Girls should be equipped to break poverty trap – Damilola Ogunbiyi

Girls should be equipped to break poverty trap – Damilola Ogunbiyi

Damilola Ogunbiyi is the first female Managing Director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency. The Amazon is responsible for implementing the Nigerian Off-Grid Electrification Programme and the Nigerian Electrification Project. She is also responsible for the Energising Education Programme to Nigeria students through off-grid captive power plants to 37 federal universities. In this interview with Yetunde Oladeinde, she recalls how her fascination for science and technology started, her core objectives, innovations at the Lagos State Electricity Board, amongst other issues. 

Damilola Ogunbiyi

YOU are a member of the Chartered Institute of Building. What inspired you to go into the sector?

I have always been fascinated about science, technology, data and infrastructure development. From Age 14, I had internships every summer holiday at architectural and engineering firms until I turned 21 and started my career. It is no surprise that I chose to study courses centred on construction, project management and engineering, after which I started my career constructing airports in the United Kingdom.

Let’s talk about your experience as the first female Managing Director of the Nigerian Rural Electrification Agency?

It has been a worthwhile experience so far. It has afforded me opportunities to develop and implement programmes and initiatives that impact millions of people and the economy through better education, healthcare, job opportunities, improved standards of living for underserved and unserved communities.

While my appointment as the first female managing director is a milestone for REA, the agency has been able to achieve many more milestones; notably impacting almost half a million Nigerians through the REA’s on-grid and off-grid initiatives, developing the sector’s first energy database which seeks to provide vital energy, community, grid data in the Nigerian energy industry by creating a central data hub for energy statistics and community data. This is at the heart of REA’s data-driven decision making.

In addition, one of my core objectives as MD is to ensure REA’s projects are sustainable and have been institutionalised across the agency.

What are some of the projects that you have handled? What influenced the idea of your project, Energising Education Programme?

Some of the projects under my portfolio include: The Capital Projects, Nigerian Electrification Project (NEP) comprising the Energising Education Programme (EEP), Mini-grid and Solar Home Systems components and the Rural Electrification Fund.

Access to constant power supply in educational institutions and healthcare facilities in Nigeria has been identified as a major challenge and barrier to effective learning and access to quality healthcare. Considering this, the federal government through the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing through the REA resolved to embark on viable projects that will ensure the availability of clean, reliable, sustainable and affordable power to Nigeria’s federal universities and university teaching hospitals.

Tell us about the implementation of the Nigeria Off-Grid Electrification Programme. What are some of the challenges and achievements?

The Nigeria Off-Grid Electrification Strategy is a shift from centralised power generation and distribution to a demand-driven, market-oriented, decentralised approach. It is private sector focused with emphasis on economic viability.

So far, under the Energising Economies Initiative (EEI), over 10,000 shops are currently receiving clean, reliable and affordable power supply across nine markets, with a target of 80,000 shops under Phase 0 and Phase 1. The REA has identified another 97 markets to be connected under Phase 2 of the EEI.

On the other hand, the Energising Education Programme (EEP) is expected to provide sustainable electricity access to 37 federal universities and seven university teaching hospitals across Nigeria. 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 Phases 2 and 3 of the EEP respectively.

Let’s talk about your experience working as General Manager of the Lagos State Electricity board. What were the projects executed during your tenure?

Working as the General Manager of the Lagos State Electricity Board has been one of the most fulfilling parts of my career. I was responsible for public lighting, independent power projects, and energy development in Lagos State. Under my leadership, five independent power projects were completed to deliver over 55MW of power to Lagos State hospitals, schools, streetlights, the government secretariat and other government buildings.

In renewable energy, I completed 5MW decentralised solar project for 213 schools and 11 primary healthcare centres in Lagos State and established the Lagos Energy Academy which provided world class hands-on technical engineering training on a wide range of topics and subjects important to the energy/power sector value chain.

In energy development, I implemented the Lagos State Energy Audit Programme – a state-wide energy audit strategy to capture power consumption data, which provided training and employed over 100 field engineers.

Secondly, there was the Conserve Energy, Save Money (CESM) campaign. It is an on-going project to discourage people energy waste in Lagos and encourage energy efficiency in homes and businesses. The third is the Lagos Youth Energy Career Programme, a programme aimed at developing well-trained energy/power developmentoperatives for employment in the Nigerian energy/power development market. Selected engineering graduates are trained on SMART grid, protection of electrical networks, power distribution and economics, power projects and renewable energy. Some of these students are now working for General Electric (GE) and International Finance Corporation (IFC).

The fourth is the Lagos Power Kids. This is a programme for children in Lagos State government secondary schools, designed as an extra-curricular club that holds weekly in schools and focuses on harnessing children’s creativity and imagination through teaching them about renewable energy and practical experiments on how power is generated.

What were some of the memorable moments working with Lagos State?

The first power project I managed when I worked for Lagos State Government was the Island Power Project (IPP), which is a 10 MW gas-fired Independent Power Plant located in Lagos Island. The IPP is responsible for providing 24 hours of electricity through a dedicated network to numerous public buildings including hospitals like Island Maternity, which is a paediatric hospital, located on Lagos Island.

Within six months of powering the Island Maternity Hospital, the Medical Director reported that infant mortality had reduced by 23% as a direct impact of having constant power supply. The power plant has been running for over seven years now and the impact is still felt. This is one of the most rewarding and memorable moments.

Tell us about some of the lessons learnt working with DFID in the area of public private partnership

Through the last 10 years, I have worked with the Department for International Development (DFID) in various capacities. DFID co-funded the Lagos solar project with Lagos State government, which I managed as General Manager, Lagos State Electricity Board.

DFID has also been supportive in my current role at REA, by providing much-needed technical assistance to the agency.

How would you assess the renewable energy sector? Are we maximising the potential here?
The federal government has formulated policies to drive investments in the renewable energy sector. So far, the sector has gained significant attention and growth especially with the implementation of these policies, attracting funding and technical support available from private sector participation.

You have helped to train over a hundred girls with regards to STEM education, what are the potential for the girl-child. What are some of the other things that you have done in this area?

Empowering the girl-child is critical for families (and by extension, Nigeria) to thrive. In Nigeria where the government is fighting to reduce poverty level, it is important that girls are equipped with the necessary education and skills to break the poverty trap.

The Buhari administration is committed to female empowerment and under the Energising Education Programme (EEP), we are currently training 180 female STEM students 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.

Let’s talk about the university electrification project that would be launched across the nation next month

The Energising 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 Phases 2 and 3 of the EEP respectively.

The aim is to inaugurate Bayero University Kano, Federal University of Petroleum Resources Effurun, Delta and Federal University Ndufu Alike, Ebonyi before the end of Q3 2019.

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