Nigeria is spending millions to put a man into space – as Britain hands it more than £1billion in foreign aid.
The country, which has accepted £300million this year alone, has set in train ambitious plans to launch its own rockets.
And the first Nigerian astronauts are being trained to join Russian, Chinese or American missions within the next two years.
Last night critics asked why Britain was, in effect, subsidizing a space programme for a nation where 70 per cent of people live below the poverty line.
This latest controversy came just two days after Ukip MEP Godfrey Bloom ignited a fierce debate by saying it was folly to give billions in aid to ‘Bongo Bongo land’.
Nigeria has already launched these surveillance rockets from Russia as part of its plans to join the space race
Yesterday David Cameron said the remarks were offensive and accused Mr. Bloom of being guilty of a ‘stop the world I want to get off’ approach to foreign aid.
The £1.14billion Nigeria will receive over the five years of the Coalition is double the £500million set aside to prop up struggling accident and emergency departments at our own hospitals.
Backbench Tory MP Philip Davies said it was ‘totally unjustifiable and unaffordable’ for Britain to give this money to Nigeria, given the scale of its ‘grandiose’ space programme.
‘We cannot go around the world saying “don’t worry, we will feed your public for you while you waste your money on all sorts of other projects”,’ he said.
‘We have got to say to these countries “you have got to spend that money on your people where it’s most needed not on some grandiose space programme”. We are against welfare dependency at home but at the same time we are encouraging welfare dependency abroad.’
The row surrounding Mr. Bloom flared when he insisted that sending aid to Africa was tantamount to treason.
He added: ‘How we can possibly be giving a billion pounds a month, when we’re in this sort of debt, to Bongo Bongo land is completely beyond me.’
He claimed foreign leaders frittered the money away on ‘Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris and Ferraris’.
He was widely criticised for using the term ‘Bongo Bongo land’ but many commentators believe he was right about the building resentment over spiralling foreign aid.
The Department for International Development’s budget is rising by 35 per cent in real terms by 2015. But while aid costs are ballooning, spending on the military, the police, border control and care homes is being slashed.
Britain is also spending about £280million a year on aid to India, another country with its own space programme.
Despite Nigeria having the second-highest national income of all African countries, most of its people still live in poverty. It is also mired in corruption. The most modest estimates suggest between £2.5 and £5billion is stolen from the state’s coffers every year by corrupt officials and politicians.
Jonathan Isaby from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘When budgets are tight both for families and the Government alike, people cannot understand why ministers are sending more and more of our hard-earned cash overseas.
‘Taxpayers find it especially unacceptable when their money is sent abroad as aid to developing countries which then somehow find sufficient cash to fund the likes of a space programme.
‘It is totally unacceptable that British taxpayers’ money is effectively subsidising Nigeria’s efforts to send an astronaut into space.’
Nigeria’s space programme started in 2003 but its first satellite lost power and disappeared from orbit.
It now has three in space, NigComSat-1R, NigeriaSat-2 and Nigeria-Sat X, the first to be constructed by Nigerian engineers.
Although it has bought its own satellites and launched on Russian rockets, Nigeria has built laboratories which it hopes will produce its own space craft by 2028.
The National Space Research and Development Agency confirmed Nigerian astronauts should be trained and ready for space travel within two years.
In July this year, NASRDA’s director general, Professor Seidu Onailo Mohammed, declared: ‘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 Nigerian government has not released detailed figures on how much it is spending on its space programme, but it is thought to be hundreds of millions of pounds a year. British aid to Nigeria will increase by 116 per cent under the Coalition government, from £141million in 2010/11 to £305million in 2014/15. It amounts to a total of £1.14billion over five years.
The country has also been criticised for failing to crack down on corruption. The only senior figure from Nigeria to have been prosecuted over corruption in recent years was jailed by a British court.
James Ibori, the former governor of the country’s oil-rich Delta state, was sentenced to 13 years for money laundering, forgery and fraud totalling nearly £50million. He used the money to live a lavish lifestyle, buying a house in London worth £2.25million and luxury cars worth over £650,000.
Last night a spokesman for the Department for International Development said spending aid money in Nigeria would help cut crime and illegal immigration in Britain.
‘No UK aid money goes through the Nigerian government,’ she said. ‘Our investment goes into specific health, education and poverty reduction programmes. Nigeria is home to a quarter of the poorest people in Africa, and supporting their development will benefit our own trade and security.’