Magnus Eze, Enugu
General Manager of Enugu State Rural Electrification Board (ENREB), Onyema Odo, an engineer, has said that over 300 of the about 450 communities in the state have been connected to the national grid. He noted that the resultant effect is that Small and Medium Enterprises are springing up in the rural communities.
He disclosed that the state was already considering investing in independent power projects; while further extending electricity to communities yet to be reached.
How would you assess the agency in terms of service provision to Enugu people in the first four years of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi-led administration?
For the past four years this agency has performed creditably; our Governor, Gburugburu has been so wonderful. When he came on board he demonstrated his desire for rural development and electrification of rural communities is one of the cardinal agenda of his administration. So, the past four years has touched the lives of so many rural communities in terms of provision of electricity and attention has also been shown to the urban areas. The governor has done intervention programmes by sending electricity to some key governmental areas like the Diagnostic Centre, water scheme at Ajali, some schools, the 82 Division Officers’ quarters, so his own is unique. He didn’t limit his scope really to the rural communities; he also went ahead to make sure that the urban centre also benefitted from his administration.
We’ve virtually touched all the communities, they’re very few communities in the state that don’t have electricity, so what we’re doing now is extension and boosting for the population will continue to increase and the facilities there will continue to get overloaded. We’ll continue to change the transformers and send electricity to the nooks and crannies of the communities even though there’s existing ones there. We’ve asked everybody to come around so that where there is no electricity in any of the communities; we’re ready to extend help. So far, the programme is ongoing and we’ve touched close to 300 communities since the governor came on board; out of the over 450 communities and work is still going on in different communities of the state; in the three senatorial zones whether in Awgu; Aninri or Nsukka, so many places, work is going on at the same time. It’s noteworthy that we are already reaping the gains because Small and Medium Scale businesses are springing up in the hinterlands. Food processing and all that are also going on.
Vandalism of electricity installations is rampant in the South East. How are you coping with that?
We have a robust relationship with the leaders of rural communities-the traditional institutions, the town union presidents and youths. Wherever we go to install any infrastructural facilities in the rural communities, we sensitive them and let them know that this is not government facility, that it’s their own. We tell them that you have to protect it with your blood and they have been responding positively. The vigilance groups are working even though the vandalism is there but we’ve got a lot of encouragement due to our sensitisation and collaboration with the security agencies and the local vigilante, it’s has maximally curbed the menace of these unscrupulous elements. And we’re still battling with it; it’s not Uhuru yet but they’ve been an improvement in security of our installations in the rural community.
What are the challenges militating against all the communities being connected to the national grid?
The challenge we have in rural communities is mainly that of fault however, there’s one laudable achievement of the governor-facilitating the installation of 132KV line from New Haven to Nsukka. Before then, we had only 66 MVA running from Oji to Nsukka; very obsolete and any little thing, it will trip off. Now, the governor in his magnanimity pursued and facilitated the installation of 132KV line now this is 40MVA, the whole Nsukka metropolis is now enjoying electricity. So, the challenge earlier had been the lengthy run of the 33kv line sometimes running up to 200kms; so, any fault from any side would destabilise the entire system. Secondly, we had vandalism as I said earlier, so we brought it up when this government came on board and that length of run of our 33kv line is also being addressed by installing some power substations to make sure that we are doing our thing. Then we are also working with the local vigilante too to make sure that vandalism is checked. There is also the issue of tariff; there’s the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC); a private business, so sometimes it’s difficult for these local communities to pay the tariff even though it’s might not be a serious challenge but it is really weighing some communities down were government have provided these amenities. But, we’re also having some workshops; sensitisation, discussing with the service providers on how to get a balanced billing that will be affordable to these indigent communities. This has been a problem because over 90 per cent of them rely on estimated billing.
How are you coping with the challenge of providing facilities yet you can’t manage them because of there are other agencies or organisations in charge of installations?
That’s what the law says about it and there’s nothing we can do about it. They said that the energy management especially the distribution end is for the distribution network, so, we don’t collect tariff but because the state government is a listening one; even though it’s their responsibility, the government will not sit idly and see her citizens suffer in the face of lack of amenities simply because it’s somebody’s duty. So, the government has assumed its social responsibility by responding to the yearnings of the people because of that nobody wants to know who’s responsible; the government’s interest is to make sure that its citizens are in order and very happy.
Part of the issues in the water sector in Enugu is related to power. What role do you play in this regard?
The distribution network supplies electricity to our water schemes; our job here is to make sure that we maintain the distribution lines, for instance, from Oji to Ajali; we’ve a dedicated line. The Government is very keen about water, so the governor mandated this office to make sure that anything electricity as far as water is concerned should be our responsibility and so far, we’ve maintained stable distribution line from Oji to Ajali and to all the Oji water line. We attend to it anytime, any day once there’s a fault. When there’s any fault; we make sure water isn’t interrupted. In fact, government installed additional 2.5MVA to make sure that we have two substations at every station so that there’ll be no day we will have water interruption because of energy supply that’s not available.
What would be your response to any community that approaches the board for partnership to have electricity provided to them?
If a community comes around, we can assist them by way of providing technical services, but basically the sole sponsor of our projects is the state government. We don’t have any counterpart arrangements with any community but should a community decide on their own to come around; maybe a philanthropist from a community says he wants to give electricity to his people; he doesn’t want government to be involved, what the office will do is to provide technical services; consultancy services free of charge so that the correct thing will be done, correct advice will be given that’s how we intervene when it comes to that.
As one in charge of power; would you advise the state government to venture into Independent Power Project (IPP)?
Yes, I can tell you that we have a committee that is already looking into the modalities of having an IPP; we’re looking at anything that’ll make power stable in Enugu state.
Parts of Enugu, the state capital are dark at night because of non-functional street lights. What is your office doing about this?
Actually the street light hasn’t covered the nooks and crannies of Enugu; at least 70 per cent is covered. When we came on board, we were saddled with the responsibility of stabilising the street lights in so many places; the Governor said many of the places must be properly lit at night. He invested a lot of money to buy generating sets, and all the fittings; in fact, it was total overhaul. The governor said nobody should joke with him as far as the street light is concerned and we cannot but flow with that; so far, the street light has improved, we’re recording close to 90 per cent of coverage, where it’s existing. We also have started some extension programme so that the street light will reach other places where it wasn’t before now. For instance, we can tell you, in Enugu state now we’ve as last count 189km route length of street light armoured cable. And it’s not only here; we have that at Nsukka too. We’ve been trying to make sure that the street light is stable and should serve the purpose government has earmarked for it. Governor Ugwuanyi has spent huge amount of money to maintain the facility, every substation has a giant generator. In fact, what we’re having now is that public supply is a standby; while the generating set is the main supply. We have actually not given consideration to solar for the streetlight because the discharge is small compared to the conventional source. Solar is very expensive to procure, the illumination cannot be compared to what we have now; you must do with short poles for you to see anything clearly on the ground and in addition, they must be multiple and this place is very vulnerable, every now and then, they knock down street light poles. So, if you have such expensive ones installed and these drivers are knocking them down at that regular basis, then it’ll be very difficult to replace them.