• Sat. Jun 3rd, 2023

Policy Mismatch Bane of Nigeria Power Sector – Chinedu Amah, SPARK Nigeria CEO

ByPeter Oluka

May 2, 2022

Chinedu Amah is the Founder of SPARK Nigeria Limited, an Optimum Power Solution provider.

The energy startup’s journey in the power sector started in 2015 with Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED) as Tariff consultations with stakeholder groups for the Multi-Year Tariff Order MYTO 2015.

From 2016, Amah and his team led the revolution for Nigerian utilities in the social media space and deployed Nigeria’s first energy theft reporting platform which has been key to today’s vibrant revenue protection segment of the sector.

By 2017, the team at SPARK Nigeria had developed and deployed Nigeria’s first theft & corruption solution for PHED which laid the grounds for a robust revenue protection model for the sector.

In 2018, the team worked on Nigeria’s first bulb exchange program in the Gbaran Ama community of Bayelsa State on behalf of PHED and the World Bank. The project involved switching inefficient incandescent bulbs in the homes of about 170 rural dwellers to highly efficient LED bulbs; they achieved a 40% reduction in the community’ energy consumption which enabled the people to increase their payment efficiency to 100%.

In 2019, SPARK Nigeria delivered on a series of community engagements, planning and support for the transition of over 100,000 PHED customers from the post-paid to prepaid platforms thus reducing aggregate technical and commercial losses for the DISCO and improving user experience for over 100,000 homes in the region.

Chinedu Amah, Founder of SPARK Nigeria Limited, in this interview with TechEconomy.ng’s Editor Peter Oluka speaks on the challenges and opportunities in the Nigeria’s power sector; elaborates on SPARK’s passion for excellence that birthed its solar solution, among other achievements even as the startups shops for $70 million investment to scale up its operations and service offering:

Electricity Pole, tcn explains drop in supply 1
| NIGERIA – A nation in search of steady power supply…

TE: The Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) in 2018 said that about 37% of privatized entities since its inception aren’t working. Nigerians say most of these entities may be in the power sector. Perhaps this is the best way to start. What’s your view about the state of the power sector in Nigeria?

Chinedu Amah: We don’t need to over flog it; I’m sure we all experience it. We know we are in dire straits concerning power in Nigeria. It’s been this way since I became an adult. Even while I was a child growing up in the 80s; well into the 90s, till today. More than anything, I can say, it’s only got worse because we haven’t gotten better at it. Everybody we hear of new excuses; everybody blames the next man.

What I say to stakeholders in the value chain is there are too many blame games going on. When do we exit this blame game? When do we start discussing solutions? And there is way too much contractualization, if I can use that expression. “Oh, we want to build this new line, we want to build…” Too much! And unfortunately, there is not enough innovation going on in that space. What that has led to is that we continue to do the same thing over and over and yet we expect different results. Unfortunately, that has never worked anywhere. Right?

You know that video of that tiny animal that looks like a rat, that keeps running around in that wheel, right? It does nothing, it just keeps running and the wheel keeps turning. That is what is happening to us. There are a lot of talks, but there is very little progress. What has happened to us over time is that it has become a lot more expensive to do business in Nigeria, because the cost of setting up cannot be computed without an exponential cost for power.

Uganda's electricity sector
 | What I stand for, and what a lot of people, internationally, would tell you is ‘look to clean energy’ – Chinedu Aman (Photo Credit: AfDB)

So, let’s say you want to set up a leather processing factory to make shoes and bags in Nigeria. You will have to put the cost of one big generator in your plan; and it’s worse now because today’s reality is such the cost of diesel running through the roof. Nobody knows how long this is going to stay, but that is our reality. The other side of it is that we’re not even refining our crude products. We are also exposed further to what I like to call ‘imported inflation’.

Why? Because whatever inflation is hitting the Dollar or whatever country we’re importing our oil products from, is imported into Nigeria and added to the process of Nigeria. Thus, as Fela sang: “Double wahala for dead body.” That’s where we are.

TE: It’s depressing because, to be honest with you, when you are considering opening an office today, power is among the top five items on your list…

Chinedu Amah:  Once you pay for the office, you’re thinking power…

TE: …Yeah. You are thinking power. So from your perspective, what can be done in this space? How can this space be disrupted for a better ecosystem?

Chinedu Amah: What I stand for, and what a lot of people, internationally, would tell you is ‘look to clean energy’. Right? It’s expensive in the short term, but it becomes the next option. Now, for us at SPARK Nigeria, one of the things we’ve battled with over the last two years is, ‘how do we facilitate or enable clean energy to be cheaper and more accessible to Nigerians and Africans at large?’ The biggest question has been ‘who will bear the cost of the hardware?’ That has been the biggest question.

