The wisdom in African proverbs is so transcendent that sometimes when their enduring insight hits us, we become nostalgic, and yearn for those days when our fathers talked to us only through adages and time-tested aphorisms. The perspicacity in the Igbo proverb which translates “a bird that dances on the pathway has an unseen drummer hidden in the nearby bush” hit me last week when I attended the 15th anniversary luncheon of the Diamond Development Initiative, a not-for-profit organisation, in Abuja.
In essence, this Igbo saying means two things. First, that we should not take anything at face value; second, that there is always an unseen dynamic, or power, behind any movement, or development. The latter is more germane to what I experienced at the DDI event.
Sometime early last year, I wrote an article about some Nigerians who benefitted from the American government’s Power Africa project. Incidentally, I later met a group of them in Accra, Ghana, at a Renewable Energy Conference, where they came to share their experiences with industry experts and other Africans; and also to meet other regional benefactors of the American government’s initiative in order to generally compare notes with a view to scaling up their operations in a more streamlined strategy.
One of the beneficiaries is a young Nigerian, Fatima Ademoh, the founder of Ajima Farms, a biogas off-grid energy producer for rural dwellers in the Federal Capital Territory. According to Ademoh, they were presented with two problems, which were agricultural wastes and surrounding villages that were not connected to the national grid and could not access electricity. The wastes, for sure, were not good for the health of the community, and the gas released by the wastes (methane) into the atmosphere was 24 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
She said, “We looked on how we can solve these problems. The project has three components, which are energy generation, clean gas cooking solution and energy efficiency. We have similar project at Kuwizhi with 10 kilowatts. That gave birth to the biogas project here in Rije village of Kuje Area Council. This is to power the community. Currently, we gather waste from commercial farms around here and also get waste from the community, and the youth bring them on site. They secure and operate biogas generators. There is a meter that regulates the consumption of power from the source of power supplied to consumers in the village through the pre-paid metering system we have, and is not the same with the power Distribution Companies.”
The project, called Waste-2-Watt Initiative, was commissioned then by the United States African Development Foundation, USADF, led by its Regional Director, Tom Coogan. Ajima Farms was the inaugural winner of the USADF Power Africa Off-Grid Energy Challenge, as energy entrepreneur, which was also conducted in eight other African countries. USADF gave a grant of $100, 000 to Ajima Farms, and later expanded the funding with $50, 000 for a second biogas project in Kuwizhi village in the same area council of the FCT.
Therefore, I knew about the USADF being the vehicle that piloted the Power Africa project in Nigeria. However, I was worried how the project could have a grassroots penetration considering that the scheme was more needed at the rural areas more than in the urban centres which has more diplomatic presence. This was a puzzle that got even more troubling now that President Donald Trump is calling the shots. Considering Trump’s infamous stance against climate change and green enterprise, many questions remained unanswered.
Nevertheless, things became clear last week. As I entered the hall for the DDI luncheon, lo and behold, Ademo of Ajima Farms seated opposite me on a table with a number of other Power Africa beneficiaries. And on another end of the hall was Tom Coogan of USADF!
And, as I was handed a programme of the event by ushers, and the MC, Eugenia Abu, took the microphone, things became even more interesting. Ajima Farms was just one of the success stories of the NGO, DDI. A couple of others were also at the event. Ifeanyi Orajiaka representing GVE Projects; Hajiya Talatu Bashir representing Women Development Initiative; Ibrahim Mohammed representing Kiru II Fadama Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative Society; Aliyu M. Salisu representing Nigerian Association of the Blind, Kaduna State Chapter; Yakubu Atar representing Da All Green Seeds; and Fajemi Gognaje representing Feed the Future Nigeria Livelihoods Project.
It turned out that the Diamond Development Initiative, an NGO that started operations in 2002, is that “elusive” local partner that makes it possible for the United States government to access and assess its target beneficiaries at the grassroots level. So, immediately Power Africa Initiative was inaugurated by Obama, DDI began a Nigerian localisation of the project three years ago. That was how Ademo and her fellow beneficiaries saw their green dreams become a reality.
For instance, the DDI is currently implementing a USAID Feed the Future Nigeria Livelihoods Project. The project, which is based in rural communities in Kebbi, Sokoto, Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States as well as the Federal Capital Territory, uses a multi-sector approach to provide support to about 52,000 very poor households by growing their agricultural production, increasing incomes and improving the nutrition of children.
According to DDI’s Executive Director, Adamu A. Garba, “The five-year program is helping about 42,000 very poor households grow their agriculture production, incomes, and also improve household nutrition in the targeted States. Primarily this will be through the improvement of agricultural production but will also deal with nutrition, credit and savings and strengthening local governance systems to be able to implement poverty reduction related activities.
In the North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, the intervention will move returnees, host communities, vulnerable households and internally displaced persons from dependency on humanitarian assistance to engage in agriculture and other economic activities. This will be achieved by building the capacity of the beneficiaries that will result into increased agricultural production and diversified source of income.”
In an interview shortly after the luncheon, Coogan disclosed that USADF has spent over $20 million to empower farmers in Nigeria as part of its strategic measures to end abject poverty and hunger in Nigeria. While commending the management and staff of DDI for transparency in fund management, he reiterated his organization’s readiness to end epileptic power supply in Nigeria by empowering Nigerians to invest in various off- grid energy sources which abound in the country. He told me that despite my obvious concerns, Power Africa would be implemented to the end, and might receive a nod for scale-up.
Personally, I am still concerned that our government has yet to adopt not just the Power Africa model, but the philosophy behind it. Implementing and adoption of renewable energy projects comes with some challenges like choice of appropriate technology, financing, sustainable business model and community engagement. If our youths are told to go into agriculture, they must also acquire the requite strategies that work, in modular levels. Example: productivity of the community would be boosted by providing electricity to power machines that increases efficiency of agricultural operations. It would also provide opportunity for the community to build a cooling system to store perishable crop and a milling system.