Living in darkness amid untapped hydropower sources, abandoned stations

 


TUNDE AJAJA writes about Nigeria’s age-old electricity woes amid abandoned hydropower stations

In the scorching sun ready to roast everyone’s skin, Ismail Adamu, a welder-turned-farmer, his wife, Aisha, and their three children sweated profusely, taking shelter at their usual spot under a tree opposite their house.


It’s their preferred spot and the only affordable solution anytime hot weather forces them out of the house. Their usual resort to staying outside to douse the heat is because where they lived for the past 25 years in Ikere in the Iseyin Local Government Area of Oyo State has never had power supply.



As if that is not devastating enough, the community is equally not connected to the national grid. Though a column of electricity poles litters the community’s landscape, they have yet to serve their intended purpose several years after being erected. There is no single cable on them.


Beyond enduring the harsh weather and living in constant darkness, his MIG welding machine has become a stool in the house.


Sadly, across the Ikere community, the story is similar, and at night, the community is enveloped in darkness with no hope of electricity.



Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been shocking, especially when the World Bank said in a report in July 2020 that 47 per cent of Nigerians (about 97 million persons) lack access to grid electricity and that Nigeria had the largest access deficit in sub-Saharan Africa and the second-largest worldwide after India.


The case of Ikere, covering no fewer than 40 agrarian communities, is peculiar because it boasts of a large dam with a reservoir of 565 million cubic metres of water and potential to generate at least six megawatts of electricity – enough to power about 6,000 houses. Though power consumption varies noticeably from house to house, it is estimated that 1MW of electricity could power 1,000 homes.



Till date, the community has never enjoyed ‘light’ but languishing in excruciating ‘darkness.’ This situation has worsened the misery of the residents.


The turbines and other components that should generate electricity have remained uninstalled since they were purchased about 40 years ago during the administration of the late Shehu Shagari. Now, the components are rotting away every day.


“Since moving into Ikere 25 years ago, the only ‘light’ we enjoy is the sun by the day and moon by night,” said Aliyu Yusuf, another resident. “We have never had electricity.”



Yusuf, a fisherman, said if the government would not connect them to the national grid, the hydropower arm of the dam should be revived to give them and the adjoining communities a new lease of life. “We are poor people here, help us appeal to the government to fix the hydropower station so that we and our children can also enjoy power in our lifetime,” he added.


Save for few persons who could afford small generators, the majority of the people travel to Iseyin for about one and a half hours on a motorcycle, through a dusty road filled with craters, to attend to their electricity needs. Businesses reliant on electricity have folded up while the chances of getting a basic item like cold sachet or bottled water is near impossible.



The neglect of the hydropower station has not only led to a waste of funds used to procure the turbines, it has also left the residents, especially the children, behind in terms of development and exposure. While Ikere is in total ‘darkness’, the neighbouring communities like Iseyin are only fairly better, all of which could have been averted if power was generated from the Ikere Gorge Dam.




Power stations neglect, a nationwide tragedy



Like in Ikere, residents of Abeokuta, the capital city of Ogun State, with one of the highest concentrations of industries in the country, also suffer erratic electricity despite having a 9MW hydropower station at the Oyan Dam.


The dam, which incorporates the power station, was built between 1979 and 1983 by the Shagari administration when the three turbines of 3MW each were installed. Sadly, only one was completely installed while the two others were not completely installed. Regardless, no single watt of electricity has been generated from there till date as they have all been abandoned since inauguration in 1983.



The remaining components meant for the two turbines still litter the basement of the power house when our correspondent visited months ago. The entire power house had been overtaken by dust while the three turbines partially installed, except one that was fully installed, had been coated in dust.


Worse still, the German company that manufactured the turbines, Garbe-Lahmeyer, AACHEN became defunct in 1993.


However, since the neglect of the power station, the helpless residents have largely resorted to generators; an item now providing electricity succour in most Nigerian homes. They come in various sizes and KVAs depending on the purchaser’s financial strength.



