Electrifying Rural Communities

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the ongoing rural electrification project by the federal government is targeted towards providing clean and affordable power supply to communities

From Kogi to Kebbi and Akwa Ibom States, the rural electrification project is being carried out simultaneously in communities by the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), a federal government initiative, thus lighting up the communities with clean, affordable and durable energy.

The REA, which is the implementing agency under the Rural Electrification Fund (REF) is driven to power rural communities through off-grid independent power plants. Nonetheless, the REF was set up to maximise the economic, social and environmental benefits of rural electrification grants, to promote off-grid electrification, and to stimulate innovative approaches to rural electrification.

In the first phase, the REF is expected to energise 12 communities and deploy 19, 000 Solar Home Systems (SHS). REF projects are administered using a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model.

New Breathe of Life in Kogi

In Kogi, the new power plant has breathed life into the community. This time around, the Upake Community, the ancestral home of the Ebira and one of the largest ethnic groups in the state, in Ajaokuta Local Government Area were the recipient. Switched on for the first time ever on a certain Monday in August, the REA inaugurated the 80 kilowatts solar hybrid mini grid power plant in the town, thus bringing untold joy to the people.

For the community, which has been in existence for three centuries, it was indeed a historic occasion. Some of the residents expressed their gratitude to the federal government that at last, the dividends of democracy has been felt through the rural electrification project. For some in the fishing community, the electrification project was perhaps the first time they had ever seen light.

At the inauguration, REA Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO), Mrs. Damilola Ogunbiyi, said the Muhammadu Buhari administration was totally committed to ensuring that electricity access was made available and accessible to Nigerians. With the unveiling of the solar hybrid power plant, she noted that more families and businesses in Upake would have access to clean, sustainable and reliable electricity from the sun.

She said: “Without doubt, the solar hybrid power project being commissioned today would enhance productivity and provide jobs in Upake. It would benefit the 2, 976 members of Upake community, as families and businesses in Upake will have access to clean, sustainable and reliable electricity from the sun. As many as 32 jobs were created in the course of the project, among who were project managers, electricians, welders and bricklayers. We are hopeful that the jobs created will impact not just the immediate community, but Kogi State in general.”

While thanking the state government and the people of Upake community, Ogunbiyi also praised New Moon Nigeria Limited, and its

CEO, Oluseyi Omotosho, the firm that partnered her agency on the project.

In his speech, the state Governor, Yahaya Bello expressed delight that the federal government was committed to providing clean and reliable power supply to even remote communities all over the country, adding that he was particularly thrilled that a community in his state was one of the early beneficiaries.

“It is with great pride that Kogi State has collaborated with the Federal Government through the Rural Electrification Agency and the private sector to implement this impressive project that will ensure clean, safe and reliable electricity for the entire Upake community and its neighbouring community – Obangede.

“The use of clean energy technologies in the quest to provide electricity is an added advantage to rural communities, who have been accustomed to using generators, candles, kerosene lamps and other unsafe energy sources over time. With clean energy sources, such as this solar mini grid, the health and environmental wellbeing of our people will be safeguarded.”

The governor, who was represented by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. (Mrs.) Folashade Ayoade, expressed joy that beyond providing clean energy, the new power plant had the potential to provide employment opportunities for the people as well as help them grow their businesses.”

Also speaking, the Ohinoyi of Ebira Land, Alhaji Ado Ibrahim, who was represented at the event, described electric power as a vehicle of necessity that drives the economy. Thus he said for any community to progress, basic amenities need to be accessible.

“Electricity is a necessity that has a ripple effect on other human needs. With this solar plant facility, there will be a significant improvement in the quality of life for Upake indigenes and even the environment. It is evident that the federal government is working hard to ensure that basic needs of Nigerians are met. Small communities like Upake are not left out of the government’s developmental plans. As we can see, the REs is working hard to provide electricity to the often-forgotten rural communities,” he added.

The Ananyiwa of Upake, Ibrahim Okenyi Eneye, who also expressed gratitude to the REA said: “I stand here representing the people of our dear community. Just as you assured us of the plans to complete this project from the first day you visited us, I want to assure you that we will work with the developer to make sure that no harm will come to this project. It is our mini grid and we will protect it as our property”.

Senator Yakubu Oseni, who represents Kogi Central in the National Assembly, said members of his constituency would remain grateful to the federal government and its implementing agency for the success of the project. He also listed some of the benefits that the project would bring to the people.

