By Ebele Orapko
Ask any Nigerian what he would want government to do for him and the answer will invariably be uninterrupted power supply. Many people have relocated their businesses to other countries where power supply is not an issue because cost of production is very high in Nigeria, and as a result, goods manufactured in Nigeria are not competitive.
Engineer Arthur Anthony Okeika, the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Arthur Energy Technology Limited, a solar energy outfit, believes that President Goodluck Jonathan is working hard in the area of power supply but will do better if he harnesses other energy sources like solar, wind and biomass which Nigeria is abundantly blessed with.
In a chat with Vanguard in Lagos recently, Okeika told the story of his journey into the solar energy arena and the challenges he faced. Excerpts:
According to Mr. Arthur Okeika: â€œBefore I ventured into the solar energy business, I was into electronics because as a little boy of about four years, I was handling electrical and electronics gadgets, constructing things like torchlights, fans and other things even before I started going to school. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I couldnâ€™t further my education so I decided to go into electronics repairs in Onitsha.
Then one day, I received information about innovations in solar energy and I realised that, that was where I ought to be so I grabbed the opportunity. I sacrificed all I had in order to acquire the knowledge because I knew that with it, I would become great someday. I took the programme seriously, leaving every other thing I was doing to concentrate on that.â€
The Arthur Energy Technology Limited boss said he trained at Onitsha and completed the training at Awka, in Anambra State and also did some courses online. He then relocated to Lagos State to look for business because, as he noted, at that time, there was not much business in the East.
On arrival in Lagos, he underwent more training and did his Industrial Training with some solar energy outfits at Alaba International Market to gain more knowledge and thereafter, he went into business fully saying that the company can handle anything about solar, locally or internationally.
The company with offices in Lagos, Onitsha, Abuja and other places, has in its employ 40 staffers.
Recounting the major challenge the company faced in the beginning, Okeika said: â€œThe greatest challenge was awareness creation.
Many people back then did not know anything about solar electricity so we had to embark on massive awareness creation. It was tough convincing people that solar electricity is exactly the same thing as their regular electricity.
That took time and money. Before you get a job, some clients would want to see any previous job you had done. Many people did not believe solar electricity would work until we began to prove it to them.
We borrowed money to execute some projects just for people to see and believe. From there, we started getting jobs. Now, we are known widely in Nigeria and beyond.â€
Okeika who said the company has handled so many projects across the country decried the situation where non-professionals are awarded solar contracts and they make a mess of it, thereby giving solar electricity a bad name.
â€œLet government award the contracts to people who know what they are doing, people that have been tested,â€ noting that some of the faults in the failed solar projects are as a result of wrong installation or substandard products. He said if it is as a result of wrong installation, it could beÂ rectified, saying that the company has been able to survive because they donâ€™t compromise on quality.
Mr. Okeika noted that the company is doing something to ensure that ordinary Nigerians get access to solar electricity. Said he: â€œMany people say that solar is expensive. Well, I donâ€™t blame them.
It is because of the nature of our economy. Solar is not expensive, it is capital-intensive. It pays for itself in the long run. But the average Nigerian does not believe in tomorrow, he believes in what is happening now. We donâ€™t plan for the future but if we plan for the future, you will know that when you install a solar system that has about 30 – 50 years life span, at least within 5 – 10 years, you would have recovered all the money you spent and you find out you are even using it free of charge but because some people are poor and cannot afford it, they term it to be very expensive. My company has come up with a solution which we call â€˜Inverter/Solar for Allâ€™ promo where we ensure that every Tom, Dick and Harry has his own solar/inverter in the house.
At least with N30,000, you can own an inverter with battery and with a minimum of N200,000 – N300,000, you can have solar in your house. That is a project we have embarked on to make sure that people get to taste and see what solar is all about.â€
He called on the government to come in and help out â€œbecause this is not what we can do as individuals. Government promised us power but up till now, we cannot boast of adequate power supply, but I believe if they can explore other sources ofÂ power like solar, wind, biomass etc, there will be tremendous improvement,â€ adding:
â€œInstead of spending money on other sources that we cannot really depend on, I suggest they invest that money in solar and wind but the problem is finding the experts. They should not award contracts to just anybody, not to contractors that know next to nothing about solar who collect money without rendering quality service.â€