Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Baba Shehuri

Chineme Okafor in Abuja

The Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) on Tuesday said that it is looking to drastically reduce what it would cost the project promoters of 450 megawatts (MW) Azura Independent Power Project (IPP) to engage construction consultants for the IPP by engaging the engineering department of the University of Benin (UNIBEN) to monitor, evaluate and report the progress of the project.

The NBET, which is also referred to as the Bulk Electricity Trader said when it signed a pact to engage the university as the project’s construction consultant that it will henceforth look towards Nigerian universities to undertake such consultancy services in power projects that have its backing.

Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Baba Shehuri, who superintended the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signing proceeding in Abuja described the move as a smart one aimed at leveraging on the capacities of Nigerian universities and cutting regular demands for foreign exchange to engage expatriate consultants in the power sector.

Earlier, the Managing Director of NBET, Mr. Rumundaka Wonodi disclosed that the pact with Uniben will allow the university monitor and evaluate the standard of work offered by the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractors of the 450MW Azura gas-fired power plant.

Wonodi said that the decision of the agency to now engage Nigerian universities in the planning and execution of power projects in the country would become the new model with which it would use to ramp up the competencies of these universities to contribute to the nation’s power sector.

He explained that already, construction work for the plant which has a World Bank’s Risk Guarantee of about N47 billion had started in January 2016.

According to him, the plant is also backed by a Put-Call Option Agreement which the federal government provided to guarantee that it will buy back the plant in the case of unforeseen developments.

“We are using the opportunity to draw from the consultancy strength of the university for the project and also using it for the undergraduates and post graduate students to be acquainted with the sector reform. It is to grow the sector and also develop the manpower for it. We are utilising the government’s resources and pooling from the country’s intellectual base.

“Parts of providing guarantees by the government is that in the life of that project, if anything happens that makes the plant to stop working, the government will buy it and take it over from Azura.

“Therefore, it is important that during its construction, government is sure that it is constructed to world standard and if we take it over, it will continue to generate the power and for that monitoring, we are choosing to work with the University of Benin,” said Wonodi.

He said that similar approach will be adopted for other upcoming projects that the NBET is backing.

“We hope to replicate this at the Qua Iboe project, the Pan African project in Katsina and the solar project in Bauchi using the Bayero University, Kano; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi and others,” Wonodi explained.

He appealed to the EPC contractors including Siemens and Julius Berger to support the new pact especially in the disclosure of information to those concerned.

Shehuri in his remarks said that the move will solve a lot of issues around capacity building in the power sector as well as demands for foreign exchange to meet the payments of expatriates that would have been selected.

He thus advised that the university should be retained for the routine maintenances of the plant and other key projects repairs when the plant becomes operational.

Similarly, the Vice Chancellor of UNIBEN, Prof. Osasere Orumwense said that the proximity of the project to the university and its inherent engineering capacities would be handy in the project’s execution and delivery.