[SPECIAL REPORT] Inside Kwara North communities where residents live without electricity for over 10 years

FOR more than a decade, over 100 villages in the four districts of Baruten Local Government Area (LGA) of Kwara State have been without electricity – national grid. All efforts to get it restored have proven abortive.

December 2, 2021, was a sunny day in Chikanda, a village in the Baruten Local Government Area (LGA) of Kwara State, where Salisu Muhammad lay on a small bed in the corner of his room with a hand fan to ease the heat.

Saliu had just returned from his father’s farm after spending about five hours harvesting yams. Like every other day, it took him and his siblings about a 20-minute walk back home, after an exhaustive session on the farm. At that moment, his body craved cool air from the nearby electric fan, but this was just a mere wish because of the decade-long energy poverty.

“I really want to sleep, but this heat won’t allow it,” Saliu said, as he tried to adjust his sitting position.

“Imagine, I will be 20 years old in February. Since I became an adult, I have never set my eyes on regular electricity from the national grid, and this is how we survive here,” he said, wagging the rubber-made hand fan.

“I once heard my father telling his guest from the city that there has never been a power supply in our town.”

The reality is that the situation Salisu found himself in is not peculiar to him. Scores of other residents in Chikanda are faced with a similar challenge and had to forgo any hope of being connected to the grid.

On January 23, 2020, the Federal Government (FG) announced it had spent over N1.7 million since 2017 on the already privatised power sector, yet 43 per cent (85 million) of the country’s population of about 200 million lacked access to electricity.

Early last year, the World Bank also approved a $500 million facility to support the country in improving its electricity distribution network. But despite the multiple power sector investments, access has remained a huge challenge.

Bloomberg, in a report, stated that an average home in Nigeria only enjoys power from the national grid for just nine hours. It could be worse in some rural villages, as found in Baruten LGA.

The only possible hope is either to rely on natural ventilation, especially at night or take to rechargeable gadgets.

A makeshift shop for powering rechargeable gadgets at different prices. Photo Credit: Zulu Goo ko googo

Many villages in the four districts of Baruten -Yashikara, Ilesha-Baruba, Okuta and Gwanara – hardly enjoy the usual relief that comes from stable power.

The ICIR can confirm that from these four districts, only Gwanara and llesha-Baruba were connected to the grid, as of December 2021.

Even at that, residents of smaller towns in the two districts, such as Ajuba, Alafiaru, Babne, Wobe Gaamudi, Gobo, Gbade Kubure, Kero, Koyoru, Bwen and Wonkoru have not set their eyes on electricity for years.

There are no poles and high-intensity wires in some of these villages.

Multiple sources told this reporter that the entire Yashikara and Okuta districts have also suffered decades of neglect from getting connected to power.

Contract details of the electrification project awarded to Rikky Investment

In May 2019, the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) awarded an N78.35 million electrification project to Rikky Investment Limited. According to the data exclusively obtained by The ICIR, the funding came from the approved capital project of the REA.

The project was to benefit residents of Baruten LGA. From the approved sum, a sum of N75.92 million (N75, 922,730.60) was released to provide solutions to the lingering electricity problem.

But, today, residents of the local government still wallow in darkness. Installed transformers are rusting away and are covered by weeds, while erected poles are no longer usable because they have been infested by insects.

A rusting transformer in Sinawu. Photo Credit: Goo ko googo

Agency executed project poorly -Residents

Findings showed the N78.35 million project was awarded to Rikky Investment Limited – currently tagged inactive – by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

The company was active as of 2019 when the project was awarded to it, according to a response received from CAC.

The contract details entailed 11KV gang isolator silicon, 3.3 kilometres of high-tension Nigerian cable and 89 concrete poles with REA inscriptions. This is based on the contract document exclusively obtained by The ICIR.

Two years after the project was awarded, some of the materials were already losing value, such as the cables, which had dropped off. The concrete poles, according to experts, would normally serve for over 20 years, but they were found on the ground, and the old existing transformers were neglected.

