When his appointment was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 31, 2019, as the new Managing Director, Rural Electricity Agency (REA), only a few people gave him the benefit of doubt, possibly because he was little known in the industry. Coupled with this is the fact that he was encircled by old players, who many believed could only occupy such a demanding position.
Today, not only has engineer Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad, a University of Leeds, UK, Electronic and Electrical trained engineer, transformed REA to an enviable Federal Government’s agency, he has also turned it into an impactful electricity agency that has touched millions of Nigerians’ lives in many ways.
Within the last 12 months, the agency, with the support of the Federal Government, has executed various projects across the country. These include 218 grid extension projects, 10 solar mini-grid, three injection substations and 197 solar street lights across the country’s six geo-political zones.
Some of the projects include the solar mini-grid which consists of 100kW Eka Awoke, Ebonyi State; 30kW solar hybrid mini-grid in Bambami village, Batagarawa LGA, Katsina; 100kW solar hybrid mini-grid at Olooji community, Ijebu-East, Ogun State; 100kW solar hybrid mini-grid at Budo-Are community, Oyo State; 40kW solar hybrid mini-grid at Goton-Sarki community, Paikoro LGA, Niger State; 85kWp solar mini-grid at Dekiti community, Akko LGA, Gombe State (completed, not commissioned) and the 100kW solar hybrid mini-grid in Adebayo community, Ovia South LGA, Edo State (completed, not commissioned).
Over 15,000 members of these communities are benefiting from these installations.
Grid extension projects consist of 33/0.415kv transformer serving about 4,000 residents of the Unguwar Dutse community, Malumfashi, Katsina State; 300kva, 11/0.415kv transformer in Ajijola-Anabi community, Osun State; 7.5kW powering critical loads at the Joint Hospital, Ozubulu, Ikwusigo, Anambra State; 65kW at the 250-bed cottage hospital at Okpogo community, Okene LGA, Kogi State, and 5.4kW at Government Cottage Hospital, Adavi Eba, Adavi LGA, Kogi State. The systems are said to be sufficiently serving these hospitals by powering critical loads and ensuring the delivery of quality healthcare to the people of the community.
In line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s call for accelerated energy access as detailed in the Power Sector Roadmap, Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad led management with the support of the Minister of Power, Engr. Saleh Mamman; Minister of State for Power, Gody Jeddy-Agba, and the REA board, under the Chairman, Umaru Maza Maza, had worked assiduously to attract supports from international agencies, off-grid donors and investors such as USAID NPSP, ALL-ON, DFIs etc.
With an existing $350 million grant from the World Bank, in 2020, the African Development Bank (AfDB) keyed into this project with a $200 million sovereign fund to increase electricity access to 105,000 households, 20,000 MSMES and eight federal universities across Nigeria.
International Development Financial Institutions (DFIs) remain one of the critical stakeholders of the agency on the drive towards closing the energy gap in Nigeria. The Head of Climate Change and Energy, West Africa, Sean Melbourne, visited the REA Headquarters last year where he offered a window of support by the UK on technical support and sustainable finance.
The Korean Ambassador to Nigeria, Lee In-Tae, and members of the technical workforce from Korean Institute for Advancement of Technology (KIAT), also visited the REA Headquarters where he proposed areas of partnership with the agency on mini-grid technologies, energy management systems, battery technologies, and system maintenance.
Similarly, a US-based joint venture, Sun Africa, visited the REA Headquarters for discussions on investments in the Nigerian mini-grid space, geared towards powering Nigerian communities.
As part of efforts to deliver energy infrastructure to the un-served and under-served communities in the country, REA launched the Performance-Based Grant (PBG) under the Nigeria electrification Project (NEP) aimed at closing the viability gap for mini-grids developed on a spontaneous basis. The agency signed more grant agreements with developers in 2020 to enable the electrification of more off-grid communities.
Two solar hybrid mini-grids were delivered to the inhabitants of Akipelai and Oloibiri villages in Bayelsa State, with a total capacity of 134.64kW for both communities under the Performance-Based Grant (PBG) component of the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP).
A 234KW solar hybrid mini-grid power plant was delivered in Shimankar Community, Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau State under the Performance-Based Grant (PBG) component of the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP). Following this intervention, about 1,972 households, 273 commercial users, five productive users and 19 public users in the community now receive clean, safe and reliable energy to improve their socio-economic life.
Growth and impact of SHS component
The Stand-alone Solar Home Systems Component under the Nigeria Electrification Programme (NEP) is aimed at helping capable solar energy providers reach more under-served Nigerian households and micro-enterprises (MSMEs) and provide access to better energy services at lower cost.
With seven companies recently signing on to the Output Based Fund (OBF), there are now 19 companies under the SHS portfolio, all with signed Grant Agreements. The objective is to electrify one million households and 90,000 MSMEs with reliable and affordable electricity.
