Ahmad Ahmad and his Dream Team at REA working to electrify rural Nigeria

Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad assumed office as managing director and chief executive officer of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) in December, 2019, with much excitement that had nothing to do with his new position, but much to do with an opportunity to contribute to making a difference in an area of the national life that has remained perhaps the most problematic for decades – the power sector.

He looked forward to the impact he and his team would make on rural areas that are either unserved or underserved in the provision of electricity.

That was before the onset of the Coronavirus, which would become a global pandemic in 2020, literally dislocating lives and livelihoods, and disrupting growth trajectories around the world. Ahmad took office at a very challenging period. But he wasn’t deterred.

The COVID-19 hit hard on the health sector. This meant that Ahmad and his team had to direct their energy and focus towards providing adequate electricity to the sector that had fallen into a crisis. The team moved quickly to deploy four solar hybrid mini-grids to power isolation centres in areas that were recording high cases of the Coronavirus, namely, Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory. The exercise was extended to isolation centres in other parts of the country, to power ventilators, coolers and other critical medical equipment that are strategic to the management of COVID-19 cases.

Intervention of the REA was not limited to the health sector as it affects the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency’s mandate is to take electricity to areas where it has never been in existence in their entire history, some of which date up to 200 years. Ahmad and his team therefore went to work, either upgrading electricity infrastructure in critical facilities and establishments or providing electricity where it was never provided. At the end of its first year in office in December, 2020, the team had a catalogue of achievements to show for its efforts.

It is not possible to list all the achievements of the REA intervention team in one article, for obvious reasons of space. But a few would suffice, if only for the purpose of drawing attention to the fact that despite the widespread disruptions of COVID-19 in 2020, the agency was able to record a lot of milestones in fulfilment of its mandate.

The first thing Ahmad and his team did was to undertake an assessment and monitoring tour of electricity projects in the country, in order to be able to determine accurately the scope of work it needed to do. The tour reveled that many of the projects the agency was supposed to be involved in were not rural, which deprived the real rural dwellers of the chance to have electricity extended to their areas. The agency took steps to correct the anomaly by re-directing its attention to areas where its mandate covers.

The agency’s biggest and perhaps most challenging assignment was revamping of the long-dragging Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP), regarded as the single largest electrification project in Africa. The project is a beneficiary of a $350 million grant by the World Bank, and a $200 million sovereign fund from the African Development Bank (AfDB), which is meant to increase electricity access to 105, 000 households, 20, 000 MSMEs and federal universities across the country.

Among the institutions that are to benefit from the first phase of the programme are the University of Abuja; University of Maiduguri; Michael Okapara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State and the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. Others are Federal University, Abeokuta; University of Calabar Teaching Hospital and Federal University of Gashua.

Within a period of one year, the REA completed seven mini-grids and deployed over 6, 000 standalone solar home systems to off-grid communities across Nigeria under the Rural Electrification Fund (REF), and delivered three mini-grids and two grid extension projects using the Federal Government Capital Appropriation. It delivered three projects through the NEP, and also delivered one project under the Energizing Education Programme.

The agency signed more grant agreements with developers to allow for the electrification of more off-grid communities. Under this arrangement, seven new companies signed on to the Output Based Fund (OBF), bringing the companies signed under the SHS portfolio to 19. The objective of this arrangement is to electrify one million households and 90, 000 MSMEs with reliable and affordable electricity.

The REA delivered electricity projects in different communities across the country. In Bayelsa State, it delivered two solar hybrid mini-grids with total capacity of 134.64kw to Akipelai and Oloibiri villages under the PBG component of NEP.

It established a 234kw hybrid mini-grid power plant in Shimankar community in Shendam Local Government Area of Plateau State. This intervention has allowed 1, 900 households, 273 commercial users, five productive users, as well as 19 public users access to clean, safe and reliable energy, which has improved the socio-economic life of the community.

