Access to uninterrupted power supply in Federal Universities and University Teaching hospitals in Nigeria is a major challenge and barrier to effective research, student learning and institutional operations. On the 15th of June last year at a meeting in Abuja, the hope of Nigerian Universities was raised when the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) unveiled the first phase of its Energizing Education Programme (EPP).
The programme is aimed at installing and supplying electricity to 37 federal universities and 7 university teaching hospitals, across the six (6) geopolitical zones of the country. In the first phase, nine Federal Universities and one teaching hospital were selected.
The Institutions included in this first phase are; University of Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe University; Federal University Ndufu Alike Ikwo; Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun; Usmanu Danfodiyo University; Bayero University Kano; Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi; the Obafemi Awolowo University and the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals Complex; and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University.
Generation/adequate supply of electric power
Under this programme, the REA will provide off-grid captive solar or gas fired power plants and distribution networks infrastructure for the generation and adequate supply of electric power to the institutions. It will also install street lighting to illuminate some roads within the main campuses towards enhancing safety and ensuring security. Additionally, it will develop and operate centres that will provide power-related training to students of these institutions. The project is also anticipated to result in the distribution of power to surrounding communities in the second tier of each phase with increased economic activity and improved health and general well being within those communities.
The positive relationship between electricity (energy) consumption and economic growth has long been established for different countries, using contemporary econometric methodologies. However, a much more significant and direct connection exist between research output and the availability and regularity of the supply of electricity. Constant supply of electricity is of strategic importance in the conduct of research. In Nigeria, it has been extremely difficult to meet international research standards due to the epileptic power supply in our tertiary institutions, which is a reflection of the generally poor supply of electricity in the country.
Universities and other research institutions however deserve special attention as no nation can make progress without adequate input from these institutions. When available, the electricity supplies often constitute a menace to the highly sensitive teaching and research equipment manufactured in compliance with the current electronic age. Multi-million Naira equipment bought locally or donated by foreign collaborators are damaged on daily basis due to irregular electricity and fluctuations in voltage. As an example, there are two NMR machines available in Nigeria; with one of these at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. These machines must be switched on 24-hours a day to maintain the magnetic field and prevent damage, an impossible task with the present condition of electricity supply in Nigeria. OAU has tried unsuccessfully to maintain this feat over the years and the 460 million Naira machine which had been repaired twice, has again become non-functional. In the area of biotechnology, there are usually research materials that require continuous storage under freezing temperature and in specialized freezers. High level cancer researches particularly at the molecular level often utilize these methods, and most cancer research works are therefore impossible where electricity is not constant.
Cutting-edge research are currently impossible in most of our universities, not because of inadequate personnel or knowledge but, due to the irregularity of power supply. If Nigeria must take its rightful place in the comity of Universities, the issue of electricity must be considered foremost among those to be given immediate attention and generous financial support.
It is sad to note that though universities and other research institutions pay several millions monthly, with some universities paying as high as 60 million Naira every month, this essential commodity has continued to be irregular and erratic. The result is that our universities are now flooded with thousands of ineffective diesel generators with fluctuating voltage and the attendant pollution and damaging effects. President Muhammadu Buhari while speaking at the Planet One Summit in Paris recently expressed Nigeria’s readiness to pursue the achievement of Article 2 of the Paris Agreement. The main purposes of this instrument are; to make global warming mitigation effective, make adaptation possible; and make finance available to fund low carbon development and build resilience to climate impacts.
The EEP will reduce air and noise pollution from diesel generators and other alternative power supplies, and encourage the development of renewable energy in fulfillment of the Paris Agreement.
The EPP stands out as one of the best projects ever envisaged as a way of salvaging the Nigerian tertiary educational system. It will tremendously assist in improving the global ranking and status of Nigerian Universities and teaching hospitals.