Powering Underserved Nigerian Communities

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Emmanuel Addeh writes that the Rural Electrification Agency, a federal government body set up to provide mostly off-grid power to Nigeria’s poor and inaccessible communities, is rising up to the challenge

The smiles on their faces told the whole story. A story of hope restored and a once dark, uncertain future now lit up by a rash of solar-powered mini grids that would effectively boost the supply of power and increase economic activities in the benefiting areas.

Aside several isolation centres that had their services made easier and more convenient by the provision of off-grid electricity during the lockdown, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) seems to have made up its mind to continue to forge on despite all the odds, including paucity of funds.

Before now, the agency had connected 364 households to solar power in Bayelsa and inaugurated two solar hybrid mini grids in the villages of Akipelai and Oloibiri, with a total capacity of 134.64kW for both communities under the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP), powered by 180kWh of lithium battery storage and two units of 100kva diesel generator sets.

Given the difficulties faced by the residents before the construction of the facilities which are expected to provide clean, safe and reliable electricity to hundreds of people and spur economic growth in the communities, it was sweet relief.

Considering the several unfulfilled promises in the past, many residents of Eka Awoke in Ikwo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State and Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area, Anambra, must have been pleasantly surprised that the projects were completed on schedule and are now open for public use.

From the way the indigenes trooped out, it was obvious that something remarkable had taken place in the rustic, rural and poor community, but now wholly transformed areas.

For Oliver Aliobu, an indigene, for instance, it was the first time in his close to six decades on earth that he was experiencing electricity for the first time. Like Aliobu, many of persons his age, hadn’t known what it meant to enjoy electricity, but now will henceforth have uninteresting supply for the rest of their lives.

Indeed, several researchers had found out that development depends largely on adequate and regular energy supply, particularly in its modern forms such as electricity, with just 18 per cent people in rural areas in Nigeria having access to power.

With over 50 per cent of the Nigerian population living in rural areas and more than 60 per cent of this depending on firewood for energy needs, it is only an understatement that national development is highly impeded due to a lack of access to electricity by rural dwellers.

Added to that is that people who still depend on firewood, apart from its health implications, cause an annual loss of 3.6 per cent or 350,000 hectares of wood lands and pose danger to the environment.

It is probably in that light, that the commissioning of the 100kw solar hybrid mini grid in Eka Awoke in Ikwo, Ebonyi, has received several applause from both locals and government officials.

In fact, the day the project was officially open, it attracted the location of a rice milling plant in the community as announced by the Minister of State for Power, Mr. Goddy Jedy-Agba, who revealed this at the ceremony.

“The ministry of power is providing and will continue to provide all necessary support for seamless implementation of all federal government policies in the decentralisation of the power sector.

“ I am, therefore, thrilled that our drive has led us to this great event. This is only the beginning of greater accomplishments to come,” he assured.

The project is that of REA in collaboration with a private sector player, Clouds Energy Photoelectric Limited and implemented through public private partnership.

The REA Managing Director, Mr Salihijo Ahmad, said during the project that it was designed to provide jobs for the community and urged the people to put it to productive use.

He said that it was important to do that because the federal government was looking forward to assessing its positive impact on the rural community of the project which was designed with some economic impact assessment measures.
The REA boss said the project would power the healthcare facilities in the community, adding that it was implemented from the first set of grant to the Rural Electrification Fund for off-grid electrification across the country.
Ahmad said the essence of the project is to promote economic activities in rural communities.

“I am delighted to announce that with the solar hybrid mini-grid being commissioned today, homes, businesses and the entire community will now have access to clean, safe and sustainable energy. This automatically enhances productivity and provides jobs in the community,” he stated.

Ebonyi State Governor, David Umahi, in his comments, said the solar power plant would trigger industrialisation in the community, stressing that the impact of the project was already changing lives positively.
His Deputy, Mr Kelechi Igwe, who represented him, said that the project had also provided jobs for indigenes of this community and will create more during its expansion.

“We look forward to witnessing and commissioning more of this projects that will improve the quality of life for the people of Ebonyi and revolutionise the face of our economy,” he stated.

He said since the project is a clean energy focused one, it would culminate in the attainment of improved health and environment in the state.

Umahi commended the federal government and REA for providing reliable electricity to the unserved and underserved community with electricity and urged the agency to do more where possible.

“I want to assure you that we, the people of Ebonyi State, will do our best to support this project to ensure greater success and sustainability. Its impact is already changing lives.

“This project has also provided jobs for indigenes of this community and will create more during the expansion of this project,” he said.