Across the world, electricity is not only an indispensable part of modern life, but an essential infrastructure and the lifeblood for national development and industrial growth.


Sadly, for decades and as long as one could remember, poor electricity supply has remained the biggest infrastructural challenge facing Nigerians, an overwhelming, sad reality they live with every day.


Even though successive governments claimed to have spent billions of dollars to fix the electricity problem, Nigerians have remained in darkness.



The Senate noted that in June that between 1999 and 2015, the Federal Government spent N2.74tn on the power sector and another N1.7tn between 2015 and 2020, totalling N4.4tn. But in spite of this, the nation’s power generation output from 1999 till date stands appallingly at about 3,500MW.


As if the problem had defied all scientific solutions, a former Minister of Power, Prof Chinedu Nebo, in 2013 surprisingly said he would work to drive out the demons behind the outages in the country.





Potential hydropower stations rot away


According to official figures, Nigeria’s energy needs hovers around 28,000MW amid an increasing demand.


Meanwhile, information from the Daily Operational Report of the Transmission Company of Nigeria on September 26, 2020, showed that peak power generation in the country stood at 3,730.4MW while the off-peak generation stood at 2,624.9MW.



This meager amount of electricity was generated from as many as 22 sources, comprising three hydro sources (Shiroro, Kainji and Jebba), two steam sources and 17 thermal sources, which underscores the gross deficit in supply.


The Energy Commission of Nigeria in a 2006 report noted that, “Nigeria has considerable hydro potential sources exemplified by her large rivers, small rivers, streams and the various river basins being developed. Nigeria’s rivers distributed all over the country with potential sites for hydropower schemes can serve the urban, rural and isolated communities.



“The overall large scale potential (exploitable) is in excess of 11,000MW.” This is independent of what could be generated from solar, wind and other thermal sources.


In March 2019, the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, pointed out that Nigeria had a hydropower potential of 12,220MW but only about 1,930MW of this had been developed at Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro dams. Sadly even, the three dams are producing power less than their installed capacity.


Investigations by our correspondent revealed that the 10,290MW remaining lie in waste in different dams across the country. In some of the dams, like Ikere Gorge and Oyan, etc, turbines were procured and installed. But they never generated any watt of electricity since 1984 because they were abandoned.



If successive governments in Nigeria had explored the country’s huge hydropower potential and resuscitated abandoned hydropower projects, the N5tn that the African Development Bank said Nigerians spend on generators yearly would have been saved and the distressed economy boosted.


An industry expert explained that Nigeria would have recorded more stable power supply if the small hydropower stations had been developed. He explained that if the electricity they produce powers neighbouring communities, they could be taken off the grid, which would in return free more megawatts for other consumers.



X-raying untapped hydropower sources


According to an ECN document obtained by our correspondent, there are small, medium and even large untapped hydropower schemes in different parts of the country that have been abandoned. Some have become outdated and some only need rehabilitation.


When our correspondent visited the Ikere Gorge Dam in August, one could be moved to tears by the neglect of such a laudable project. The interior of the power house was derelict as expensive components like turbine screws have been covered by dust.



They all reeked of rapid deterioration while the two uninstalled giant turbines of 3MW each were left under a shed in another location on the premises.


The two turbines, manufactured by the same Garbe-Lahmeyer, AACHEN, had rusted beyond repairs, especially as the manufacturer is no longer in business. While the turbines rot away, the management of the dam, Ogun-Oshun River Basin Development Authority, had been shedding excess water from the reservoir since April.


Perhaps, the most painful was that the electrical control systems, meant to be installed in the vacant Switch Board in the power house, were still in the wooden pack they came in with from the Apapa Port.



Former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said when he visited the dam in 2017, “I remember that we visited the dam in 1982 and brought the required turbines to complete the project. I almost wept on July 11, 2017 when I visited the dam in Iseyin and met the turbines lying fallow at the dam without being fixed.’’ Since then, the situation had only become worse.


While this national asset is wasting, uninterrupted darkness has become the inevitable reality the host community has had to face, especially as it does not have functional electric poles neither is it connected to the national grid.



