Umahism: Exploring Alternative Routes To Power In Ebonyi State.

By Monday Eze

Electricity was introduced to Lagos, Nigeria in 1896. In Nigeria, nay the African continent, the importance of power supply to the development of the society cannot be overrated. To be precise, power is one of the basic needs of any modern man or society both at the domestic and industrial levels. Its utility is all-pervading, cutting across every sphere of life including education, information, entertainment, sports, medicine, politics, economics, agriculture, commerce, industry, et cetera.

Because of the importance of power or electricity, several attempts have been made to bring its supply to a dependable level in Nigeria: From the establishment of Nigeria Electricity Undertaking under the Public Works Department in 1946 through the libralization of the sector in 1950 to the merger of Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN), National Electricity Supply Company (NESCO) and Niger Dams Authority (NDA) to form a consolidated National Electric Power Authority, NEPA, in April 1972, all efforts have failed leading to epileptic power supply. Even the Power sector reform under which former President Obasanjo signed the Power Sector Reform bill into law did not yield output commensurate to the tremendous resources invested in it due to alleged corrupt practices. Late President Musa Yar'Adua declared a state of emergency in the power sector, but his efforts were cut short by his demise. It was during former President Goodluck Jonathan's time that Nigerians celebrated improvement of power supply to about four thousand megawatts, but this did not last for long. It nose-dived on President Buhari's assumption of office in 2015. However, after thirty-two months on the saddle, reports from the Advisory Power Team of Vice President Yemi Osibanjo had it that power supply hit 5,156 megawatts on 8th December, 2017. This figure according to the same source dropped to 5,077 megawatts on 14th December, 2017. This is a far cry from the actual power need or demand of the 178 million Nigerian population which using the 2016 World Bank estimate of 126kw.h/person adds up to 98,500 megawatts. As things stand now, the level of power supply in Nigeria is not only very low, it is equally frustrating; forcing both foreign and locally-owned industries and factories to shut down, collapse or relocate to nearby countries. This has turned Nigeria into a consumer-country and so a dumping ground for substandard goods from the four corners of the globe. Added to these are lack of employment opportunities for the youths of Nigeria and the annual waste of about N1.6 trillion naira to fuel over 60 million generators used in the country! From the foregoing, it suffices that the problem of power supply in Nigeria has taken the dimension of a perennial national catastrophe which is holding down the growth and development of an otherwise great country.

However, it is heartwarming that in young Ebonyi state, a bold and visionary experiment by Governor David Nweze Umahi has yielded results which have potentials of solving the intractable problem of power supply in Nigeria, boosting commerce and industries, creating food security, providing unlimited employment opportunities for Nigerian youths and abating environmental pollution! The experiment began in 2015 when Governor David Umahi, in collaboration with United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO, commissioned the first functional biomass gasification demonstration power plant in the West African sub-region in Ekwashi Ngbo, Ohaukwu L.G.A. The installed capacity of the plant was 32 kilowatts! The collaboration equally developed the first industrial policy for Ebonyi state since its creation in 1996. The policy has a development plan which will run for five years; and its crux is a comprehensive, inclusive and sustainable development of the industrial sector in Ebonyi state through renewable energy or biomass gasification technology. Pursuant to this industrial plan, Umahi ordered for and funded the training of Ebonyi middle-level engineers on the operation and maintenance of the existing biomass gasification plant in Ngbo; and on the fabrication of higher capacity biomass gasification plants for the various industrial clusters designed for Ebonyi state.

The preference for biomass gasification technology to steam turbine technology in power generation is hinged on the fact that it is cost-effective because it makes use of local raw materials like rice husks and forest wastes which are excessively available in Ebonyi state. These materials which constitute biomass are converted into fuel which is used to generate power. This way, rice husks and forest wastes which were hitherto treated as waste materials become, sources of essential and expensive fuel which is used to generate power for our industrial and other needs. Other benefits of biomass gasification technology over the steam turbine method are that apart from environmental friendliness and susceptibility to geographical diversification, it depends on and catalyzes food production as well as agricultural and industrial revolutions.

