At the third annual Africa Today conference held on Tuesday, October 17, 2017, we were once again reminded that Nigeria’s challenges has nothing to do with situating the problem but everything to do with implementing a solution.
The summit, titled “Energy Options in a Low-cost and Low Carbon World: Which Way Nigeria and Africa?” held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, attracted renewable energy experts, chief executive officers of financial institutions, representatives of international development agencies, manufacturers and other key players in the renewable energy sector.
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, who was supposed to give a keynote address at the event, was represented by the Minister of State in the ministry, Suleiman Hassan, who, as usual, took participants through what had been done in the power sector and what was being done. It was a customary speech expected of people in government and far from the reality on ground in more ways than one.
Immediately after Mr Hassan made his speech and left, subsequent speakers tore down his claims and heavily criticised the Nigerian government for paying lip service to power generation in general and renewable energy in particular. The special guest of honour and keynote speaker at this year’s conference, Kandeh Yumkella, a former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and former CEO and representative of the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, presented a thought-provoking paper on Nigeria’s poor record in the energy sector and the kind of energy mix Nigeria requires to propel industrialisation and drastically reduce poverty.
Yumkella, who is also a former Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), brought to bear his wealth of experience spanning decades in international diplomacy and renewable energy. Married to a Nigerian and counting on the support of the country to become the next president of his home country, Sierra Leone, one could feel the disappointment in his tone as he reeled out damning statistics about Nigeria’s potential for energy sufficiency versus its struggle to light up its cities and rural areas. By the time he was done, many participants were left angry with our policy makers and about the Nigerian system.
Perhaps the most fascinating speech of the day was presented by the Governor of Taraba State, Darius Ishaku, who narrated how the Tunga Dam small hydro power station, which generates just over 400 kilowatts of electricity, had transformed the state’s hitherto moribund Highland Tea factory and provided 24-hour power to its neighbouring communities. Although politicians have the penchant for overstating their accomplishments, much of what the governor said could not be discountenanced. I was particularly moved by how an indigene of one of the communities enjoying steady power supply threw a shade in a short video clip, saying nowhere else could boast of 24-hour electricity in Nigeria, not even Abuja, the seat of power.
It is unfortunate and somewhat embarrassing that countries such as Morocco, South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda are the ones leading the charge for an ideal and sustainable energy mix in Africa. South Africa, for instance, has found a way to bring down the cost of solar energy to the extent that it could compete favourably with the more traditional and cheap energy from coal. Morocco is generating so much power from the sun that it sells to Europe. We are here sitting on an embarrassingly large deposit of gas in the south and a bankable amount of wind and sunshine in the north with water everywhere, yet South Africa generates more than ten times what we generate to provide power for its citizens who are less than one-third of our population. If we are not ashamed of this, we are a shameless, big-for-nothing country.
The forum agreed that as a developing country, a good mix of fossil and renewable energies would catalyse Nigeria’s industrialisation (Africa is still only responsible for less than 4 per cent of global carbon emission). It was also agreed that, although large on-grid power generation stations are necessary, there is the need to pay more attention to small, of-grid power stations, such as the Tunga Dam in Taraba, to create employment and reduce poverty in rural areas. To achieve this, public policies have to be strategic, transparent, consistent and have longevity. Energy plans have to be bankable to attract investment and the private sector needs to be courted with policy stability, irrespective of the government in power. Until we get power right, we are not going to get many things right in this country.