But in addition to the abandoned Ikere Gorge and Oyan Dams, in Plateau State, River Kurra has 8MW installed capacity; River Bagel I has 1MW installed capacity; River Bagel II has 2MW while River Lere I and Lere II have 4MW respectively. This implies that 19MW capable of supplying 19,000 houses uninterrupted power lie in waste in Plateau State alone.


In Sokoto State, River Bakalori has 3MW installed capacity while River Tiga in Kano State has 6MW.



That’s not where the sad tale ends; there are many others, not less than 4,260MW,that have either been abandoned or remained underdeveloped for decades and have yet to be delivered due to government’s neglect and paucity of funds despite the trillions of naira wasted on them.


The Mambilla Power Project in Taraba State, with the capacity to generate a whopping 3,050MW – said to be Nigeria’s biggest single power plant – is particularly a sad case, having suffered distressing setbacks since 1972 when it was first conceived.



The hurdles that plagued the project for 48 years range from legal tussles to administrative glitches, funding and issues surrounding compensation for owners of the land where the project would be located. Thus, millions of persons and businesses that would have benefitted from its 4.7 billion kWh of electricity a year have been left in despair and near hopelessness, because the project has yet to fully take off.


Also, the Zungeru hydropower project in Niger State with the capacity to generate 700MW was first conceived in 1982 but has since been neglected.



Likewise, the Gurara hydropower schemes I and II in Kaduna State remained projects with immense potential. Gurara I has the potential to generate 30MW while Gurara II is expected to generate 360MW. But, the projects have spent considerable time in limbo until they were concessioned last year. And until the projects are delivered, the residents may continue to dwell in their current situation.


The Director-General, Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Chidi Izuwa, stated in May that the Gurara I project would not only generate 30MW and produce 115 Giga Watts-hour of energy annually, but would also bring N17.6bn revenue to Nigeria.



Also, since 1984, the Dadin Kowa Dam in Gombe State has remained a potential on paper. With the capacity to generate 40MW of electricity, the project has yet to achieve the dream of those who conceived it.


In Taraba State, the 40MW Kashimbilla hydropower project has been completed since 2019. But till date, it has yet to end the darkness enveloping different parts of the country.


The 40MW Itisi hydropower project in Kaduna State is another potential waiting to be harnessed. The project, first conceived in 2008, is now a joint-venture between the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and the Kaduna State Government. Till it is completed and becomes operational, it remains another lofty idea in the pipeline.



Meanwhile, these 4,260MW unexploited potential alone is more than the 3,730.4MW peak power generated from 22 sources.


In addition to these, in a document commissioned by the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, a copy of which our correspondent obtained, there are many potential large and medium hydropower sites for investment that could boost the inefficient power supply in the country.


Notably, some of these sites are rivers that could be converted to a dam and be made to generate power. These sites include 1MW that could be generated from Ogbese River in Ondo State; 0.45MW from Owena River in Ondo State; 2MW from Ogwashi-Uku River in Delta State; 6MW from River Nun in Bayelsa State; 0.109MW from Adada River in Enugu State; 0.056MW from Ivo River in Enugu State and 0.1MW from Ogbese River in Ekiti State.



In Taraba State, 20MW from Karamti River; 16MW from Gongola River; 11MW from Bali River; 11MW from Sardauna River; 0.5MW from Rafin Soja; 0.304MW from Fikyu River; 27MW from Tella River and 11MW from Kila River.


Others are 1.9MW from Otukpo River and Ankwe River in Benue State; 0.075MW from Mangu River in Plateau State; 1MW from Doma River in Nasarawa State; 2MW from Kampe River in Kogi State; 1.7MW from Gimi River in Kaduna State; 0.07MW from Sulma River and 4MW from Jibiya River in Katsina State; 3MW from Bakobri River in Zamfara State; 2.4MW from Auna Kontagora River in Niger State; 0.067MW from Ishapa River in Kwara State and 0.117MW from Asejire River in Oyo State. This 118.848MW has also remained a mere pipe dream.



