Adamu Ibrahim operates a provision shop in Durumi-Mpape, near Maitama in Abuja. His shop was one of those that benefited from free solar power in 2014 when Operation Light Up Rural Nigeria (OLRN) came up.
Three years after, Ibrahim said the solar power had failed and that he had reverted to spending heavily on fuelling his generator and paying estimated electricity bill.
Ibrahim said, “The solar system was powering our bulbs and charging phones until it stopped working since 2016, and that was how my expenses for energy increased again.”
In Shape community near Apo, Abuja, Mr. Emeka Chukwudi said, “We could charge our phones, power small radio sets and fans then. But that stopped since 2016 when we had an explosion at the solar plant. Later, vandals stripped the panels.”
These are sad stories from residents of communities where the Federal Ministry of Power budgeted over N3.466bn taxpayers’ money between 2013 and 2016 to execute off-grid renewable energy (solar) projects.
No thanks to government’s inefficiency, the projects are now stalled and abandoned just four years after they were executed.
The OLRN projects were initiated in 2013 by the Federal Ministry of Power under Prof. Chinedu Nebo. In January, 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned the ones in Durumi near Maitama and Shape, Waru, projects. The projects were to be extended to 16 states, but that failed.
In 2015, the power ministry was rechristened Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing (FMPW&H), and led by Babatunde Fashola, it started Renewable Energy (Solar) Micro Utility (REMU) with three projects in each geopolitical zone.
Budgetary records of the ministry indicate that N3.466bn was planned for the OLRN projects within four years – from 2014 to 2017. The breakdown shows N1.4bn was pegged in 2014 for the pilot projects. There was N40.6m for maintenance in 2015, and another N40.1m for plans to expand to other states.
However, contract documents from the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) indicate that the OLRN projects in the FCT got approval for the ministry’s procurement unit in October, 2014, 10 months after their commissioning.
The Durumi project was awarded at N228.3m to Messrs Schneider Electric Nigeria Ltd; Messrs Lordezetech International Ltd. got Waru mini-grid at N238.4m, and also won contract for the Shape mini-grid at N218.9m. Again, while procurements were done in 2014, the records show that the contractors were mobilised in September, 2013, and the projects commissioned in January, 2014.
The Shape community project which was the fourth in the FCT was awarded to Messrs Golden Grid Solution Inc/M – Raid Global Nig Ltd for N148.2m, but funds were not released.
By 2015, FMPW&H driven by the Minister, Fashola, again initiated similar projects under REMU. It targeted delivering 18 mini-grids with N382.6m budgetary funding, and another N305.3m.
The ministry then collaborated with Huawei Limited, a Chinese firm, to deliver another in Gnami community of Kaduna State, and also executed the Pakau project near Gnami village.
Budgetary records for 2017 show that OLRN got N652.4m, while REMU got N465.1. There was no funding since 2018 for them. Despite the funding, the OLRN projects were not maintained since 2016 when they stopped operation.
Shape residents pay N50, more to charge phones
At the Shape community square near Apo in Abuja is a shade built when former President Jonathan commissioned the plant. His imposing statue stands in ruins near the off-grid solar plant.
A resident, Mr. Ezekiel Onyebuchi, said thanks to vandals, most of the panels, cables and poles had been stolen or vandalised.
Another resident, Hassan Yusuf, said with the death of the solar plant since 2016, two years after, phone charging business had grown.
Yusuf said, “You have to pay N50 or more to charge phones and other gadgets; that is the only way here.”
Dr. Albert Okorogu who was the Special Adviser to Prof. Nebo had said the project had a segment for training the communities’ youths to do maintenance on the projects, but Daily Trust found that none of the youths were trained.
Mr. Moses Nuhu, a Shape youth, said, “Solar is complex and nobody was trained to maintain it. The officials told us they would be coming to check it and that we should report issues to the ministry.”
The Community Head of Shape, Chief Yakubu Kuruzhi Shape, showed this reporter the remnants of the solar panels which he said his people had to convey to the town hall for safety.
Chief Shape said, “The system worked initially before some batteries got burnt. After it was abandoned, vandals entered into the plant. So we kept the leftover panels, believing they will come for them.”
Durumi connected to Abuja DisCo
Residents of Durumi-Mpape received with mixed feelings the OLRN solar project in 2014 as it stalled their grid power project. By September, 2019, while the solar hub is inactive and locked, only a freezer is being powered by the solar at a health centre; the streetlights are also gone.
At the healthcare centre, an attendant said the solar power only energises the vaccine and drug freezer, but can’t even power a bulb since 2017.
Miss Janet Okon said her lighting system went off in 2016 without any maintenance team to fix it, while Malam Ado Jibrin who operates a trading store has turned to generator in addition to grid electricity because the solar is inactive.
Solar grid cannot power Gnami, Pakau villages
At Gnami in Kaduna State, the 176-solar panel 40 kilowatt (KW) mini-grid plant supplies power for only three hours.
A resident, Mr. Philip Garba, said since 2016, residents paid N300 monthly for the maintenance, and added that, “We have cards which the official in charge, Mr. Caleb, load every month. Caleb checks the solar station often to ensure it works, but it goes beyond him.”
Another resident, Mr. Bako Paul, said, “We are making effort to connect to grid electricity from a nearby town. You can see the cables and poles yourself.”
Daily Trust confirmed this after inspecting a crisscross of new wires and poles, and as if to challenge the solar base station, a 300 Kilo Volt Amp (KVA) distribution transformer was freshly mounted beside the solar grid plant, but has not been energised yet.
The Chief of Gnami, Dakachi Baba Daudu, confirmed the poor state of the solar plant, saying, “But for now, the solar power supply is in a poor state, maybe because it is the rainy season.”
At Pakau community, nearly an hour from Gnami community, still in Kaduna, along a difficult terrain, isolated for fear of kidnappers, the 60KW solar mini-grid has remained inactive since February, 2019.
Mr. Yusuf Audu, a farmer in the community, said, “The light worked before, especially last year during the dry season. But shortly before this rainy season, we don’t see light again.”
Another resident, Mrs. Maryam Usman, said, “We have a meter that was installed, but we had not started paying. Even then, when it was working the power supply was not constant as we were promised earlier.”
The Community Head of Pakau, Apulu Kpezegbua, said some new houses were not connected, including a section of his palace.
He said, “Please talk to them for us so that the plant will not be wasting. On our part, we are trying much to protect the plant from vandalism.”
The Acting Director of Renewable Energy and Rural Power Access (RRD), Engr. Faruk Yabo, told Daily Trust that the Durumi and Shape-Waru projects were handed over to the communities to manage, operate and maintain them.
Engr. Yabo said, “It is therefore the responsibility of the communities to operate and maintain the projects since they were trained and are not paying for power.”
However, Shape and Durumi youths claimed they were only engaged during the construction with a promise to be trained, and further said as they were not trained, they could not also afford resources to maintain the facilities.
The ministry again denied responsibility for maintaining the Gnami mini-grid, saying it was donated by Huawei in 2015 and managed by Huawei and the community.
Findings, however, show that the ministry has oversight responsibility for the projects and severally took officials there to inspect them.
The ministry said it owned Pakau mini-grid operated since 2016, and that, “The project is in excellent working condition up till last month (August). However, the community reported outage three weeks ago, but the contractor could not send engineers immediately due to the escalation of kidnapping in the area.”
This report was supported by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) and The MacArthur Foundation