• Saturday, April 20, 2024
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How resilience powered Barth Nnaji to deliver on Geometric dream

Meet Barth Nnaji, mastermind of Nigeria’s only integrated power project in Aba

If you consider what 20 years means in the life of a business, then you will understand why organisations roll out the drums to celebrate the mileage.

But that number of years is what it took Geometric Power Limited, a private electricity company, to set up the 141 MW Aba Integrated Power Project, tagged ‘The Aba IPP.’

Of course, the project financed by Diamond Bank, Afreximbank and others, currently generates 141 megawatts (MW) of power across nine local government areas (LGAs) within the Aba ring-fenced zone, hence it is the first-of-its-kind in Nigeria. The target is that it would be extended to its full capacity of 181 MW upon the delivery of the final turbine.

But amid the cheers at the commissioning by Kashim Shettima, Nigeria’s vice president, on February 26, 2024, the initiators are sighing in relief considering the many obstacles they faced from the inception, which threatened their investment, delayed the completion and piled up debt.

From the bottlenecks in granting the licence, issues bordering on difficulty in sourcing funds, huge debt, cold war from competition, refusal of right of way by communities, scandals, vandalism of infrastructure, among several others, Geometric Power still braced the odds to light up Aba.

Well, credit goes to Barth Nnaji, an Engineering professor, former Nigerian Minister of Power and the brain behind the power project, for following it through despite the huge challenges he faced.

For initiating a project of that magnitude, convincing the government to get it licensed, getting partners to buy into it and finally witnessing its take-off, hence the avalanche of praises cascading from all corners, all for the professor and his team.

How the journey began from the start to the finishing line

As expected, the journey was not easy as many obstacles threatened the investment and even the life of Nnaji.

The journey started on March 17, 2004 when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the then Minister of Finance, James Wolfensohn, the then president of the World Bank, and Barth Nnaji went to Aba. The visit took them to many industrial and business places and the major challenge all the businesses were lamenting about was poor electricity supply. It was then the idea to light up Aba was birthed.

At the commissioning, Nnaji was more than fulfilled that his dream of lighting up Aba, an industrial city, which is aptly tagged the ‘Japan of Africa’, has come true.

Speaking on the overall objective of the project, Barth Nnaji, chairman, Geometric Power Limited, the founder and chief risk taker, said, “Our goal is to ensure that Aba never again lacks electricity and we want to use it to show how power can be delivered in Nigeria and in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Recalling the project’s days of little beginning in a short documentary, the Geometric Power Limited chairman commended Diamond Bank and Pascal Dozie, its founder, for believing in the project and committing to its initial funding.

“Without Diamond Bank and Pascal Dozie, the founder, this project wouldn’t have come to reality because he saw the vision and supported us,” Nnaji said.

“We want to also thank Afreximbank because it saw the vision and came to support it and worked with other Nigerian financial institutions to support us.”

The challenges

In the 20 years of waiting, the country witnessed economic recession. The meltdown impacted the project so much that while Geometric assumed it was almost done with just a little more funding to finish the project, the economic recession hit, and made some investors withdraw.

The sad development stalled the light up Aba dream for over three years. Again, across the 20 years, there were times when kidnapping was at its peak in the South-East, with an expatriate working for the Geometrics Power Limited being kidnapped and many leaving the country with him, after his release.

But one of the regrettable challenges was the betrayal by some highly placed Nigerians who Nnaji thought were with him.

The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) that took the Aba project that is actually ring-fenced in an agreement, and sold it to a company that was a distribution company.

Despite the agreement that the Aba power project is ring-fenced, Nnaji decried that the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) still went ahead to sell the place to a distribution company without taking out Aba.

Funding was also a huge challenge for the 20 years. Nnaji disclosed as far back as 2015, his firm paid $3.5 million monthly as interest on the $500 million borrowed from Diamond Bank and other Nigerian financial institutions.

As well, in 2021, Afreximbank signed a US$50 million term loan facility with Geometric Power Limited to support the completion of the project, which it described as a great milestone achievement in Nigeria.

The immediate past governor of Abia State, Okezie Ikpeazu said: “When we came on board in 2015, I was clear about the role of SMEs in our economic agenda and I was determined to pursue a deliberate policy of giving SMEs a push. The power situation was clearly the greatest challenge to the survival of small businesses in the State. By then, the Geometric Power Project was lying comatose on account of contractual differences between the Federal Government and Interstate Electrics Limited, owners of the Enugu DISCO, on the one hand, and Geometric Power, on the other hand.

“Our decision to intervene in the situation was measured and deliberate because we understood very clearly that our economic survival as a people and as a state would receive massive boost with guaranteed power supply. Encouraged by the grit and determination of Professor Barth Nnaji, the CEO of Geometric Power, we approached the then Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and then Power Minister, Babatunde Fashola. The eventual resolution of the contractual issues gave a new life to the project and saved the over 500 million dollars already invested in the project as at then. It would have been catastrophic to allow such humongous investment in our state to waste. The effect of such waste was simply unthinkable as it would have discouraged future investments in our state.”

The power project feat

The 141 MW Aba Integrated Power Project (Aba IPP) cost over $800 million. The project, which is the first-of-its-kind in Nigeria, includes three GE LM6000 gas turbines, with a capacity to produce up to 47MW each, three rehabilitated distribution substations, five new additional substations and 140km of 33kV/11kV lines using fibre optic cables for seamless data communication and a 27-kilometre natural gas pipeline from Owaza in Ukwa West LGA in Abia to the Osisioma Industrial Layout in Aba, making it the single largest investment in the South-East region.

