"The space program is very important," said Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Minister of Science and Technology, during a speech in the capital city Abuja. "Space is a major asset that Nigeria must be involved in for the purpose of protecting national interests."
A Nigerian Space Agency delegation will visit partners in China this month to discuss logistics and investment for a manned space mission, which would be the first by an African nation.
The case for space
Dr. Onu's announcement has been greeted with skepticism, partly as it came soon after a scam email demanding $3 million for a lost Nigerian astronaut went viral, and as policy announcements from the new government have been scoring poorly on the Buharimeter, a Nigerian civil society website assessing policy commitments. Onu also recently announced plans to start a pencil manufacturing industry that would create 400,000 jobs.
But Nigeria's space program is no joke, and it is making steady progress. The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) has launched five satellites since 2003, with three still in orbit delivering vital services. The most recent - NigeriaSat-X -- was the first to be designed and constructed by NASRDA engineers, and more advanced models are in development.
The space agency has made extensive and creative use of the satellites, from analyzing climate data to improve farming practices, to retrieving hostages from Boko Haram, and officials argue this proves space exploration is essential for Nigeria.
"We contribute to various sectors that benefit the nation," says Felix Ale, NASRDA communications chief. "Space applications are key to development."
Capacity has improved through greater investment in infrastructure and skills, says Ale, adding that NASRDA has now trained over 300 staff to PhD or BsC level.
Crucially, the industry also benefits from political will at the highest level.
"The president is committed to the program," says Ale. "To ensure that dreams transfer to reality."