Save science and technology

The overpowering outcry over the recent removal of Dr Ahmad Halilu Shaba as Director-General of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) and the appointment of a Professor of Banking and Finance as DG of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), is not one that is likely to die down soon. 

The actions are not just in violation of the NASRDA Act 2010 and the Raw Materials Development Council Act, but are capable of setting Nigeria’s research and development of space science and technology back by decades. It is a test case for President Bola Tinubu’s capability for caution and constitutionalism.

The NASRDA is one of the most powerful parastatals under the Federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology and was established on May 5, 1999 to pursue the development and application of space science and technology for the socioeconomic benefits of the nation. With 3,500 staff strength, it is mandated to implement policies and coordinate, implement and monitor space activities. It is overseen by the National Space Council Chaired by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

According to Section 14 (1) of the NASRDA Act 2010, the director-general shall be appointed by the president on the recommendation of the National Space Council subject to confirmation by the Senate. This makes it a statutory appointment while section 14 (4) of the same Act further provides that, “the director-general shall hold office for a term of five years in the first instance and may be eligible for another term of five years and no more.”

Appointed in April 2021, Dr Shaba spent just three years and four months in the post before he was arbitrarily removed in May 2024. It is strongly suspected that Mr. President was misled to believe that the tenure of Dr. Shaba has expired since the tenures of his counterparts in the RMRDC and that of NOTAP had expired.

Dr. Halilu Shaba stood out as one of the few chief executives of MDAs who diligently pursued productivity and positive results.

The appointment of the director general of the agency been a tenured appointment guaranteed by the NASRDA Act 2010, even though the Act is silent as to how the DG can be removed, section 4 (2) (a) and (b) empowers the president as vhairman of the Council to remove members on grounds provided in the said section. Furthermore, the president may only remove the director-general if he/she commits any infraction or misconduct. Dr Shaba was never charged with committing any infraction nor was any query or disciplinary action ever taken against him to justify or warrant his removal.

The sacking of Dr. Shaba and appointment of the new director-general is shrouded in mystery as he was not given a letter of disengagement as DG nor did the council which is saddled with the responsibility of recommending to the president persons to be appointed as DG subject to confirmation by the Senate sat to deliberate on such matter. This is a flagrant violation of the NASRDA Act. Also noteworthy is the fact that the director-general is the secretary to the Space Council which the president chairs.

The bizarre way the Senate committee on science swiftly invited and screened the nominee even though all clearances were not completed as was the due process left so much to be desired. The issue of the removal and appointment of the director-general of NASRDA and appointment of new Director-General of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council became an issue of heated debate on the floor of the National Assembly that a committee was constituted to investigate the matter. 

However, news reports indicate that the investigation has since been scuttled as the committee scheduled public hearings twice on the issue and all parties involved refused to turn up yet no sanction was taken against them. However, we still believe in the integrity of our honourable members as we await to see the sanctions to be taken for refusing to honour the invitation.

While the Senate Committee on Science swiftly invited and screened the new DG even though all the processes were not concluded, the House of Representatives that came up as the last hope of the aggrieved parties subsequently toed the same path as the Senate. Mr. President is known for his astute stand on the application and adherence to the principle of justice and rule of law, thus this cannot stand.

One wonders how a director-general of such an agency would be appointed without any credible news outlet reporting it. How did Mr. Ajuri Ngelale who is always quick to announce appointments made by the president miss this?

Section 14 (3a-d) of the Act defines the functions of the director-general as (a) implement the policy and programmes of the agency (b) carry-out the day-day administration of the agency (c) coordinate the activities of its centres (d) supervise the activities of its directors and (e) report to the Council through the Minister. Section 21 of the Act stipulates that the Directors of the Agency may be removed from the Council only on the recommendation of the Minister and “after due process has been followed.”

It is unfortunate that honest Nigerians never survive when given mantle of leadership. Dr Ahmad Halilu Shaba, a seasoned scholar and technocrat with over 21 years post-doctoral research work in the field of remote sensing and extensive knowledge in space technology management and safety was even denied the right of due process or fair-hearing. Beyond the breach of the law, his arbitrary axing may derail or at best delay the nation’s steady progress in space science and technology development.

