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‘Rural Electrification Has Multiplier Effects Of Business Growth And Increased Employment’

( Middle)Damilola Ogunbiyi is the first female Managing Director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency and responsible for Implementing the Nigerian Off-Grid Electrification Programme and the Nigerian Electrification Project

Damilola Ogunbiyi is the first female Managing Director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency and responsible for Implementing the Nigerian Off-Grid Electrification Programme and the Nigerian Electrification Project which is a $550m facility (World Bank $350m and AfDB $200m) to rapidly construct solar mini-grids and deploy solar home systems across Nigeria. She is also responsible for the Energizing Education Program that will provide uninterrupted electricity through off-grid captive power plants to 37 federal universities.

Cerebral, intelligent and brilliant, Ogunbiyi has an Msc. (Hons) with Distinction in Construction Management with Public-Private Partnership (PPP), University of Brighton. And prior to that, she had a Bsc Upper Class in Project Management with Construction Engineering from the same University.

Before joining the Federal Government of Nigeria, Mrs. Ogunbiyi was the first female to be appointed as General Manager of the Lagos State Electricity Board, which is responsible for public lighting, independent power projects, and energy development in Lagos State.

Under her leadership, five independent power projects were completed to deliver over 55 megawatts of power to Lagos State hospitals, schools, streetlights, and the Government secretariat. In renewable energy, she completed 5MW decentralised solar projects for 213 schools and clinics in Lagos State. She has always been passionate about infrastructure development, which she believes is key to alleviating poverty in Nigeria. She started her career in construction engineering, a male-dominated field in the United Kingdom. When she moved back to Nigeria, she got into the public sector as a DFID PPP consultant on infrastructure development in the public sector. Following that, she was appointed as Managing Director of the Lagos State Electricity Board. Her work and successes there then took her to the federal level where she served at the Presidency.

In this interview, she tells GuardianWoman her role as REA Managing Director, the REA impact, the STEM female internship she is championing and the latest university programme known as “Energising Education” Progamme for public universities in Nigeria

Going by the irregular power supply in the country, can you measure the percentage or level of rural electrification penetration in the country now?
To achieve the Federal Government’s goal to increase electricity access to 75 per cent and 90 per cent by 2020 and 2030 respectively, 500,000 to 800,000 households must be powered per year with both on-grid and off-grid solutions in rural areas.

The current level of rural electrification in the country is estimated at 39 per cent. However, this figure is expected to increase through the REA’s off-grid strategy, which aims to increase electricity access to approximately five million Nigerians.

What impact will rural electrification have on the nation’s economy?
REA’s mandate is to provide electricity access to unserved and underserved communities across Nigeria thereby increasing electricity access to, particularly hard-to-reach areas. The impact is huge – an enabling environment for investments, job creation and development across rural areas in Nigeria, thanks to the multiplier effects of business growth and increased employment. This is in line with the objectives of the Buhari Administration detailed in the Economic Recovery & Growth Plan (EGRP).

Kindly mention the advantages, limits and challenges of using solar energy in the country
Advantages of solar energy include being a clean, safe and affordable renewable source of power. It is also environmentally friendly by reducing our carbon footprint. It requires minimum maintenance cost compared to conventional fossil fuel-powered generators. Technology advancement in solar makes the investment cost-competitive when compared to other forms of energy. The amount of physical space required for the solar plant is a lot more than what is required for conventional power.

People often complain that there is power everywhere but none to consume in the country. Why do we have this disconnect between electricity generation and distribution?
I believe Nigerians need to be enlightened about the electricity value chain. Electricity passes through phases from the point of generation to consumption. On-grid power is generated and then transmitted through high voltage lines to a transmission substation, which is then distributed through low voltage lines to our households and businesses for consumption.

However, due to distance and the condition of infrastructure, there may be losses in the process. This is what is causing the disparity between our power generation and electricity distribution. Additionally, the non-payment of consumer bills prevents distribution companies from making the requisite infrastructural investment to boost their capacity. The sector requires huge investments to upgrade both the transmission and distribution systems in order to bridge that gap. That is why it is so important for customers to pay their bills.

What is the meaning and advantage of off-grid? Has the government been able to make up for the shortfall in power supply with the off-grid?
The meaning, as well as advantage of off-grid, is a power that is dedicated, reliable, sustainable and affordable. Presently, the government is implementing a lot of power projects to improve the sector, hence the need to incorporate various off-grid power solutions. It is implementing a two-prong approach to help bridge that gap leveraging on-grid infrastructure projects and off-grid projects with a private sector driven framework.

You’re in a rare field regarded as men’s exclusive preserve. How did you get here? Who and what influenced you to dabble into the energy sector?
I have always been passionate about infrastructure development and believe it is key to alleviating poverty in Nigeria. I have been very fortunate to be part of transformational projects because of my experience and skills. I started my career in construction engineering, which is a male-dominated field in the United Kingdom. When I moved back to Nigeria, I got into the public sector as a DFID PPP consultant on infrastructure development in the public sector. Following that, I was appointed as the Managing Director of the Lagos State Electricity Board. My work and successes there then took me to the federal level where I served at the Presidency.
 
How many megawatts of electricity do you think would keep the country going?
It is a gradual process. The generation should increase as demand is increasing.