“Our women will be able to process their cassava in a less stressful manner and our fishermen can preserve their products now that there is reliable electricity. I believe that the quality of lives in Upake community will improve because of this project. I look forward to seeing similar projects being installed in other communities under my leadership,” he said.

Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Power, Aliyu Magaji said: “Oftentimes, the focus is on densely populated areas and on-grid electricity. We are all here today to categorically state that every corner of rural Nigeria must be energised. That is why this commissioning is of great importance. The power sector is critical to every aspect of Nigeria’s economy. With electricity in our big cities or small rural communities, Nigeria can attain its full developmental capacity.“

Executive Director of the Rural Electrification Fund, Dr. Sanusi Ohiare, praised the Federal Government and the management of the REA for ensuring the completion of the power project.

Lighting up Kebbi Community

For the people of Kare-Dadin Kowa in Arewa Local Government Area of Kebbi State, their joy was palpable. In fact, the electrification project was heralded with traditional troupes who entertained with their drums and acrobatic displays. It was a certain Tuesday in September that their lives changed for good. The inauguration of the 98.8KW solar hybrid mini grid power plant added them to the list of communities powered by federal government rural electrification project.

Known as an agrarian community, the Kare-Dadin Kowa border town prides itself as being among communities that produce the best rice and millet in Nigeria, thus the electrification has boosted the economy of the town. The REA built under its Rural Electrification Fund (REF) powered the community through off-grid independent power plants.

According to REA, the town’s new solar hybrid mini grid plant would provide clean energy to 483 residential buildings, schools, places of worships, health centres, as well as 82 commercial buildings which would also serve thousands of the town’s inhabitants.

For the District Head of the community, Alhaji Musa Maina Jantullu, the project, which has brought his community out of perpetual darkness, would change the entire landscape for the better.

“This community has been in darkness for too long and this is why we are grateful to the Federal Government and the authorities of the Rural Electrification Agency for counting us worthy to benefit from solar technology. There is no doubt that the electricity will improve the way of life of my people and the intellectual ability of our students by having electricity to read.

“This is an agrarian community, which produces the best and largest rice and millet in Nigeria. As a border community, this will, undoubtedly, develop our community. I am elated, my subjects are joyous that we are seeing electricity for the first time, and we promise to protect and sustain the project,” he added.

Minister of Power, Saleh Mamman praised President Muhammadu Buhari for giving the required support to the REA. “Under my leadership, the Ministry of Power will continue to provide requisite policy interventions to ensure that transformative projects like this will have the desired impact of electrifying Nigeria,” he said.

At the event, the Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources and Rural Development, Aminu Umar, said he was optimistic that the solar hybrid mini-grid would not only expand, but would in no time transform the economic landscape of the state.

“Small businesses like welders, cold rooms, as well as processing mills can now operate more effectively with reliable and clean electricity as a result of this project. This solar installation has 380 panels that will provide electricity to over 3,000 residents of this community. We are the land of equity and this project is further ensuring the distribution of equitable power to the people of Kebbi State.

“My vision is to industrialise Kebbi, making it an economic business hub. This is why we have focused on the provision of electricity within Kebbi State by partnering and supporting on-grid providers with new transformers and injection of funds to stabilise and ensure constant power supply to the state.

“The impact of this power project will also be felt in other sectors, including tourism. With an available supply of clean energy, commerce and industrial activities will increase in the state. We all aspire for a fully electrified Nigeria, and we will achieve this with your continued support and dedication,” he said.

REF ED, represented by the REA MD said:

“Kare-Dadin Kowa is the second of 12 communities earmarked to benefit from Rural Electrification Fund (REF) grants. The project being commissioned here is implemented by the Rural Electrification Agency, with the goal of providing equitable access to electricity across Nigeria.

“Today, REA provides electricity to 82 commercial businesses, 482 residences and over 3,180 residents, including women and children. I must state that these are exciting times because history is being made in Kare-Dadin Kowa, Kebbi State and in Nigeria as a whole.

“Not only have the people of Kare-Dadin Kowa been provided with access to stable electricity, this project also provided job opportunities for the industrious people of this community in engineering, construction and project management. Now, more Nigerians can look forward to a Nigerian dream, where access to stable power is no longer dependent on alternative sources of electricity that are harmful to our health and the environment. “

Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Samaila Muhammed Mera, who was represented by Alhaji Ibrahim Hassan said the community and its neighbours would benefit immensely from the project.

It was gathered that the project was done with support from the private sector. Anayo Okenwa, CEO of Nayo Tropical Technology Limited, the private firm involved in the project, said the installed solar hybrid mini grid was constructed in line with international standards and best practices.

