IN a renewed move to take electricity to the rural parts of the country, the Presidency has withdrawn the contentious bill seeking to scrap the Rural Electrification Agency (REA).
The Minister of State for Power, Darius Ishaku, who spoke at a stakeholders’ parley as part of the launch of the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) in Abuja at the weekend, stressed that government had set aside N3 billion to offset the debt owed contractors over REA projects.
The minister, whose announcement elicited applause from the international development community and other stakeholders at the parley, said: “A lot of things happened a few years before the current President took office. This includes the stalling of power networks and processes, as well as reforms and one of the causalities was the Rural Electrification Agency that essentially was responsible for the expansion of focal grids to the hinterlands. What this government did was to reactivate the REA as a vehicle to partner distribution companies and state governments to continue to expand networks. This is because there are places that private distribution networks may not find economical to go and so, government will have to expand the networks in those places and that is the work that REA will be doing.
“Worse still, without an Act of the National Assembly for the repeal of Section 88 of the Electric Power Sector Reform Act 2005, the Rural Electrification Agency, which was established with the objective of enabling electric power supply to the rural areas, which account for nearly 60 per cent of the Nigerian population, was decapitated and was almost at a standstill due to overriding self-interest of a few political office holders.”
He stressed that a number of Nigeria’s development partners were working with government to develop a strategy that would soon re-launch the country’s rural electrification programme.
He said: “Everything about sustainability discussed today goes back to rural electrification. This has to do with the rural people if we have to make impact on the larger population of Nigeria. We have brought back the REA. The bill was with the NASS. We pleaded with the President and we withdrew the REA Repeal Bill. We are working with UNDP, DFID, to work out a strategy, a roadmap to bring back the rural electrification programme. We will soon be launching our new REA framework strategy.
“We inherited a debt of N3 billion from the REA. But we will require performance to get this paid. Contractors to be paid would need to prove that they have performed optimally. We are also taking small hydros to rural communities for off-grid connections.”
Meanwhile, the Association of Rural Electrification Contractors of Nigeria (ARECON) has praised the recent reopening of REA and the budgetary provision of N3 billion to settle outstanding verified debts owed its members.
The association said in a statement: “We opposed the closure of REA on September 15, 2009, by the then Minister of Power in the thick of the alleged corruption scandals, that closing REA, which had many cases in various courts and outstanding verified debts in billions of naira, would amount to throwing the baby, water and indeed with the bath tub.”
The association continued: “We also said REA is a product of an act of parliament from the power reform programme of the Federal Government and that only the National Assembly could repeal it. We further argued that to date, similar agencies exist in most developed countries to fill the developmental gap between the urban and rural areas of such countries and Nigeria should not be an exception, all to no avail.”
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