The Geometric Power Breakthrough In Aba

by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Bart Nnaji

The official commissioning of the Aba Integrated Power Project on February 26, 2024 is a watershed deserving of uncommon commendation. Professor Bart Nnaji (CON, NNOM, FAS, FAEng), the Chairman of Geometric Power Group and former Minister of Power, surmounted baleful odds to deliver on the promise of bestowing the bustling commercial city of Aba with 24/7 regular electricity.

It was indeed a pivotal event witnessed by the Vice-President, Senator Kashim Shettima, who represented President Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Governor Alex Otti of Abia State; former President Olusegun Obasanjo, represented by his son Dr Seun Obasanjo; former President Goodluck Jonathan; former Anambra State Governor and Presidential Candidate of Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi; President and Chairman of AfriExim, and an intimidating roll-call of who’s who across Nigeria and the business world. It was one day the East of the Niger commanded total national attention.

It is fitting that Professor Bart Nnaji informed everybody that the Aba Integrated Power Project (Aba IPP) is a child of necessity. In the words of Prof Nnaji, “It was born 20 years ago, when the desire of Aba industrialists, including the small and medium scale industries, to have additional and good quality power supply, and our desire to contribute our quota towards increasing power supply in the nation, converged. It became apparent to us that the best way to ensure that the Aba metropolis would quickly have reliable and affordable electricity was to build this autonomous power project to serve the Aba metropolis, with excess power delivered to the national grid.”

During the planning stage, the then World Bank President, Sir James David Wolfenson, and the then Finance Minister, now the Director-General of WTO, Dr (Mrs) Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala came on March 17, 2004 to meet with the Aba Industrialists, including the Aba and Ariaria Manufacturers (SMEs).

It was at that meeting that the Ariaria manufacturers were asked to identify their number one problem which if addressed would significantly improve their production. The Ariaria industrialists unanimously declared that it was reliable electricity that they wanted.

Prof Nnaji and the development partners from the IFC of the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) wanted to find a business model for power development in Nigeria that was sustainable, could stand on its own, and could be easily replicated by various investors in other major cities and industrial clusters in Nigeria.

According to Prof Nnaji, he and his partners “developed a model of customized embedded generation that would not require Sovereign Guarantee. Consequently, we set about developing this integrated power project to satisfy the electricity needs of Aba metropolis at a time when the Power Sector Reform Act of 2005 was not yet enacted. Upon our request, the Federal Government concessioned Aba metropolis to us, to ensure security of the investment in the project and a big relief to the Federal Government on a sovereign guarantee. In line with the arrangement, we have built 141MW Power Plant with state-of-the-art equipment from General Electric (GE) and rehabilitated the entire distribution network in Aba. In addition to the Power Plant, we have built over 105 km of 33kV Over Head Lines within the Aba metropolis.”

The steel tubular poles used to build the 33kV line infrastructure is unlike any other in Nigeria. The company also built over 40km of new 11kV lines in Aba in addition to rehabilitating thousands of kilometres of sub-transmission and low-voltage lines.

As things stand, Geometric Power has completed 5 new substations consisting of the Power Plant’s 3x60MVA substation, and 4 brand new 2x15MVA substations at various parts of Aba town. The company has also refurbished the only three existing dilapidated substations inherited as part of the acquisition of the Aba Ring-fenced Area from EEDC by building 3 brand new control buildings with outdoor substation gantries within the premises of those existing substations.

Prof Nnaji stated that “in order to ensure the reliability of gas supply, we built a 27km gas pipeline from Imo River to this Power Plant and built the gas infrastructure to support the supply of reliable gas to the Power Plant. To date, we have invested approximately US$800Million.”

The Aba Integrated Power Project would not have come to fruition without celebrated worthies such as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who when he was President was gracious and visionary enough to approve the request which his then Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Prof Nnaji presented to him.

Paying further tribute, Nnaji said: “When the project’s only financial security which is ARFA was wrongfully sold by the BPE during privatization, it was President Buhari’s team of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and Minister of Power Babatunde Fashola that mediated an out-of-court settlement for the return of Ring-fenced Area to Aba Power but with refund of what was paid by the core investors in EEDC including penalties we had to pay on behalf of the Federal Government.”

