Gideon Emenike and Chibuisi Nwafor were aged between 16 and 17 years by 2013, when they launched a rocket manufactured by them into space, which took thirty minutes and over five kilometres later, to crash into the plot of Augustine Eke, a retiree.
Their intention was not for damage, the two audacious young boys, motivated by fanaticism to outclass. One of them said he was confronted to construct the rocket and launch it, due to other countries were launching satellites into space and, not his country.
The clatter of the crashed rocket was deafening. Their feat flustered their rural community of Umuchima Ubaha, Okigwe LGA, Imo State and by extension, the country. Then state Police Commissioner, Mohammed Katsina scuttled to the community, thinking that some terrorists had invaded the area. Residents thought it was a bomb.
How it started
When CP Katsina got to the distressed site and found out that the heavy sound was not from what he had thought – terrorists – he portrayed the children’s exploit as “markedly wild.” However, he reiterated, “It was an exercise into the world of science and technology by some adventurous, skillful, and intelligent young boys with incredible creativity.”
CP Katsina was right! Leaving secondary school in 2012, Gideon had built a helicopter when he was in SS1, at Federal Government College, Okigwe, Imo State, during his school’s project. While neglected due to he was not a son of a bourgeoisie, he did not wane. He went to a national competition in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, when he was in SS2, with a rocket he built and was, declared the second in the competition. The Society for Science and Technology also adjudicated him second in a competition.
He was told that he would be representing Nigeria at a competition in Brazil, after he won the second position at an Olympiad competition. But due to he was neither a son of a senator nor a son of a governor, it was a botched recommendation. Gideon who later met with Chibuisi Nwafor with whom the rocket was launched, was confused of what could have led to the school’s principal cancelling the trip to Brazil.
He said, “I still don’t know why the principal cancelled the trip. This frustrated me somehow, but later, I picked up from where I dropped, and started again. That was how we planned to build a rocket and a satellite, and send it into space. It was an amateur satellite.”
Unlike Gideon Emenike and Chibuisi Nwafor who built a rocket and launched it without mischief, talents like them abound in the country and are wasting. CP Katsina said the boys were wonderful, when he identified that the rocket was fabricated with simple elements that included sugar and computer accessories.
Comfort Obi, the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of The Source, a weekly Newsmagazine, pointed out, “There are many Gideons and Chibuisis in Nigeria: Young people with raw talents and a burning zeal to be of use to their country. But nobody cares. If these teenagers were armed robbers, kidnappers, thugs, cultists, assassins or terrorists, somebody would have taken note.”
On November 16, 2015, the Nigerian Army fighting the Islamic terrorists group known as and called Boko Haram, uncovered a factory where Boko Haram was manufacturing rockets and Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs) in Bama, Borno State, with local content.
Army spokesperson, Col. Sani Usman who made this disclosure, said, inter alia, “The items recovered include gas cylinders, welding machine, pipes and poles. Others include locally-made rocket shells, large quantity of assorted chemicals, unprimed IEDs and various technical and laboratory equipment suspected to be stolen from schools’ laboratories around Bama before they were dislodged from the area.”
In March 2011, a 28-year-old Shehu Saleh Balami, who took interest in rockets, when he was a kid, launched solid-fuel rockets – J03 and J04. The ‘J’, he said, stood for his mother’s name Jummai, because of her contributions and encouragement towards the realisation of his dream. Balami launched the rockets he produced with 100 percent local content at an estimated cost of N30, 000 each, in Kaduna. Conversely, the rockets did not reach the height he had envisaged.
Balami stated, “The rockets I launched did not reach the calculated height of 1.3km, it could be from the potassium nitrate, which I suspected might have been adulterated, because I did not change the mixture I used for the previous ones that flew well.”
Narrating other elements he used in building the rockets, he added, “Components of the rockets include fuel (potassium nitrate, sulphur, and carbon), mild steel for the casing, the fins were also made of mild steel while the nose was made of plaster of Paris (POP). The calculated speed of the rocket was 660km/h, takeoff weight – approximately 1kg, propelling weight for the first one was 344 grams while that of the second was 364 grams. The engine length was 300mm while the outside diameter was 4.8cm.”
Like Gideon and his friend Chibuisi, who started building rockets at school, Balami also started at school.
