Following recent concerns over poor power supply in many isolation centres across the country, the Rural Electrification Agency revved up its intervention to close the gap in some affected institutions, writes Emmanuel Addeh
A few days after the index case of the covid-19 pandemic was announced in Lagos, there was an uproar over the non-availability of power supply at the isolation centre where the patient, an Italian, was being monitored when the outbreak hit Nigeria in February.
Media reports had stated that aside the first case recorded in Nigeria who complained of unbearable heat waves due to erratic power, the stories were not different in several other centres in the country, as victims experienced severe discomfort as a result of the shortage of electricity supply.
Though by their very nature, pandemics put immense pressure on every part of a country’s infrastructure, a country like Nigeria, already confronted by a severe deficit of amenities was bound to feel the impact even more.
So intolerable was the condition of a number of the centres, that reports had alleged that the Lagos patient made moves to escape the place he was being treated, until the authorities decided to move him to a better powered and better equipped facility.
Taking up the gauntlet and faced with the huge challenge, given that it was a public health issue, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), the organisation tasked with the electrification of rural and unserved and underserved communities by the federal government, began strategising on how best to solve the problem.
A few days later, the organisation led by Mr. Salihijo Ahmad, Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer of REA, agreed to deploy a cleaner and more sustainable option: the solar power off-grid mini-grid plants to power the beleaguered isolation centres.
For the agency, the speed with which the planned strategy was deployed would also make a difference between who would survive in a matter that had become one between life and death.
One thing was sure: if stories told by patients emerging from the various isolation units were unpalatable, the chances of Nigerians reporting or agreeing to be isolated would be very slim and if treatment and drugs requiring uninterrupted power supply for preservation were damaged, the fight against Covid-19 would be lost even before it began.
To that extent, the REA said it embarked on fulfilling its pledge to deploy solar power in the lighting of several isolation centres, starting from Abuja, Lagos, the two most impacted places and Ogun state with the first phase delivered in just 14 days, according to the agency.
The agency said it presented the four completed solar hybrid mini grid plants in the three states as part of its support in stemming the tide against the Covid-19 pandemic.
For a start, the REA handed over to authorities at the health centres a 53.1KWp solar hybrid mini grid installed at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital Covid-19 isolation centre and a 25KWp solar hybrid mini grid at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) public health laboratory in Lagos.
Also, the REA handed over a 20KWp solar hybrid mini grid at the 128-bed Ikenne isolation centre and the 10KWp solar mini hybrid Iberekodo isolation centre in Ogun state.
It said the initiative was being implemented by the agency to complement the efforts of the federal and state governments as well as the private sector in containing the spread of the covid-19 virus in the country.
This, the agency noted, followed the outlined intervention and palliative measures of President Muhammadu Buhari, in his national broadcast of 29th of March, 2020 and the Minister of Power, Saleh Mamman’s directive on the role of REA in complementing the government’s effort.
The organisation had before now, said that it was providing emergency electrification of covid-19 health centres across the country in collaboration with development partners.
Ahmad, while delivering his remarks at the handover of the project, reiterated REA’s support in containing the pandemic and commitment towards electrification of unserved and underserved areas across the country.
Ahmad added that the initiative was a swift response to a national call on agencies by government to intervene in the ongoing fight against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said: “As we all know the world is faced with a challenging task of finding solutions towards the containment of the covid-19 pandemic which has ravaged countries across the world, including Nigeria.
“Since the identification of the index case in Nigeria, the federal government has put up measures to contain the spread of this virus in the country by providing funding, setting up new structures, improving existing ones as well as capacity building for our dedicated health care workers who are in the frontlines.
“ Earlier on, Mr. President set up a Presidential Task Force on covid-19 to combat the spread of the virus and subsequently outlined interventions and palliative measures in his national broadcast of 29th March, 2020.
“The Minister of Power also directed on the role of REA in complementing the federal government’s efforts on covid-19 in his press release of 31st March, 2020.
“The Agency also put out a press release on 3rd April, 2020 outlining its support towards containing Covid-19 in the country by providing emergency electrification of covid-19 health centres across the country, collaboration with development partners on accelerating disbursement to qualifying developers.
“This is as well as engaging the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through the Federal Ministry of Power towards inclusion of energy companies under the Covid-19 intervention program of the bank”
He added: “The REA being the implementing agency of the federal government for the electrification of unserved and underserved areas across the country hereby provides and hands over this 53.1KWp solar hybrid mini grid at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital Covid-19 Isolation centre.
“This project is one of initial four solar hybrid mini grids implemented by the REA at Covid-19 health facilities.
“The other three are 25KWp solar mini grid at the NCDC public health laboratory in Lagos, 20KWp solar hybrid mini grid at the 128-bed Ikenne isolation centre and the 10KWp solar mini hybrid mini grid at the 100-bed Iberekodo isolation centre in Ogun state.
“Implementing these projects will provide clean, safe and reliable electricity to enable our health workers thrive towards the fight against this Covid-19 disease”.
It was learnt that the 10KWp solar hybrid mini-grid in Ogun has 28 of 380Kwp solar panels with total installed capacity of 10.640KWP and 16 numbers of 12V/200AH batteries with 10kw hybrid inverter capacity as well as safety, control and distribution network to provide back-up and stand-alone clean, safe and reliable power to the centre to enable dedicated health workers save lives and fight covid-19.
Ahmad acknowledged the work of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19, the NCDC and the Economic Sustainability Committee towards containing Covid-19 in the country, while keeping the economy viable and sustainable.
He assured the federal government and the Nigerian people of fulfilling the REA’s mandate of providing clean, safe, reliable and affordable electricity to unserved and underserved areas across the country.
In his comments, the Director of Administration at the NCDC, Mr. Yakubu Abdullahi, who represented the NCDC Director General, Dr Chike Ihekweazu, applauded the gesture by the REA, stressing that it will go a long way to easing the difficulties hitherto encountered during power shortages.
“This will truly help our health workers in containing the spread of Covid-19 in the country” he said.
The beneficiaries of the solar mini grids thanked the federal government and the REA for delivering the project towards combating the pandemic, noting that they will provide the much needed power in the institutions.
The NCDC said that the project will not only provide constant power to the centres to help combat Covid-19, it will also provide a conducive environment for patients to recover from this disease.
The swift response of the REA’ to the hitherto looming crisis in the centres has also drawn commendation from some quarters, including the minister of power Mamman, who lauded the agency on the prompt completion of projects.
In a statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Communications, Aaron Artimas, the minister said that providing the patients with the necessary power would guarantee them an excellent atmosphere to recuperate.
Mamman, said rising swiftly to the president’s directive to specific ministries and agencies to provide succour in the fight against the deadly virus, the REA effectively installed solar power within a short period of time following.
“The projects were handed over to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 through the NCDC, without fanfare in view of the physical distancing order of the federal government.
“The NCDC which has taken control of the facilities applauded both REA and the federal ministry of power for the gesture, saying that it would go a long way to assist in curtailing the spread of the coronavirus in Nigeria” the minister said.
With its intervention in providing uninterrupted power supply to some of the centres across the country, the agency said it was set to scale up its effort to ensure that the pain faced by covid-19 victims is at least ameliorated by ensuring that the centres are adequately served.