INVESTIGATION: How Nigeria’s Space Agency Officials Looted Over N300 Million ( Part 1)
In 2008, Turner Isoun, a former minister of science and technology, revealed that plans were underway to launch a Nigeria-made satellite by 2018 to take advantage of the country’s geographic location to launch into near-equatorial orbit.
We are now closing the first quarter of 2019 and Nigeria is not anywhere near that destination for a variety of reasons, not least a regime of serial fraud in the management of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).
NASRDA was established on 1 August 2001 with a primary objective of establishing a “fundamental policy for the development of space science and technology” in the country. But while Nigeria has made significant progress in space science and established several research centres across the country, technology development has remained a mirage 18 years after the establishment of the space agency.
But more scandalous is the discovery that space technology development has become the conduit for syphoning budgetary allocations to the agency.
This year, NASRDA has prepared a budget of N4.4 billion out of which N1.8 billion would go to capital projects. Two of the major items to be financed under capital projects are the yearly upgrade of its ground station and equipping its satellite design and manufacturing centre.
But as with previous years, releases for the capital projects may end up in private pockets unless the National Assembly performs its oversight diligently-which has not been the case in the past.
This is what lawmakers found out during the defense of NASRDA budget last month when huge discrepancies were noticed in the budget items and allocations.
The lawmakers were shocked by the number of inconsistencies noticed in the 2019 budget and the inability of the agency to justify execution of 2018 budget, and promptly asked the Director General of the agency, Dr Seidu Mohammed, to go back and put the budget in order.
THE WHISTLER investigations found that NASRDA’s budgets over the years have always included regular sub-heads that are used to steal public funds.
For instance, in the 2017 budget, the sum of N400 million was appropriated for the purchase of laboratory equipment and machinery for the agency’s satellite design and manufacturing Centre. But the agency claimed only N10.6 million was released to it.
But our checks show that no equipment was purchased from the budget release, instead the agency carried it over to the 2018 budget.
Also, and curiously, the sum of N400 million was allocated in the same 2017 budget another item titled “Upgrading NASRDA Ground Segment” out of which N241.4 million was released. This amounted to about 60 percent of the appropriation.
But THE WHISTLER’s investigations also found no evidence of any work done or purchases made for the year. Instead, the item was repeated in 2018 budget and found its way again into the 2019 appropriation.
A senior official of the agency who pleaded anonymity, corroborated THE WHISTLER’s findings, adding that such “stealing had been going on for long.”
THE WHISTLER contacted Jonathan Angulu, Director of Procurement of the agency to explain whereabouts of the money released for these capital projects in the 2017 budget but got no response. He also failed to reply to text messages sent to his phone.
The Head, Media and Corporate Affairs of NASRDA, Felix Ale, was also contacted to shed light on development in the agency. He asked to be given time to verify the allegations and promised to get back to the reporter. But he never did. He also stopped to pick the reporter’s calls and refused to reply text messages.