Balami intoned, “Our aim is to create awareness on the practical application of what is learnt in school for the development of the society. Our group started from the university when, we delivered lectures to students on science and technology from jet and, rocket engines to electric circuit. The name of the group in school was Passion for the Application of Engineering and Technological research Information (PAETRI),”
He is a graduate of Mechanical Engineering from the Federal University of Technology (FUT) Minna. He averred that he had started research to make a remote controlled aircraft. That was after his first project was aided by his friends, under the auspices of Movement for the Propagation of Science and Technology in Nigeria.
Other neglected science accomplishments
A source that claimed anonymity said that Nigeria had since 1976 showed the first interest in space technology. “But it wasn’t until 1996, when a national remote sensing centre was established in Jos, in the middle of the country, that concrete proposals began to take some shape. The space programme, however, got a major boost in May 1999, when Olusegun Obasanjo, upon being sworn in as president, set up NSRDA with Boroffice as its first chief executive,” the source said.
By October 1, 2013, the Chairman of Centre for Creative Scientists in Niger Delta (CENSINDA), Mr. Ayebanua Keniyinbo Apollos, a talented 43-year-old graduate of Chemistry from the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RUST) Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said the President Goodluck Jonathan Space Centre in Ayama-Ijaw in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, was geared towards launching its indigenous Rocket and Ifieye (It’s time) satellite – a scouting satellite powered by solar energy – into space by May 2014.
Contrasting Balami whose rockets cost him N30, 000 each to build, Apollos said the local content for his project, which was 100 percent, was at an approximate cost of N100, 000 each, with the satellite placed in “elliptical orbit” of 3800 km in radius, and would remain in space for a year. The irony was that upon all the hope and aspiration to exploring the technology world in Nigeria, Balami and Apollos sang the same song of sorrow.
Balami sang, “If the government pays attention to local science and technology inventors and support them financially, I believe very strongly that one day, we will be able to build our own satellite or the engine that will take the satellite into space.”
Apollos chorused, “If both the state and federal governments pay attention to local science and technology inventors and support them financially, I believe very strongly that one day, we will be able to build our own satellite or the engine that will take the satellite into space.”
Nigerian Government prefers foreign scientists
Gideon, Chibuisi, Balami and Apollos represent the many wasting technology savvy minds in Nigeria, yet the country is looking up to foreign intervention to help it launch into the Orbit by 2030. While the children achieved their accomplishments unaided by any individual, group or government, it may take Nigeria as a federation 15 years from now to launch first astronaut into space, Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu said, while speaking to a commission from the Defence Space Agency in Abuja on March 24th 2016.
China to rescue
Nigeria, neglecting her local engineers and technologists, was set to launch its own rocket into space, after the successful launch of SAT- 2 and SAT- X to the orbit on August 17 2011. The disclosure was made during a visit by a nine-man delegation from Nigerian Institute of Physics, led by its national president, Professor Emeka Okwueze in that year, to then Minister of Science and Technology, Professor Ita Okon Bassey Ewa.
While Dr. Onu was looking up to 2030, when the country would launch astronauts into space, the country has been lackadaisical to its scientists that in Lagos State alone, the Centre For Space Transport And Propulsion (CSTP), Epe, Scientists and engineers there had been, without international assistance, building and launching tentative rockets, a Coordinator of the Centre, Mr. Oluremi A. Fashade, once divulged.
What Nigeria does is to employ the service of foreigners to be launching rockets for her, without a hoot to local manufacturers and local content. A-case-in-study was on December 19 2011, when a considerable Nigerian communications satellite was launched by China.
The satellite was believed to connect Africans with television programming, education services and navigation signals. It was built by the China Academy of Space Technology. The satellite is known as Nigcomsat 1R, believed to provide optimal and cost effective voice, data, video, Internet and application services solutions; and would be operated by Nigcomsat Ltd., a company contracted by the Nigerian government, for up to 15 years.
Science and technology being crucial
“Nigeria after 50 years of independence still relies on advanced countries for satellite, due to lack of conducive atmosphere for indigenous talented inventors to strive. There was a need for the Federal Government to provide an enabling environment for science and technology inventors in the country if it wishes to attain the desired Vision 20:2020,” Balami bewailed.
The UN in December 2009 tasked Nigeria to take Nigerian national space policy programme, which was on course, seriously, because space research and development activities, are part of strategies for sustainable national development.
Source; Odimegwu Onwumere