By Westley Igbo
(Featured image is of a trader benefitting from one of REA’s projects)
We all want a developed world – a climate-friendly place, free from poverty, gender discrimination, and social unrest. A world basking in the euphoria of economic prosperity with access to quality healthcare and career opportunities. It all sounds wonderful, but to build this society, we must plan with a long-term approach in mind, setting goals and taking decisive steps towards achieving them. Surely, we can achieve this in the new millennium!
You can guess that this was the messaging at the United Nations conference where the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which would later become the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or simply the Global Goals were birthed. These were targets set by the UN at the start of the new millennium (September 2000) to drive world leaders to implement a series of development ideas and initiatives. The SDGs were born 12 years later in Rio de Janeiro to replace the MDGs. Its focus was to create a better and more sustainable future for all by addressing the urgent political, economic, and environmental challenges facing the world by 2030. Goal 7 was Affordable and Clean Energy.
Goal 7 meant that a lot more attention was going to be paid to eliminating power sources that emit fumes to forestall further depletion of the ozone layer – it meant that the generators in Nigeria had to go! In 2013, the immediate past government finalized the unbundling of Nigeria’s sole power custodian, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) effectively privatizing the sector and establishing the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) as its regulator. This allowed for private investors to come into the space and manage the generation and distribution components, while the government retained the transmission component as well as shares.
Nigeria’s power problem wasn’t even near solved by this process because, rather than become independent and reliable as expected, power was still grid-dependent and unstable. As a result, the generators were still there. How could we possibly get them out? Were we ever going to? What could be the solution to this problem? Off-grid power of course! If we could get renewable energy from the sun to complement power from the grid, we would have established an additional power source that is both climate-friendly and sustainable. Nigeria boasts of over 6 hours of sunshine per day, an average annual sum of 2200kWh/m2 solar radiation in the far north and 600kWh/m2 in the south. The country also has an assumed potential to achieve 42,700 megawatts of solar power from just 5% of suitable land in the central and northern parts of the country.
Then came Damilola Ogunbiyi, newly appointed CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy. Before these engagements, she was appointed by the current administration as Managing Director of Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency (REA). Damilola had a masterplan to awaken the sleeping giant in REA based on her firm belief in Nigeria’s off-grid potential. Her plan, as expected, was very much SDGs-centered, touching on almost all of the goals. Under her leadership, she assembled a formidable project management unit to coordinate all electrification projects and strengthened other strategic units of the agency, especially the Directorate of Promotion, Information, and Outreach, which is where I come in. Under the auspices of a strategic communications firm, we worked overtime to advise the agency on the project communication components of the Energizing Economies Initiative (EEI), Energizing Education Programme (EEP) and Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP) among other project support areas.
During this period, we collaborated with McKinsey & Co., Deloitte-NPSP and other donor partners to manage deliverables ranging from the development of project communication creatives to townhalls, stakeholders, and community engagements. The EEI focused on electrifying economic clusters with clean and reliable energy and the EEP electrified institutions of higher learning and teaching hospitals, while the NEP was at the heart of unserved and underserved communities, providing them sustainable power to thrive. The Rural Electrification Fund (REF) was also financing off-grid energy solutions through grants. In 20 months, REA had, through its projects, achieved over 99,450 connections, impacted 457,470 people, created 5,042 jobs and sourced up to $550 million in funding.
 Get.invest “Renewable Energy Potential” Available at: https://www.get-invest.eu/market-information/nigeria/renewable-energy-potential/
 The Rural Electrification Agency’s Impact Report. Available at: https://rea.gov.ng/rural-electrification-agencys-impact-report/
Working on these projects, it was easy to see the critical role power plays in development, and the stories of Love and Sani put it further into perspective. Love Agbadu is a Business Education student at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike (AE-FUNAI) in Ebonyi State, a beneficiary institution of the EEP. Before the project was implemented, the university had only 9 hours of power supply daily, which resulted in huge costs for the university due to the constant running of diesel generators. The darkness at night also posed a security hazard to the university community. Ms. Agbadu now tells us that, since the EEP came along, there has been constant power supply for students to study and attend to domestic duties, while the university no longer experiences power outages that disrupt laboratory activities and computer-based examinations.
Sani Ahmed, on the other hand, is a trader at the Sabon Gari market, Kano, a beneficiary market of the EEI. The market had suffered a series of infernos, with the last major incident razing about 4,000 shops! Investigations pointed at the inappropriate connections made by traders in a bid to improve their power situation. The EEI arrived to solve this problem and Sani has now used the solar power solution for well over a year. He attests that the solar-powered solution helps him save money he would have spent maintaining his generator. Now he can invest this money in his business to improve productivity and create a business-friendly environment for his customers. Link to Sani’s testimonial: https://youtu.be/uwqhof_canE
Whether for domestic uses or productive uses, access to sustainable power will remain critical to achieving the goals. Let’s keep collaborating towards a better and sustainable future for all.
Westley Igbo is a Brand and Strategic Communications Consultant who believes that at the core of every successful business, public reform or development initiative is a communications effort. He has developed and implemented communications strategies for donor-funded development projects and curated a vast selection of creative content for emerging brands. He has also authored research and technical papers focused on analyzing key developmental issues from the communications perspective.