September 27, 2013 is a day residents of the sleepy rural community of Umuchima, Ubaha, Okigwe Local Government Area of the state will not forget in a hurry. On this fateful day, a very unusual but deafening noise suddenly rented the air, accompanied by a rare spectacle that threw all and sundry into panic as they scampered into safety. The strange sound was later traced to the family home of a visually-impaired pensioner, Mr. Augustine Eke.
What further heightened people’s anxiety was when they also noticed a thick smoke coming from the hapless man’s compound. They had every reason to believe that Boko Haram insurgents had invaded the community. News quickly spread that a rocket had landed in Eke’s compound. They were right but it was not coming from Boko Haram!
Indeed it later turned out that there really was no cause for alarm as the rocket was nothing but a practical expression of the technological talents of an ex-student of Federal Government College, Okigwe, Gideon Chiadikobi Emenike and his friend, Chibuisi Nwafor. The duo fabricated and launched a rocket that travelled over five kilometres into the sky before crash landing.
The exploits of these youthful Nigerians may never have come to light but for the Imo State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mohammed Katsina. Again, if they had been treated like common criminals, the story may have taken a different shape. Truth is that Katsina moved journalists to Okigwe for on-the-spot assessment of the exploits of the young lads. Giving account of what happened to newsmen, the Commissioner of Police said although the boys who fabricated the device were reckless, preliminary investigations did not raise any serious security concern.
The CP’S account: “We have identified the launch site and where the rocket crash landed. I know that the young chaps used simple components in activating this element. It is a combination of computer accessories and a highly inflammable substance.
“I will not, for security reasons disclose all the details we have concerning the device. What I want you to understand is that one of the components is something very common, something you and I use on a daily basis- sugar. We know sugar is highly inflammable. It is this sugar and some other components that propelled this device you hear that crash landed in Okigwe.
“Although the young boys can be said to be excessively reckless, preliminary investigations have not shown any criminal motive behind the adventure. I see the development as an excursion into the world of science and technology by some adventurous, skillful and intelligent young boys with incredible creativity. “This endowment propelled them into designing their own style of spacecraft.
When they launched this thing, there was about 30 minutes dream journey into space. The element eventually lost focus and crash-landed here (pointing at the point). We thank God that there was no fatal consequence to either life or property. “The element has been deactivated by our bomb disposal unit. I can tell you that the contraption does not contain any toxic or radioactive material. I like to authoritatively inform you at this juncture that the boys’ conduct was not an act of terrorism. It was a mere adventure by two young boys.
“Let me also say that people should feel free and go about their normal business. We have taken possession of the whole area. Everything has been cleared, cleaned and rendered safe for human habitation. Apart from the initial pandemonium and fear created in the minds of the people in the neighbourhood, everything ended well.
“The boys are just between 16 and 17 years old. They only tried out their learning while in the secondary school. They wanted to know if they can practicalise the theories they learnt in school. The dream of these young boys is to design a spacecraft. It was launched without funfair. “The device went some kilometres into the sky before crash-landing. Let us not forget that the command has some formidable structures on ground. We have since commenced the sweeping of Imo State of all explosive ordinances. I want these boys to be encouraged. May be, who knows tomorrow, at my old age, I may be the lucky one that would fly in the spacecraft made by these young lads.
“So, I would rather not think of punitive measures against the boys. I would rather dwell heavily on protection, rehabilitation and encouragement of these young boys. Those who ran away are free to come back. From this moment, we have ended this case.
Gideon speaks: “My name is Gideon Chiadikobi Emenike and my friend’s name is Chibuisi Nwafor. I studied in Federal Government College, Okigwe and I graduated last year. This project started when I was still in school. I was told to build a project in school for a competition.
“In my SS1, I built a helicopter. In my SS2, I was told to build another project. I built this rocket and we went for a competition in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. I came second in the competition with the project. This was at the national level.
“We also went for another competition organised by the Society for Science and Technology. I also came second. I also went for Olympiad and I equally came second there. I was told that I was going to represent Nigeria in Brazil but later, my principal said that I was no longer going to represent the country.
“I still don’t know why the principal cancelled the trip. This frustrated me somehow but later, I picked up from where I dropped and started again. I now met my friend at a learning centre. I found out that he has for things related to science. We now pooled our brains together. “That was how we planned to build a rocket and a satellite, as well as sending it into space. It was an amateur satellite because you know we have not yet university graduates.
We just graduated from secondary school last year. “We have done this for now. I was really challenged when I heard that other countries were planning to launch satellites into space. It made me to think deep. This is what pushed to do what you are seeing today. If government can adopt our technology, we can help them to actualize their dream of launching a satellite.
“This particular project was a mere attempt to reach a particular altitude. It was not fashioned to remain in space. This project came through after several experiments. If the Federal Government can sponsor us, we can take Nigeria to any level they want.
The boy’s father speaks
“My name is Friday Mgbemena Emenike. My son is curious about science. He got admission in University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, the last time. I tried to make him to study medicine but he rejected it and preferred to read aeronautic engineering. That was why he refused the admission. That is why he is still at home.
“He got an opportunity to travel to Brazil but the principal of his former school frustrated the move. He is intelligent. I am aware of this incident. When it happened, I didn’t feel too good till I learnt that the thing did not kill anybody and that it did not destroy anything. That increased my joy and I described it as the first victory.
“The question which Vanguard Metro and well meaning people of Imo State are asking is whether the Federal and State governments have taken note of the success recorded by these boys. What they will do with these boys thereafter equally remains a huge guess.