Nigeria needs more policies centered on power, housing, transportation – Adegbola
Steve Adegbola is an engineer who is passionate about energy efficiency. He is also the managing director of DDTUS Energy Limited. In this interview with NGOZI OKPALAKUNNE, he speaks on a number of issues of national interest, including the need for power sector to attract mini-grid investors to jump-start the desirable impact, and the present economic situation in the country. Excerpts:
Epileptic power supply has been an age-long menace facing the country; in what ways do you think the government can tackle the problem?
I studied Electrical Engineering and majored in power, hence, have a good understanding of the problems. Power has never been cheap, and metering and monitoring is no difference. One of the issues is that we are needing more and more power as a society.
Remember when we used to be 80 million population and one television in the whole street and one filament bulb in each room. Today, the story is different; we are 200 million population, a flat has 15 electrical gadgets and the ceilings now have recessed lights. So, literarily, the nation power demand has grown exponentially forgetting that it is expensive.
Most of the existing infrastructures are old and stretched, power has been a social amenity all along meaning subsidised by government, unmetered and illegal connections have been a norm, vandalism is a recurrent word with country assets. All these are my additions to other general blame game that is plaguing the industry.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the bid to resolve the power problem during his 2nd term issued over 1000 contracts to individuals and Nigerian companies. Mobilisations were paid in millions, but nothing was done. Some blamed generator cabal, but do you know my take, it is an impossible task to monitor 1000 projects in one cycle. The resources required is overwhelming; so, the individuals and companies with the contracts took advantage of the situation and sabotaged the effort.
Today, the present administration has made giant strides in the right direction. The recent Siemens/FGN Contract Agreement to increase through-put from 7GW to 11GW to 25GW in phases was a great milestone. DDTUS Energy is following up closely to offer our expertise in every front as soon as the project commences.
What is missing is the ability of the sector to attract mini-grid investors to jump start the desirable impact. Power in any form be it Gas, Solar, Wind is expensive, hence we need to debate on ‘actual power required and realistic cost’. The recent Gas Revolution in the country should not only be targeted at export, but to also boost Power generation. In DDTUS Energy, we are in partnership with Omni-Save (Best Energy) of Canada to ensure there is a balance between Power & Pocket.
Much has been said about green energy; what is your assessment of that? Is it accessible to an average Nigerian?
DDTUS Energy is in the green energy space for two reasons. To manufacture the Green Energy in Nigeria. This means that panels, wind turbines and batteries will be manufactured in Nigeria. In February 2021, we signed an MoU with a Canadian company (Grid Guard & AETi) for the manufacturing of Deep cycle batteries to support our effort on Solar Panel Module Assembly in Nigeria. I must say Green energy is expensive and 70 percent of the raw materials is imported today, so it will be a disservice to our economy if we do not manufacture a good percentage of the materials here in Nigeria.
The second reason is that there is a western effort to sensitise especially, Africa, into accepting Green Energy, hence a targeted investments strategy supported by several international monetary policies.
Nigeria is also taking advantage of this to make Green Energy available especially in the rural areas. I will advise to tread carefully so that this doesn’t turn to Cocoa abandonment as Oil was found. Alternate Power is expensive and Green Energy is absolutely expensive. Remember we are rich in Oil, Gas and Bitumen; so, how much of this should we trade for Green Energy? That is a debate I will like to be part of in future. The question I pose is, ‘How much Power do we really need and what percentage of it should be green?’ Today, Germany is on 40 percent coal, 40 percent oil and 20 percent green, while China is developing more coal sites. So, even the developed countries are still heavily on Fossil Energy.
What is the role of Engineers in nation’s development?
I am a COREN-registered Engineer and member of Nigerian Society of Engineers. As an Engineer myself, my role in nation building is to engineer the future from the present. I should take the front role in the deliberation of nation building both technically and administratively. This is not happening in most developing countries because research & development is not adequately funded. Nigeria spends 0.22 percent of GDP compared to China that spends 2.05 percent of GDP on R&D. In 2021 it is forecasted that China will spend the highest in the World on R&D.
Also Engineers should be involved in the administration of the major ministries that are pillars of nation building, Power, Works, Housing, Petroleum. Even in the private sector, you hear some profession like ‘Builder’ vague enough to register a construction company and start building estates. In the UK, USA and Canada, you are not just an engineer because you once had the certificate, you need to continuously appraised yourself because of evolving technology and trend.
The economic situation in the country is becoming unbearable; what do you think is responsible? What is the way out?