So far, 6, 805 Solar Home Systems have been deployed across six states (Plateau, Benue, Kogi, Kaduna, Akwa-Ibom, Katsina) and more are expected in 2021.
Energizing Education Programme (EEP) project commissioned in 2020)
Under the scheme, a 8.2MW Solar Hybrid mini-grid in FUAM, serving over 17,000 students and staff members was commissioned, with 470 solar streetlights installed to ensure security on campus.
So far, BUK, FUAM and Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu-Alike (FUNAI), are all energized under the programme. A total of 18.5MW are already deployed under the EEP, with 100 STEM interns trained at the workshops and training centres across the states with 740 jobs created.
Phase II Term Sheets signed include University of Abuja, NDA, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Federal University, Gashua; University of Calabar and University Teaching Hospital, Calabar; University Teaching Hospital, Abeokuta; University of Maiduguri and its Teaching Hospital.
Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP)
Under the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP) scheme, Akipkelai and Oloibiri in Bayelsa State are now being powered by a 134.64kW solar hybrid mini-grid. About 364 households are being served. Shimankar in Plateau State is now powered by a 234kW, serving 1,972 households and 273 commercial users in the community. Over 200 jobs have been created in the construction phase of these projects. The three communities are being powered under the NEP Performance-Based Grant (PBG).
Reliable energy and quality healthcare delivery
As part of the agency’s strategic reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, following a call to action by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) deployed four solar hybrid mini-grids to power four COVID-19 Isolation Centres in hard-hit states of FCT, Lagos and Ogun.
The Joint Hospital in Ozubulu, Ekwusigo Local Government Area, Anambra State, received a 7.5kWp solar hybrid mini-grid designed to improve healthcare service delivery for the people of the community.
Two strategically located hospitals received Federal Government intervention in Kogi State, through the Rural Electrification Fund (REF), with a 65kWp solar hybrid mini-grid deployed at the 250-bed Cottage Hospital in Ukpogo Community, while a 5.4kWp solar hybrid mini-grid was deployed to power the Cottage Hospital, Adavi-Eba.
Setting the ESP in action through Solar Power Naija: The Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), designed by the Office of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and domiciled within the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is a strategy document designed to bounce back the Nigerian economy, post-COVID.
A critical programme under the ESP is the Solar Power Naija. With the launch of the programme on December 2, 2020, by President Muhammadu Buhari and REA as the implementing agency, the programme is designed to power five million households, while serving about 25 million Nigerians in rural areas and under-served urban communities and providing 250, 000 jobs in the energy sector.
Other COVID-19 Intervention projects include deployment of solar hybrid mini-grids in University of Abuja Teaching Hospital Isolation Centre – 53.1kWp, NCDC public health lab, Lagos – 25kW, 128-bed Isolation Centre, Ikenne, Ogun State – 20kW and 100-bed Iberekodo Isolation Centre, Ogun State -10kW.
The interventions are expected to be scaled up to 100 isolation centres and 400PHCs across the county.
Inter-governmental and inter-agency collaboration
Being a charismatic young man, and to ensure cordial relationship among inter-governmental and inter-agency units at various level, for the first time in the history of the agency, a high-level engagement between the agency and the National Assembly was held in Abuja where there was cross-fertilization of ideas, gearing towards achieving President Buhari’s mandate of electrifying under-served communities.
Beyond the valuable feedback from the members, House Committees on Power and Appropriation, the workshop enabled a deeper dive into the importance of off-grid technologies in closing the energy gap as well as the need to better channel resources for sustainable impact.
The REA team had a productive engagement with the Lagos State Deputy Governor, centered on clean energy solutions, powering off-grid communities as well as stimulating renewable energy investment opportunities in the state.
The agency also discussed possible strategic collaborations with Enugu Distribution Company on the grid as well as the off-grid space.
Within the year, Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad, in company of top management staff of the agency, received Mustapha Kanti, the Commissioner for Rural Development, Katsina State. They engaged on developmental issues and ways to catalyse impact in rural communities, as they explored opportunities for co-financing of off-grid projects, to energize rural hospitals and agriculture.
Other collaborative moves include the meeting with the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) where NEMSA’s management unveiled its “guidelines for inspection of solar mini-grids in Nigeria.” REA also had an audience with the Federal Ministry of Education where it was agreed to continue to work hand-in-hand in charting a path to improve energy access in federal universities across the nation through the Energizing Education Programme ((EEP).
In the same vein, the DG of the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN), A.B Nagode, and the MD/CEO of REA, Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad, agreed that there is the need to adequately improve the renewable energy industry in Nigeria and scale-up technical capacity of the workforce through trainings and syllabus-based programmes on system installation and management, and energy audits during a visit to REA office.
Despite being a tough pandemic year, Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad has demonstrated capacity and leadership in steering the affairs of REA steadily, making positive gains and impacts in 2020.
However, as the agency continues to drive the next level agenda of the Federal Government and with so much achievement in 2020, analysts are of the views that much more will be achieved in 2021.