After a media backlash, the Government of the United Kingdom decided to put an eventual end to aid being sent to India after it was pointed out that not only was that nation on the way to becoming richer than the UK itself, but also that it had a better space programme with ambitious plans to send missions to Mars (the Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter is due to launch in October) and have an indigenous capability to launch its own astronauts. History is repeating itself. Now it is Nigeria’s turn to be lashed by the UK media.
On 9 May, the widely-read London-based Daily Mail newspaper and website splashed a headline that £1 billion ($1.55 billion) of UK taxpayer funding (over the next five years) will be indirectly used to fund Nigeria’s space programme rather than help that African nation’s poor. It noted that this is at a time when the UK’s own government budgets and health service are struggling. The article also reported that the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency was, in addition to planning to build its own satellites, also to train Nigerian astronauts for their launch aboard Russian, Chinese or US spacecraft.
Comment by David Todd: The British Space programme, especially the Guildford-based small satellite manfacturer, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, has benefited greatly from cooperation with the Nigerian space programme. As it is, it can be strongly argued that remote sensing and communications satellites can be of great benefit to poor nations such as Nigeria as they can improve agriculture, education and health. Thus “indirect” aid to Nigeria’s space programme could actually further benefit both nations.
Nevertheless, the article was right to note that a Nigerian astronaut programme (even if their astronauts are just passengers) remains a luxury for what remains, despite its oil reserves, a very poor nation. Until Nigeria’s general population has full access to food, water and good medical health, such a manned programme has no place in its space programme.
On a lighter note, as the Daily Mail article reminded readers that corruption is endemic in the Nigerian nation, we remember the following confidence-trick spam e-mail that was sent round a few years ago (fraudsters based in Nigeria are infamous for these). It just might now ring a little more true:
Subject: Nigerian Astronaut Wants To Come Home
Dr. Bakare Tunde
Astronautics Project Manager
National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA)
Garki, Abuja, FCT NIGERIA
Dear Mr. Sir,
REQUEST FOR ASSISTANCE-STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL
I am Dr. Bakare Tunde, the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home.
In the 14-years since he has been on the station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $ 15,000,000 American Dollars. This is held in a trust at the Lagos National Savings and Trust Association. If we can obtain access to this money, we can place a down payment with the Russian Space Authorities for a Soyuz return flight to bring him back to Earth. I am told this will cost $ 3,000,000 American Dollars. In order to access the his trust fund we need your assistance.
Consequently, my colleagues and I are willing to transfer the total amount to your account or subsequent disbursement, since we as civil servants are prohibited by the Code of Conduct Bureau (Civil Service Laws) from opening and/ or operating foreign accounts in our names.
Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return, we have agreed to offer you 20 percent of the transferred sum, while 10 percent shall be set aside for incidental expenses (internal and external) between the parties in the course of the transaction. You will be mandated to remit the balance 70 percent to other accounts in due course.
Kindly expedite action as we are behind schedule to enable us include downpayment in this financial quarter.