Many years ago, the Rural Electrification Agency to a lot of Nigerians, was just another underperforming government agency struggling to churn out visible projects and had been viewed alongside defunct agencies like NITEL, NEPA etc in terms of service delivery and operational efficiency. However, this perception began to change during the last administration with the coming on board of a new management team for the agency. Crucially, since the appointment of Ahmad Salihijo as the Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency on 31st December, 2019, the new MD/CEO of agency has built on the foundations he met on ground.
This young MD of the Rural Electrification Agency came on board at a point the world was battling with a global pandemic but that did not deter him as he began to carry out further restructuring of the agency to enable it deliver on its mandate of powering communities across the country. Despite the limited funding available to REA, corruption was rife with many underhand dealings involving contractors and their public service collaborators. Salihijo started by unveiling the blueprint of his administration, part of which centered on fighting and eradicating corruption by making sure contractors of the agency work within agreed specifications on all project sites.
Ahmad Salihijo, a graduate of Electronic and Electrical Engineering from University of Leeds in the United Kingdom also holds two Masters degree in Project Planning and Management as well as Development Studies. He therefore came prepared with his appointment coming on the back of his excellent record of competence in his previous roles in public service especially the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), and the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P), where he led the development of a project that empowered over 50,000 Nigerian youths.
He also served as the Special Adviser to former Minister of Environment and current Deputy UN Secretary-general Amina Mohammed, and was the Coordinator of the Nigeria Green Bond Program during which he supervised the issuance of Africa’s first Sovereign Green Bonds valued at over N10 billion (part of which funded the pilot phase of the Energizing Education Programme (EEP)). Ahmad Salihijo is a strong advocate of renewable energy, which is why the REA under his leadership for the past few years has been mostly tilting towards off-grid renewable energy solutions to power Nigeria’s rural communities. In fact, Salihijo has successfully integrated renewable energy as the cornerstone of the Nigeria Electrification Project.
In 2020, under the leadership of Ahmad Salihijo, REA which had an existing $350 million grant from the World Bank, was able to also get the African Development Bank (AfDB) to key into the Nigerian electrification project with a $200 million sovereign fund investment aimed to increase electricity access to 105,000 additional households, 20,000 MSMES and eight federal universities across Nigeria.
Apart from the Nigerian Electrification Project, REA under Ahmad Salihijo is also implementing projects under the Rural Electrification Fund (REF), Energizing Education Program (EEP), Energizing Healthcare, Grid Extension, Energizing Economies Initiative (EEI) as well as the Solar Power Naija Program. Under the Energizing Education project, the University of Abuja, University of Maiduguri, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Nigeria Defence Academy, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, University of Calabar Teaching Hospital as well as Federal University, Gashua in Yobe State are on course to join other institutions already enjoying solar hybrid captive power solutions under the EEP, such as, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi, Bayero University Kano, Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ndufu Alike-Ikwo (FUNAI), Ebonyi, among others. The projects also includes provision of street lights across these institutions.
The Salihijo-led REA also expanded the Energizing Economies Initiative (EEI) of the FG by conducting a study targeted at the electrification of select markets, shopping plazas/complexes and industrial clusters across the country. The pilot phase of the EEI saw the off-grid electrification of Sura Shopping Complex with an Independent Power Project in Lagos State powering 1,047 shops, energizing 6,000 shops at Sabon Gari market, Kano State as well as at the Ariaria International Market (Independent Power Project), Aba in Abia State, where over 4,000 shops were energized.
Within a short while in office as MD of REA, Engr. Ahmad Salihijo delivered a lot of off-grid power projects across many communities including a 100kwp Isolated Solar Hybrid Mini Grid at Eka-Awoke, Ikwo LGA of Ebonyi state, two Mini Grid (7.5kwp) at Nnewi in Anambra state, Electrification projects in Malumfashi LGA of Katsina, 30KWp Solar Mini Grid at Bambami, also in Katsina; Electrification of Ifesowapo in Ajilola, Ede South LGA of Osun State; 100KWp solar Hybrid Mini Grid at Olooji community, Ijebu East in Ogun state, 100KWp Solar Hybrid Mini Grid at Adebayo Community, Ovia South, Edo, 5KWP Solar Mini Grid at Adoration Orphanage Egoro Amede, Edo and 6.37KWp Solar Mini Grid at Ulemo Healthcare also in Edo..
