Growing up without electricity made me passionate about sector – Ohaire, Rural Electrification Fund Executive Director
The Executive Director of the Rural Electrification Fund, Dr Sanusi Ohaire, speaks to TOPE OMOGBOOLAGUN about his life and electricity problems in Nigeria
What do you do at the Rural Electrification Fund?
As the Executive Director of the Rural Electrification Fund, which is under the Rural Electrification Agency, I am saddled with the task of managing the fund based on public-private partnership. I also mobilise donor funds, attract commercial funds, develop business models to efficiently utilise the REF and coordinate various stakeholders within this space.
What made you decide to take this path?
The passion to make an impact and bring about change in the rural electrification subsector has been an age-old one for me. Growing up in the suburbs without constant electricity, going to school and learning about how the lack of electricity had been the bane of our development, and learning how the lack of electricity had shattered dreams and aspirations of young people in rural communities, started a fire in me that led me to seek solutions to solving these problems. This led me to this path, a path less travelled by regular young people.
You studied economics, then moved to energy and now you are into renewable energy/electricity, how were you able to move from one sector to the other so easily?
Economics is a very broad course that gives ample options to specialise in its various branches. Given the general knowledge that a BSc in economics provided me, and knowing that I wanted to specialise in electricity, I decided to do a master’s degree programme in energy finance, and because energy also is a broad subject, I decided to further specialise in rural energy development at the PhD level. The multi-disciplinary universities (Centre for Energy, Petroleum, Mineral, Law and Policy of the University of Dundee, Scotland and Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development of De Montfort University, Leicester) that I attended for my postgraduate degrees made the multisectoral movement seamless for me.
Electricity is one of the major social and economic challenges we have in Nigeria, what do you think is the main cause of this problem?
Some of the challenges we have with the national grid are – liquidity issues, distribution and metering constraints, transmission constraints and generation constraints. For off-grid, we have challenges with funding and investment flows.
Having worked in this field for quite some time, how do you think the problem of constant darkness can be solved?
Some of these challenges are currently being addressed. The Meter Asset Provider initiative of Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission will ensure all households get meters to monitor and manage their electricity consumption, which will tackle the issue of estimated billings. The regulator has also carried out a tariff review to allow for cost recovery, which would ultimately lead to cost reflectivity of tariffs and solve the liquidity challenge within the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry.
The Transmission Company of Nigeria is constantly expanding the transmission network and it is growing every day; hopefully, we will start implementing a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System soon that allows for efficient running of the grid.
With the recently signed German Government SIEMENS deal facilitated by the Federal Government, distribution challenges would also be largely taken care of, while investments in generation continue to grow. The Rural Electrification Fund has proved to be an efficient and sustainable way through which the country can develop off-grid electrification, in partnership with private developers.
More funds are required to scale up the intervention from this angle. The REA has initiated a lot of off-grid programmes that need to be sustained, such as the energising economies and energising education programmes.
People have alleged that one of the reasons why electricity is a long-standing issue is because the people at the top do not take advice from experts. What has been your experience so far?
We have too many ‘experts’ in the power sector that mostly prefer to be armchair critics. It goes beyond just attending TV shows and criticising efforts of the government. The sector is complicated, but the government so far has shown political will to do the right things for the country.
What are some of the challenges you face in the course of doing your job?
Working in government involves a lot of bureaucracy, stakeholders and processes that could get messy or frustrate progress. Navigating this is an everyday struggle.
You are one of the youngest heads of a federal agency in Nigeria, how do you deal with much older subordinates?
Government business is run by civil servants, and civil service is regimented and hierarchical. We are all professionals. It involves mutual respect and doing the job professionally.
What do you think is the future of oil and gas in Nigeria seeing that some developed countries are already having alternatives to dependence on oil?
Oil and gas are non-renewable and finite resources. It will continue to deplete until one day when it is all gone. We have an advantage to leapfrog several decades of research done by some developed countries in the area of renewable energy, and take advantage of modern technologies to adopt alternatives to oil and gas, such as renewable energy.