An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. This is a belief held by a renowned American entrepreneur, Benjamin Franklin, in his quest for knowledge.
Although Franklin is long gone, countries in the world have held unto this belief by investing in their education sectors towards churning out graduates that could transform economies.
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Nigeria is not left out of this process with the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) leading the fore in its Energising Education Programme (EEP).
REA, a federal government agency seeking to provide unfettered access to energy across un-served and underserved communities in Nigeria, saw an underserved community in the education sector, and that is the 37 federal universities and seven teaching hospitals.
The journey began in 2017 when it started signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the universities towards delivering on this.
In the first phase of EEP, REA captures energising nine universities with a mix of solar and hybrid energy options while targeting over 300,000 students and staff as beneficiaries.
Against all odds, REA has progressed with this vision, records show.
The agency has commissioned three large scale solar-based power plants so far at Alex Ekwueme Federal University in Ebonyi, a 2.8 megawatts (MW) energy plant; 7.1MW at the Bayero University Kano (BUK), both in August and September 2019; the third plant, an 8.25MW facility was commissioned at the Federal University of Agriculture Makurdi (FUAM) in Benue State in December 2020.
Each of the universities also had 20 female students trained in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and the solar energy plant maintenance process.
Speaking this December at the commissioning of the FUAM hybrid power plant, streetlights and training centre, the Managing Director of REA, Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad, said aside from the three plants, two others are ready for commissioning, perhaps earlier in 2021. This will make it five universities benefitting already in the first phase of the nine universities.
Giving a broad view of the scope of the EEP, the REA helmsman said: “The EEP was designed to develop off-grid hybrid captive power solutions for the generation and provision of clean and sustainable power supply to 37 federal universities and seven university teaching hospitals across the country.
“The programme was also targeted at rehabilitating existing electricity distribution infrastructure, providing designated street lighting for illumination and safety across campuses, as well as the provision of a world-class renewable Workshop Training Centre for each of the beneficiary institutions,” he explained.
Speaking on the plant in Benue State, Ahmad said: “As part of the trial phase, the university has received power from the plant for a total of 137 days, and is therefore fully set for operation to deliver reliable power to the staff and students of this noble institution.”
He said the training centre is for training students and the staff on the theory and practice of renewable energy.
“This 8.25MW solar hybrid power project and its ultra-modern training facility are now yours, and I urge you to ensure it is sustained and used optimally,” Ahmad said.
The entire programme is supervised by the Federal Ministry of Power under the leadership of the Minister, Engr. Sale Mamman; and the Minister of State, Mr Goddy Jedy-Agba.
“The Ministry of Power played a very crucial role in the successful construction of this Solar Hybrid Plant and has been the major sponsor behind the entire Phase 1 of the EEP,” Ahmad also confirmed.
According to Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State who sent in a representative during the FUAM project commissioning, “The days of unreliable power supply within the university have come to an end and the students can heave a sigh of relief knowing that their campus environment is illuminated and that they can increase their study time as they prepare for the real world.”
The governor assured that Benue State will remain relentless towards supporting the initiative and all other electrification projects across the state to ensure greater success and sustainability of the federal government’s electrification drive, both on and off-grid.
Ortom however tasked the students and residents to take custody of the power plant.
“I therefore urge both students and management to utilise and sustain this infrastructure to also serve the university in the future,” the governor said.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Senator Gabriel Suswam, at the FUAM plant commissioning, reiterated his commitment to over-sighting and pushing for regulations and funding for the power sector.
He also lauded the agency for the education-propelling vision.
“Let me commend the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) which has made great strides to achieve what we are seeing here today.
“Indeed, all eyes and ears in Nigeria and indeed the world, are on this event and so many other impactful projects you have delivered over the years,” Suswam said.
The Vice Chancellor of the university, Prof. Richard Kimbir, said it was a joyous moment for the university established in 1988 and for the state.
“I am ecstatic for the expected positive impact this initiative will have in transforming the way we teach, learn, and live on our campus.”
The Head of the Project Management Unit (PMU) of the Nigerian Electrification Project (NEP) at REA, Anita Otubu, re-emphasised that the need to guarantee an improved quality of education for students as well as the overall quality of life for all Nigerians, triggered the REA to commence the Energising Education Programme (EEP).
On the financing, Ms Otubu said it was drawn from the Sovereign Green Bond facilitated by the Federal Ministry of Environment in a bid to promote clean energy initiatives.
“This was instrumental towards funding the Energising Education Programme Phase 1,” she said.
She also added her voice to the ‘women in energy’ drive while exhorting the female STEM students.
“I regard you as part of the women in the energy sector.
“The technical experience you have gained through the female STEM internship programme should be used towards providing solutions that will improve energy access across the globe.”
Sterling and Wilson Nigeria Ltd is the Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) contractor for the FUAM project and the Alex Ekwueme University in Ebonyi.
The CEO of the firm, Mr Despak Thakur, said the project was delivered in conformity with international best practice and standards.