Thursday, October 31 would remain indelible in the minds of indigenes and residents of Akpabom, a community in Onna Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. It was the day the small fishing community witnessed electricity supply for the first time.
Expectedly, amid dancing and drumming, the people trooped out in their numbers as a 100KW Solar Hybrid Mini Grid Power Plant was commissioned in the small town by officials of Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency (REA).
The REA is the implementation agency of the Federal Government, under the Ministry of Power. Among other tasks, the agency is saddled with the responsibility of providing clean, safe, affordable and reliable electricity to rural communities that have been lacking access to that essential human need.
The Akwa Ibom community was the third to be provided power by the REA under the Rural Electrification Fund. Upake, a town in Ajaokuta Local Government area of Kogi State, as well as Kare-Dadin Kowa, another agrarian community in Kebbi State had earlier been provided with power under the project.
Under the programme, it was learnt, the Buhari administration would provide clean, reliable and affordable power to a number of rural communities, federal universities, teaching hospitals and thousands of small businesses across the country.
At the commissioning in Akpabom, executive director, Rural Electrification Fund, Dr. Sanusi Ohiare, represented the Managing Director of the REA, Mrs Damilola Ogunbiyi. In her speech, Ogunbiyi reiterated the commitment of the Federal Government to meeting its developmental goals by providing electricity access for all.
Her words: “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 Federal Government is committed to providing access to clean, safe, affordable and reliable electricity across the country. This includes rural areas that have lacked electricity access for many years.
“The Rural Electrification Fund (REF) is dedicated to ensuring the distribution of electricity equally to various communities using rural electrification grants. The first set of grants under REF is for 12 communities, and Akpabom is the third to be commissioned.”
The representative for Onna Constituency in the state House of Assembly, Otuekong Nse Essien, also lauded the Federal Government and the REA for the project.
“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.”
A director of the Rural Electrification Fund, Bulus Maiyaki said the solar power plant was courtesy of the Federal Government. He praised President Buhari for his total support for the REA.
“It is evident that the Federal Government 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.”
Earlier, on Monday August 19, Upake community in Kogi had hosted several guests, as the Rural Electrification Agency commissioned an 80 kilowatts solar hybrid mini grid power plant in the town.
Upake, described as the ancestral home of the Ebira, one of the largest ethnic groups in the state, was the first community to benefit from the Rural Electrification Fund. Even though the community had reportedly been in existence for over three centuries, never had the people enjoyed electricity until the intervention by the REA.
A resident, Isa Danlami Abdullahi, could hardly curtail his excitement. “The Federal Government just brought a new moon into this community,” he enthused. “We are enjoying it and we are grateful to the Buhari administration as well as the implementing agency, the REA. This is the very first time we would be experiencing electricity in this area. We are very happy that we are feeling the dividends of democracy through this rural electrification initiative.”
An emotional Haruna Bashiru said the provision of electricity had closed a sad chapter in the chronicles of the Ebira community. Said he: “I was a toddler when we started pushing for electricity over 25 years ago, and in 2019, the Buhari administration gave us our right. We now use light free. We are happy. This is a fishing community, and with this electricity, our women can preserve their fish.”
On Tuesday, September 17, Kare-Dadin Kowa in Kebbi State also came alive with the commissioning of a 98.8 kilowatts solar hybrid mini grid power plant in the agrarian community.
Farmers in the community are believed to be among the best rice and millet farmers in the country. Residents, who heaped praises on the Federal Government for the initiative, said the power plant would energize the community in many ways and create wealth for residents and those in neighbouring communities.
District head of the community, Alhaji Musa Maina Jantullu said the project, which has brought his community out of perpetual darkness, would change the entire landscape for the better.
He said he recognised the significance of the project and was delighted to be the head of one of the beneficiary communities.
“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, as they would now have electricity to study. This is an agrarian community that produces the best and largest rice and millet in Nigeria. This will, undoubtedly, develop our community. I am elated and my subjects are joyous that we are seeing electricity for the first time,” he stated.
Minister of Power, Saleh Mamman praised President Muhammadu Buhari for giving the required support to the REA. He congratulated all the parties involved in ensuring the success and completion of the project and noted that the Ministry of Power, under his leadership, was committed to electrifying the country.
“Under my leadership, the Ministry of Power will continue to provide requisite policy interventions to ensure that transformative projects like this and others will have the desired impact of electrifying Nigeria,” he said.
For years, electricity access has been an issue in the country. Billions of naira has been spent by different administrations, yet efficient power supply across the country has remained a mirage.
The situation is particularly pathetic for millions of residents of rural communities, many of who are not even connected to the national grid.
In a bit to ameliorate the situation, several interventions have been initiated by the past and present administrations, to no avail.
In June 2017, the Federal Government secured a $350 million facility from the World Bank for its Rural Electrification Fund. With the fund, which is being managed by the Rural Electrification Agency and would be repaid over a 30-year period, the Federal Government is expected to provide power to 2.5 million people and 70, 000 small businesses.
The loan, it was further learnt, would fund the expansion of access and supply of electricity to rural communities, educational institutions as well as micro, small and medium enterprises in the country under the Nigerian Electrification Project (NEP). Nigeria would have an initial five-year grace period on the repayment of the loan, it has been reported
Besides the provision of electricity to rural communities and small businesses, the Rural Electrification Fund would also make reliable electricity available to seven federal universities and two teaching hospitals under the Energising Education Programme (EEP).
“The world Bank said the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP) would help increase access to electricity services for households, public educational institutions, and underserved micro, small and medium enterprises.
The project is in four components, it was gathered. The first is the solar hybrid mini grids for rural economic development, and it will be implemented under a market-based private sector led approach to construct, operate, and maintain economically viable mini grids. The bank said this would be supported by subsidies that reduce initial capital outlays.
The second component would be stand-alone solar systems for homes and small businesses. According to the bank, the intention is to significantly increase the market for stand-alone solar systems in Nigeria in order to provide access to electricity to more than one million Nigerian households and MSMEs at lower cost than their current means of service such as small diesel generating sets.
“It consists of market scale-up challenge grants and performance-based grants,” the bank noted.
The third component of the NEP, according to the World Bank, is the Energising Education Programme. This, it asserted, would provide reliable, affordable, and sustainable power to public universities and associated teaching hospitals.
The fourth component will be technical assistance designed to build a framework for rural electrification upscaling, support project implementation as well as broad capacity building in the Rural Electrification Agency, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC); Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing; and other relevant stakeholders in the industry.
Observers have lauded the Federal Government initiative. They, however, urged the government to expand the scope by ensuring that more communities benefit from the project.