“As an indigenous firm, we are proud to have leveraged the skills and capacity of our host community, in addition to providing the enabling environment for skilled labour and job creation.,” he said.

Delivery in Akwa Ibom

In the South-south region, another milestone was recorded with the inauguration of a 100KW Solar Hybrid Mini Grid Power Plant in Akpabom Community in Onna Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State on a certain Thursday.

With a population of over 2,000 people whose major economic activities are fishing, cassava and farming, Akpabom community was the third to be commissioned under the REF.

In an address delivered by the REF ED, Dr Ohiare on behalf of the MD REA, she emphasised the FG’s commitment to meeting its developmental goals by providing electricity access for all.

She stated that “as an agency, we are responsible for powering unserved and underserved communities, therefore, it is fulfilling every time homes, businesses, schools and medical centres are connected to sustainable solar power. Almost immediately, we are able to witness rural communities being transformed with clean energy through the jobs that are created during construction, to their micro and small businesses scaling to larger capacity thanks to reliable electricity.

“What we are witnessing today is a result of the hard work of Nigerians who are determined to see positive transformations in our power sector and in Nigeria. The FG, under its Next Level agenda, is committed to providing access to clean, safe, affordable and reliable electricity across the country. This includes rural areas who have lacked electricity access for many years.

“The REF is dedicated to ensuring the distribution of electricity equally to various communities using rural electrification grants. The first set of grants under REF are for twelve communities, of which Akpabom community is the third to be commissioned.“

Thus, she urged the community to use the newly installed electricity to grow their local economies; start new businesses as she is confident that they now have the reliable electricity to power shops, cold rooms, schools and much more.

Commending the developer for his commitment to duty by bringing the dream of the agency to reality, Ogunbiyi praised the GVE Projects Limited led by its CEO, Ifeanyi Orajaka for their skills and dedication to finalise this project.

“I urge you to continue your good work by embarking on more power projects. Nigeria needs many more indigenous companies to meet the growing investment opportunities in our evolving off grid sector. Tell the market that we are open for business,”she added.

She concluded by thanking the Federal Government for giving REA the task of electrifying unserved and underserved communities, supported with policy and funding assistance to accomplish our mandate.

In a brief remark by the representative of the Clan Head of Oning Clan, Eteidung Udo Akpan expressed his community’s pleasure to the federal government in providing them with this basic social amenity. “I consider it a blessing that this project, which will change the lives of people in our community, is being implemented during my tenure as clan head.

“For many years, we have looked forward to the day that our children will be able to read at night without depending on harmful kerosene lamps. Our businesses are now fully operational; especially at night. Our fishermen are able to preserve their fish and businesses in general are growing. Today is indeed the beginning of better things to come for Akpabom.

“We are happy that out of the 31 LGAs in Akwa Ibom State, our community was selected for this transformative project. I assure you all that the entire community will maintain and protect the power plant from vandalism and theft.”

Commending the laudable effort, member representing Onna Constituency, Rt. Hon. Otuekong Nse Essien, who also inaugurated the plant on behalf of the governor said “ the newly installed solar mini grid plant will put an end to the community’s hardship. Electricity leads to economic prosperity. The people of Akpabom now have power for productive uses, businesses will thrive and education will improve. We can now move beyond the days of darkness. With this we are indeed grateful”.

Enumerating the benefits of the newly installed mini off grid, GVE Projects Limited CEO said the installed solar hybrid mini grid power plant, which has a total capacity of 100KW, has 306 high grade solar panels and 5.5KM of distribution network cable, which now serves the community with constant electricity through the 440 buildings successfully connected to the mini grid.

“It is a thing of pride that GVE, an indigenous Nigerian firm, can be a part of developing Nigeria’s rural areas. Thanks to this project, Nigerian solar developers, like myself, can access these investment opportunities and participate in growing Nigeria’s evolving off-grid sector.

“We could not have achieved this without the support of the community leaders and people of Akpabom. GVE utilised the community’s labour force thereby training and providing them with employment. It is gratifying that we not only supplied electricity, but have contributed to the economic advancement of Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria, by extension.”

In his vote of thanks, Director, REF, Bulus Maiyaki said the solar being commissioned was as a result of dedication, hard work and collaboration produces results of collaboration among the FG, state and local governments and the private sector.

“It is evident that the Federal Government of Nigeria is committed to ending electricity poverty; and with the projects commissioned across communities, we are getting closer to our goal of ensuring that standards of living are improved using clean, safe and reliable sources of power.“