In March 2019, the then Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, stated that six of these hydropower resources were to be put up for concessioning “to cater for the power needs of their immediate and essentially rural communities.”


He listed the hydropower sources to include the 6MW Ikere Gorge Dam; 2MW Omi-Kampe Dam in Kogi; 300KW Zobe Dam and 4MW Jibiya Dam in Katsina State and the 3MW Bakolori Dam in Zamfara State.



The generator dilemma 


Owing to the shortage of power generated amid plenty of hydropower resources, Nigerians have been constrained to spend trillions yearly buying and servicing generators for domestic, commercial and administrative uses.


The World Bank said in a report in July, 2020, that the annual economic losses caused by Nigeria’s unreliable power supply had been estimated at N10.1tn or about two per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.



On account of the avoidable poor power supply, Nigeria has remained one of the largest importers of generators among the 54 nations on the continent.


The Chairman, Benin Electricity Distribution Company Limited, Mr Gbolade Osibodu, at a conference themed, ‘Nigeria: Any hope for an Industrial Revolution?’ said for successive four years, Nigeria topped the list of African countries importing generators.


But in 2016, Nigeria won silver as it came closely behind Egypt. Information gleaned from the Genset Import/Export trade from the United Nations Statistics Division showed that Nigerians spent a whopping $51.05m in 2014 and 2015 on generators. The report projected that the figure could rise to $450m as the country’s power supply continued to worsen. Reports also noted that over the years, generators remained on the list of top imports by Nigeria.



In 2017, the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, described as unacceptable a situation where Nigerians spend about $5bn yearly to fuel their generators. Likewise, the incumbent Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, said in July that Nigeria loses $29bn annually because of lack of access to power supply.


In 2018, a report by Rocky Mountain Institute in collaboration with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, estimated that domestic and commercial electricity consumers spend N13.4m daily and N4.9tn annually to power their petrol and diesel generators because of the country’s electricity woes.



In March, the Director for the Country Office, African Development Bank, Ebrima Faal, said at a stakeholders’ forum in Abuja that Nigerians spent about $14bn (about N5tn) on purchase of generators and fueling yearly.


The impact of power shortage in Nigeria is a nationwide dilemma to the extent that government offices and the Presidential Villa were not free from it; they all have a budget for generators.


In the 2020 budget for example, the Federal Government budgeted N9.05bn on the purchase, maintenance and fuelling of generators across the Ministries, Departments and Agencies. From analysis, the sum could even be higher because some agencies did not provide a breakdown of their budgets.



The climate change question


Beyond the huge cost, the prevalent use of generators has also been found to be frustrating efforts to check climate change in the country, given the resultant pollution and impact on the environment. This is a major challenge especially as the world moves away from fossil fuel to halt climate change. This also betrays two of United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Goals seven, which is Affordable and Clean Energy and 13, which is Climate Action.



To this end, the Executive Director, Greenado International Limited and a former Renewable Energy Manager, Bank of Industry, Mr Lawal Gada, told Sunday PUNCH, “Generators are too many in Nigeria; there is no major building, especially in the cities, where you will not see a generator. When you go to big organisations like the NNPC, CBN and BoI, you will see that they have up to four big generators, with a size of 500KVA, operated on a 24-hour basis, and they are burning fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide.”



The World Bank, for example, said in a report in July 2020 that access to electricity remained a major problem in Nigeria. The report also ranked Nigeria as the 171st globally, out of the 190 countries surveyed, and 33rd among 46 sub-Saharan Africa countries, regarding electricity.


As of now, there would only be a few houses, companies or businesses in Nigeria without at least one generator.


Severe impacts of untapped hydropower sources



While the effect on households is huge, the impact on businesses, both the big ones and the vulnerable micro, small and medium enterprises, cannot be quantified. Many businesses had closed down, some relocated out of Nigeria and others are barely making profit because of their high running costs.


Between 2007 and 2008, two tyre manufacturing giants, Michelin and Dunlop, left Nigeria because of the high cost of doing business, especially the cost of power. Michelin left the country in 2007, while Dunlop said it recorded N2bn loss in 2007 prior to its eventual exit from Nigeria in 2008.



