Power has many uses, applications and meaning. It is axiomatic that the life of military men in and out of service revolve around power. Interestingly, while some retire and decide to go into partisan politics, many won’t give up on ‘power’. For General Sulaiman Dili Aliyu, there can be no other place to enjoy solar energy than the North-east; his place of birth. Passionate about power and teaming up with friends to stabilise its supply in the terrorists-ravaged region, Aliyu feels that the irrigation and harvest of sunshine are natural solutions to the reconstruction of the region. Stanley Nkwazema captured the strides of the General
The retired soldier who won’t give up on ‘power’
When you ask who really Sulaiman Dili Aliyu is, it may interest you to note that he retired from the Nigerian Army in June this year as a Major General. He is from Borno State, Nigeria.
“I was born in 1961 in Biu. After my primary and secondary schools, I attended The Kaduna Polytechnic for National Diploma and Higher National Diploma in Electrical Engineering. I graduated from the Nigeria Defence Academy in 1984 and was posted to the Nigerian Army Engineering Corps. I went to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Bauchi and the University of Abuja for my MBA, National Defence University of China for Defence and Strategic Studies and also the Nigeria Defence Academy for my Master degree in International Affairs.”
He says he is an electrical engineer who is registered with the Nigerian Society of Engineers.
“During my course of service in the Army, I had the opportunity to serve as Nigeria’s Defence Attaché to China, covering six other countries: Laos, Japan, Vietnam, North Korea and Mongolia. Indeed, I interacted with so many people and travelled widely and met different kinds of nationalities from Asia and Europe. I also met with people and groups interested in investing in security. It may interest you to note that security these days is not restricted to guns, bullets and bombs or heavy ammunition. In the current context, it goes beyond that to include food security, economic, job and power security.”
When he retired from the service, he was naturally inclined towards aligning with colleagues and friends he met outside, while in service. He says he spent his final years in service fighting the Boko Haram insurgency from the Defence Intelligence Agency where he last worked.
“Fighting insurgency goes beyond the Army and since I cannot do it with Army anymore, I now felt I should continue the fight in order to assuage the level of destitution and devastation that people have faced. I am from there and I know where it pinches. If one takes a trip to Maiduguri which is the epicenter of this madness, you will discover that the majority of the populace is destitute: no hope and no means of survival. Electricity was last experienced in Maiduguri more than four years ago; the place is in complete darkness. If you see any form of power there, that may be a generator from government or some people, Maiduguri as big as it is takes less than 3 megawatts from the National Grid, Yola 2 megawatts, then Gombe and Yobe,” he said.
General Aliyu says there is darkness and serious shortage of power in the Northeast. In the reconstruction process that is being envisaged by the Federal Government, without power, he reckons they have to think again because there can be no true reconstruction.
“I was taught in the Army that where there is conflict, the next strategy is actually rebuilding. After studying the situation with my friends and colleagues, we decided to look for investments to bring into Nigeria. The area that is apparently very clear in the whole country is power. If you narrow down the North, particularly the Northeast, you have no option than naturally going into that part because that is where sun shines for more than 12 hours daily and that is the natural resource we need to harness.”
According to him, when he and his group approached their colleagues, the LTI Group from Germany, they were the people that showed genuine interest in solar power due to their experience in that field as they have been in business for more than 35 years, transiting from design to what they are now.
“When we were approached, it naturally fell into our thinking that Nigeria is the destination. They conducted their checks and did their due diligence and decided to come. They wanted to know how the system works here. Because of the availability of sunshine and experience of LTI Energy we decided to go to the North-east. I wanted us to go to Maiduguri which has been the epicenter. For obvious reasons, we need to help our people to get power. When they have power they can get to help themselves and create jobs. Power is everything in development. The reconstruction of the North-east requires power. Of course, everyone outside Nigeria; even those in the country will always tell you Maiduguri is a no-go area.