One of the fallen REA poles in Baruten.
Cables in bad shape

Sources on ground confirmed that the project was completed but was never put to use, hence, denying many villages access to electricity.

The Social Welfare Director of Ilesha District, Ibrahim Iliasu, in the course of these findings, told this reporter that despite the rehabilitation and mounting of the poles in Ilesha and Gwanara, residents did not enjoy the multi-million naira project.

According to him, a few communities, like Ilesha-Baruba of Ilesha District and Gwanara of Gwanara District, were later reconnected by the state government in 2021, but others were left untouched.

Though there was a constituency project across the four districts meant to restore electricity, many other villages in Baruten are still in a blackout.

One of the state government-mounted poles in 2020 at Ilesha/Gwanara axis

The ICIR ran a check on ‘Rikky Investment LTD’ using OSINT method, which first redirected the reporter to a Facebook page named ‘Ricky Investment Limited’.

Further checks led the reporter to the contractor’s profile. There was no connection linking Rikky Investment Limited to a particular activity and previous projects executed on rural electrification.

The search result on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn revealed the company lacked an online presence. A further check revealed the firm has three directors – Majeed Y. Oloriegbe, Sikirat A. Oloriegbe, and Misturah O Oloriegbe.

It was gathered that Misturah Oloriegbe and Sikirat Oloriegbe did not have any online presence. Majeed Y. Oloriegbe is a lawyer and a relative of the senator representing Kwara Central, Ibrahim Y. Oloriegbe.

To ascertain if the project has been completed and met up with the standard required by REA, The ICIR placed several calls and text messages to Majeed Y. Oloriegbe, but these were ignored.

For clarity, The ICIR reached out to the Rural Electrification Agency through its spokesperson requesting information on the Electrification Project and the bidding process, but till the time of filing this report, we were yet to receive answers to our questions.

How it fuels unemployment

Though many of the residents depend on farming, rearing animals and hunting, Baruten is one of the towns rich in agricultural productivity.

Reports say it could solve the unemployment crisis in Kwara State as the land has the resources to take care of its children who have graduated from institutions.

Jameel Abdulmumeen, 25, a graduate of biochemistry from Usmanu Danfodiyo University, was in disbelief that despite having thousands of plots of land for farming, his district doesn’t have any food processing companies or industrial companies.

Jameel grew up with a passion for education on food and nutritional biochemistry at the university. He set a standard for this to be achieved in his hometown. He had wished to work in a food processing company as a biochemist but had to later give up on that dream.

“Of course, as a biochemist, it’s one of my wishes to work in food processing companies. Some years back, we were hoping to get ourselves food processing companies when some investors came to our land for business surveys.

“Few months after that, we were informed that the investors would not be establishing in Baruten again. Surely, the absence of electricity is to our detriment because no one will want to establish in a place where there’s no electricity.”

Zulu Photo and Video production shop remained closed for years.

Many young people in the community, like Zulu Goo Ku Googo, grew up hoping to assist their fathers in modernising their farms and marketing the harvests through social media.

Zulu told The ICIR that he is a professional video editor who had once dreamed of establishing a career in his hometown. But today, all the gadgets are kept somewhere in his room due to the absence of electricity to power them.

In 2020, Zulu almost left his town for Ilorin (the state capital) to pursue his goal before he realised his kind of business is too many in Ilorin, thus, narrowing his chances of succeeding there.

Today, Zulu’s dream has been cut short as he finds it difficult to power his gadget, leaving him no choice but to join his parents at the farm.

Absence of electricity causes low farm produce

At about 12pm on a sunny afternoon of December 12, 2021, this reporter visited Okuta district. On the street were dilapidated poles and high-tension wires. A few metres away was an elderly man cultivating lands.

A roadside farm in Baruten.

The man, who chose to be anonymous, is a father of 11 children and a husband to two wives. He told The ICIR that his children had gone to school and his wives were on the other farm harvesting yams. He often relied on his wives and children to irrigate the farmland, especially during hot seasons.

He said, “As you can see, we have enough land for farming. If there is electricity, the government may assist us with the irrigation system. In a way, our production will increase, and we farmers will make good money.