There are many reasons which are obvious to all, but the one we may be missing is the fact that we just had a nation-wide shut-down and another may be looming. If we agree that the world is now a global village, then what affects one affects all. USA, UK, Europe and Asia have not recovered yet from the impact of Covid-19. So, why do we imagine Nigeria is different? The world economy will shrink by 5.2 percent as predicted by World Bank in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Many developing countries are still unable to access facilities on zero interest to fight the economic hardship caused by the pandemic. Can you imagine what 2 trillion dollars can do for Nigeria if we are as lucky as America to access these huge loans? The flip side of this hardship is that many have turned to the online platform to sell and buy whatever possible. The growth on the online transaction has encouraged many youths who have now gone into catering, retailing, events, entertainment, among others. Nigerians have always done better during hardship as we are not prudent during surplus. My advice to individuals is to adopt what we call ‘cost-cutting’. Change your life-style and let every kobo count and work twice as hard. As a country, we need more policies centered on social amenities such as power, housing, transportation. There is need to encourage private sector participation (ease of doing business, finance, tax, FDI). The recorded growth in Q2 GDP indicated that the service sector contributed 9.27 percent which is the highest in 10years. So, there is light after the tunnel.
Investigation has shown that most of the engineering projects are being executed by foreign engineering companies. What do you think is the implication both for the nation’s development and Nigerian engineers?
My Bachelor of Engineering was obtained in University of Ilorin known for best engineering awards in Nigeria, but I can remember how much of the learning is practical experience. While we can compete favourably with foreign counterparts in academics, industrial experience is a challenge because we don’t have that many. I hail from an industry that is perceived to be mostly dominated by foreign companies and expatriate workers. As a fact, I started my career reporting to a British boss and in my 24yrs career, 9 of 10 bosses have been foreigners. The knowledge and technology transfer has been my benefit and I can say the professionalism I display in all my spheres of business is great due to that. So, it depends on which type of project or industry we are referring to. In some projects, we don’t have the capacity and capability in country, hence a need for technology transfer either by training(formal) or on the job by employing a foreign company. Either way we are building capacity and capability. Today, I made bold to say that 80 percent of the jobs and positions occupied by foreign companies or expatriates in the Oil and Gas industry have now been replaced with Nigerian contractors or nationals. This has been a painstaking journey of 60 years in the Oil & Gas Industry, but we are there now.
However, the story is different in other industries like manufacturing. Nigeria is catching up faster in training of our local engineers on new equipment and technology which is a priority in various manufacturing companies. In summary, we need the transfer of technology and is either by training or on-the-job.
COVID-19 had a devastating effect on the world economy and Nigeria in particular; in what ways has it affected your business and how have you been able to scale through during and after the pandemic?
In 2019, DDTUS Energy Limited was just concluding an agreement on 20MW Solar Panel manufacturing line to be design, built and shipped by Ecoprogetti of Italy. This was completely stalled as the COVID-19 started to rage Europe in 2020. We are still trying to restart that project till date. Also in June 2019, Studcom Nigeria Limited our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) organisation employed mobile App developers from India and Nigeria to develop the first Instant Notification App for Schools. In January 2020, we lunched the App as one of our CSR to Nigerian schools, of course, you know the rest of the story. Schools were shut down, all the advertisement and deployment materials became useless while staff and equipment were released to reduce losses. We were directly impacted.
However, we are able to scale through because of our resilience to succeed in the business space and our robust strategy to manage the recovery plans
What is DDTUS company all about and what do you hope to achieve by setting up such?
DDTUS Energy Limited is a company set-up to contribute to the Energy Industry in Nigeria, Africa and the world. Our capacity to attract the best resources and investors in the world has placed us on the map. Having consumed the best of technology that the international companies can offer, I am obliged to offer my skills to improve the society. The questions we are here to solve are; how much energy do you require? Where do you need it most? In what form do you need it? And what is your budget? These questions form the basis of our discussions with individuals, companies and government. Today, we have a technical partner and investor ready to join us and develop Bitumen in Nigeria which is another source of Energy.
The insecurity situation in the country is becoming unbearable; what do you think is responsible and what is the way out?
Security is everyone’s business, but insecurity is government’s responsibility. While government is concerned and making efforts to bring closure to these challenges as it directly affects economic stability, we as citizens should secure ourselves by providing information necessary and timely to security agencies which will improve their effectiveness. We should also commend the strides made by our security agencies as we criticise their failures. There is 60/20/20 rule I will encourage us to observe in our society. This rule define that in a society 20 percent are good people regardless of the situation, 20 percent are bad people regardless of the condition and 60 percent people can’t decide where they belong either good or bad. The 60 percent is the force that we must encourage to get on the good side. All what we saw during the Xenophobic and #EndSARS are the activities of the 60 percent drawn to the other side. The trick is to get more people on the good side.