The struggle to ensure availability of power supply especially in rural areas across the country has been a herculean one, ABAH ADAH reports
More than anything else, lack of uninterrupted power has been the bane of economic development in Nigeria where most small and medium enterprises rely heavily on power supply to thrive.
Of course the deplorable state of power supply is killing businesses softly as scores of small business owners whose means of businesses depend on power-businesses such as barbing and hair dressing salon, grinding machines and a host of similar petty endowments’-have had cause to fold up.
Until recently when the nation appears to be having what could mildly be described as genuine commitments to revamping the power sector, power supply situation has been anything but palatable in spite of the fact of large chunk of money has been spent on the sector.
Indeed, the epileptic nature of power supply in the country has continued to be a source of concern with stakeholders advocating an overhaul of the sector just as some believe the time was long overdue for the nation to explore other alternative sources such as solar.
The cry about poor power supply is mostly heard in the cities and other semi urban areas which are connected to national grid while numerous villages and other rural areas across most states of the federation still live in utter darkness.
In most of these communities, residents use different means of illumination to illuminate their houses once it is dusk simply because they have no access to electricity even if epileptic.
Although statistics of rural communities that have yet to get electricity across the country appears conflicting, sources said thousands of such communities scattered across different states of the federation are desirous of attention.
Indeed, as a means of providing power to these rural areas, some states established the rural electricity board saddled with the responsibility of spearheading the provision of power to rural communities.
Arguably, the mother of such boards and or agencies is the federal government funded Rural Electricity Agency (REA).
Established through section 88 to 91 of the Power Reform Act of 2005, the REA was to coordinate rural electrification programmes in the country through Public-Private partnership (PPP).
It was also mandated to administer the rural electrification fund as part of an overall move to ensure effective electricity power supply to rural areas.
There is no point re-asserting the fact that providing electricity to rural areas aside from boosting economic activities in such areas, has the tendency to discourage or at least, minimize rural-urban migration since most of such movements are occasioned by the desire to have access to social amenities which functional and steady power supply guarantees.
Perhaps it was in appreciation of this fact and in line with an overall objective of providing electricity to rural communities that the Federal government establish the REA.
Basically, the REA targets remote and inaccessible settlements from Urban areas, settlements without access to basic Infrastructural Services, agrarian settlements that contribute to the local economy and settlements with low socio-economic indicators i.e. income, education & health.
Essentially, the agency seeks to promote agriculture, industrial, commercial and other economic and social activities in rural areas, raise the living standards of the rural population through improved water supply, lighting and security, and assist in reducing rural – urban migration.
But years after its establishment, has the agency been able to address the challenges of rural electrification?
Engr Muhammed Abubakar Wasaram is the acting Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of the RuralElectrification Agency (REA).
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday in an exclusive interview, Wasaram stated that inadequate funding has been the bane of rural electrification in the country over the years.
He lamented that over the years, adequate attention was not given to the agency in terms of funding and human capacity development so as to enable it to carry out its mandate accordingly until thelast one year.
“Yes, it is obvious that many rural communities are still in darkness; it is as a result of accumulated poor funding suffered over the years.
“Since in ception, the agency has been making frantic effort to live up to its mandate of powering rural communities throughout the country at the supposed pace but due to lack of sufficient budgetary provision, it was difficult for it to meet up” he added.
Continuing, Wasaram said “at inception, this agency inherited 86 grid extension projects spread all over the country with financial liabilities within the region of N40 billion”
He declared that concerted efforts were made to complete all the inherited projects in 2006”even with the very limited resources” stressing that huge success was made.
Findings by our correspondent revealed that the Agency is yet to commence new projects perhaps because it was yet to compete inherited ones.
Asked when the inherited projects would be completed and handed over to benefitting communities with new ones started, Wasaram merely said the emphasis has been on getting all ongoing projects completed and all debts paid first since the present government came on board.
“When this administration came up and saw the huge number of ongoing and those abandoned projects all over the country due to lack of fund to complete them, it deemed it better to complete them rather than embarking on new ones.
“So government prioritized completion of the projects that are still ongoing and has been paying the backlog of debts, even though little by little.
“Even when I came in in acting capacity, I saw wisdom in government’s decision, and noticed that those projects needed to be upgraded, which is what we have been doing.
Although the acting REA boss declined to comment on the number of rural electricity projects that are ongoing, unconfirmed reports said there are over four hundred of such projects which are at various stages of completion across the country.
Engr Wasaram however expressed optimism that with the commitment being demonstrated by this government, “hope has come for rural electrification in the country,
He noted that the APC led federal government has put the issue of rural electrification on the front burner and is determined to ensure that rural communities enjoy electricity like their urban counterparts.
In 2016, the APC led government at the Centre demonstrated its commitment to rural power supply when according to reliable sources, it released N1.2 billion, which went a long way in addressing the challenges.
Although the journey to providing electricity for the rural areas appears far from being completed, the take-off, viewed from the commitments of the present administration, appears to be on a sound note.
Source : Leadership