It is actually not a no-go area, it’s just the perception. People will not be highly convinced until they see it practically. The insurgencies have been degraded badly that they can’t pose much threat to anyone in Maiduguri unlike before. But of course we now had a compromise to face. And that is Yola, the capital of Adamawa State. The state has a grid connection that can take more than 300mw especially the Taraba and Adamawa Transmission Company lines. We have equally checked with the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission to know their requirements, terms, rules and regulations. We discussed with Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Company to know what we are required to do to put power into the national grid in the North-east especially Adamawa. We have also gotten responses on the Environmental Impact Assessment from the Federal Ministry of Environment. It is a process that takes a long while. They have to analyse for the rainy and dry seasons before giving you the go ahead or final approval.”
He says they now have the provisional approval to proceed to the next stage. The company is currently negotiating with NBET on the Power Purchase Agreement and also applied for license from the NERC. Even before this, there other steps they took to ensure they did not make any mistake.
“When we made up our mind to do this work, we approached NIPC on how investments were done in Nigeria. They gave us their guidelines and when they came for the road show in London in July we all went there and signed the $600 million investment with the Germans to bring solar power into Nigeria. We signed with a German Bank and LTI is at the centre of it. They are the manufacturers of the equipment. They are not giving us the entire money. Most of it will come in terms of power equipment. We have the investment ready; we just need to get the regulatory agencies to give us the go ahead to start putting power into these areas. We have marked Adamawa as one place, Kebbi and Kano and we hope to put 100Mw in each of the three states and locations. We have also finalised discussions with the state governors and earmarked the lands suitable for it. That is where we are now. The investment roundtable was organised to sensitise people and bring all the stakeholders together; including the regulatory agencies so that we can discuss the way forward. Many of the companies that are putting up solar power in the North, about 14 of them, have been given licenses on the Power Purchase Agreements. Interestingly, none of them is going to the North-east. We kept wondering why. They do not want the risks involved and people from there cannot run away from their homes. We are spearheading and pioneering this idea.
Incidentally, the irrigation, the sunshine effect in the Northeast is the highest in the country. Anybody who goes there must have a good return on investments and recoup the funds spent than anywhere else. The security issues to me are not a big problem because apart from the fact that I am from the military, I was born and schooled there. What people are seeing, I don’t see it. We were able to convince our partners to invest there.”
Retirement and Transition to Civilian Life
The transition to civilian life, for General Aliyu, has been seamless. He had worked outside the country in the last five years. He came in just last year. While outside, according to him, he was very busy in the Embassy of Nigeria in China and always into discussions with investors coming in to invest in Nigeria.
“Our mandate in the Embassy is to attract investors especially under the former President Goodluck Jonathan. What I did then and what I am doing now in my last four years of service while I was in Beijing is like a natural thing. I just went back to investment in military and non-military settings. Like I said, security these days is beyond the military. We have had investors in agriculture which I participated during the negotiation for loans in Power in Mambilla and Zungeru when the former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was in charge. I also went round with the former Minister of Agriculture and the current President of African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adeshina, looking for rice mills, cassava processing machines and all that. I was also with the Niger Delta Ministry looking at investors in the oil sector including in power; looking at the Gauge Dams and Hydro Power Plants.”
Where His Passion Lies…
The general says he derives so much joy doing what he is doing.
“My background is electrical engineering and power. As a young man, I had passion for power. Again, this investment in solar energy will bring value to our country, employing our teeming youths. If you are going to install a 100Mw Solar Power plant, nothing less than 10,000 people will be employed directly and indirectly. The Solar Panels when laid, you can also cultivate vegetables under them. It is an agriculture and power project. It is a very serious business. That is why I am very pleased with this government that has given NBET authority to sign Power Purchase Agreements in solar because the multiplier effect cannot be over-emphasised. It is going to be in the areas that have been seemingly neglected in development; that is the Northern part of the country where you find abject poverty. It will improve the lives of the people. Apart from giving them power, the effects of employment and Corporate Social Responsibility will be very high. For the plant in Adamawa, we are setting up a research centre at the Federal University of Technology in Yola, which will train engineers in the centre. The Germans are also finalising arrangements on setting up a factory where they will assemble the Solar Panels and other equipment. We have three locations under consideration. I wanted them to go to Yola but they said Yola, Bauchi or Abuja. We are yet to finalise on the site,” he stated.
