Years ago, Imo indigenes who were young children and lived in and around Owerri about 40 to 45 years ago, would definitely recall those evenings when the skyline looked yellow or somewhat orange if one stepped out and cast a glance in the direction of Afam, in Rivers State, where oil exploration activities led to gas flaring. In the night, the brightness of the towering flames lit up the sky all the way to Owerri. Back then, little children reveled in the sight of the orange hue of the sky caused by unquantifiable volumes of gas being flared in the oilfields in Afam and parts of Egbema in Rivers State. But all that started to change after the government took steps to reduce flaring through the process of gas re-injection and subsequently moved to turn the gas into electricity by building a gas turbine plant in Afam Power Station.
Right from creation on February 13, 1976, Imo State has suffered from electric power poverty. Back then, Owerri, the state capital depended on a huge generator located in the then Shell Camp, very close to the old complex of the Industrial Development Centre, popularly known as IDC-Shell Camp. It was that plant that supplied power to privileged residents of Owerri urban, which at the time was the headquarters of Owerri Division in the defunct East Central State, when the late Dr. Ukpabi Asika was the administrator during the General Yakubu Gowon military regime. The location of the plant was an excursion site for primary school children of that era.
When Chief Sam Mbakwe was elected the first civilian governor of the state in 1979, on the platform of the Nigeria People’s Party, NPP, one major goal of the administration was rapid small-scale industrialisation. To achieve that goal, the government sought to provide electricity to power small-scale industrial clusters in the state. It was in pursuit of this goal that it established the Amaraku Power Station in the then Ikeduru-Mbaitoli Local Government Area. The power plant functioned well and supplied electric power that brought the nearby communities into the 20th century. Alas, the joy was short-lived as one of the military governors that presided over the affairs of the state, following the overthrow of the Shehu Shagari-led Federal Government in 1983, sold off the plant in a move that crippled the good intentions of Sam Mbakwe.
The central role which energy plays in rapid socio-economic development is best exemplified by the astounding speed of the growth of China after Deng Xiaoping came to power and began a fundamental reform of the country with a clear focus on industrialisation, which has catapulted the once very poor communist nation to the global position of being the second largest economy in the world after the United States, overtaking Japan, Germany, Russia and several European nations, to emerge as the manufacturer to the whole world. China is today the global leader in contract manufacturing of practically everything the world uses. This has enabled it enjoy huge balance of payments surplus with the whole world.
Upon assumption of office, Imo State Governor Hope Uzodimma recognised the great need to tackle the power poverty in the state. In pursuit of this onerous purpose, the government is partnering with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN), the Federal Ministry of Environment, the Federal Ministry of Power and other willing corporate organizations in the development of interconnected mini-grids as sure power sources in the state.
• Enyeribe Ejiogu, a media practitioner, wrote from Lagos.
(08116758886. [email protected])
This much came to light at a two-day Stakeholders Consultative Forum on Scaling-up Interconnected Mini-Grids Development in Nigeria. Governor Uzodimma was represented on the occasion by his Special Adviser and Imo State Liaison Officer in Abuja, Sir Jimmy Imo, who read the governor’s address to the august gathering.
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The mini-grids development initiative entails implementing a five-year demonstration project focused on nationally appropriate migration action for de-risking renewable energy in the Nigerian power sector. As the governor informed the participants, the project is in line with his desire to increase electricity distribution in the state aimed at opening it up further to local and international investors particularly in the areas of agriculture, health, education and other infrastructural development initiatives.
It is significant to note that the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, reiterated in his opening remarks at the event that there is no way Nigeria as a nation can develop without adequate
power supply especially with abundant power supply sources such as hydro, solar and wind at the country’s disposal.
“It is therefore imperative that Nigeria should harness all these sources of energy that are cleaner, affordable and safer to use in our various hospitals, schools, laboratories and churches to grow the economy and create jobs for our teeming unemployed youths. We are out to discuss issues of mini-grids interconnectivity within the distribution line to improve power supply to unit consumers, be it domestic, industrial or commercial purposes, and even power storage as in other developed countries,” he said.
Imo State boasts of very successful entrepreneurs like Leo-Stan Ekeh, Frank Nneji and many more others. By harnessing their input and global connections and investment in the development of mini-grids, the state stands a very good chance to end power poverty and rocket up the industrialisation ladder.