Despite the seeming pessimism by Nigerians as to whether the country will ever get it right in its effort to provide reliable power supply, the newly revamped Rural Electrification Agency appears to have become the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Emmanuel Addeh reports that the strategic selection of rural communities and public universities by the agency for location of renewable power is not only restoring modernity, but is helping to ramp up productive use of electricity in the benefitting areas and institutions.
Essentially, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), is the implementing agency of the federal government, saddled with the responsibility of powering unserved and underserved communities and of recent, the electrification of carefully selected institutions of government, like schools and hospitals.
Its mission is to provide access to reliable electric power supply to the chosen beneficiaries and in some way, allow for reasonable return on investment through appropriate tariff that is economically responsive and supportive.
Aside promoting rural electrification, the agency through the Rural Electrification Fund (REF) encourages public and private sector participation, sometimes using decentralised solutions to provide demand-driven initiatives.
For the reinvigorated agency, now mostly manned by young Nigerians, including its Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ahmad Salihijo, its Executive Director, Rural Electrification Fund (REF), Dr. Sanusi Ohiare and Head of Project Management Unit (PMU), Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP), Anita Otubu, it’s not just about giving light as an end in itself, it should in some way lead to productivity.
In the areas already visited by the agency, artisans and small businesses can now work without worrying about Nigeria’s largely epileptic power supply while tertiary institutions can now power their research and learning facilities 24 hours of the day.
In the same vein, security has been enhanced by the provision of street lighting in the institutions and hitherto darkness-ridden communities by the REA, while students now essentially have access to uninterrupted supply of electricity to carry out their scholarly duties.
Even in the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic, the REA was unrelenting, deploying several solar hybrid mini-grids to power isolation centres in hard-hit states, especially the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun states.
To ensure sustainability, the agency formed the Rural Electricity Users Cooperative Society (REUCS), which is specifically designed to encourage beneficiary communities to take ownership of mini-grid systems, while ensuring safety, productive use as well as sustainability of the mini-grids.
So, as part of its important journey to electrifying Nigeria’s unreached communities and power higher institutions of learning, the REA’s ship berthed in Gombe and Bauchi, Nigeria’s north east, last week in furtherance of carrying out its mandate.
The excitement on the faces of the beneficiaries could only be imagined, given that throughout their lifetime, for instance, the Gombe community had never experienced what it meant to have electricity.
At the inauguration of a 1.12MW Solar Hybrid Project at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who attended virtually, reiterated that the government was making a lot of progress in its plan to power all the 37 federal universities and seven teaching hospitals in the country.
Aside the renewable energy training centre, the ATBU facility also boasts of 5.25 kilometres streetlight, 5.42MWh backup batteries, four transformers and a 300KVA backup diesel generator.
In the process of construction, 310 jobs were created, internal and external roads were built, while during the testing phase, it achieved 303kw maximum generation on February 7, 2021.
The vice president noted that the ongoing projects being executed by the REA were critical to the achievement of that objective and reduction of Nigeria’s carbon footprints, explaining that the strategy was to have at least 30 per cent of the country’s total electricity supply from renewable sources, majorly solar power in the next nine years.
Osinbajo who noted that at least 22,000 students in the country and several faculties in several universities were already hooked on to the programme, explained that the country was working hard to curb emissions by 20 per cent immediately and 45 per cent in collaboration with its international partners.
The vice president stated that the programme would expand the country’s commitment to global best practice and to cleaner energy in line with the Paris agreement on climate change.
As the fastest growing means of energy today, he noted that renewables will be the key economic driver of growth in the nearest future.
“This is yet another milestone in the Energizing Education Programme (NEP). The objective of the programme is that all 37 federal universities and seven teaching hospitals will be provided with captive energy solution to ensure sustainable and reliable power for students and faculties.
“Already 22,000 students and faculties across the country are connected to completed projects in Kano, Ebonyi, Benue and now in Bauchi. Apart from providing reliable power for these institutions, we will have a renewable energy workshop and training centre to provide training for students on renewable energy.
“Renewables are the highest growing source of energy today. In the future , Nigeria intends to have over 30 per cent of its electricity supply from renewables by the year 2030. Our future workforce needs to be ready for this transition.”
The vice president stressed that the current development aligns with Nigeria’s plan to reduce emissions by 20 per cent unconditionally and 45 with international support, saying that the new university project, comes with a renewable energy workshop and a training centre to provide training for the students on renewable energy.
He commended the REA for its hard work and openness in the implementation of the programme, urging the agency to redouble its efforts.
He added that the project at the university comes with massive street lighting and retrofitting of existing ones for better security in the university environment.
“There’s provision for on-the-job training for 20 female students undergoing STEM courses in the benefitting institutions. The training focuses on the design and installation of various components of the project,” Osinbajo explained.
In his remarks, Minister of Power, Mr Saleh Mamman, maintained that gone are the days where students read at night with candles, lanterns and torches, saying that aside the captive hybrid solar power plant, renewable energy workshop and training centre, the federal government also installed street lights in the benefitting institutions.
He said the plant was funded by the federal government of Nigeria’s green bond, noting that it underscores Nigeria’s adherence to global best practices, as the world transitions to cleaner sources of energy.
Managing Director of the REA, Ahmad Salihijo, while speaking at the ceremony, noted that the project was in line with the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
He stressed that the essence of the programme was to provide clean, reliable, safe and sustainable electricity to selected federal universities and teaching hospitals.