To him, wherever it is going to be, it will be a factory that will provide employment for the youths, technicians on the field and also teach people what to do in the area. He believes this is a very serious issue that requires government encouragement.
The Solar Agreement
He says government has signed with 14 companies for solar. He explains that while this agreement was going on in July, he and his team were pursuing the investment.
“We came in after the agreement has been signed. Now our own is about being signed, we have issues because this investment is premised on the Power Purchase Agreement. It is what guarantees the investors return on investment. If it is not signed, the investment will not materialise.”
Aliyu’s fears are premised on the fact that now that they are in the process of signing with NBET, the rules are shifting. He says government is shifting the goal posts. He laments that there are obvious frustrations for some of the companies who were not part of the first 14. They are the second batch who has been stretched to a level beyond frustrations because new rules have emerged.
Aliu noted, “Now, NBET wants to bring competitive bidding. They want to tell you that the money earmarked for off take has been exhausted; therefore the prices they are giving you per kilowatt will have to change. Incidentally, the North-east should be given a lot of incentives because the price you are buying cannot be less than what they are buying from other people. If you are an investor and you are going to a disadvantaged area, you need to be encouraged; the price given to you should not be higher and not reduced either.”
To him, these are the frustrations that are manifesting. He says they have kept talking with them.
“We have seen the Minister of State Power and the Investment Promotions Council is assisting us to put the situation in proper perspective to the authorities that these people are actually taking a big risk, higher than any other group. Hopefully, before the end of the year they will listen and give us favourable consideration.”
Tackling a Nation’s Power Problem
“The major problem facing Nigeria today is evacuating power from where it is produced to the transmission lines. We have already written formally for intent in stabilising the grids and Transmission Company of Nigeria has given the areas they are interested in the first phase. I think TCN has issues with the laws establishing the organisation. They have restrictions on how to deal with the investors directly. Government should be able to let them have the opportunity to bring in Investors that will stabilise the power sector. Let them sign with TCN. In fact the first tranche of the investment they are bringing to Nigeria is about $9 billion US Dollars. To stabilise the grid around the Onitsha, North-east and Sokoto areas; building 330Kv lines as against the 132KV, some areas have 33 and they are required to build a parallel 330KV. It requires a lot of money and I don’t think our government has the money for that. They will the toll lines just like the Road Toll Gates. In fact, we are talking and formal letters have gone from us to TCN, now awaiting favourable response. Unfortunately, during the meeting, they sent a very junior officer who could not provide the much needed answers and assurance. We need answers to some of the questions posed on why they are not talking about stabilising the grid which is the major issue every power producer has now. The TCN does not have enough lines to evacuate what is being produced.
In the solar power projects, one of the considerations is evacuation. Before you are given a PPA license you must have your evacuation service authorised by the TCN. The problem most of them are facing now is that what they are producing cannot be taken by the grid. We are ready with the investment in transmission lines and hope TCN will take decisions as quickly as possible,” the general explained.
A Soldier’s Family, Complaints and Challenges
General Aliyu believes a soldier’s family is always suffering. His first marriage crashed because of his life in the military and it had to do with constant postings.
“When you are trained as a soldier, you can be posted at short notice. That is the life of a soldier and you dare not complain. Unfortunately, my second wife also died after a brief illness. Our wives always suffer because of our absence and apparent engagement in national service. The military man, whoever he is, as he grows in service must have the conflict in that area. There is no way you can serve in the army for 30 to 35 years without being involved in one conflict or the other that will certainly take you away from home. Our families are always in suspense and suffer our absence. Many of us as junior officers did not know our kids until we came back from postings. I was in Liberia, Yugoslavia and some other places. All those absent days affected the family. Now, I am making amends to spend more time with them. I work from 9am to 6pm. I am at home after work. I don’t go out and my social life is not too much anymore. If I did before as a young officer, I do not anymore. I can say I am an old man now. I stay with the younger ones that were left behind. I have seven children from my marriages.”