Evidence abounds that Dr. Shaba extensively used his education, experience and youthful energy to take the space sector to the next level. With a PhD in Remote Sensing, Masters in Remote Sensing Technology and Bachelor’s degree in Geography and after serving as Deputy DG for three years, as Cartographer at the National Population Commission, lecturer at Federal University of Technology Minna and Deputy Director at the National Emergency Management Agency, he brought all requirements of the job to the table.

In just three years, Shaba transformed the National Space Research and Development Agency into one of the most advanced centres in Africa with four satellites acclaimed for their high resolution images. This is why it hosts one of the UN-SPIDER Regional Support Offices in Africa. This unit is mandated to promote and support the use of space technology within and outside of Nigeria for the management of the full disaster circle including prevention and mitigation.

Under Dr. Shaba’s watch, the agency also acquired a Cosmic X-Ray Detector, the first of its kind by any African country. This great stride showed that the agency is poised to help the government achieve on the sustainable development goals (SDGs) agenda through space technology. X-ray detectors are devices used to measure the flux, spatial distribution, spectrum and other properties of X-rays. The Cosmic X-Ray Detector otherwise called the NUON detector is very important for a country like Nigeria because it is used for the monitoring of cosmic rays and space weather. A cosmic-ray observatory is a scientific installation built to detect the high energy particles coming from space called Cosmic Rays and this typically includes protons and some heavy nuclei, as well as antimatter particles. This facility has also successfully aided the NASRDA to cooperate in space technology projects with the United Kingdom, China, Ukraine and Russia.

Similarly, following a call by then President Muhammadu Buhari to explore and exploit collaboration with the private sector, the NASRDA launched a Space Museum and Planetarium approved by Federal Executive Council on November 1 2022. The N3.5 billion Public/Private Partnership project is designed for education and entertainment on space science. When fully operational, the centre will create 200 jobs and provide opportunities for learning experience in science and technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Director-General’s engagement with the private sector is today transforming the landscape of the nation’s space economy and contributing to its economic growth and technological advancement by driving innovations and progress and creating multi-million Naira businesses. The agency has also succeeded in harnessing the collective expertise of the nation’s engineers through the incredible opportunities offered by the Dr. Shaba-led management of the NASRDA.

Indeed, prior to his appointment, the NASRDA was a business-as-usual agency where anything goes. It was severally in the news for all the bad reasons ranging from corruption and job racketeering to inefficiency. Many critics viewed it as a bureaucracy that added no value to the achievement of sustainable development goals. Today, the issue of job racketeering is a thing of the past and the agency’s budgetary allocations are being channelled to acquire equipment and build infrastructure necessary for the nation’s technological advancement and growth.

Sustainable development, defined as advancement that satisfies the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy theirs, was a major mandate given to Dr. Shaba for his first term. His operational mantra was that sustainable developments must combine three main elements: Fairness, protection of the environment and economic efficiency. He used his basic knowledge of space technology innovations for sustainable development. This involved three key approaches: addressing the basic needs of the country through capacity-building; promoting innovations which can lead to sustainable economic growth and job creation; and promoting global and regional cooperation for better management of global and national challenges.

Thus, the NASRDA under Dr. Shaba was poised to further technological growth not only in Nigeria but on a global scale. His achievements in less than four years have not only greatly contributed to the progression and reputation of Nigeria in the space science world but also advanced the field of space science and technology in the country. His constant advocacy has also led many universities to consider including astronomy studies in their curricula for technological advancement.

Nigerians believe that President Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda needs to be anchored on the building of strong institutions. The preferred path to achieve this is to adhere strictly to the rule of law and to protect patriotic and performing public servants from haphazard dismissal. This is the best way to achieve and consolidate significant progress and sustainable development as a nation.

Ms Philomena Wase,

Jos, Plateau state