“In implementing this, the programme rehabilitates existing electricity distribution infrastructure, illuminate university campuses for improved security and construct renewable energy training centres to nurture female STEM students under this programme.
“The STEM Internship Programme is an important component of this project, where 20 female students received training in the design and construction of the solar hybrid power plant.
“Under the tutelage of the solar developer, these women received hands-on field and classroom training through the course of this project’s implementation. In total, 60 female stem students have been trained so far,” he disclosed.
Governor of Bauchi State, Mr. Bala Mohammed, who also spoke at the event, highlighted the importance of renewable energy and expressed his desire to continue to collaborate with the federal government.
Represented by the Commissioner for Science and Technology, Usman Abubakar, Mohammed advised the university to make the best use of the facility for the betterment of society.
The Emir of Bauchi, Dr Rilwanu Suleiman, who lauded the REA for the magnificent job it was doing throughout the country, noted that it was humbling that the project was located at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, university in Bauchi.
“While Bauchi is known as the pearl of tourism, we are also a people open to positive change. Therefore, we gladly embrace new development initiatives, such as renewable energy that aim to improve the lives of our citizens.
“With renewable energy, our indigenes can enjoy the benefits of clean, safe and reliable electricity. The ripple effect of providing access to stable and clean sources of electricity, impacts not just the power sector, but the entire nation.
“As security continues to be a key concern across Nigeria, it is impressive to know that the Energizing Education Programme incorporated security improvements into project design and implementation with the installation of solar powered street lights over 13.23 km.
“As a result, the illumination of the campus at night has now created a safe and secure environment for students and faculty. This is quite notable.
“Ensure that no harm occurs to any of the equipment and installations that have been placed in your care, not just for ATBU, Bauchi State or Nigeria but for Africa. We must rise to exceed expectations,” the traditional ruler advised.
The inauguration of the project was not over yet, as the head, PMU, Otubu, specially underscored the importance of the female STEM component of the project.
“The technical experience you have gained through the female STEM Internship Programme should be used towards providing solutions that will improve energy access,” she noted.
She added that it is no secret that the federal government through the REA is relentless in seeing that educational institutions and the entire country have increased access to clean and reliable electricity for improved quality of education and productivity.
“The efforts of the Ministry of Power, the National Assembly and their Committees on Power, in creating an enabling environment for the successful implementation of the Energising Education Programme as well as all electrification projects across Nigeria must be commended,” she noted.
The contractor, handling the project, Sterling and Wilson Nigeria Limited, said that represented by Cabinda Singh, stressed that the company commenced and delivered the project to the university in conformity to international best practice and standards.
“The installed solar mini grid power plant has a total capacity of 1.12MW completed with a world-class training centre, efficient solar panels and batteries, installation of streetlights for illumination, distribution networks as well as backup power source. The solar hybrid mini grid now serves the entire institution irrespective of faculty, dormitory and buildings in the institution with constant electricity,” he stated.
In Dakiti community, Akko local government, Gombe state, where the inauguration of an 85KWP Solar Hybrid Mini-grid took place, the federal government stated that it was continuing its ongoing deployment of 19,000 Solar Homes Systems (SHS), throughout the country.
The power plant in the state also consists of 100 solar panels, 96 batteries and over 4.5KM distribution network cables and is expected to serve over 1500 people in the area with constant electricity.
At the ceremony, the REA boss noted that the project was successfully deployed under the First REF Call of the federal government’s Rural Electrification Fund (REF), an initiative designed to promote off-grid electrification and ensure that electricity is equitably distributed across Nigeria.
He stated that having been saddled with the responsibility of powering unserved and underserved communities across Nigeria using off-grid solutions, the federal government had taken the initiative to several states, including Kogi, Kebbi, Ebonyi and Akwa Ibom.
“It might interest you to know that through this first Rural Electrification Fund (REF) Call, we are ensuring electricity access across 12 communities and deploying over 19,000 Solar Home Systems (SHS) across the nation.
“We have commissioned this kind of project in Kogi, Kebbi, Ebonyi, Akwa Ibom and much more across the country. I can confidently tell you it is working and we will continue to do more.
“These interventions are testaments of the federal government’s resolve to improve energy infrastructure across Nigeria, especially in unserved and underserved communities,” he said.
He added that with the deliberate plan to power Nigeria, more communities will be energised across the country under the 2nd Call of the REF as well as other REA programmes.
He noted that the intervention in off-grid communities was key to accelerating true national development as great opportunities abound in communities such as Dakiti, with the availability of sustainable and reliable energy.
Also speaking, the Governor of Gombe State, Mr Muhammad Yahaya, explained that the project confirms the federal government’s agenda to improve electricity access to Nigerians.
He underscored the importance of Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the implementation of the project, which he said will ensure clean, safe and reliable electricity in the benefitting communities.
“It is important to stress that the benefits of clean and safe and constant electricity will increase the income of the people in this community through improved business activities as well as improve productivity of the people while ensuring good education for school children.
“I want to assure you that the people of Gombe State, will do our best to support not just this project but all electrification projects to ensure greater success and sustainability because the impact is already changing lives,” the governor noted.
The governor commended the efforts of the REA in providing reliable electricity to underserved and unserved communities across several states in the country.
He urged the benefitting areas to treat the project as their own by guarding it against vandalism and in ensuring prompt payments of electricity consumed.
“You should also bear in mind that other communities will be watching to see how you make use of the power plant and the constant electricity it will provide,” he stressed.