Ahmad: Recognizing an Unusual Trailblazer at REA

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By Philip Agbese

Nigeria is experiencing a reawakening. The country’s youth have called for a generational shift in governance. The agitation is genuine, and most political parties have systematically capitalized on it. The slogan is everywhere. The people are ready, and the manifestation has begun.

However, a quiet achiever has been working tirelessly to make a difference in governance. This young prodigy is reserved and, at times, camera-shy. He prefers to fly under the radar most of the time because the most important thing to him is getting the job done in a way that demonstrates creativity and an outside-the-box approach.

Enter Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad’s world as the Chief Executive Officer of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA). President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Ahmad Salihijo in 2019 to bring his wealth of experience in the private sector to the Rural Electrification Agency.

The REA was created to increase electricity access in rural and underserved communities across the country by developing off-grid electrification strategies. And Ahamd Salihijo, a renewable energy expert with two master’s degrees in development studies and project planning, came in handy.

Since joining the REA in 2019, it has been a tale of success stories. He demonstrated that age is just a number by launching policies and programs aimed at achieving the agency’s strategic mandate. This was confirmed by industry stakeholders who praised his leadership style and unwavering dedication to the agency’s goals.

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For example, one of the ways he has addressed the myriad of challenges in rural electrification across the country is by instituting transparency and accountability in the agency’s operations. Given the circumstances that led to the agency’s previous administration’s ouster, this was a critical move.

Ahmad instituted a code of conduct upon taking office that emphasized commitment and dedication in an atmosphere of transparency and accountability. This strategy paid off because all opportunities for cost-cutting were effectively addressed.

For example, in recent years, the agency has strengthened its collaboration with private sector developers and other key stakeholders to deploy off-grid electrification technologies, particularly for productive use and socioeconomic impact in off-grid communities.

Agriculture is one of the key areas being studied, according to the young CEO. “We understand that once you provide power in agriculture, you naturally empower people to go into farming, thereby improving their livelihoods,” he says. This is why, in addition to providing power in off-grid communities, we devote time and resources to the productive use of energy (PUE).”

This strategy was rewarded with $20 million in African Development Bank funding to invest in productive-use equipment and models in off-grid communities under the Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP) framework.

Under his leadership, the REA agency is implementing the Energizing Agriculture Programme (EAP), which aims to boost Nigeria’s GDP, accelerate renewable energy use, and unlock agricultural productivity. The EAP is a three-year initiative launched in 2022 with funding from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), the Global Energy Alliance on People and Planet (GEAPP), and the Rockefeller Foundation, with the goal of enabling market-led solutions while breaking down barriers between electrification and agricultural development.

The Olooji community in Ogun State is an excellent example of the successes recorded under this initiative, where a 100kWp solar hybrid mini-grid was installed. Olooji is a community that has been around for about 200 years but only recently received energy infrastructure thanks to REA intervention.

REA has finished projects in seven universities as part of the Energizing Education Programme (EEP). The World Bank and the African Development Bank have both agreed to fund phases II and III of the EEP. These things did not happen overnight. We must agree that it was a result of the REA’s demonstration of leadership under the supervision of Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad.

The country requires leadership to address its socioeconomic challenges, and Ahmed has provided us with an excellent model of leadership that public officials should emulate.

Those who have come into contact with him attest that he is a very passionate person who has demonstrated capacity and competence in carrying out his duties. He has successfully changed the narrative that young people are unprepared to lead.

It’s no surprise that the REA delivered more than 95% of the NEP impact between 2020 and 2022. The NEP-SHS component is one of the agency’s fastest-growing implementations. These projects have also sparked socioeconomic activity in the communities that have benefited from them. The NEP program, which is now an exemplary off-grid model in Sub-Saharan Africa, has connected approximately 6.7 million Nigerians in rural communities across the country, affecting nearly 10 million Nigerians.

The compliments have been plentiful. Stakeholders in the industry have referred to him as a messiah who has improved access to electricity in rural areas through hard work. He was able to remove the impediments to rural electrification across the country. Some people familiar with the REA’s operations stated that the Managing Director has consistently emphasized transparency and accountability since taking over.

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There are numerous lessons to be drawn from this Pathfinder’s leadership efforts. The first is that the youth are ready for leadership, and the second is that there is always a way when there is a will. Ahmad Salihijo has given young people in the country a renewed hope. He is a trailblazer and, without a doubt, a leadership lesson. This is a thumbs up for the young people. I applaud his fortitude and perseverance.

Agbese is a Federal House of Representatives member-elect who wrote this piece from Abuja.

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