Drone hobbyists in Nigeria, just as others around the world, have spent a lot of time experimenting and trying out new and innovative ways to use the drone technology. Very popular in the filmmaking industry, startups, and enthusiastic fun users, it was hoped on the side of e-commerce that drones could be the answer to various delivery challenges in the country, which include incessant traffic congestion and a haphazard home address system.
This hope, however, is fast diminishing as the government of Nigeria recently announced that as of May 8, there will be an intermediate ban on launching remotely piloted aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles in its airspace without authorization from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) as well as the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).
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The government relates that the deployment of drones “without adequate security clearance” has been the cause of “predictable safety concerns and threats.” Security challenges in Nigeria remain high as the country fights with a deadly insurgent terrorist organization known as Boko Haram, who has been responsible for at least 20,000 deaths and millions displaced from their homes in the north as well as a resurging militancy in the south. Although the government didn’t cite specific issues with security in its statement, there are most likely fears that Boko Haram and other terrorist groups might employ the drone technology for surveillance and bomb hits.
In a statement, the NCAA declared “no government agency, organization, or an individual will launch an RPA/UAV in the Nigerian airspace for any purpose whatsoever without obtaining requisite permit from the NCAA and ONSA.”
This fight over drone regulation is not strange or fresh and with nations like Canada adopting comprehensive drone guidelines preventing use of drones near areas with large groups of people and unauthorized photography, it has become common place to see governments trying to control drone activity. In the UK, the parliament has also called for registration of all civilian and commercial drones in order to manage “drone traffic and safety concerns.”
The issues lie mostly in Nigeria’s cumbersome bureaucratic processes. Getting the required permits from such high level agencies for fun and casual use of drones could prove very hard and expensive.
Apprehension over the impact of drone regulations is not unique to Nigeria alone on the continent. A blanket ban on drones is in effect in Kenya from January last year—also for security concerns—and it has dampened the hopes of innovative and commercial uses of drones by investors in the industry.
The present state of things is not all gloomy, though. Malawi is working with UNICEF to reduce the cost of HIV testing for infants with the use of drones to transport the results of the tests, providing quicker diagnosis and a better chance of survival. Rwanda is also following in this footstep by looking at means in which drones can deliver medical supplies and vaccines to clinics and difficult to reach rural areas.