Justine Greening yesterday defended giving vast amounts of taxpayers’ cash to Nigeria while the oil-rich country is pouring money into its own space programme.

The International Development Secretary said it was sensible for Nigeria to invest in satellites it could use to check the weather and help its agriculture-based economy.

Critics will point out that it is possible to track the weather using a range of meteorological websites, not least the BBC.

 
Justine Greening yesterday defended giving vast amounts of taxpayers' cash to Nigeria while the oil-rich country is pouring money into its own space programme

Justine Greening yesterday defended giving vast amounts of taxpayers’ cash to Nigeria while the oil-rich country is pouring money into its own space programme

Nigeria, which has set in train ambitious plans to launch its own rockets and even put a man in space, has accepted £300million in British aid this year alone and taxpayers are sending £1.14billion over the five years of the Coalition.

The cash is being sent even though the country has enough money to fund the first Nigerian astronauts who are being trained to join Russian, Chinese or American  missions within the next two years.

Some have asked why Britain is, in effect, subsidising a space programme for a nation where 70 per cent of people live below the poverty line.

But Miss Greening insisted that Britain’s aid would ‘help Nigeria progress and develop as a country’.
She told BBC Radio 4: ‘I believe it is being well spent but we obviously have to make sure that we critically assess the projects under way. 

‘We do expect them to invest in their country as well. The so-called space programme was in fact investment in satellites, weather satellites and for communication.

‘So actually this investment that they’re making in the so called “space programme” which is actually satellite technology, some of which actually has been provided by UK companies based in Surrey, is a sensible investment and actually one that we would be expecting them to be making alongside the investment that we make.’

Nigeria’s space programme started in 2003 but its first satellite lost power and disappeared from orbit. It now has three in space.

 
A Russian rocket of the type used by Nigeria to launch satellites

A Russian rocket of the type used by Nigeria to launch satellites

Although it has bought satellites and launched them on Russian rockets, Nigeria has built laboratories which it  hopes will produce its own spacecraft by 2028.

The country’s National Space Research and Development Agency has confirmed Nigerian astronauts should be trained and ready for space travel within two years.

The agency’s director general,  Professor Seidu Onailo Mohammed, said last month: ‘By our road map we are supposed to have astronauts prepared by 2015.

‘Before the end of the year, the recruitment of astronauts will begin so that we have them handy and as soon as we get the nod we can pick from that number.’

The £1.14billion Nigeria is receiving over five years is more than  double the £500million set aside to prop up struggling accident and emergency departments at our own hospitals.

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘The Nigerian authorities have  been quite clear that they are  working towards sending their own astronauts into space within a couple of years, so Justine Greening cannot bat away the public’s  concerns with talk about weather satellites.

‘Questions still remain as to why UK taxpayers should be expected to subsidise this advanced technology when the Nigerian government is not ensuring that some of its  citizens’ most basic needs are met.’

Miss Greening received strong backing from Downing Street.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘These satellites are designed to supply better information about weather and climate which for a country so dependent on agriculture is hugely important.

‘There are a number of programmes operating in that country, but fundamentally the point that the International Development Secretary was making this morning is that it will aid the growth of the economy and will help the country provide more food.’

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