Nigeria's ambitious space program has often attracted criticism from those who claim the money is better spent to address poverty in a country where more than 70 percent of the people live on less than $1 a day. Despite the criticism, some officials say space technology is an effective tool to fight poverty.
Nigeria launched its first satellite three years ago, becoming only the second country in sub-Sahara Africa to do so. The other space program in the region is in South Africa.
A communications satellite that will give even remote villagers access to the Internet is to be launched in 2007. A second observation satellite is planned for 2009.
Robert Boroffice, head of the space agency of Nigeria, says Nigeria's space program has been a success.
"So far so good, it is a success story," he said. "We are able to launch an earth observation satellite. We are operating the satellite by ourselves. We are deriving imageries, which we are using for our national projects. We are also selling these images all over the world, very few in Africa, most of them are sold to Europe and America and we have been recognized as a leading space agency in Africa, as a result of which many international organizations and United Nations organizations that need African voice, have been contacting us and inviting us to represent the interest of Africa."
The observation satellite monitors Nigeria's vanishing forest resource and often vandalized oil pipelines as well as a host of other uses including improving agricultural practices. It also watches for natural disasters such as fires and floods.
Nigeria recently outlined a program to land on the moon by 2030.
Professor Boroffice says Nigeria's space initiative has been aggressive.
"We are training people," he said. "We have one of our staff in Italy, doing a Master's in global positioning system. We are in collaboration with other organizations where we train our staff, even in marketing. So, we have put these in place. We have a very aggressive capacity building program because we believe that for these programs to be sustainable, we must have the indigenous capacity to run and manage them."
Nigeria's dream of earning substantial revenue from its space program already appears to be a reality. An Arab company has signed a $250 million deal to use the communications satellite.
Boroffice, a former biology professor, says space technology can lift Nigeria out of poverty by acting as a catalyst for socio-economic transformation.