Taking on new opportunities for change
After Aganaba graduated from the Nigerian Law School, she discovered space law and sparked a passion that carried her through her future successes. Following her graduation, Aganaba began working as the first female space lawyer at the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency.
“My first task was to research the international partners Nigeria could collaborate with and to develop its space program,” Aganaba explained. “I also needed to figure out what happens and how to address legal issues, for example, if there is a launch failure and we lose our satellite, among other things like that.”
Aganaba also did fascinating work on the application of international environmental law to the issue of space debris. She said, “It is interesting to me that this is a hot topic now globally, and we were discussing it 15 years ago in Africa.”
She acknowledged that holding the title of first female space lawyer in Nigeria, which Aganaba didn’t know till recently that she held, was empowering. However, she knew she didn’t want her career to be limited to one title. So after working in Nigeria for a year, Aganaba left Africa to continue her education.
Her first move was to France, where she completed a master’s in space programme management at the International Space University (ISU). Upon graduating, Aganaba went on to complete her PhD at McGill University and was hired as a teaching associate and associate chair of the ISU’s space policy, law and economics department.
“I'd never thought of doing a PhD, but was persuaded to by my mentor at ISU, and so from there I just ended up becoming an ‘expert’ and did a lot of different things while studying,” Aganaba said.
Aganaba’s career has expanded with her impactful expertise on the varying facets and issues within multilevel space governance. In addition to working as a space industry consultant for the Canadian Space Agency, Aganaba represented Nigeria at two United Nations conferences, at the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and at the International Civil Aviation Organization Model Council, and worked as the executive director of the World Space Week Association. Aganaba is also on the scientific advisory boards for World View Enterprises, the Space Generation Advisory Council and the SETI Institute.
“What I've come to understand about being a lawyer is that there are competing interests that have to be balanced in every situation because one person thinks this and one person thinks that,” Aganaba said. “So as a space governance expert, my job is to say, these are the rights of the state, these are the rights of the private actors and these are the rights of everyone else. How can we all coexist?”
Finding her home among other “first and onlys”
Today, Aganaba brings her extensive knowledge to Arizona State University where she serves as an assistant professor of space and society in the School for Future of Innovation in Society, a senior global futures scientist with the Global Futures Lab and holds a courtesy appointment at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.
“ASU has been ranked number one in innovation for the eighth year in a row, but those of us who are here know that it's not just talk, they actually walk the walk and I'm proof of that,” Aganaba said. “I would say that we at the School for Future of Innovation in Society are at the heart of what it means to talk about innovation at ASU.”
While Aganaba never expected to transition from government agency roles to academia, she has found her home within the innovative and communal structure of ASU.
“All through my life, I've either been a first or an only, and I think there are actually a lot of people that are in that position,” Aganaba explained. “At ASU we, for instance, service a lot of first generation students who are the first people in their family to go to university, and that comes with a lot of pride because you've done something that no one else in your family does, but ironically too a lot of guilt!”
As Aganaba continues to meet aspiring lawyers and go-getters, she uses the world experiences and critical thinking skills she’s acquired over her career to not only teach, but also mentor her students.
“It's humbling that I’ve been told that I’m Nigeria's first female space lawyer, because of a position I held 15 years ago, but you must keep asking, ‘What about everything else that I've done since then?’,” Aganaba said. “I may have been the first, but I'm not going to be the last, and that means every opportunity where I meet other black females who have any interest in space, I say, ‘While my path isn’t followable, I can help you in whichever way that I can’.”
Seize opportunities and step out of your comfort zone
Aganaba is proof that when you step out of your comfort zone, seize opportunities and cherish moments with loved ones, anything is possible. Her classes on Strategic Thinking for Everyone and Problem Solving through Strategic Thinking are the avenues that she uses to express those sentiments.