In 2008, after the failure of Nigeria’s first satellite, NigComSat 1, the Nigerian Communications Satellite (NIGCOMSAT) Limited faced severe criticism from Nigerians and the global community regarding Nigeria’s attempts to venture into space. The ambitious project, led by Ahmed Timasaniyu Rufai, aimed to take Nigeria to space and establish a communications satellite covering Africa, Europe and parts of Asia.
The details of how Rufai managed the project then remain a mystery, but he worked closely with his superiors at the Ministry of Science and Technology. The project was funded by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) through the China Export/Import Bank. Nigeria’s goal was to provide comprehensive satellite coverage for communication purposes.
However, just a few months after its launch, the satellite was de-orbited, with the management citing solar array failure as the reason for its failure, rather than a complete failure. Before the launch, Nigeria had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with CGWIC, entrusting them with the management of the satellite for two years before transitioning it to Nigeria’s control. The satellite’s cost was estimated at $250 million, with Nigeria contributing $50 million as counterpart funding, while China’s EXIM Bank covered the remaining $200 million.
When the satellite failed under Chinese management in less than a few months, Nigeria did not suffer any financial losses, but its reputation took a hit. To redeem itself, on December 19, 2011, Nigeria successfully launched a replacement satellite named ‘NigComSat 1R’ in Xichang, China. The Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) broadcasted the launch, countering doubts cast by Nigerians about the authenticity of the first satellite’s launch.
‘NigComSat-1R’ was the fourth in-orbit delivery contract signed by China Space with its international customers. The launch adhered to the NigComSat-1R Contract signed between the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited (NIGCOMSAT Ltd.) and the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The ‘NigComSat-1R’ spacecraft was built on the Dong Fang Hong 4 (DFH-4) satellite bus, developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and launched using the LM-3B launch vehicle, developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle (CALT).
NIGCOMSAT stated that the China Satellite Launch Tracking and Control General (CLTC) provided tracking, control and ground segment support for the programme. ‘NigComSat-1R’ was the eighth satellite built on the DFH-4 bus for in-orbit delivery and marked the 18th flight of the LM-3B launch vehicle, making it the 154th flight in the long March launchers series.
“The project was carried out in conjunction with over 50 NIGCOMSAT engineers who spent nearly 31 months in China,” according to NIGCOMSAT.
The satellite, designed to have a service lifespan of over 15 years, was intended to meet the telecommunications, maritime, defence and broadcast media needs of Africa, particularly Nigeria, Europe and Asia. It boasted 28 active transponders and a quad-band of Ku, Ka, C-Band and L-band.
Nigeria’s ground stations, located in Abuja and Kashi, China, participated fully in the launch. The managing director of NIGCOMSAT Limited, Timasaniyu Ahmed-Rufai, expressed his excitement, stating, “This is mission fulfilled.” Several top government officials, including the ministers of Communications Technology and Science and Technology, witnessed the launch, along with members of the Senate Committee on Communication, House of Representatives members and executives from LASACO Insurance Plc.
Following the successful satellite launch, the then Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs. Omobola Johnson emphasised the significance of technology in societal growth, stating, “Technology has become the vehicle for the growth of every society; therefore, it is important that Nigeria gets her own satellite.”
This was December 19, 2011.
‘NigComSat 1R’ has been in operation for eleven years, but the story does not end there. Since 2014, the organization has undergone several management changes, facing challenges related to undue government control that significantly impacted its operations. However, NIGCOMSAT is now on the rise again.
Earlier this week, the African Union of Broadcasting (AUB) commended NIGCOMSAT for its quality satellite services. Interestingly, it was the NTA, which broadcasted the 2011 launch, that initiated this commendation. During a visit to NIGCOMSAT in Abuja, the director-general of the AUB, Mr. Salihu Dembos expressed his pride in NIGCOMSAT’s performance.
“We have migrated to NIGCOMSAT and I can attest and tell you without any doubt that the service rendered by NIGCOMSAT is one of the best in the history of NTA,” Salihu said. He further highlighted the delegation’s purpose of interacting with NIGCOMSAT’s management and leveraging the company’s availability and capabilities, as it is considered the pride of Africa.
The AUB delegation visited Abuja for the 14th Ordinary Session of the General Assembly of the AUB, which focused on “The Impact and Challenges of African Broadcasting in the Digital Transformation of the World.” The AUB, formerly known as the Union of National Radios and Televisions of Africa (URTNA), was established on October 30, 2006, during its general assembly in Abuja. The organisation’s role is to promote and empower Africans through quality radio and TV programs.
The managing director of NIGCOMSAT, Tukur Lawal emphasised the need to prioritise development in the digital space and generate sufficient resources to sustain operations through the use of pictures and videos. Lawal highlighted that NIGCOMSAT’s DTH platform provided more than 50 channels and delivered various media content to customers’ homes, including free-to-air, free-to-view, and Pay TV channels, as well as video-on-demand services.
The group head of the satellite broadcasting and broadband company at NIGCOMSAT, Nnaemego Obior explained that the NIGCOMSAT satellite was well-suited for broadcasting services, covering a wide geographical area. It was also the most cost-effective means of delivering broadcast signals to homes. NIGCOMSAT had invested in both ground and space segments to provide an affordable end-to-end business solution for players in the broadcast industry. Additionally, they possessed the necessary resources and expertise to guide entrepreneurs in establishing their business ideas.
NIGCOMSAT’s journey has been marked by challenges, setbacks, and significant milestones. With its recent commendation by the AUB and its commitment to technological advancement and quality service delivery, NIGCOMSAT is once again positioning itself as a relevant player in the satellite industry, not only in Nigeria but also across Africa. As the future of broadcasting unfolds in the digital age, NIGCOMSAT aims to rise to the occasion and become a vital participant in Africa’s digital transformation.