In Ebonyi state for instance, there is the "one-man, one-hectare" rice farming policy. The farm produce (rice) is processed at the industrial clusters in each of the three senatorial districts of the state. The husks generated from the rice mills are potential sources of fuel and so, are ploughed back into the biomass gasification technology for the generation of electricity to power the rice mills and other sundry industrial activities in the clusters; while the milled rice serves as food for Ebonyi people, the rest of Nigeria and the world at large. In that cycle, huge amounts of money which would have been used to fuel power-generating sets for the milling machines are saved, while the excess power generated through this system can be channeled to other industrial activities, reticulated to people's homes for domestic use or sold to power distribution companies (DISCOs) at reasonable costs!

The Coordinator of UNIDO projects in Ebonyi state, Mr. Chukwuma Elom praised Governor David Nweze Umahi for his courage and political will through which he has given visionary leadership to Ebonyi state. Mr. Elom charged respective Ebonyi citizens to get ready to fully utilize the many opportunities of the unfolding industrial revolution by identifying at least one area of need and developing the best solution to it so as to stand in the gap for the society in that particular need area. He cited the example of the Asian Tigers whose industrial revolutions were catalyzed and sustained by artisans until the big corporations set in. On her part, the Senior Technical Assistant to the Governor of Ebonyi State on UNIDO projects, Mrs. Bene Obba, expressed joy that through the domestication of both the biomass gasification technology and entrepreneurship programmes in Ebonyi schools, Umahi has infused functionality into Ebonyi Education System. She concluded that through those programmes, Ebonyi school-leavers are fully equipped to become wealth and job creators after graduation.

The UNIDO representative in Nigeria, Mr. Jean Bankole Bagambanya, and representatives of SATAKE Engineering Corporation, China after inspecting the operation and maintenance of the demonstration plant at Ekwashi and the locally fabricated 50 kilowatts biomass gasification plant by Ebonyi middle-level engineers during their assessment tour of Ebonyi state on 15th April, 2018 expressed pleasant surprises. Elated Bagambanya promised to give more trainings to the high-flying Ebonyi engineers. Both the UNIDO country representative in Nigeria and the SATAKE team equally praised Umahi for his commitment to Ebonyi state industrial development plan for which Governor Umahi has so far acquired power-generating plants with cumulative capacity of 1.5 megawatts; is courageously pursuing the plan for sustainable and beneficial development of renewable energy in Ebonyi state; introduced the Life Initiative For Entrepreneurs (LIFE) programme in Ebonyi schools in order to imbue school-leavers with entrepreneurial skills; and domesticated the operation, maintenance and fabrication of biomass technology in Ebonyi through both the civil service and the Vocational Education Centre of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki.

With the enviable competence of Ebonyi engineers in sustaining the 32 kilowatt demonstration biomass gasification plant in Ekwashi Ngbo through effective operation and maintenence; the successful fabrication of another 50 kilowatts biomass gasification plant under Umahi's prodding; and their readiness to achieve the targeted cumulative generation of 7.5 megawatts of power across various industrial clusters designed for different locations and various Small and Medium-scale Enterprises in Ebonyi state, one can be certain that the long awaited industrial revolution necessary to keep Nigeria on her feet as the Giant of Africa has kicked off in Ebonyi - a young state which has continued to prove that it holds great promises for both the Nigerian federation and the African continent.

It is hoped that other Governors in Nigeria will once more copy this visionary and creative effort of the path-finding Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi state. The Federal Ministry of Power is equally enjoined to deploy a fraction of the great funds it sinks in the ailing and irredeemable conventional power system to the development of alternative routes to power like the cheap and sustainable biomass gasification technology project going on in Ebonyi state. All over the world, power mix is the best approach to power problem as it sheds loads off the existing weak power system. Ebonyi state is succeeding on biomass gasification technology; and Nigeria can succeed on it too.

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