The then chairman of Dunlop Nigeria Plc, Mr Dayo Lawuyi, told shareholders at the company’s 46th Annual General Meeting in Lagos that, “Public power supply continues to be a challenge and even though of late we have witnessed some reduction in the prices of diesel the cost of running generators remain a substantial portion of operating expenses.”


In November 2016, the Chief Executive Officer, Erisco Foods, Chief Eric Umeofia, said at a news conference in Lagos that he was relocating his company to China, owing to the rising cost of doing business in the country.



Based on the power supply challenge, Nigeria has remained an importer rather than an exporter and this has affected every aspect of the Nigerian life. From drugs to consumables, manufacturing and indeed all sectors of the economy, the multiplier effect is huge. Apart from compelling manufacturers to resort to importation rather than produce, it also fuels unemployment, which is currently at 27.1 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.


The President, Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Sam Ohuabunwa, told our correspondent in an interview in May that the high cost of doing business was a major reason why pharmaceutical companies preferred importing drugs than producing.



In the telecoms sector, the Manager, Technical Department, Nigerian Communications Commission, Mr Musa Diabu, said in 2019 that poor power supply was responsible for the poor services telecom subscribers were experiencing.


The high cost of generating power has also inflated the tariffs for calls, data and messaging. Across all sectors of the economy, including education and health care, the problem is the same.


The Chief Medical Director, University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State, Prof Jesse Otegbayo, said in February that the hospital had 75 generators, adding that the internally generated revenue was being expended on running the diesel generators.



Meanwhile, the MSMEs are not spared. The National President, Association of Small Business Owners of Nigeria, Dr Femi Egbesola, said in an interview with our correspondent that erratic electricity and other factors forced 42 SMEs to fold up between 2014 and 2019.


Also, in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020, Nigeria ranks 131st, with getting access to electricity ranked as one of the major constraints. Regarding electricity, Nigeria was ranked 171st globally, out of the 190 countries surveyed, and 33rd among 46 sub-Saharan Africa countries.


The bank noted that most households connected to grid electricity experienced blackouts daily as well as frequent voltage fluctuations. It added that 40 per cent of households with access to electricity use generators and many rely on other non-grid sources such as solar home systems, solar lantern/lighting systems and rechargeable batteries.


The Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr Muda Yusuf, however described power as one of the biggest challenges facing businesses in Nigeria, adding that it had impacted negatively on the competitiveness of goods produced in the country. Yusuf noted in 2019 that poor power supply cost the economy N10tn annually.


He pointed out that while foreign SMEs saturate the Nigerian market with their goods, SMEs in Nigeria were suffocating under the crushing impact of the high cost of production, occasioned largely by cost of generating power.


Yusuf said, “If you visit some business premises, you begin to wonder whether they are a manufacturing plant or power generation plant because you see different generators and drums of diesel, and its huge cost. If we really want to industrialise and see businesses grow instead of collapsing, we really have to fix this energy problem.


“Nigeria would have been the industrial and economic hub of Africa if we had got power right, given our population and market. Some of the companies that go to East and other parts of West Africa would have considered Nigeria if we have electricity and complementary policies.”


He said intervention funds and banning the importation of some items by the government are good “but they are not addressing the fundamental issues, which is to make power available so that people can produce goods that are cost effective and competitive.”


Also, the Acting Director-General, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, Mr Ambrose Oruche, said if power problem was expunged from the challenges facing manufacturers in Nigeria, there would be little left to contend with. He explained that an average of seven hours supply and seven times outages per day had forced manufacturers to resort to generating their own energy despite the associated huge cost.


He noted that a quarterly publication by MAN, Manufacturer’s CEOs Confidence Index, examining manufacturers’ pulse through research, ranked the high cost of self-generated energy as the topmost challenge facing them.



He added, “The share of energy cost to total cost of production in the sector is estimated at 38 per cent which is one of the highest in the world. This has been responsible for the poor competitiveness of locally manufactured products in the country.”