Others include: 100KWp Solar Hybrid Mini Grid at Budo-are community, Itesiwaju LGA of Oyo State, 65KWp Solar Hybrid Mini Grid system in a 250-bed Hospital at Ukpogo community, Okene LGA of Kogi state, 5.4KWp Solar Hybrid Mini Grid at Adavi-Eba, Adavi LGA of Kogi, 8.25MW Solar Hybrid Mini Grid at Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi and 40KW Solar Mini Grid at Goto Sarki community, Paikoro LGA of Niger State. The 334kWp Isolated PV Solar Hybrid Mini Grid in Shimankar Community, Shendam LGA in Plateau State also completed by the agency under Ahmad Salihijo is the largest capacity mini-grid deployed by the REA to power a previously unserved community in Nigeria.
Meanwhile the 85KW isolated Solar Mini Grid at Dakitti Community, Akko LGA, 1.12MW solar Hybrid Mini Grid at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Bauchi, 10.08KWp Solar Minigrid in Gamawa, Gololo and Udubo towns in Bauchi, as well as Solar Mini Grid in Marza’a and Munga Communities in Hong LGA of Adamawa state have been completed but not yet commissioned. The Rural Electrification Agency also partnered with a private solar power provider and Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) to take the popular Wuse Market in Abuja off generators by building a 1MW interconnected solar power minigrid to serve the market. So far, the agency under his leadership has delivered over 100 solar hybrid mini grids nationwide.
The REA under Ahmad Salihijo is trying to achieve two intertwined objectives at the same time. First is to increasingly provide solar hybrid mini grid power to rural communities across Nigeria that are not connected to the national grid as well as various economic/educational/healthcare clusters such as markets, business plazas, educational institutions (including primary and secondary schools), healthcare facilities etc. The second objective is to reduce greenhouse gases emissions in Nigeria that comes with use of generators to power homes and businesses. By replacing power by generator with a renewable power source like solar energy, REA hopes to help Nigeria and the world at large cut down CO2 emissions.
The Salihijo-led management team at REA in trying to fulfil their mandate of electrifying underserved communities across the country has also incorporated human capacity building especially in the area of renewable energy into their programmes. To this end, REA has been implementing a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programme in federal universities across the country with the beneficiaries of the pilot phase being universities that have benefited from the first phase of the energising education programme.
To bring gender balance to the STEM programme and to promote participation of more women in the renewable energy sector, Ahmad Salihijo and his team launched the Female STEM Students Internship Programme, which has succeeded in training hundreds of female students from many universities in Solar power technologies and installations/equipment maintenance. 20 female students from each of the nine universities that benefitted from phase 1 of the Energizing Education Programme participated in the pilot Scheme.
For the second phase, 140 female students (20 each from University of Abuja, University of Calabar, University of Maiduguri, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Micheal Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria Defense Academy and Federal University, Gusua who are benefitting from the EEP phase 2) are currently undergoing internship under the STEM Programme. Ahmad Salihijo is therefore not just interested in providing electricity to under-served areas but also creating a formidable manpower base to lead Nigeria’s transition to a renewable energy future.
The impact of Engr. Ahmad Salihijo on the Rural Electrification Agency since his arrival as Managing Director is so enormous that it may require a lengthy exposition to totally capture. Over the years, the agency has been able to deliver a combined 160MW of clean energy which are decentralised in mostly solar mini grids. This power has connected over 1.8 million households through solar home systems, who were previously without electricity impacting 7.8 million lives especially in the rural areas with the optimiziation of a range of renewable energy solutions. This is beside the economic multiplier effects that come with powering the estimated 24,000 MSMEs that have been impacted by the interventions of REA. This is just the beginning of the renewable energy revolution in Nigeria.