Do not let the Mambilla dream die

Mambilla Hydropower

When the Nigerian government announced its approval for the Mambilla Hydro-electric project more than two years ago, many people thought the Buhari government has untied the Gordian knot regarding perhaps the most ambitious power projects in the country. More than two years and still counting and with not a single equipment mobilised, compensation unpaid and worst of all, a less enthusiastic Chinese government that will provide 85% of the cost of the project, it is not far-fetched to say the project could suffer a still birth.

In his article celebrating the Federal Executive Council (FEC) decision to go ahead with the project over two years ago, one of the two presidential spokesmen, Garba Shehu, claimed that “various governments made effort, or to put it in a better way, pretended to be committed to actualising the project but nothing came out of it.’’

He went on to say ‘’sham attempts to make the project on a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) also failed to achieve the commencement of construction.”

In fact in that opinion article published after the FEC approval for the project on August 30, 2017, the presidential aide called the Mambilla Hydro-Electric ‘’Buhari’s Big Bang project.’’

The Senior Special Assistant was not the only one celebrating as Babatunde Raji Fashola, then minister of Power, Works and Housing waxed lyrical on the project saying “it will have transformational effect on all of Nigeria’s socioeconomic development. During its construction and upon its completion and subsequent operation, it will have considerable positive impact on electricity supply nationwide, productivity, employment, tourism, technology transfer, rural development, irrigation, agriculture and food production in the area and beyond.”

To get the project on track, contract was signed on behalf of the FG by Fashola and the three Chinese companies on 10th November 2017. At the event the minister said, “The project is a new dawn for Nigeria’s power diversity and energy mix. The project will give us the opportunity of energy security; it will give the opportunity to comply with the Paris Climate Change Agreement because it will be delivering renewable energy.”

Indeed the project is the first of its kind in Nigeria. The scope of the contract includes four large dams and two underground power houses of 12 units of 250MW each. It also includes 330 KV of 700km power lines to Makurdi and Jalingo, 120km of access roads connecting the project site and the nearby communities and the resettlement of an estimated 100,000 people.

The total project cost is nearly 6 billion US dollars or precisely $5,792, 497,062,00.

Construction is to take 72 months or six years and will be handled by a consortium of three Chinese companies – China Gezhouba Corporation (CGCC), Sino Hydro Corporation Limited and CGOCC. The Chinese Export-Import Bank is to provide 85% of the cost while Nigeria will pay 15%. When completed, Mambilla’s power generation of 3050MW will be greater than the combined capacities of Kainji, Jebba, Shiroro, Zungeru Gurara, Kashimbilla and Dadin-Kowa projects.

From the foregoing, it is clear that the Mambilla Hydro-Electric project is a strategic one that could help the country to secure part of its energy needs. It is also a clear national security imperative to diversify power sources especially after the experience of the country with the gas fired ones that are easily sabotaged by cutting gas supply and the perennial inability to agree on competitive gas pricing between NNPC and the power generating companies.

The National Security Strategy that President Buhari launched a few weeks ago captures this well where it states that ‘‘Energy security is critical to economic growth and prosperity of Nigeria. The nation is endowed with large oil, gas, hydro, wind and solar energy resources but does not generate, transmit and distribute enough electricity to sustain rapid development.’’

Certainly no progress, industrial or otherwise is possible without a realisable power infrastructure as neither small nor medium enterprises – big industries like vehicle assembly plants, etc – can function optimally without cheaper reliable power. Clearly Nigeria cannot industrialise via generators.

We call on the Buhari administration to match its words with action on this all important project so as not to join the previous governments that came, saw and left without breaking the power jinx.

Daily Trust is happy to note that the Mambilla project is one of those the Buhari government is focused on this year. In his open letter to Nigerians, published in several newspapers on 1st January 2020, the president listed the commencement of the construction of the Mambilla Power Project by the first half of this year. While we are encouraged by this, we call on him to go further and set up a task force with time lines to address the challenges hindering the project and get it off the ground with the president being briefed on a weekly basis.

He could make the vice president to be in charge of the task force with minister of power, Taraba governor and a few other key officials as members to ensure that all the outstanding issues like the seeming cold feet of the Chinese over the project are dealt with expeditiously. There is clearly the need to reassure the Chinese on all their pain points like repayment plans and sustainability of the project. If need be an escrow account to warehouse Nigeria’s 15% cost of the project be made to reassure that Nigeria is committed to its take off.

There should also be a closure on the legal challenge mounted by Sunrise Power and Transmission Limited, the Nigerian concern that is claiming to have a BOT agreement with previous administration. Compensating the communities where the project is sited is also a touchy area that needs to be handled with care to create the atmosphere that will allow the project to proceed without hitches.

Wherever necessary, a bipartisan approach should be evolved to enable the federal, state and local authorities to keep their eyes on the bigger picture of a project that will generate more power for the country. Where necessary both the executive and legislature and other players need to come together to underline their commitment to this project that could generate more of the much needed electric power that the country so sorely needs.

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