Science and technology minister’s space illusion

MINISTER of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonaya Onu, recently gave a keynote address at an old students’ association meeting, harping on the pivotal roles of science and technology in nation building. Delivering a keynote address at the 2020 national convention of the Izzy Old Students Association held at the Faculty of Education of the Ebonyi State University (EBSU), Ishieke, Ebonyi State, Dr. Onu said that the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari was committed to putting men in space soon, and so interest in science and technology was rightly placed.

He said inter alia: “It is sad that the students after rendering the school item, started mentioning the professions that they would like to pursue, but not even one mentioned engineering. It will be sad if in this school we don’t see young people aspiring to read engineering because in Nigeria, we have plans to send people to space. Yes, we have that plan: don’t think that it cannot be done. It may take 20 years or 30 years, but we have that plan and I will be happy to see somebody from this school go to space and you cannot do it without science and engineering.”

It is quite easy to see that the minister was torn between being an old student and a minister with an overdose of patriotic zeal, which on this occasion sadly resulted in an illusion of grandeur. To say the least, the minister’s promise is out of tune with reality. It takes an average of eight years to train an astronaut, and it is clear that the minister was hinting at a policy that is quite beyond the tenure of the regime in which he is serving. But his reference to Nigeria aspiring to become part of the space-exploring countries like the United States, Canada and Russia without any infrastructural base definitely took the audience for granted even if he meant to polish the image of the current regime. It was a disservice of epic proportions because of its sheer disregard for logic.

How can a country which is still battling with increasing its megawatts of electricity be aspiring towards space exploration? The space-exploring countries have their feet properly grounded in terms of infrastructure and service delivery. They satisfied the yearnings of their populations on this planet quite comprehensively before venturing into space exploration. Curiously, though, Nigeria desires to send people into space without any real scientific or economic background, except as the world’s poverty capital.

Dr. Onu may have sounded great as a motivational speaker, but as Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, he was definitely off key in talking about space exploration as a government policy. His submission sounded like a mockery of the myriad of albatrosses that have held the country down over the years. It is painful enough that Nigerians are daily harassed and bogged down with ineptitude and incompetence in the high levels of government, but to be mocked by those expected to change the narrative positively certainly escalates the aggravation.

Space exploration could be desirable for the countries prepared for it, but it is a pipe dream in Nigeria, especially with the salient challenges of nation building, including insecurity, poor infrastructure base, and poor management of a large and diverse populace. There is no doubt that without addressing these issues, any talk about space exploration is pure bunkum. There are more important things to capture the interest of Nigerians than this ridiculous distraction.