Calling on the government to find a lasting solution to the problem, he said stable power supply would not only enhance the competitiveness of the manufacturing sector and return it to the path of sustainable growth, but also encourage establishment of more businesses.



He pointed out that owing to the prevailing problem, MAN had established the Manufacturers Power Development Company and was collaborating with UNIDO to take advantage of the hydropower projects in providing alternative power supply to help the members.


He added, “The state of the national grid should be investigated to ensure that the nation’s installed capacity of over 13,000MW is deployed to offer utility that is up to expectation. It will be a good idea to allow more private sector operators to fully play in the sector with assurance of good tariff for cost recovery.”



He added that the UNIDO Office for Small Hydro for Africa model trying to fabricate small hydro turbines locally should be encouraged and supported, adding that feed-in tariff models should be properly examined to encourage individuals to sell their excess power within a regulated framework.


Experts react to the troubling issue


Prof Adeola Adenikinju, who is the Director, Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law at the University of Ibadan, said if the small hydropower stations were working, the country could have used the generated electricity to power rural and semi-urban areas where they were and also take them off the grid.



He said, “With that we would have been able to bridge the huge supply gap and improve productivity and livelihoods in those areas. Nigeria would have been better for it. But now, people resort to generators. Mambilla is a large scale hydropower source that would increase power generation significantly and Nigeria has spent money on the project but nothing is there to show for it, which is a reflection of poor planning and waste that has characterised the electricity sector in the past decades.”



He also blamed the failure of the projects on the lack of accountability, lamenting that some of the projects were over 50 per cent completed but that since they were abandoned nobody had been penalised or held accountable. “It’s sad because we are in a country where resources are scarce and we are struggling, yet we have these wastages across the country,” he added.


Asked why the government seemed to be showing more interest in thermal than hydro, he said even though it’s “much easier to construct a thermal plant than others that take longer time, it’s a very myopic reason.” “For the sake of energy security and the need to diversify energy sources, we should be using all the forms of energy available,” he added.



On the way forward, Adenikinju said all the stakeholders, including state and local governments and host communities should be involved in the monitoring of such projects, adding that, “The concentration of some of these things under the Federal Government makes it difficult for implementation, because somebody in Abuja may not know what is happening in Ikere, but if the communities and local governments are involved, it would be easier to monitor such projects.”


Also, an energy expert, Mr Ayodele Oni, said part of the problem was that the government didn’t think through its policies well, adding that if there was enough water like Nigeria has, it’s an advantage to generate power even at less cost.



He added, “We need to have a more robust policy, but we shouldn’t forget the problem with our transmission and distribution network, because we have stranded power, unless we want to do distributed generation and connect users locally.


“My view has always been energy federalism, in the sense that each local government and state should use the least cost of available resources for generating electricity in their locality. Enugu has coal, why not use it to generate clean energy to serve that area; let Ikere use its dam to generate power, same for Oyan Dam and the rest across the country and then take them off the grid. In that case, you might leave only the industries and factories on the national grid.”



He noted that given the inadequate capacity on the part of the DISCOs, the government could compel them to cooperate with investors interested in private generation such that the abandoned hydropower projects would be useful via distributed generation.


He added, “While we wait for the transmission issues to be fixed, we should allow small hydropower projects to service their immediate community while we take them off the grid, especially if it would cost less for the discos to improve their distribution. With that, we take many people off the grid and leave it for the heavy users.”



Furthermore, Adenikinju stated that Nigeria would have been able to bridge the supply gap if the hydropower stations were working, adding that the non-adherence to the country’s energy policy, which envisaged multiple sources of energy for the country, like hydro, thermal and renewable, was part of the problem.


From findings, Norway generates 95 per cent of its electricity from hydropower; Brazil is 88 per cent; Venezuela is 68 per cent; Canada is 62 per cent and Sweden is 42 per cent.



However, Nigeria may continue groping in the dark until the government adopted experts’ recommendations and revived the hydropower stations. 


The Punch

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