TE: Perhaps, hardware is hard?

Chinedu Amah:  It’s expensive. It’s hard. We said okay, we are going to bell the cat. We’re going to get into that space and fight it.

Why? Because we understand that if we’re able to facilitate these processes involving power, enabling power to be more affordable to Nigerians, we will be building something that will enable well over a million Nigerians, over the next five years, to improve their quality of life and reduce their cost of operations in business, especially for small businesses.

Let me start this way. A friend of mine just set up a new outfit. When he told me that finally, they landed on a 15KVA, I told him this is about the best move you’ve made. He said yes, that I’ve been advising him on it. The reason why we didn’t drop the project is that we are moving from just trying to sell hardware to being able to sell on-demand. As you use it, you pay. You buy tokens, we put a meter there for you.

What that has done for him is that he doesn’t need to try to procure a 15KVA generator. He doesn’t need to struggle with diesel. He doesn’t need to bother with the increasing cost of diesel for the next couple of years.

So, moving your business away from dependence on fossil fuels, especially if you’re not super big at this point, is one of the best things you can do. And our gospel today is, “Hey, guys, we want to give you this energy on demand. We want to put a meter in your home so that you can buy tokens and load the meter and use our solar service, On-Demand!” So, it takes away that dependence on fuel, on diesel. I mean USD$12 billion to fuel generators in one quarter, that’s killing! Do you know what that will do for us?

Look at it this way. The fuel is subsidized by the government. So, you and I pay tax for the government to subsidize fuel, and then you and I still take from our hard-earned money to buy that fuel to provide power in our homes because the central grid system continues to fail us in Nigeria. What I see is we must innovate, we must look into small clusters of growth, because the big cluster of growth, collective growth, hasn’t worked magic for us. We must look into small clusters to drive growth.

TE: Before we delve deeper into understanding SPARK’s solutions, if you were to be in government today, what are the critical decisions you would make?

Chinedu Amah: First of all, I’ll speak to the engineers at TCN (Transmission Company of Nigeria) to understand what it will take for us to decentralize our National Grid. I will have Lagos running its grid. Lagos is big. The next thing I will do is regionalize the rest of the country: South South, South East, North Central, North West, North East; let them operate in their silos, and we will then concentrate on what other options are available for each area.

SPARK Nigeria logo
| SPARK Nigeria logo

There’s a concept one of my mentors proposed; he tagged it ‘Social Power’. Social power essentially means that whatever is your key resource in your area becomes the core of what you do. For example, there’s so much gas from the Niger Delta that is being flared, and, the last time I checked, the penalty for flaring a cubic foot of gas was about $11, ridiculously cheap. That will form a part of the petroleum industry act for me.

In the Nembe community, for example, if they produce x amount of gas in the month, rather than flare the gas, I would install a power plant in the community to ensure that there is power being generated from the community.

Now, I know that a part of the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) includes a certain amount of money to go to the community. For me, while a lot of people will say, ‘yes, give them their money’; I would say, ‘no, since it is decentralized, take it down to the bottom: this much will go for scholarships in your community so that children of school age, who need to go to school, or who has to go to school, their education can be funded’. Now if 30% of the adults are fishermen or fisherwomen, then they’ll be part of that investment that will go to procuring fish boats and trolleys for them. You can build a microcredit scheme in partnership with a microfinance bank in that community where those funds are invested and managed locally.

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The value will be ingrained in you, because now when there’s education and when there is a primary healthcare centre funded from the same fund which is being generated from the local production, you see that there is consequent growth. Because if I’m able to procure my boat, and the fund also introduces a central freezing point for my fish, so that I don’t lose fish, what now happens is that my disposable income begins to increase. There is growth in my rural economy.

You see crime rates in rural areas start to drop; rural-urban migration starts to drop because you don’t have people thinking that ‘oh, there’s no job in the village, so let me go to Lagos and go and ride Okada’, because there’s value being created in the rural area due to decentralized power system, and it goes all the way.

Nigeria has more solar irradiation than Germany. We have peak sunlight of more than five hours in a day. Meanwhile, Germany produces more energy from solar than Nigeria.

