By Kenneth Jukpor & Yusuf Odejobi
Engr. Ronald Opeyemi Ajiboye is an Aerospace Engineer and the Chief Executive Officer of Track Your Build. In this exclusive interview with MMS Plus newspaper, he bares his mind on a myriad of issues in the maritime, oil and gas as well as aviation sector, revealing how drones could be deployed to address several challenges. He also speaks on the prospects and activities of Track Your Build, a tech-based company where he was recently appointed CEO. Excerpts:
The use of drones has been deployed in a number of sectors including seaport operations for container terminal inspection, ship emission inspection, oil spillage, among others, but such development hasn’t been embraced in Nigeria. How useful could drones be in these areas?
I understand the operational dynamics of the seaports in Nigeria. I understand for example that we have the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and the likes, and they have varying roles. However, if you check the prevailing issues around there, we talk about insecurity, monitoring, theft, traffic management system, corruption, etc. These are issues that deployment of drones can solve.
When you have availability of robust data and a drone is deployed, the drone will help narrow down the issues and draw several inferences. For example when a data is captured, the next step is analyzing it, then validation, from there inferences can be drawn which will lead to modeling a strategy for optimality.
You cannot develop an optimal strategy without a background study, but this background study will be obtained from the feedback gotten from drones. So in this area, a drone can go around the environment in a way that you can’t achieve with people because you can’t have human beings going around sniffing, but a drone can do that.
We can also use drones for traffic monitoring and management systems especially for container trucks to address the haphazard truck movement and long queues that generated as a result of several factors. Drones can have the process optimized by introducing monitoring and there is a way to tailor it to achieve that. Whatever strategy that is going to come at the end of the day can be informed by the gathered data generated from drones. Drones can also be used for surveillance and delivery of products.
Deployment of drones can solve numerous issues but the problem we’re currently have in Nigeria is the issue of corruption and conflict of interest because you want to deploy drone to somewhere like Brass or Bonny Island to those places where you have the creeks to monitor and curb pipeline vandalism. Meanwhile, you know you’re obstructing some shady deals for some people. They will look for you and at the end of the day it’s counterproductive or it becomes a risky venture. If you’re trying to mitigate and some people are not going to benefit and these people are not small boys, they are topshots that are rich and influential.
Another major impediment to the effective utilization of drones in Nigeria is the statutory compliance regulatory issue. The process for one to get an ROC license for drone operation in Nigeria is tedious and complex. The challenge is coming from the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). Both of them want to claim superiority on this regulation.
It’s simply an civil aviation issue; but because of security issues attached to the deployment of drones as some people can pose a threat to the security of the nation by abusing it, ONSA has to endorse it.
What are the requirements needed to fly a drone in Nigeria?
There is an ROC license and that’s the major requirement for a drone pilot. I don’t know if someone who has a foreign license can use it in Nigeria. The total number of licenses issued for drone operators in Nigeria is not more than 20 and out of that 20, only about 5 or 6 are active.
Which agency is responsible for issuing ROC licenses in Nigeria and what institution should one attend to become a drone pilot?
Flying a drone is not hard although there are some institutions that do the training. Before NCAA issues such a license, they will take you to a place to fly the drone. It’s like an examination or test to check the level of expertise and experience.
This license is not something that is just issued anyhow. It comes with a little fee so that it is almost free to get the license. The idea is that it is not something you have to pay so much money on. You just fill the application and pass the tests, nevertheless, we heard rumours sometime ago that you’re supposed to pay some huge amount of money but I’m not sure of that.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved N10billion for automation of five airports in Nigeria amid plans to concession them. What is your take on this at a time when the nation has limited resources?
I’ll speak as a strategist and economist, in the ranking of the problems in the aviation sector which are glaring to everyone, if automation is part of the most prominent ones, then it is a welcome idea. However, if we think it is not a priority, then why spend such an amount.
Nigerian airports should be one of the things that should attract new visitors into the country. The infrastructure an airport possesses tells how serious a particular country is. Recently,I was in Dakar, Senegal which has a total population of 19million that is less than the size of Lagos State; but their airport is fantastic. Dakar airport may not be one of the best in the world, but it can’t be compared with the ones here in Nigeria.
We already understand that population is one of the issues we face in this country, but we also must build infrastructure to cater for such a huge population. In my opinion, I’ll rather have that money spent to give the airports in Nigeria a facelift. If that money is spent on Lagos airport alone, I’m certain it is going to bring more returns and productivity than automation.
Automation comes with a lot of cost, then cost of running which will be recurring. What is this automation going to solve? Will they get equipment that is substandard and in less than 2 years could become obsolete? If so, it’s a waste. Why not spend that amount on infrastructure that can attract visitors. If the N10 billion for automation is spent in a place that doesn’t have an attractive outlook then it’s not going to reflect any change.
In terms of scaling the problems at the airports, automation is the least and I can say that the nation has been handling it well over the years. If we want to scale it in terms of priority, we have automation and it’s affecting some operation but we’ve been able to deal with it, but one thing that is constantly killing the airports is the outlook.
Can drones be deployed for surveillance in the oil sector to curb pipeline vandalism and oil theft in the country?
Over $41.9billion has been lost in the oil sector to pipeline vandalism and illegal refining from 2009 till present. How much of this can be saved in a system if drones are efficiently deployed one might ask? Sincerely, the nation could save up to 80% of this cost us. It means that Nigeria loses an average of $11 million a day. So, approximately $349 million a month is lost due to theft, process lapses and pipeline vandalism. These are the problems that have been identified.
Drone is going to at least address these three problems by 80%. So, this implies that Nigeria is losing a fifth of its daily crude oil production to oil theft and pipeline vandalism. In terms of volumes, we’re talking about $138 billion barrels everyday for the last 10 years. My point is that if the total lost earnings from 2009 to date is $41.9 billion, let’s say approximately $42 billion and Nigeria’s 2021budget is $35 billion minus that amount , that’s about $7 billion additional fund that has been lost, yet, 80% of this problem can be solved through drones.
Tell us about Track Your Build where you are the Chief Executive Officer, enlighten us about your activities?
Track Your Build is basically an engineering and data science company. We leverage the use of advanced technology to gather data for asset management, project management, construction project, disaster management, insurance and anything that requires Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) data reliant.
For example, we managed a fire outbreak last month in Susan’s Bay, Freetown, Sierra Leone. We deployed our drone immediately and the President called us together with the United Nations (UN) to monitor the number of houses that were affected by the disaster. Part of our findings revealed that about 300 houses were affected; we were also able to track a number of things that were missing using the drone.
We now have a cloud management system that will enable people that are abroad to track their building projects in their country of origin or wherever the project is located. This enables the subscriber access to the project level and ascertains the construction progress from the comfort of the client’s home. These are part of the things we use drones for.
Drone is one of the major tools Track Your Build makes use of, others are satellites and other ground equipment. One of the things we’re working on presently is to scale up the numbers of drone pilots we have so that we can be like the Amazons of Africa. We want to be like Uber for drones in Africa and we currently have presence in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mauritius, Nigeria, Gambia and we’re also expanding to Kenya and Ghana.