 elite African countries with satellites in space with six satellites after South Africa boasting of 8 satellites and Egypt with nine satellites.

The only functional satellite owned by Nigeria is the NigComSat-1R launched in 2011, however, the Nigeria Communications Commission, NCC, says the satellite contributes  0.2 per cent to Nigeria’s internet connectivity.

Despite the operations of NigComSat-1R, telecommunications companies in Nigeria still spend over $2 billion annually in getting satellite services from foreign providers.

But when The ICIR contacted Ale, NARSDA’s media and communication officer to ascertain the exact number of staff currently working at the space agency, he said he had no approval from the Director-General to disclose the numerical strength of NARSDA staff.

“I need to get approval from the DG to disclose that information to you, I can’t just release it to you,” he said in a phone conversation.

The benchmark recommended by the European Space Agency specifies that 80 per cent of the vacancies at a space agency be reserved for individuals with a scientific or technical background.

The Algerian Space Agency currently boasts of 1,200 specialised technical staff comprising of space engineers and scientists, exceeding its 2020 target of 600 indigenous scientists and space engineers working at the agency.

South African space agency currently has a staff of 187 employees, the Libyan Center for Remote Sensing and Space Science which is responsible for Libya’s space exploration activities has 300 employees, Ethiopia’s space agency has 400 employees and Ghana’s space agency has a staff strength of 20 employees.

However, Nigeria’s satellite in space is expected to improve its national security, internet access, and broadcast services and boost the country’s revenue but the reverse has been the case.

NARSDA defence

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According to Ale, employing young Nigerians at the space centre irrespective of their educational discipline is not a problem if it addresses the issues of unemployment in the country.

“On the issue of unemployment in the country, I think we need to fine-tune a strategy to engage the youths so when you have an establishment like (NARSDA) there should be a platform for everybody to operate.

“If we have an organisation like this and cannot provide employment for our youths who are wallowing in the streets without jobs then we should ask ourselves questions? he said.

He acknowledged that the problem is not the creation of employment at the space centre for Nigerians without the requisite scientific or technical skill but the performance of the agency.

“We should try to pity our young school leavers that have graduated for years without jobs and not hide under the guise that some particular agency is for a specialised discipline. Are they not Nigerians? I think we should find a way of addressing the challenges of these people because that is the only way we can make progress in this country,” he said.

Ale continued, “In China, most of the staff at their space agency don’t have university degrees so the excuse that NARSDA should employ people with only technical skills does not hold water. NARSDA performance should be the question we should be asking,” he said

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