Technology turf war: Shittu to lose NIGCOMSAT, NITDA, Galaxy Backbone

9 December 2016

Telecoms

Technology Times has just learnt that Barrister Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications is to lose three Federal Government technology agencies to Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, his Ministry of Science and Technology counterpart amid protracted turf battle between the two Ministers over supervision of the agencies.

The two Ministers have been locked in protracted turf battles over supervision of three Federal Government technology agencies, Nigeria Communication Satellite Company Limited (NIGCOMSAT), National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and Galaxy Backbone Limited, prompting President Muhammadu Buhari to set up a committee headed by Vice President, Professor Yomi Osinbajo, to recommend ways to resolve the logjam.

Technology Times can confirm exclusively that following the following the latest twist in the controversy, Shittu, Minister of Communications has lost control of the troika, NIGCOMSAT, NITDA and Galaxy Backbone, to Onu, the Minister of Science and Technology.

The space research agency, NASDRA, further alleged that the nation’s NIGCOMSAT-1R has gulped about N40 billion of National Budget of Nigeria between 2009 and 2016, but only generated “a paltry N200 million in that same period.”

That is the position of the law on the matter, according to Nigeria’s top law officer, Mr Abubakar Malami, Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Nigeria, who has advised the Presidency against the continued supervision of the three technology agencies of Federal Government by the Shittu-led Communications Ministry.

NITDA, which is the Federal Government agency responsible for information technology (IT) policy implementation for Nigeria also regulates that IT industry and also champions local content in the IT sector through its unit, the Office of National Content (ONC); NITDA’s cousin, Galaxy Backbone Limited, the information and communications technology (ICT) services provider company wholly owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria, functions as the technology services provider of choice to Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) while NIGCOMSAT, which owns and manages Nigeria’s communication satellite systems including the NigComSat 1R in orbit, will now be headed by a new Federal boss, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu and current Minister of Science and Technology, if the Presidency adopts the Attorney General’s recommendations.

In a 15-page letter to the VP by by Nigeria’s chief law officer sighted by Technology Times, Malami opined that the provisions of existing legislation support that the Science and Technology Ministry should supervise the three technology agencies in dispute between Shittu and Onu.

According to Malami, “it will be illogical to allow NIGCOMSAT Ltd to remain under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Communication that is lacking in technological component.”

Malami expressed this opinion after what he cited as tracing the circumstances that saw the satellite agency coming under the purview of its current supervisory Ministry saying that he came to the conclusion based on the letters of the law setting up NIGCOMSAT and “notwithstanding the Circular transferring NIGCOMSAT Ltd to the former Ministry (sic) Communication Technology.

According to him, bringing back NIGCOMSAT to the Science and Technology Ministry, will also strengthens the ability of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), currently supervised by Onu’s Ministry as “the sole space agency of the Federal Government and all ancillary matters related thereto.”

NASRDA, which insisted that NIGCOMSAT should be under the Science and Technology Ministry and operates a parallel Centre for Satellite Technology Development (CSTD) also faulted the business model of the Nigerian satellite services company.

NASDRA told the VP’s Committee that NIGCOMSAT is allegedly grossly underperforming with underutilized capacity of only 10%.

The Attorney General of The Federation and Minister of Justice argued that while the government has wide powers to reshuffle its agencies or corporation, he advised that such powers are not exercised “with flagrant violation of the law” as government directives through circular do not override “an Act of Parliament.”

According to NASDRA, with the current arrangements in the country where two separate space agencies exist, “Nigeria is the only nation in the world with two space agencies.

The space research agency, NASDRA, further alleged that the nation’s NIGCOMSAT-1R has gulped about N40 billion of National Budget of Nigeria between 2009 and 2016, but only generated “a paltry N200 million in that same period.”

NIGCOMSAT’s satellite assets and capabilities remains grossly underutilised under the current Federal Ministry of Communications “as a result of lack of requisite technological wherewithal to harness the full potentials of space exploration and utilization, which can only be accessed at NASRDA”, the research agency alleged.

The space research agency claimed that it also bears financial burden arising out of the nation’s satellite foray due to the “inability of NIGCOMSAT Ltd to pay back the $200 million China Nexim Bank loan since 2005, which is being serviced by NASRDA.”

The Attorney General says that not only NIGCOMSAT should be brought under Onu, but also NITDA and Galaxy Backbone for what he cites as these three factors: synergy, effective utilization and supervision.

“Hence, in order to fully utilize and harness the potentials of space exploration, it is the strong recommendation of this Ministry that NIGCOMSAT Ltd should be relocated to NASRDA, which is under the Ministry of Science and Technology”, Malami told the Presidency.

“In the same vein, NITDA and Galaxy Backbone PLC should be relocated to the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology for synergy and effective utilization and supervision as enshrined in the Act”, the Attorney General said.

He also said that “From a logical historical perspective NASRDA was established in 1999 under the Ministry of Science & Technology. NIGCOMSAT Ltd was incorporated with the Corporate Affairs Commission by NASRDA to provide commercial communications satellite services in 2006.”

The Attorney General of The Federation and Minister of Justice argued that while the government has wide powers to reshuffle its agencies or corporation, he advised that such powers are not exercised “with flagrant violation of the law” as government directives through circular do not override “an Act of Parliament.”

Source: Technology Times 7 December 2016