By Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad.
Being a youth means being innovative and dynamic, strong and resilient, knowledgeable and impactful. Being a Nigerian Youth puts you amongst approximately 60% of the country’s population saddled with the responsibility of bringing about sustainable changes across various industries. Beyond Nigeria, the African continent is also dominated by young people striving every day to breathe life into various entrepreneurial and innovative pursuits.
With deeper broadband penetration and the pro0liferation of technological tools in Nigeria, young people living in remote corners of the continent are using these important tools to key into conversations and share innovative knowledge in energy, science, music, technology, medicine, fashion, etc. As a result, the wide gap that, hitherto, existed between developed and developing countries have since been bridged by the global access to information through the internet.
My thoughts on the critical roles young people must continue to play are in harmony with the theme of the 2020 International Youth Day (IYD): Youth Engagement for Global Action. I was delighted when I learnt that, for the 2020 #YouthDay, the UN rightly puts the spotlight on critical levels for youth engagement in driving development: community-level engagement; national-level engagement, which includes formulation of laws, policies, and their implementation; and engagement at the global level. These 3 critical levels further emphasize areas young people can continually drive change while meshing local and global trends to proffer solutions to everyday problems.
Many African youth continue to trudge through the varied difficulties that stand against them: from fighting for better inclusion in politics to striving amid the infrastructural deficit. In Nigeria, there has been a commendable level of youth inclusion in governance. As the Nigerian government continues to open up the floodgates for young people to take on responsibilities geared towards national development, communities of young people across Nigeria must also continue to nurture and deploy ideas to drive change in all sectors of society.
The electricity industry in Nigeria remains the most critical for national development. While over 80 million people still lack access to reliable electricity, the unwavering enterprise of Nigerian youth is critical to the success of our effort to drive down this number and achieve universal energy access.
At the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), we continue to toe the line of enabling youth inclusion for impact and development. Apart from the youthful team at REA who continue to accelerate progress in our daily business of powering Nigeria, one community at a time, the Agency has initiated an internship scheme under the Energizing Education Programme (EEP) where students are enrolled, trained and given critical roles across all phases of the development of mini-grids in select federal universities across the country.
Thus far, 180 female students, selected from 9 Federal universities under the EEP Female-STEM internship, have completed the scheme and graduated with actionable ideas and a renewed desire to impact their communities with the technical knowledge they gained in renewable energy system installation and management. We are committed to expanding such initiatives at REA to enable the youth exhibit their innovative capacity through a structured system to impact the energy sector.
With 10 years left for the global community to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is important that we continue to do our utmost across all critical levels of engagement as highlighted in this year’s IYD. All 17 SDGs under the UN agenda are critical to driving change in Nigeria and across Africa.
Moreover, as the MD/CEO of the Rural Electrification Agency, my team and I strive to drive change, primarily through SDG7: access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. In Nigeria, driving change in SDG7 is essential, as the availability of clean and reliable energy is crucial to making progress in other SDGs and the work we do at REA plays a pivotal role in this collective effort.
At the community level, we ensure comprehensive sensitization of community members on the positive impact these novel technologies can have on their livelihood as well as their economic activities. Furthermore, in all communities energized by the REA, we facilitate and nurture sustainable community-based governance of the electricity assets through the formal establishment of Rural Electricity Cooperative Societies (REUCS).
At the national level, we continue to engage critical stakeholders to drive the Agency’s mandate of driving various electrification programmes and initiatives to power unserved and under-served communities across the nation.
Our global-level engagements enable us to catalyze the off-grid market. We do this by collaborating with Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) and engaging in beneficial Public-Private Partnerships, creating an enabling environment for local and international developers to deploy solutions. Beyond the technologies, the recorded achievements of the REA illustrate that accelerating energy access requires policy-driven initiatives with knowledge-driven planning and implementation.
Indeed, the need for young Nigerians to ceaselessly nurture ideas that will enable us to light up Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. While the energy access gap remains wide, a youthful mind, when adequately utilized, knows no boundaries.