FIVE years after the Federal Government launched the Energising Economies Initiative (EEI), traders in major markets benefitting from the intervention have told the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), the implementing body, to review the entire programme.
The project was designed to provide clean, affordable, and efficient power to Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in 340 economic clusters across the country to reduce energy costs, boost the ease of doing business and as well help Nigeria fulfil its commitment to the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions.
It is being implemented through the private sector, which provides the expertise, resources, funding, and the likes with support from the federal government.
But shop owners across the Sabon Gari Market in Kano, Iponri Market in Lagos, and Ariaria Market in Aba, Abia State, in a series of interviews with The ICIR, asked the federal government to help reduce the tariff, check the monopoly of investors within the various markets, and encourage the use of other alternative power sources for their energy need.
Independent findings show that contrary to the original objective, most traders still relied on regular generators to power their businesses as against the EEI objective across the markets.
They spent a huge sum to procure Petrol Motor Spirit (PMS), aside from the cost of maintaining the gen sets. Hence, they are discarding the EEI initiative for the grid and generator.
Abubakar Rimi Market, Kano
In Sabon Gari Market, for instance, otherwise known as Abubakar Rimi Market, solar power was largely described as inefficient, especially for small businesses that require energy to run their activities.
While those who are into the jewellery business found the tariff as affordable and efficient, other businesses felt the previous option of depending on generators was better as it powered their work appliances, unlike the new intervention.
The Managing Director of the Muhammadu Abubakar Rimi Company Limited said he had been at the centre of the project’s controversy.
“You see? This has always been my experience. You see how many times I have called and they didn’t answer? Yakasi said while attempting to contact executives of the Sabon Gari Energy Services Limited (SGESL).
He recalled how he was almost lynched in a protest by the traders due to challenges from the solar project.
A group of small business owners – the hair stylists (Igbo Road Hairdressers Association), for instance, had spent at N240 million on power (generators and solar) in four years based on The ICIR’s findings. This implied the group numbering over 250 spends N60 million annually on power.
At an average subscription of N4, 000 monthly, the entire 13, 000 shops in the market paid about N52 million monthly to the SGESL.
Despite these spendings, some shop owners still rely on generators to run their business because they could not subscribe to a higher band capable of powering their businesses.
The Regional Head of the company, Akpan Nsika, agreed to the findings but urged shop owners to instead subscribe to a higher band to enjoy sufficient power.
“When it concerns power in the market, it is offered in Tiers. If you are on 60 watts, you cannot use above that. So customers can approach us to request for an upgrade based on their power load,” he told The ICIR in a phone interview.
“Appliances come with watts, so if you do not align with it, definitely, there will be an issue along the line” he noted.
But, the above assertion defeated the affordability aspect of the EEI. Hence, some of the shop owners resolved to combine both powers from the generator and subscribed solar energy, leading to high energy costs to their businesses.
Iponri Market, Lagos
It was a similar experience at the Iponri market, where fashion designers had to suspend the use of solar for generators due to inefficiency.
For shops still connected, it was just to power a bulb and a small fan. The number of fans or bulbs may increase but that would definitely reflect into higher subscriptions.
Even traders who were willing to manage the solar power supply found it difficult to subscribe to the energy provided by the Iponri Market Energy Solution Limited. (IMESL).
The energy provider ought to power the entire 1,759 shops in the market but as of the visit, less than 500 shops had been connected to power.
“The solar energy only works on a bulb and small fan. It cannot power the hand dryer, the main dryer, so I mostly use the generator,” Olatunbosun Ibrahimat told The ICIR during a visit.
Due to the challenges, the shop owners were already considering other alternatives, especially, inviting other solar energy firms to power the remaining shops left unconnected by the IMESL.
“Most of their staff have resigned, unlike before where they have nearly 15 employees. But now, they are just five (5), and they cannot satisfy our needs,” Wasiu Oriade, the Baba Oja of Iponri market disclosed.
“Unlike before, only one person now attends to technical issues, one person issues a ticket and there are about two staffs in the office. So this has really affected the service, and other firms already approached us.”
Olawunmi Ayomide, the company representative, confirmed the inability of her firm to distribute the power across the entire market. She attributed this to the initial disapproval of the shop owners within the market.
“I want you to know that human is insatiable. To some, it is expensive, to others, it is not,” she added.
Ayomide could not also provide an exact period when the remaining shops would be connected, yet the shop owners had agreed to forgo power from the grid and generators.
Ariaria market, Aba, Abia
The Ariaria International Market has over 37, 000 shops, and the Ariaria Market Energy Solutions Limited (AMESL) ought to power the entire market.
In 2019, when President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned the first phase of the project consisting of 4, 000 shops, the plan was to extend in the shortest possible time to the remaining shops. The REA confirmed the 4,000 shops had been connected.
But at this reporter’s initial visit in December 2021, less than 5, 000 shops were connected to the gas-powered energy managed by the AMESL.
Field visit revealed most shop owners had discarded the power project in Ariaria due to high tariffs.
In February 2022, The ICIR again visited the market and findings showed the shops were no longer connected.
Aside from the earlier concerns, findings showed that the ongoing rehabilitation of some market sections (A-line) contributed to the project’s failure.
The Managing Director of AMES, Kelechi Ihebuzo confirmed the on gound findings on the project delay. He told this reporter that other than the initial shops connected, no extension was done to other sections of the international market.
He spoke through one of the security operatives guarding the facility. He was recognised as ‘Bakassi’.
Ihebuzo said all activities had been suspended as no other operation was ongoing. He added no shop would be connected to power until the state government had completed its rehabilitation project.
Hence, most of the shops were now connected to either generators or grid power from the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC).
Meanwhile, the reconstruction ought to have been completed by December 2021, but as of The ICIR’s second visit, the work was still at the foundation level.
The Commissioner for Trade and Commerce John Okiyi confirmed to this reporter several complaints from the shop owners over the AMESL energy.
He also admitted the project was stalled due to some challenges with the contractor but assured the builders had moved back to work.
He also disclosed the intention of the state government to deregulate power in the market. This, according to him was for each shop owner to subscribe to power from whatever source of choice.
Okiyi emphasised the government would not force traders to continue to source power from AMESL, hence, the decision to welcome other independent power providers.
But in his reaction, former Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, suggested the federal government should introduce initiatives that would further ease challenges confronting small businesses, and not otherwise.
He cited instances of printers, hairstylists, fashion designers, who, he noted required heavy power.
Such businesses, he added should not be restricted to a single energy source as solar power.
“Energy is very fundamental to SMEs. Naturally, a high energy cost will adversely affect businesses. You cannot create a solution that will worsen SMEs than what they were, because the whole idea is to make them better.”
An environmentalist, Mike Terungwa charged private sector ventures not to always be in haste to recover their investments.
He applauded the initiative but encouraged the federal government to offer incentives to firms involved in the production of renewable energy products to make service delivery cheaper to the end-users.
“Industries should take advantage of the opportunity. Big companies in Nigeria such as Dangote, Tony Elumelu should prioritise and begin to invest in renewable energy, mainly the local production of batteries, local accessories, etc.” Terungwa added.