Dr Sanusi Ohiare is the Executive Director of Rura Electrification Fund at the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). In this interview with TOPE SUNDAY, she highlights the activities of the agency, among others.
You were appointed in 2017 alongside others. What would you say are the new things you’ve done to change the old narratives in the agency?
Yes, we were appointed into this agency in April 2017. So, we just spent roughly 26/27 months now in the office and when we came on board, the only thing this agency was known for was being in the news for the bad reason, corruption probe today, probe tomorrow. There was no any creativity or innovation in terms of funding new projects and in terms of attracting private sector. We didn’t have any policy to really guide us; we didn’t have regulations. So, all of these problems were there, it was really challenging. But to the glory of God, the president has really supported us to ensure that whatever memo we sent through the minister to aid our activities in terms of policy like the rural electrification strategies and implementation plans, the mini-grid regulation and all those things, he immediately signed and approved and that gave us a great platform upon which we attracted a lot of private developers now. Also, we are having a lot of programmes in towards enabling energy solar home systems, solar high-grid and mini- grids. There were no such programmes before we came on board. The Act that created Rural Electrification Agency in 2005 also created Rural Electrification Fund, which we can use to source for funding because funding is the major challenges we are facing. We have decided to access the rural electrification fund which was there for almost 12 years. We went ahead and we operationalise the fund and from the seed fund, we got about N2.5 billion that has been there since 2005, 2006 we were able to do projects that effected at least 25,000 households with 12 mini-grid projects and some of them have been completed and others are yet to completed. We did 19,130 solar home systems just to show that the fund can work, and this fund is not 100 percent funding based on grants. It is a capital subsidy we are given a portion of the capital that is required to put the project in place.
So, will you now say REA under the new management has delivered on its mandate?
I don’t know if it is good for me to access myself. I think is better you ask people that are familiar with what we do or the people that we provide our services to in the rural areas, they can tell about us. But at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, this agency right now, Rural Electrification Agency (REA), if you ask any objective person they will tell you that within the power sector this is one of the performing agencies right now. We used to be there down there at the bottom pyramid. Now, it is not me saying that but everybody is saying that REA is performing in the power sector and is basically because of the programmes, some actions we have been taking so far like I mentioned before. We have produced new programmes, we also source for funding, African Development Bank (AfDB) is also bringing 200 million dollars to support our Nigerian Electrification Programme and you see the Germany government and European union have a programme under JIZ called ‘Nigerian Energy Support Programme’, they are supporting us with about €9 million to do project, UNDP is also coming on board, a lot of people are coming on board. Before, nobody wanted to do anything with REA, but now, all these development partners if you go to the other block there (pointing to another block within the agency’s building) you would see World Bank’s project monitoring unit, which has a full floor office there. African Development Bank too will soon start its office here.
It is alleged that rural Nigerians are being cheated in terms of power supply. How will you react to this?
All our programmes have to do with mini- grid and metering is also part of it. In fact, an institute did an auditing of some of mini- grids recently around the country and it came up with a very shocking revelation. The rural people are paying higher for electricity because they are using solar. They are like 200,300,400 households and they are using solar technology and batteries which are still gradually coming down but they are still very expensive. So, the rural people are paying higher per kilowatts by hour. In fact, they pay almost times 6 or times 5 of what we pay. These rural people, their collection rate are 98% compared to the collection rate of what we are reporting sometimes like 40-50% in the city. So, the rural people are now setting the standard on how a power sector should work. If you ask me because, they have metres, they embark on energy efficiency.
Are you saying that Nigerians living in the rural areas are not experiencing estimated billings like their counterparts in the urban centres?
Estimated billings are only applying in the Nigeria electricity supplying industry, the value chain itself of generation, transmission and distribution agency. In the rural community, there is nothing like estimated billings, the actual fact is that per kilowatts per hour is more expensive but at the end of the day, the cumulative of what they consume is not as much as we consume in the city. They end up paying something fair and reasonable, so but for per kilowatts per hour to come down, the cost of battery have to come down, the cost of the panel are coming down but they need to come down more.