By Martins Eke
Abuja: A detailed study of the budget of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shows that there are lots of solar powered boreholes and streetlights across the six geopolitical zones. These projects were supposed to ensure that rural dwellers have uninterrupted access to potable water and steady lighting of their localities even at night, which will ultimately improve the security situation in their area.
However, it has become common knowledge that majority of these projects stop functioning shortly after installation without providing the utility it was initially meant to provide.
Most of these solar streetlights and solar borehole projects across Nigeria are constituency projects of Senators and Federal House of Representatives Members.
These projects are simply political projects for the legislators to show that they were able to attract federal presence. Needs assessment or proper evaluation of the contribution of the proposed projects to the host communities are usually not done. There is an absence of empirical criteria for the determination of the needs and location of solar boreholes and streetlights. Rather, it seems to depend on the ability of particular political office holders to attract projects to their constituency or location of choice.
The implication of the political nature of some of the projects is the high level of abandoned and uncompleted projects. A new legislator will not likely request for funds to complete a pending project started by his predecessor. He will rather start new projects from the scratch and abandon the uncompleted one.
Even the ministry of power has admitted the fact that the numerous abandoned solar boreholes and streetlight projects which they have decided to complete has become a burden on the ministry. This shows that Nigeria’s budgeting process is in need of reform especially in the area of proper documentation of existing and ongoing projects. MDAs should be placed under budgetary obligation to complete ongoing projects before requesting for funds for new ones or in the alternative show cogent, strong and sufficient cause as to the reasons informing the abandonment of an existing project.
There is no link between these budgetary solar energy projects and the National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Policy (NREEEP) or the National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAP).
It should be recalled that these policies show the intention of Nigeria to achieve an electricity vision of attaining 30,000MW of power by the year 2030 with at least 30% renewable energy in the electricity mix (Electricity Vision 30:30:30). This vision is pursued along three-prong stages of attaining stable, then the sustainable and the uninterruptible power supply in Nigeria. The rate at which projects are not executed, abandoned and break down soon after commission is not evidence of a planned and value driven action at mainstreaming renewable energy options.
Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) has a role to play if this trend will be reversed. SON should adequately regulate the quality of solar equipment being imported to ensure that only components meeting the required standards are allowed into the country. It should also collaborate with federal MDAs to ensure that the components used for solar installations are of the required quality and standard. Also, SON should consider facilitating capacity building in federal MDAs that use solar energy products to put them in a position to properly monitor and vet the results of the public solar energy procurements.
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have a role to play. Youths can be trained on the basic maintenance of these solutions such as cleaning of the solar panels at intervals. CSOs can intervene to provide appropriate training and capacity building. Under well-defined agreements with MDAs, the proper maintenance of such projects should be used as a pre-requisite for the location of other developmental projects in the communities. Host communities also have a role to play. Communities should take ownership of these solar energy projects, including being responsible for their security and protection against vandalism. But this requires proper community consultation and engagement by project promoters at the time of initiation of the project.
Host communities or their local governments should review FGN budgets to determine which projects have been allocated to their communities and as such, follow up, monitor and ensure that the responsible parties implement the projects according to specifications.
Martins Eke is the Programmes Officer at the Centre for Social Justice, Abuja