SpaceUp Unconference In Time of Recession By Greg Odogwu
Because of the current economic situation in the country, there is a strong temptation to stop looking far into the future; to stop aspiring for greatness; and to stop having dreams of a national glory. This scenario was poignantly brought to my attention recently as I watched a morning interview session on one of the country’s popular television channels.
The theme of the discussion was how to navigate the country out of its current recession, and the guest, a Nigerian with international experience on development consultancy. At a point in the interview, he began to talk about Nigeria’s potential greatness and how we should be more daring in developing infrastructure and the citizens’ capacity. He mentioned something about space research.
That was when one of the interviewers interjected, in the following (paraphrased) words, “Should we be talking about space in this period when our immediate need is to feed the citizens?”
This statement gave me sudden goose pimples. I do not know if there was any relationship between the scenario and the sense of déjà vu that came over me. But I suddenly found myself travel back in time to those days our ancestors were given common house utensils in exchange for their brothers and sisters as slaves.
I still struggle to find the link; but for the sake of this article, I can hazard that Nigeria is now so “hungry” that we can sell our own flesh and blood to feed. Was it not ominous that the government is now talking about selling our national assets? Perhaps, I had that déjà vu feeling because of what was about to come upon us.
Believe it or not, selling our national assets is not far from selling ourselves into slavery. In those days, the buyers never advised our forefathers not to sell, nor appealed to their conscience (after all, they were mostly very religious people), because they desperately needed those boys, girls, men and women for their plantations.
Today, the potential buyers of our national assets – and their Nigerian middlemen – are already salivating because they need these cheap assets to build their vainglorious castles. They will never advise Nigerians not to sell our property just to feed!
These are indeed dark days for our country. But we must not keep looking downwards. Let us look up for a change. Let us see what can save Nigeria: Human potential. Let us consciously and vehemently disperse the scepticism that would naturally come when the issue of Nigerian space industry comes up.
Recently, the Ministrer of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, announced to the world that Nigeria planned to send an astronaut into space by 2030, as part of our drive to develop a world-class space industry. There was also a time in the past when a former boss of the National Space Research and Development Agency, Prof. Robert Boroffice, announced that Nigeria would be able to build indigenous satellites in the country without foreign assistance by 20I8.
The questions are, is the current recession potent enough to kill these dreams? The answer is no. Can we rule Africa’s space industry? Yes, we can.
But we cannot achieve anything with empty words. We must take sensible, practical steps towards that. This is why the first ever SpaceUp Africa Unconference, organised by Nigerians, and scheduled to take place in Nigeria around February 20I7 is very relevant at this time in our national experience.
SpaceUp is an open-attendance space exploration unconference where participants discuss the new space industry, how to get more people excited about space, and the future direction of key space entities like NASA, JAXA, etc. SpaceUp, which started in USA in 20I0 at the San Diego Air and Space Museum, has already spread like wildfire around the world: from America, to Europe to Asia; but has never taken place in Africa.
It is already in the pipeline, so this article is to encourage the organisers never to give up no matter the obstacles they encounter.
Space is the way to go, because it impacts on almost all the sectors, especially the environment. It will be interesting to note that it was through space exploration that the hole in the ozone layer was first discovered. What is more, without space technology, the battle against climate change and global warming would never have commenced.
Nigeria needs space technology now more than any other time in its history. There are two reasons for this. The first is the tremors being experienced in some parts of the country now, and the earthquake warnings experts have been giving us in these past days, which we cannot afford to overlook. Remote sensing technology is needed to tackle this head on.
Secondly, our educational sector is dwindling rapidly, and it is a situation we cannot wish away. Just this Monday, UNESCO, in its Global Education Monitoring Report gave a damning report on Nigeria’s education system. The report says that Nigeria may not achieve sustainable education, as per the SDGs, by 2030. The experts suggested that we might be looking towards 2070 to achieve it!
The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, responded that we must not allow this prognosis to come true; and that we would improve access to education especially for the unschooled.
I would love to ask the minister what strategies he recommends for his optimistic view. Sometimes, it is safer to be hard with ourselves and tell us the truth. Then, we brainstorm knowing that we face a brick wall – either swim or drown; which is better than having all the hope and unfounded faith, and then still hit the brick wall head-on, and suffer fatal concussion.
Satellite technology has proved to be the quickest way for distant learning and to attract the unschooled. I witnessed firsthand this truth.
Earlier this year, I was in Ghana for a renewable energy conference. My partners took me to see a particular educational project that one of their experts co-managed. It was about getting unschooled children into the school system by utilizing distance learning via satellite. The satellite infrastructure and the school technical set-up were powered with solar energy.
A particular head teacher we met in a local government area called Dodowa wowed us with statistics of the positive impact from the programme. She narrated how local children who dropped out of school because of peculiar learning difficulties were lured back and reignited with specialised virtual teaching methods presented via satellite. The programme already had more than 70 centres in Ghana, and the whole idea was giving access to the unschooled at the rural level. This is what I call strategy.
Before I digress, let us look at some of the promises of the planned SpaceUp Africa as stated by the organisers. “SUA shall explore the launch of more Satellites beyond the two assets that Nigeria has in space, so as to acquire a more robust Data Value Chain, generate valuable Infographics and scientific patterns, resulting in better shaping our Predictive Analytics. This can help drive mitigation plans to forestall such cases and phenomenon as earthquake occurrences.
“It will drive the discussion of Observatories and their powerful contributions to space information and the study of heavenly bodies. It will lend robust scientific understanding and mapping of how much municipal waste Nigeria generates, therefore via this how much carbon dioxide (GHGs) we produce. How best waste can be managed so we don’t poison land, ground water and ecosystem/marine life.”
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