[ABUJA] As Nigeria celebrates the launch of its latest satellite, the government space agency has been accused of mismanaging an existing satellite.
Critics say the Nigerian earth observation satellite, NigeriaSat-1 ― built at a cost of US$13 million and launched into orbit in 2003 ― has failed to observe and prevent major disasters in Nigeria.
These include the Bellview Airlines plane crash near Lagos in 2005 and oil pipeline vandalism in Abulegba that killed 300 people in 2006.
Critics point to problems that arose after the launch at the Mission Control Ground Centre in Abuja, and hold the director general of the National Space Research and Development Agency, Robert Boroffice, responsible.
In 2004, Boroffice sacked the director of the centre, Solomon Adeniran. Shortly after, five engineers who manned the ground station were reported by Boroffice to the ministry of justice for stealing laptops containing operational software for the satellite. The engineers were sacked and six later left.
One of the sacked engineers ― who chose to remain anonymous ― denies stealing the software, and says Boroffice wrote to the ministry of justice accusing them of planning to crash NigeriaSat-1.
Boroffice hired new engineers, but these staff are not trained to the same level of the previous engineers, who had trained at Surrey Satellite Technologies Ltd in the United Kingdom.
The anonymous engineer said that the new engineers were "inexperienced and mediocre".
He said only four Surrey-trained engineers remain and that those manning the centre are merely reading data from mission centres of other satellites in the same area as NigeriaSat-1.
When contacted by SciDev.Net, Solomon Adeniran said he believed that all was not well at the centre.
He also expressed scepticism about the recently launched Nigeria Communication Satellite, NIGCOMSAT-1 (see Satellite launches boost African communications), saying he was unsure about the quality of equipment and staff, and management of its infrastructure.
Boroffice said that talk about the ground station not working is "rubbish''.
He said 11 engineers had left the centre "because they were impatient with our pace of progress'' while the remaining four are part of those undergoing training at Surrey for the building and launch of NigeriaSat-2.
He added that the engineers who had left pretended to be going abroad for further studies and though he was not interested in retaining them, he contacted the ministry of justice out of due process.