You created the Lagos State Energy Academy, what is your aim for creating the academy. How many women have benefited so far?
The aim of the Lagos State Energy Academy was to bridge the gap in the supply of human capital in the energy sector. The academy provided a combination of classroom and technical practical training to young people and 32 per cent of these were females. In regards to gender mainstreaming the STEM Female, Internship Programme has been developed under REA’s Energizing Education Programme (EEP).

The programme focuses on igniting the interest of women and girls to pursue careers in STEM fields. Today, 180 female students across nine federal universities are enrolled in the REA’s EEP STEM Female Internship Programme. The REA also partnered with USAID’s Nigeria Power Sector Programme- Gender and Social Inclusion Programme to host the flagship gender workshop for women in the power sector.

What’s the advantage of having more women players in the energy sector?
It is imperative to understand the gender dimensions of the energy sector, including the ways in which improved social inclusion would benefit the energy sector and help address energy poverty, a challenge that continues to burden developing countries.

As primary users and managers of electricity in most communities in Nigeria, women play an essential role in resource management as well as in other productive activities at the household and community levels. This puts them in a unique position to contribute to livelihood strategies adapted to changing environmental conditions, including climate change.

Since my appointment as the Managing Director of REA, I have recorded an increase in the number of women in REA senior management roles from one to six. Also, under phase 1 of the Energizing Education Programme (EEP), a total of 180 female students are enrolled in the Female STEM Internship Programme across benefitting universities to gain practical experience and technical training throughout the programme.

You have picked interest in educating the girl child. Tell us why. How can we encourage more girls to embrace STEM education?
A core mandate of the Federal Government of Nigeria is to reduce poverty to the barest minimum, to this end, it is important to empower the girl child (who bears the grunt of poverty) with the necessary skills, information and self-confidence that she needs to be a better parent, worker and citizen.

Under the Energizing Education Programme’s Female STEM Internship Programme, young women are trained to acquire skills, to design power systems to meet desired economic, environmental, social, ethical, and sustainability needs; gain knowledge of contemporary issues and the ability to work with multi-disciplinary teams; apply knowledge of mathematics, science and engineering techniques. The STEM education for women under EEP aims to promote and foster gender-balancing in STEM-related courses and careers.

We can encourage the girl child to embrace STEM education by creating opportunities that give them practical/ hands-on experience, which consequently will equip them with the necessary knowledge and skills to excel within their chosen field.

Kindly shed more light on the University electrification project that would be commissioned across the nation next month
The Energizing Education Programme (EEP) overall objective is to provide reliable, affordable and sustainable power to 37 Federal Universities and seven Teaching Hospitals through solar hybrid and gas-fired power plant solutions and the rehabilitation of existing distribution infrastructure. The EEP aims to install streetlights for improved security within the university campuses and construct renewable energy technology training centres for existing students across beneficiary universities.

Phase 1 of the EEP, which is fully funded by the Federal Government will power nine Federal Universities and one university teaching hospital across the six geo-political zones. The World Bank and Africa Development Bank are to fund Phase 2 and 3 of the EEP respectively. The aim is to commission Bayero University Kano, Federal University of Petroleum Resources Effurun, Delta and Federal University Ndufu Alike, Ebonyi before the end of Q3 2019.

How did growing up and family life influence your career choice?
My mother was hardworking and goal-oriented. She supported my dreams and nurtured my creativity. She gave me the freedom to explore ideas, which in turn enabled me to pursue a career in infrastructure development, a field that continues to be male-dominated. As a wife and mother, I have the full support of my family, most especially my husband, to pursue my personal and career goals.

Any role models for you?
Yes, over the years there has been a combination of mentors and professional personalities who have influenced and inspired me. These include Olusola Oworu- former Honourable Commissioner for Industry and Commerce in Lagos State; Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), former Minister for Power, Works and Housing; and the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN). The wealth of knowledge and encouragement they have imparted to me has helped shape the individual that I am today.

You work in a sector that is one of the most challenging for the economy. What are your dreams for this country?
Power and economic growth have a linear relationship, as such, the power sector is key to the growth of the Nigerian economy. My dream for this country is two-fold. One is universal electricity access. When this is achieved, it will lead to economic growth, improve living standards and accelerate the GDP growth.

The second is the balanced role of women in the power sector. Nigeria has qualified and competent power and private sector female professionals who can help bridge the skill and knowledge gap in the power sector. They should take every opportunity to contribute to the sector’s growth at various levels, especially in leadership positions.

Are there any quotations that you go by?
“Fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you, ”says Ruth Bader Ginsburg She is an inspiration to women. By being one of the few female Supreme Court Justices in the United States, she helped chip away at the glass ceiling paving the way for more women leaders in law.

What’s your advice for younger women who are trying to grow in their career?
My advice is for them to embrace ambition. It is often frowned upon in women due to traditional mindsets. However, no one ever achieved success without ambition. Young women often limit their dreams and aspirations. We are raised to dream but not to dream too big. My advice to them is to dream, work extremely hard (much harder than your male counterpart) and aspire to their heart’s content.

What other things do you do when you are not busy in your helmet and heavy boots?
Due to the demanding nature of my role as MD REA, I dedicate most of my free time to my family. While it is often difficult finding that work/life balance, I am very intentional in ensuring I also fulfill my most important roles, which is that of being a wife and mother.

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