“Time like this, our production is usually low, but we don’t have an option.”

Agriculture in Nigeria employs close to two-thirds of the labour force, making it the largest sector of the Nigerian economy (accounting for 20 per cent of the GDP).

A lack of electricity remains a major hurdle for food producers and rural communities despite having a great potential for improvement, according to a report.

As a result of the persistent failure of electricity in Nigeria, the power sector conducted comprehensive research through the Nigeria Power Sector Programme and identified opportunities that could be developed through commercial business models.

Despite all these steps, many villages are still suffering to employ technology and irrigation systems of farming and are always prone to low production during winter.

Absence of electricity promotes crime at night, affects education

Findings by this reporter revealed that the lack of illumination (electricity) in the LGA enabled easy theft of high extension cables, cross bars, insulators, and incoming and appraisal cables.

According to an engineer, Joseph, who worked close to the electrification project, about 11 spans of cables were carted away in Okuta, along the new radio station.

Cables wires being carted away by unknown men.

When this reporter visited a secondary school in Baruten, he discovered that the science students did not have access to experiment on most of the topics that require electricity.

According to a teacher in Ilesha, who pleaded anonymity, the bad state of education in this town ranges from not having electricity to study at night to children not being exposed to experimental works and computer studies.

“I teach Physics, but I have never been able to show how ‘wire connections’ work in the lab. Most times, we have issues with our students having poor results, but we realised that there’s little we can do in the absence of light. Most of them go to the farm immediately after school hours, and in the night, darkness prevails, therefore, restraining them from doing assignments, talkless of reading books

Poor ethics as the basis for ‘non-sustainable’ projects

One of the managing directors of Ola’s Khalid Nigeria LTD, Engineer Suleiman Abbas Olayinka, spoke on some of the problems related to discharging quality electrification projects.

He identified the poor ethics shown by REA in contracting projects to contractors and how some of the electrification projects standards are violated.

“One of the major problems is that some of the contractors don’t know much about power engineering. I am telling you the truth because I have some of them as clients.

“So, whenever they take the job, the engineers may decide to deliver substandard works knowing that the (contractors) won’t recognise quality works.”

“Engineers work on projects based on the fund released. Sometimes, they decide to execute projects poorly to avoid spending too much.

“On normal circumstances, 50 metres separates two poles, but engineers and contractors can decide to extend it to 75 or even 100m, forfeiting sustainability and safety,” he said.

If REA have done their job properly, there won’t be blackout – State government

The then Kwara State commissioner for energy Aliyu Kora Sabi, – before the cabinet reshuffle – had stated in November 2021 that the government would fulfil its duty in restoring the 18 sub-stations in Baruten after full power restoration in Ilesha.

In an interview with him, while he was still the energy commissioner, Sabi said that the government had met with the leaders of IBDEC, and after necessary adjustments, the government would soon restore power to Chikanda, Bukaru, Tebetebere, Sinawu, Subayo, Fonfon, Bankudu, Tenge, Okuta, teu, Boriya, Shiya, Kosubusu, Yanti, Gure, Sanre, Kuburufu and Yashikara as soon as the project is approved.

“Before I assumed office, REA had worked on the electrification of the LGA. But if they had done their job properly, Baruten would have had power, but that is not the case.

    “If you do not work on substations and breakers, then nothing has been done because it will keep developing faults. The transmission supplying the entire Baruten comes from Sawmill, Ilorin (the capital), about 503km away from Ilesha, so there is a need for what we call ‘injection substations’, which would regulate the power coming from the city.

    “Take, for instance, if Igbeti or Kanyama electricity developed faults, it would affect Baruten too because it is the same transmission that supplies them, too.”

    Asked about the genesis of the blackout, the former commissioner, who is also an indigene of Chikanda town of Yashikara district, said the blackout has been there since time immemorial, and the act of vandalisation by the people in the community is costing them developmental projects.

    “Early this year, about nine spans of high extension cables from Ilesha-Baruba down to Gwanara were carted away by unknown men. One thing is sure, no one will come from Ilorin to cart cables away.”

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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