Yet, over 370,000 direct and indirect jobs would be created during the operational phase of the project.

Why Aba?

Strategically positioned in the industrial South-Eastern Nigeria, the Aba metropolis is one of the most commercial areas in West Africa, renowned for its cottage and small-scale industries specialising in the craftsmanship of leather goods, fabrics and related services. In addition to increased power supply and reliability, the Aba IPP is expected to enhance industrialisation efforts and increase production of small and medium-scale enterprises, as well as local industries.

Project, not motivated by greed

Professor Nnaji has also disclosed that if the 181-megawatt Geometric Power Plant in Aba and the Aba Power Distribution Company in Osisioma Industrial Layout had been situated in Ikeja, the Ilupeju Industrial Estate in Lagos State, the Agbara Industrial Layout in Ogun State, or somewhere in the vicinity of the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, they would have been more profitable ventures.
“The return on investment would have been quicker and bigger (in these locations). Nothing can give as much fulfillment and satisfaction as working wholeheartedly for your people,” he said.

Relief for businesses and residents

The commissioning of the plant has brought excitement and renewed hope to the Aba business community, who believe that constant and efficient power supply will incite industrialisation in the entire South-East region and Nigeria at large.

Benedict Oramah, president and chairman of the Board of Directors of Afreximbank said: “As champions of trade and industrialisation initiatives in Africa, we believe that it is projects like this embedded IPP that will catalyze trade and economic development in Nigeria and across the region.”

According to Geoffrey Uzuagbala, president, Aba, Chamber of Commerce, Industry Mines and Agriculture (ACCIMA), the berthing of Geometric power in Aba is a monumental achievement.

“Constant power supply in Aba will attract fresh investments, resurrect dead industries and create jobs,” the ACCIMA president assured.

Andy Ubah Obasi, managing director, Twinset Industries Limited, said that the feeling of the business community is that the development was long overdue.

“Geometric has been in our plans for the past 20 years and the business community had anxiously waited for it and we are graciously happy that it has finally happened,” he enthused.

Despite the fact that most manufacturers have opted for alternative sources of power (though expensive), due to the Aba Ring Fence ownership tussle, between Geometric Power Group and the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), Obasi, who was a former president of ACCIMA, noted that manufacturers and other entrepreneurs would switch over to Geometric source of power.

According to him, most people know how useful and beneficial power is to industrialisation. Geometric has been in our plans for the past 20 years and the business community had anxiously waited for it and we are graciously happy that it has finally happened.

Eleanya Okoroji, a past president of ACCIMA, said that improved power supply, which is expected from Geometric power plant, will have great impact on manufacturing, noting that efficient and constant power supply will not only resurrect dead industries, but would also attract fresh ones.

“All these industries depend on power. There is no way you can run a big factory without power and generators are expensive because the price of diesel has gone up.

“Some factories use 1,500 KVA generators and some use about ten of that size at a time, depending on the size of your factory. It means, if you are consuming 33,000 litres per week, and multiply that by N1800 per litre, you are talking about millions of naira, just to provide power for your factory.

“But if you are using a public power supply, the cost will be less than half of that. So, you can plough the savings into other things,” Okoroji explained.

For Alphonsus Udeigbo, chairman, Abia State Market Amalgamated Traders Association (ASMATA), the inauguration of Geometric Power will mark a new dawn in the country in Aba, where electricity is rarely available, and Abia State at large.

Udeigbo, who is also president general, Aba Landlords Protection and Development Association (ALPANDA), assured that Aba residents would support the Aba Power Limited and Geometric Power by paying their bills as at when due and would not bypass the electricity company.

South-East elated

Alex Otti, governor of Abia State, is most excited that his state is taking the lead in the South-East region in constant electricity supply. But he thinks that the feat is for the whole region and Nigeria as a whole.

“It is a great project. The first-of-its-kind because it is a generation, transmission and distribution of electricity power all rolled into one and that is what Geometric means to Aba, Abia and the South-East region,” the elated governor said at the commissioning of the project.

Ohanaeze, the pan-Igbo cultural group, is also elated. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, president, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, described what Geometric is doing as very important and a boost to his transformation agenda for Igbo land. “Barth Nnaji is very patriotic and Igbos should be grateful to him,” Iwuanyanwu said.

On his part, Darling Uzu, CEO, Enyimba Economic City, sees a more prosperous South-East region going forward. “The success of Geometric is the success of Enyimba Economic City, which is financed at the back of Geometric. Geometric is also financed at the back of Enyimba Economic City as a major off taker,” he explained.

Pieces of advice

Obasi, a former president of ACCIMA, warned that the feat achieved by Geometric requires support from all Aba businesses and residents to last.

However, he noted that most importantly, the success of the plant depends on availability of gas and he appealed to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) and its associates to ensure that the plant gets adequate gas to enable it function effectively.

Also, the president general, Aba Landlords Protection and Development Association urged Geometric and Aba Power to enforce payment through a task force.

Chijioke Umelahi, former Abia lawmaker, urged Geometric to keep to all agreements reached with the financiers, serving and repaying the loans accordingly to avoid issues that will cause disruption in their operation and ultimately, AMCON takeover.

With the power problem resolved, observers are of the opinion that more companies may move their production facilities to Aba in the coming months instead of neighbouring countries.

But when they do so, Barth Nnaji looks forward to the empowerment of the people, wealth creation and shared prosperity for all.

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