When the Nigerian Communication Satellite company, NigComSat, was incorporated in 2006, the government had ambitious plans to make it world-class. The country’s excitement overflowed the following year with the launch of Sub-Saharan Africa’s first geostationary communication satellite. By April, it will be 14 years since the journey started, but NigComSat’s scorecard remains unsatisfactory.
Domiciled under the Federal Ministry of Communications, its activities are expected to revolutionise information and communication technology in Nigeria, as well as improve national security, broadcast, internet access, and e-governance. Its services are also crucial in the health, education, and extractive sectors.
NigComSat’s vision is to be “the leading satellite operator and service provider in Africa” by exploiting the commercial viability of the country’s communication satellite(s) for its socio-economic benefits. But that has not happened as the company continues to take from what little revenue is generated by the government rather than add to it.
This is more worrisome considering that the satellite under its control, NigComSat-1R, which was launched in 2011 has a lifespan of 15 years, out of which only six is left. And it is estimated that every year, digital mobile operators and telecommunications companies in Nigeria, spend over $2 billion in getting satellite services from foreign providers.
Isa Ali Pantami, who was appointed Minister of Communications and Digital Economy in August, appears to be especially concerned about the state of affairs at NigComSat.
A month after he assumed office, he directed the agency to get an International Standard Organisation (ISO) certification.
That same week, at its strategic retreat, the minister said the only reason there have been arguments on whether to privatise or further commercialise the agency is because it is admittedly not “very viable”.
In December, new governing board members and executive directors were appointed for the company.
It is not only Pantami who is worried. The chairman, House Committee on ICT, Abubakar Lado Suleija, lamented during a visit to NigComSat’s Abuja headquarters last November that its potentials to generate revenue and create jobs have not been realised as we have in other countries.
Zero profits despite huge allocations
It did not take long for the NigComSat project to be described by telecoms experts as a debacle and “white elephant in space”.
It was so described in 2008 when NigComSat-1, the originally launched Chinese-built satellite which cost $340 million (then N40 billion), and was later shut down due to erratic power supply.
Indeed, relevant statistics show that NigComSat continues to fail to live up to expectations.
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