President Tinubu and Vice-President Kashim Shettima also got high praise from Prof Nnaji, as well as former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan “for giving me the opportunity to highlight the possibilities for sustainable power delivery in Nigeria. The work we did with the roadmap to the power sector reform and privatization was a paradigm shift that opened up huge investment opportunities that have yet to be fully tapped.” The various administrations in Abia State of the then Governors Orji Uzor Kalu, T.A Orji, and Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu were equally supportive of the project.  

The relationship of the current Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex Otti, and Geometric Power has been inspirational, as Prof Nnaji stated thusly: “In the case of the current administration, the Governor’s support started when he was the CEO of Diamond Bank, and to now as Governor of this State. He has been chief liaison for the project companies with various FGN agencies… We started this project when Nigerian banks could not lend to the power sector. The sector was a NEPA monopoly. It was the concession granted to us by President Obasanjo that made it possible for financing consideration. Yet, it was only Diamond Bank with vision and wisdom of its founder, Dr. Pascal Dozie that saw the viability of this project and mustered the courage to lend to it. This move boosted the confidence of Stanbic IBTC which joined Diamond Bank. Subsequently, two FGN institutions helped the two banks to create more room to lend more funds to complete the project. AMCON bought part of the debt of the banks, while CBN through the Power and Aviation Intervention Fund managed by BOI provided further funds to the project of which the two banks took up the credit risk. We are forever grateful and proud of Dr. Pascal Dozie and these Nigerian financial institutions for the vision in doing what all the banks should be doing to ensure that major infrastructure projects can be undertaken. Diamond Bank’s successor Access Bank has continued to be a key supporter. In fact, if the then CEO Dr. Herbert Wigwe of blessed memory, the CEO of AMCON, the CEO of Stanbic Bank, CEO of BOI, and the CBN did not agree to the restructuring that brought in Afreximbank, this project would have died an unnatural death. I also use this opportunity to appreciate the CEO of AMCON for his steadfastness, encouragement, and integrity.”

Afreximbank and its President, Prof. Benedict Oramah, according to Nnaji, deserve plaudits for rousing the Aba IPP that was stalled for several years.

Prof Nnaji is full of gratitude to “the NNPCL, and its associated companies, NUIMS, and NEPL for their concerted focus in ensuring that the Imo River AGG plant is refurbished after many years of its being moribund.”

“The test of whether Nigeria can have reliable electricity is here,” Prof Nnaji said, adding: “That test is partly about gas supply. We can guarantee that if we have reliable gas supply, we will provide reliable electricity to Aba metropolis. The onus is now on the Government to demonstrate that reliable power is possible in Nigeria by ensuring that this project gets reliable gas supply.”

Prof Nnaji extends “thanks to our power plant host community, Umuojima Ogbu of Osisioma LGA, the various host communities where we have our infrastructure spread over the 9 LGAs, the traditional rulers, the mayors, and all our customers in the metropolis.”

For starters, Geometric Power Ltd and the National Control Centre (NCC) at Oshogbo in Osun State have developed a timetable on how electricity will be supplied to all parts of the Aba Ring-fenced Area in Abia State following the commissioning of the Aba Independent Power Project (IPP). Experts call the method the ramp-up process of commissioning. “With 7MW injected into the system weekly,” according to Isaac Ayodele, a former engineer with the defunct Power Holding Company (PHCN) who is now an energy consultant in Lagos, “all 47MW from the first General Electric (GE) turbine will be supplied to consumers by the end of this month. This will be double the quantum of electricity currently supplied to the Aba Ring-fenced Area by the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), which has been just 25MW for months. By the end of April, power outages will be a thing of the past in all the 9 LGAs in Abia State serviced by Aba Power, Nigeria’s 12th electricity distribution company and the newest.”

The Geometric Power leadership has explained that the 47MW from the third GE turbine will be sent to the national grid, since Aba and its environs may not absorb more than 94MW right now.

There are indications, however, that the Southeast governors will press that the excess 47MW be sold to the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) for use in the five Southeastern states. A source at the South East Governors Forum in Enugu who pleaded for anonymity said: “We are finalising discussions on this matter.” 

The Aba Integrated Power Project (AIPP) is indeed an idea whose time has come. Prof Bart Nnaji as the driving force deserves celebration for what the legendary South African poet, Dennis Brutus, termed “stubborn hope”. With the laudable collaboration of Geometric Power’s Prof Bart Nnaji and Governor Alex Otti of Abia State, more solid breakthroughs are ahead for a glorious Nigerian future.   

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