Greg Odogwu
The Director-General of Nigerian Meteorological Agency, Dr Anthony Anuforom, was last week in Abuja awarded Fellow of the Astronomical Society of Nigeria at the 6th National Conference of the ASN which had as theme, “Astronomy and Space Science Technology in a Developing Economy”.
The theme of the event made the article I wrote on this column some weeks ago, where I discussed space research in time of recession, sounds somewhat prophetic. A developing country like ours has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by going full speed into space science and technology.

Interestingly, considering the kind of society we find ourselves in, where trends and milestones are usually defined by the contribution of personalities and not institutions, the high point of the conference should be the conferment of a Fellowship on the NiMet DG. Since the day he took over the helms at the nation’s Met Office in 2007, Anuforom has redefined the concept of meteorology in Nigeria with such publicity savvy that one wondered whether he was a scientist or a public relations expert.
Obviously, in its choice for the NiMet boss for a fellowship, the astronomical society must have understood how the increasing knowledge of meteorology in Nigeria is naturally rubbing off on the awareness of astronomy among Nigerians. Meteorology and astronomy are two fields of study that have not a few things to do with each other. Space research helps to broaden the frontiers of weather forecast; therefore, one of the easiest ways for lay people to feel the growth in the industry is through more sophistication in weather forecast and aviation management.

At the Abuja event, Anuforom called on agencies with mandates on space and technology development to collaborate for accelerated progress and development on the country’s space programmes. He said synergies and research by agencies of science will assist in minimising the impact of weather and climate on the country’s infrastructure.

I daresay that our businessmen also should join in this space research synergy. Diversification of the economy should not only be in agriculture and mining. It should be in science and technology, research and development. We should also inculcate in our children the consciousness of going beyond the limitations of our visible Earth. That is how great discoveries are made. Our ancestors worshipped the sky and objects in the sky; we should now know the natural laws behind the ambient phenomena. This is the reason why astronomy is the oldest form of natural science.
Meanwhile, there is very important information to pass to our political leaders and businessmen. Lebanon recently unveiled its optical telescope for space research, and it was discovered that the project was sponsored by a Lebanese businessman based in Nigeria!

Remarkably, the world has woken up to the reality of threats emanating from our earthly space. For instance, capabilities developed and knowledge gathered from space exploration contribute to ongoing efforts to understand the threat to Earth posed by asteroids, and to devise means for protecting the planet. Scientists believe that a collision between the Earth and one or more large asteroids about 65 million years ago caused the rapid mass extinction of most plant and animal species on Earth today.

Worldwide awareness of the dangers posed by asteroids was raised by the February 2013 close approach of a 40‐metre asteroid and, on the same day, the unexpected explosion over Russia of a meteor believed to be about 17 metres wide and weighing 10,000 tonnes. The blast injured over 1,000 people and damaged over 4,000 buildings.    The asteroid that missed Earth by only 27,000 kilometres was large enough to have caused catastrophic damage if it had entered the atmosphere.   These events triggered public concern about how to protect Earth from asteroid collisions. They also underscored the significance of the work of the international space groups recently endorsed for creation by the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space’s Working Group on Near‐Earth Objects.

I believe what Anuforom is saying is that Nigeria should have a fresh stance on space-related matters, and our authorities a fresh outlook on collaborations between agencies spearheading space and technology concerns. Space‐based systems will be required to join the space race; but we can jump-start our own race with very critical infrastructure like the optical telescope, and also an intellectual hub like an Academy of Space Technology.

More than 50 years of human activity in space have produced societal benefits that improve the quality of life on Earth. The first satellites, designed to study the space environment and test initial capabilities in Earth orbit, contributed critical knowledge and capabilities for developing satellite telecommunications, global positioning, and advances in weather forecasting.

Space exploration initiated the economic development of space that today, year after year, delivers high returns for invested funds in space. The challenges of space exploration have sparked new scientific and technological knowledge of inherent value to humankind, leading to better understanding of our universe and the solar system in which we live.

My sadness, however, is that our country is always confronted with the perennial problem of weak institutions. For instance, when one calls for coordination among agencies, the “paucity of political will’’ among the leaders of these agencies throws a spanner into the cogs of envisaged development. The tragedy is therefore in stifling the efforts of the few Nigerians who are determined to build the required mechanisms and institutions for sustainable development.

There are numerous cases of societal benefits linked to new knowledge and technology from space exploration. Space exploration has contributed to many diverse aspects of everyday life, from solar panels to implantable heart monitors, from cancer therapy to light‐ weight materials, recycling and waste management, and from water‐purification systems to improved computing systems and to a global search‐and‐rescue system. However, without any veritable umbrella for the coordination of these deliverables to impact the environment, our political leaders cannot even begin to appreciate why the nation should invest in them.

Yet, there was a “National Framework for the Application of Climate Services” developed under the leadership of Anuforom’s NiMet, which has yet to be activated/implemented by the Federal Government.

When the world adopted the framework on a global level, the vision was for the effective coordination of germane sectors like meteorology, environment and space research for the fight against climate change. So, I wonder how we can boast to the world that we shall be able to lead the struggle to end global warming when our government cannot sustain an idea and see it to a conclusive end.

CORRECTION:
Last week, while discussing how the American government fought recession by giving bailouts to major companies, I erroneously referred to a documentary, “Democracy: A Love Story by Michael Mann”. Please, I wish to correct. The right title is “Capitalism: A Love Story” and the author’s name is Michael Moore.

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