The agency delivered a 33/0.415kv transformer to Unguwar-Dutse community in Malumfashi Local Government Area of Katsina State on the on-grid front. It made a similar intervention with a 300kva, 11/0.415 transformer in Ajijola community in Osun State. The Budo-Are community in Itesiwaju Local Government Area of Oyo State got a deployment of a 100kw solar hybrid mini-grid under the REF. The Olooji community in Ogun State had the chance to have a 100kw solar hybrid mini-grid delivered to it under the REF as well, 200 years after the founding of the community.

The Eka Awoke community in Ikwo Council, Ebonyi State, was one of the beneficiaries of the REA’s intervention in the last one year. The community got a 100kw solar hybrid mini-grid designed to enable 500 residents in 300 residential and 150 commercial buildings receive clean, safe and reliable energy.

In Anambra State, the Joint Hospital in Ozubulu, in Ekwusigo Local Government Area became a beneficiary of a 7.5kw solar hybrid mini-grid meant to improve healthcare delivery to the people of the community. Two strategically located hospitals in Kogi State – the 250-bed Cottage Hospital in Ukpogo community and and Cottage Hospital in Adavi-Eba – received, respectively, 65kw solar hybrid mini-grid and a 5.4kw solar hybrid mini-grid. This is designed to improve healthcare delivery to those communities.

The Federal University of Agriculture, Markudi, was one of the beneficiaries under the Phase 1 of the EEP. The institution received 8.2mw solar hybrid mini-grid intervention designed to serve over 17, 000 students and staff. All the institutions that benefited from this phase of the programme are funded from the Green Bond of the federal government.

The delivery of these projects has achieved thousands of new connections, with enormous socio-economic impact recorded in off-grid communities around the country.

Apart from those that have been commissioned, there are numerous other projects the REA completed last year which are waiting for commissioning. These include the 85kw isolated solar mini-grid in Dakitti, Akko Council of Gombe State; 1.12mw sola hybrid mini-grid at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Balewa University, Bauchi; the 10.08kw solar mini-grid in Gamawa, Gololo and Odubo towns in the Gadiwa community, and the rehabilitation of a sola mini-grid in Marza’a and Munga communities, Hong Council, in Adamawa State.

Other projects scheduled for inauguration are the 1.35mw at the Federal University of Petroleum, Effurun, Delta State; a 100kw solar hybrid mini-grid at Adebayo community, Ovia South; 5kw solar mini-grid at Adoration Orphanage, EgoroAmede and a 6.37kw solar mini-grid at Ulemo, all in Edo State.

More tasks ahead in 2021

Ahmad and his team are keenly aware of the need to put whatever achievements it recorded in one year behind. There is a lot of work to be done. For instance, the federal government has tasked the agency on the implementation of the Solar Power Naija Project, a major component of the Economic Sustainability Plan that was designed by the Office of the Vice President and domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria. The project is designed to deliver five million new solar connections to serve 25 million Nigerians in rural and under-served urban centres.

In the first quarter of 2021, the agency plans to kick off deployment of the Energizing Health Programme that is designed to energize 100 isolation centres and 400 primary health centres, in phases. As the agency rounds off delivery of 12 mini-grids and 19, 000 Solar Home System (SHS) under the First Call of the REF, the Second Call is underway with more mini-grids to be delivered.

Ahmad says the Standalone SHS has proved to be a smart way to deliver energy for use in homes. He said the component was receiving attention from the REA, with seven new SHS developers recently signed under the OBF, which increased the number of companies in its portfolio from 12 to 19.

“The second phase of the Energizing Education Programme is underway”, Ahmad said last December at the stock-taking of his first year in office. “We are already carrying out energy audits at EEP Phase 2 beneficiary universities. This programme alone is designed to deliver clean, safe and reliable energy to 37 federal universities and seven teaching hospitals”.

The Dream Team

The Dream Team at REA comprises Ahmad at the helm of affairs and three other executive directors.

Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad: Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer

Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad, an energy and environmental specialist, runs the REA as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer. He came into office with five years’ experience in regulatory issues.

A holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Management from the University of Leeds, the United Kingdom, Ahmad received a Master of Development Studies from the Nigerian Defence Academy and Master Diploma from CADD.

Prior to his appointment, he had worked with a private energy consultancy firm as a member of the executive management. In that position, he helped in the area of thought leadership and implementation of various solar energy projects in different parts of the country. He also held the position of Special Adviser to the Honourable Minister of Environment and Principal Infrastructure Officer at the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission.

Ahmad is a member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, and also holds a certification from the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN). He enjoys reading the Harvard Business Review to keep abreast of latest energy news and reports.

Barka Sajou: Executive Director, Technical Services

Barka Sajou is the Executive Director, Technical Services at REA. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from the University of Maiduguri; a Master’s degree in Electrical Power Engineering, from the University of Greenwich, United Kingdom and a Post Graduate Diploma in Grid Integration and Distributed Renewable Energy from the University of Zaragoza, Spain.

Sajou has worked on various projects which include the Green Bond of the federal government, as a lead off-grid power specialist; Power Infrastructure Advisor under the Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility led by the DFID and a transaction advisor for the development of SHS, mini-grids and independent  power plants (IPPs). Before he joined REA, he was the Senior Manager, Strategy and Corporate Planning at the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company Plc. In that position, he led product innovation, strategy and corporate development, as well as project development for decentralized energy solutions.

Sjou joined REA with about 10 years’ experience in electrification planning, power infrastructure finance, project development, power reforms and operations.

Dr. Sanusi Mohammed Ohiare: Executive Director, Rural Electrification Funds

Dr. Sanusi Mohammed Ohiare, Executive Director in charge of Rural Electrification Funds, obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with Second Class Honours, Upper Division, from the University of Jos in 2006. He attended the Centre for Energy, Petroleum, Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee, Scotland, from where he obtained a Master’s degree in Energy Studies, with specialization in Energy Finance, in 2011. He holds a PhD in Rural Energy Development from the Institute for Energy and Sustainable Development, De Montfort University, Leicester, England, in 2014. He is said to be the only Nigerian with specialization in that area.

Prior to joining REA, Ohiare had worked with the German International Cooperation Agency (GIZ) as National Advisor on Rural Electrification, under the Nigerian Energy Support Programme, co-founded by the European Union and the German Government. In that capacity, he provided technical support to the REA and the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission in the areas of data management and systems planning for rural electrification support for the development of mini-grids pilot projects. He also coordinated the programme in the northern states.

Ohiare has worked with the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc; Sustainable, Policy and Innovative Development Research (SPIDER) Solutions; Federal Capital Territory Administration, Abuja, and various private companies in different capacities.  He was a member of the Presidential Committee that reviewed the Rural Electrification Strategy and Implementation Plan document for the country in 2013. He was also a member of the team that drafted the mini-grid regulations of 2016.

He is a member of the International Association of Energy Economics (IAEE); Lagos Oil Club; Society for Petroleum Engineers and the Energy Institute of the United Kingdom.

Olaniyi Alaba Ntufo: Executive Director, Corporate Services

Chief Olaniyi Alaba Ntufo is the Executive Director, Corporate Services, of the REA. A holder of the Higher National Diploma in Quantity Surveying from the Polytechnic, Owo, Ondo State, Ntufo has wide experience in different establishments in the private sector, among which are Managing Partner, Allnock Association Limited; Managing Partner, Ntufo and Associates, Lagos; Executive Director, Projects, Nettop Interiors, Lagos and Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer.

A certified quantity surveyor, Ntufo has more than 25 years’ experience in management of businesses, leading project executions and driving growth. His areas of core competence include ability to manage human resources for achievement of set goals; project cost analysis, knowledge of internal management procedures, etc.