2018: Senate queries N10bn solar streetlight project in varsities

2018: Senate queries N10bn solar streetlight project in varsities
Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola

The Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy on Thursday criticised a solar-powered streetlight project in nine universities across the country valued at N10bn.

The committee also turned back the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, from the budget defence session held for his ministry over his alleged “unpreparedness to face the committee for his 2018 budget defence.”

The Chairman of the committee, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, and other members asked why the Rural Electrification Agency planned to spend the sum of N10bn on solar streetlights.

The Managing Director, REA, Mrs. Damilola Ogunbiyi, while defending the 2018 budget proposal of the agency, listed Rural Electrification Access Progamme in Federal Universities with N10,148,146,829.00 earmarked for it.

He told the committee that the agency was already working in nine federal universities to upgrade electricity supply in the institutions.

The lawmakers expressed their dissatisfaction with the REA boss’ defence of the project, noting that it was coming at a time when the power sector had been privatised.

A member of the committee, Senator Mohammed Hassan, said he could not understand why the agency was spending a huge amount of money to provide solar power in universities when rural communities for which the agency was created were left in darkness.

Another member of the committee, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, demanded the list of universities that were beneficiaries of the projects, even as Abaribe recalled that the committee had earlier requested for the list of the benefitting institutions.

Ogunbiyi listed the University of Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka, Usman Dan Fodio University in Sokoto, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi, and Ado Bayero University, Kano as some of the federal institutions to benefit from the solar-powered installations.

The Vice Chairman of the committee, Senator Buka Mustapha, insisted that the details of the project must be disclosed, including “who is paying for the installations when the power sector has been privatised.”

The REA boss, however, said it was the responsibility of the Federal Government to provide power in the rural areas.

She added that most of the universities were located in rural areas but not defined “rural areas” as demanded by the committee.

Abaribe stated that if the agency had N10bn to “play around with,” there was a better way to manage the funds.

He asked Ogunbiyi to tell the committee who was paying for the project in disregard to the privatisation of the power sector.

The members of committee also asked why the agency’s completed projects appeared to be lopsided. They particularly said the South-South geopolitical zone had over 30 completed projects, while other zones had far below the number.

Ogunbiyi explained that it depended on the nature, cost and variation of the projects, adding that contractors handling projects in the northern part of the country refused to go back to their sites until variation of the contracts had been done.

Meanwhile, Fashola was asked to reappear before the committee on Monday.

Abaribe said Fashola told the committee that he was not ready to face members as the minister did not come with necessary documents to present to members.

The lawmaker said the committee should have been provided with necessary documents to enable members of the committee to study them ahead of his presentation.

Abaribe said that Fashola later told the committee that he would be ready to appear before the lawmakers on Monday.

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