Shop owners at the Ariaria International Market in Aba, Abia State, can now enjoy constant electricity supply from a 9.5 megawatts gas-based independent power plant and a distribution system, writes Chineme Okafor
With up to 37,000 shops specialicing in a wide range of goods, the Ariaria International Market has become valued for its versatility in leather works and clothes making, and according experts deserved improved infrastructure.
The market is said to house millions of traders and artisans that contribute to the growth of the Nigerian economy as well as the states in south-eastern part of the country.
For years, the market reportedly remained without stable grid electricity supply and often relied on third-party supply sources to operate. Attempts though to remedy this through supplies from a 188MW-capacity IPP built by Geometrics Power at Osisioma, and for which agreement to distribute to Aba and Ariaria was reportedly reached in 2005, failed to come through when in 2013, the federal government was said not to have respected the content of the agreement during its power sector privatisation programme, and thus raised a legal scuffle.
Years passed by and Ariaria reportedly remained inadequately electrified by Enugu electricity distribution company (Disco), which on one hand with the government was engaged in a legal tussle with Geometrics over who owned the right to distribute electricity in the market.
It was however not for long when the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) set up its Energising Economies Initiative (EEI) to bring succour to the traders.
The REA identified and took up Ariaria as a potential beneficiary in the programme which was planned to within one year provide electricity to over 80,000 shops; empower over 340,000 micro, small and medium enterprises as well as create over 2,500 jobs through the first 16 economic clusters chosen.
Besides Ariaria, REA’s Managing Director, Damilola Ogunbiyi, explained that the EEI had provided electricity to 10,000 shops in four other markets across the country.
“To date, almost 10,000 shops have been electrified as part of the Energising Economies Initiative within Ariaira Market in Abia, Sabon Gari Market in Kano, Sura Market complex and Iponri market in Lagos, Isikan market in Ondo.
“It is therefore very clear that, this administration is committed to ensuring that Nigerian businesses are given the ability to thrive and thus boost economic activity in a conducive and healthy environment,” Ogunbiyi, stated during the Ariaria commissioning.
The EEI in Ariaria
Even though there was an outcry against REA’s decision to step into Ariaria and provide electricity to the market, while a legal battle between Geometric and the Enugu Disco continued, the agency and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) felt it was right and in public interest to carve out again and allow Ariaria Market Energy Solutions Limited (AMES) – a privately-funded special purpose vehicle (SPV), to set up a 9.5MW power system for the sole purpose of solving the electricity problems of the huge market.
Justifying its action, the NERC explained it did it rewarded operational licenses over Ariaria to AMES in line with Section 71(6) of the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005, adding that the licenses to the new operator would address the challenges of power supply to the market.
It said then, “The NERC in pursuit of overriding public interest has granted a 9.5 megawatts embedded electricity generation licence to Ariaria Market Independent Power Plant Limited and an independent electricity distribution licence to distribute same within Ariaria Market to Ariaria Independent Energy Distribution Network Limited.”
According to the commission, “The licences, issued in line with Section 71(6) of the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005 were granted after careful consideration of the applications in public interest to promote access to common goods and to promote commercialisation and industrialisation for which Ariaria, a leading commercial hub in the country is reputed for.”
Thus paving the way for AMES to move into Ariaria, NERC said, “Both licences granted to Ariaria were affirmation of the Commission’s commitment and response to the long-time yearnings of the market for a stable, reliable and sustainable electricity supply to improve quality of goods and services by Nigerian enterprises and entrepreneurs.”
And, after months of works, Buhari recently
Inagurated the system which according to REA already has 4,000 out of the market’s 37,000 shops connected to clean, affordable and stable electricity generated from it.
The other shops, the agency said would subsequently be connected to the power system one after the other, until they are all connected in 2019.
REA also explained that Ariaria has 11 sections with several trading activities including tailoring; textile trading; leather works and footwear production; printing; fabrication of tools and mechanical parts; as well as pharmaceuticals, which AMES would supply electricity to.
It said the Ariaria power system consisted of a gas-fired power plant; an extensive distribution network; and robust metering systems for each shop, adding that 15,000 SMEs in the first 4000 shops connected now run their operations with affordable and constant power from the system.
According to the REA, 250 direct jobs and 370 indirect jobs have already been created in the market by the 4,000 connected shops.
“Reliable power supply is critical to ease of doing business. We are heading towards moving our economy further.
“Jobs are created through investment in projects like this. This project shows progress can be made irrespective of political difference,” the president had said, during its commissioning.
Also, the Governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, indicated the state government was impressed with the idea of a fresh start to the Ariaria power challenge and had to throw in its support when the REA asked for it.
Ikpeazu, talked about how the government created the enabling environment which included a space; access road; and security amongst others for the IPP to set up. He added that it was all for the good of occupants of the market, and economy of the state.
“I am happy to say when this option came for power to be provided in this beautiful way, we all rallied around and said we must do the needful to give Aba the option of which power source to choose and this is far better than whatever they have seen before now.
“I am happy to say that Aba is perhaps one of the few places where we have had uninterrupted power which will scale up. With this initiative, there is a great change in business here in Ariaria market,” Ikpeazu, explained.
Even Mr. Lucky Akubueze, the chair of Ariaria International Market Aba Traders Association (AMIATA), recognised the impacts of the IPP when he said, “We in Ariaria market are delighted and most grateful to the federal government and our Governor, Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu for making it possible for our hardworking people to receive a cleaner, more reliable and affordable alternative power supply. This intervention will bring growth to our businesses and overall wellbeing to our people and customers in Ariaria market.”
More than the electricity
Beyond the IPP’s electricity which is expected to help Ariaria grow its productivity, it was equally disclosed by the power, works and housing minister, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, that the market would get to have a carbon free environment going forward.
Fashola said, “There used to be 6,000 generators in Ariaria Market producing hazardous emissions, but now it has been majorly eliminated through the implementation of federal government policies. Ariaria IPP now provides clean and reliable energy.”
His claims were further buttressed by Mr. Ubani Nkaginieme, the chief executive officer of AMES, when he hinted that as much as 85 per cent of the carbon emission from the market would be reduced, in addition to its level of noise pollution down by 50 per cent.