Traditional ruler of the area, HRH, Ezeh Omereoha I of Eka -Awoke Unweueka Ikwo, said there was no electricity in the community until the project illuminated it, saying that there had since been 24 hours daily power supply.

The monarch, who also expressed gratitude to the federal government for locating the project in his domain, promised to secure the solar project.

“I have been doing my best to ensure that the property of the government is protected in this area. We have a vigilance group. We have neighbourhood watch that take care of day and night security guard,” he added.

As a farming community, he said the project will help to make sure crops are being transferred elsewhere and that the best yields will be harvested.

The Community Head of Eka Awoke, Eze Dickland Ogaluagu, also expressed gratitude to the federal government and the private sector developer for providing electricity to their community.

“On behalf of my people, I want to thank the federal government of Nigeria, the governor of our great State, the Managing Director, Board and Management of the Rural Electrification Agency and the developers for the initiation and successful completion of this project” he said.

Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Chris Azubogu, in his intervention, said the economy cannot develop without electricity supply, disclosing that the hospital had hitherto been powered by a generator.

Speaking, the Clouds Energy Chief Executive Officer , Mr. Theophilus Nweke urged the youths of community to take the project as theirs.

“The installed solar hybrid mini grid power plant, which has a total capacity of 100KW, has 330 high grade solar panels and 12KM of distribution network cable, which now serves this community with constant electricity through the 300 buildings successfully connected to the mini grid,” he disclosed.

The story was not different when the federal government team landed in Anambra to officially kick off the use of a 7.5 KWP project at the Joint Hospital in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area, Anambra State.

Governor Willie Obiano said the hospital project which was carried out by the REA in partnership with a private sector contractor: Eauxwell Nig Limited, within a period of eight weeks, would improve its quality of service to patents.

Obiano, who was represented by the Senior Special Adviser on Power, Energy and Water Resources, Hon. Victor Meju, noted that the solar project would ensure clean, safe and reliable electricity in the hospital.

“It is important to stress that the benefits of clean, safe and reliable electricity in this hospital will increase the number of patients visiting the hospital and improve the quality of health service by doctors to patients.

“We will now be able to attend to patients at night and store blood and medicinal supplies without fear of them getting damaged,” he maintained.

Obiano further sought the extension of the solar projects to other communities in the state in order to address their health challenges.

“I am humbled that this initiative is happening in our state and is the first of many to be commissioned by the Rural Electrification Agency. It is with great pride that Anambra State has collaborated with the federal government through the Rural Electrification Agency to implement this impressive project that will ensure clean, safe and reliable electricity in this hospital.

“I want to assure you that we, the people of Anambra State, will do our best to support this project to ensure greater success and sustainability. Its impact is already changing lives.

“Your efforts are being witnessed in various states across the nation and as a state government, we pledge our support to this administration’s endeavours, ” he said and advised the people to treat the project as their own.

“ Know that other communities will be watching to see how you make use of the power plant and the constant electricity it will provide,” he stressed.

In his intervention, the Executive Director, Rural Electrification Fund (REF), Dr. Sanusi Ohiare, told the governor that plans were already underway to replicate the project in another community around the area, adding that that the plan was already accommodated in the 2021 appropriation bill.

The Hospital Proprietor, Rev. Fr. Chukwujejwu Akabugu, said owing to the provision of electricity from the solar project, the hospital could run on for 24 hours daily.

He said the power supply had given the hospital an edge over its competitors in the area, saying that the patients were visiting confidently because of the reliable power supply from the solar project.

He urged the agency to step up the capacity of the project in order to supply power to and expanded audience and urged the federal government to come to the aid of the hospital for expansion in order to serve the teeming populace that relies on the health facility.

Also, during the Anambra version of the inaugural, the REA Managing Director, Ahmad , said as a mandate by the federal government, the agency would continue to implement sustainable and reliable energy infrastructure deployment using off-grid technologies.

“I strongly believe that the quality of lives will be improved and both the young and the old will have access to better healthcare service as well as learning experiences in this community and other beneficiary communities,” he assured.

However, Eka Awoke, the Ebonyi community now joins Upake (80KW) in Kogi State and Kare-Dadin Kowa and Tsulaye (98.8KW) in Kebbi state as well as Akpabom (100KW) in Akwa Ibom State that have benefitted for the federal government solar projects.

In the same vein, the joint hospital in Anambra now joins other such institutions in Lagos, Ogun , Abuja and a number of other states in experiencing social and economic progress , thanks to the solar mini grids project under the REA.

For the communities yet to be reached, but have been earmarked for such projects with the capacity to transform the socio-economic trajectory of their rural economies, the message from Ahmad, the MD of the REA was clear: “We are coming to your area soon, if not now, in the nearest future.”