WHO WILL SAVE NASRDA, NIGERIA’S NEWEST HOUSE OF SLEAZE?

President Muhammadu Buhari does not need a binocular to discover the tiny hands of some fat rats in the legislative and executive arms of government who have perfected the scientific looting of the Space Agency – the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA).

Already, the rot in the agency as a result of high-tech looting, scientific fraud, organized maladministration and favouritism are on all fours in the Abuja based Agency.

Investigations revealed that several billions of Naira and man-hours spent in launching Nigeria into Space through SAT- 1, SAT-2 and SAT-X have gone to the drains as all the satellites are gone through direct and indirect conspiracy of some Nigerians in the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology and the Agency.

NigeriaSat-2 and NigeriaSat-X which were launched in August 2011 and had a seven (7) years life span which expired in August 2018. Although the total cost of the project is still held in secrecy, about N6billion naira was released in 2009-2010 for the project.

NASRDA, established in 1999 whose authority was further strengthen by NASRDA Act, 2010 which had anticipated the monumental looting going on in the agency by putting clauses that would have halted the rot, but these was deliberately ignored.

Thanks Act recommended the establishment of 13-member National Space Council with the President and Vice President as Chairman and vice-Chairman respectfully because of the sensitive nature of the agency. It also has five (5) ministers and others as members of the Council.

Specifically, Section 27 of the Act states that; “The Agency shall submit to the council, not later than 31st July in each year, it’s programme of work and estimates of it’s income and expenditure for the following year.”

The Account of the Agency, according to the Act shall be audited not later than six months after the end of the year while the Agency shall prepare and submit to the Council not later than 30th June in each year, a report of the activities of the Agency, the audited accounts of the Agency and the auditors’ report for each year preceding the report.

According to the Act, “the Council shall meet, not later than four (4) times in a year, and the Council shall meet whenever it is summoned by the Chairman.

The Council, investigations revealed met once during the tenure or former President Goodluck Jonathan and yet to meet during this administration.

“The closest it has done was to appoint a toothless Council/Board. We are toying with Space Agency in this country and billions are being wasted. How can we plan for development?”, a concerned staff told this newspaper last week.

With the wordings and spirit of the Act is being fragrantly flouted, one major function of the Council, appointment of the DirectorGeneral(DG), and Chief Executive Officer(CEO) was often abused by the Minister of Science and Technology.

“Without the President’s approval, the tenure of Dr. S. O Mohammed was extended by a year from 30th June 2018 when his five year term expired to June 2019”.

Investigations revealed that to further continue with the looting in the agency, the Staff Nominal roll was tampered with at will to give advantage to those who could help the godfathers in the National Assembly and Executive arm sufficient advantage to mis-utilised funds allocated to the Agency.

Mr. Jonathan Angulu who allegedly had a 3rd Class degree in History was appointed last year (July 2019) to succeed Seidu Mohammed in Acting capacity even though his seniors are in the system. On May 15, 2020, Dr. Francis Chizea was appointed to act as DG again by-passing some of his seniors who are more professionally qualified..

Chizea’s appointment would have been manageable but for the fact that he is neither a scientist nor engineer. He was the Project Manager for the SAT 1, and the none utilised SAT2 and SAT X.

It was further gathered that the Ground Station for SAT 2 and SAT X never worked for a day despite the several billions of Naira spent on it. This was deliberate. It was gathered that while the NASRDA’s Data Policy made it compulsory to have the raw and processed data in Nigeria at the Ground Station, however without the Council’s approval the then Minister of Science and Technology, Okon Bassey and the then DG by-passed this and gave the overall downloading, processing, sale of the data to Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, UK. “We procured giant UPS batteries, generators, and broadband internet connectivity all in an effort to ensure that the Abuja Ground Station work, but it never did,” lamented a staff who sought anonymity.

Another honey pot for the looters is  the Assembly Integration Testing and Design Centre (AIT&DC). Government has spent over N6billion on this strategic department since the Agency started with about N2.3billion released between 2009 and 2013.Even with the release of N6billion, there is no laboratory. The building is now inhabited by snakes and rodents.

Investigations further revealed that rather than pursue the 13-point mandate of the agency, it’s leadership have been busy with projects not directly relevant to it’s objective. For example NASRDA has been busy executing petrol station, Perimeter fencing and Planitarium among others.

A dependable source within the Agency claimed that Chief Executive Officers engage in various violations such as contract splitting, viament , supply of souveniers, phantom fumigation and handing contracts to companies operated by proxies.

But why were these anomalies not detected during the oversight function of the Legislative arm of government? A source close to a former DG/CEO said both the legislators and Ministry of Science and Technology officials were involved in the sharing of funds budgeted for the agency and the scandalous employment racketeering in the Agency.

“Over 1000 staff were employed in the last six months doing nothing. No research projects on-going. Some of the young men and women claimed that their parents sold their lands and property to buys employment slots for them. Incidentally, majority of them are from National Assembly members and the Ministry with the DG employing over 40 per cent. Mind you, there was no interview for recruitment, employment papers are just being sold” a source within the Agency lamented. How are we sure that the certificates submitted the employees are not fake – printed at ‘UTC’ market.

Efforts to get reactions from the Senate Committee Chairperson on Science and Technology, her House of Representatives counterpart, Ministry of Science and Technology and NASRDA Acting DG proved abortive. An Agency whose Council is being headed by the President and the Vice-President and corruption are being perpetrated at very high level, without their knowledge need to be torchlight to know the involvement of the Ministry of Science and Technology in all these.

Bamidele Ogundana

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