Do you know the number of fruits and vegetables that go to waste from Benue State, all the way up North in the country, because they don’t have the energy to preserve their agro product? So, as you take it across the country, when you go out West, from Lagos, all the way down to Calabar, you have over 800 coastlines. Nigeria does not have one wind farm on that route. Then someone thought it wise to set up a wind farm in Katsina State, and Katsina has more sun and solar irradiation than the rest of the country. But let’s not get into that.

Energy Access Relief Fund, Chinedu Amah
| Solar Panels

If I move up North, I am going to concentrate on establishing solar. And there are so many options today. A part of what we’re not even looking at today, as a country, is biogas.

Biogas is huge. Yeah, so we’ve done some work with the Offshore Technology Institute of the University of Port Harcourt, and along the line, the chair of that Institute introduced me to this other guy who does biogas. He showed me a very simple procedure. Yes, it’s a bit expensive but if you make that expense; imagine that is your house, and the entire soakaway in your compound of maybe five flats is converted to a biogas tank and you don’t need to buy gas cylinders anymore. I saw it, they turned on the gas, it came on, they used it to boil water, and we drank tea. The same blue flame that you and I see.

I think it is China or so, where the average farmer has about 1000 pigs. Asides from consuming the pigs, a thousand pigs produce, on average, enough poop to produce about 0.5 megawatts of power on average in a day.

You remember when there was a fire in Ojota recently. What happened?It was biogas that was ignited. Someone was probably smoking around the refuse dump, while they were trying to clear the place. The waste had been compressed there for years, as you have biowaste, they decompose and they produce methane, and it is a flammable gas. So, what happened there was that flammable gas was exposed and it was ignited…

Chinedu Amah, Founder/ CEO SPARK Nigeria
| Chinedu Amah, Founder/ CEO SPARK Nigeria

TE: … imagine that heap was converted to energy.

Chinedu Amah: Thank you. About three years ago, I carried out a study. The first time I was out on TED Talk. While I can’t remember the actual number today, I talked about the waste being produced in Lagos, and how much of that waste, not necessarily dry waste, can be converted to gas to provide energy. That was the time I found out that Lagos State alone consumes an average of about 7500 to 10,000 cows a day. Now, do you know how much organic waste that is if you aggregate all of the waste from those cows, and concentrate it in a biogas plant?

Have you ever computed how many ‘Mama Puts’ (roadside restaurants) are in Lagos and the amount of food waste they produce, not to talk of human waste? Now, look at Lagos and that population and the amount of waste they produce. Look at cities like Aba, Nnewi, Onitsha; we need to decentralize. The old order hasn’t worked for us. We need to break into those small clusters. If I’m in that space of being a government official, that will be the first move I take.

A lot more authority must be granted to the regulator, because a part of what we’re dealing with today is political will impacting the regulator, negatively. For example, I know that the last two governments have stifled, the last one and this, at a point rejected tariffs review on political grounds, they didn’t say it openly, but that’s what happened.

Now, when the MYTO 2015 was counted, that is the Multi-Year Tariff Order 2015 which guides how the tariff functions in the sector. There was an agreed model for tariff review, which was meant to be concurrent with improved gas supply and improved hours of supply. From 2015 to date, this is seven years in, we are still dealing with under collection in the sector. How do you expect the man who’s offering you that service to invest? Have you asked yourself okay, what is happening, why are the multinationals not coming into Nigeria to say they want to buy a distribution company? Why is Siemens not coming to say we want to come and invest in generation? Because your policies are not supporting investments. So, you need to tweak those.

TE: Now, let’s get to unpack SPARK. What solutions are you bringing on the table?

Chinedu Amah: Our solution is simple. We want to be able to offer energy on demand to Nigerians across Nigeria. Hopefully, within the next couple of years, we can reach the rest of the African market because we’re discussing Africa’s Free trade zone, and we know that there’s a lot of energy apathy across Africa. We want to be able to validate that a person can pay for the electricity, especially for those in urban and semi-urban areas; they can pay for the electricity. If we have an average of what you consume in a month, we can match that against your hours of availability on the grid.

Let’s say you have six hours, we match your load against what you require for another 6 or 12 or 18 hours of supply. So once we determine that factor for you, we validate that you are creditworthy and can handle that amount of payments in the month, and then it’s a simple process that should take less than seven days. We come in and you are serviced.

For rural areas, what is key for us is a productive use of power. We want to get into spaces where there is agro production. If we can advocate community by community, whether it’s cassava, palm oil, farm produce, or vegetables. Agro produce requires either preservation or reprocessing. We want to be able to provide energy for the processing or the preservation point.

electricity, TCN, DISCOS, GENCOS
| Electricity pole

First of all, why is that important to us? Because if we reduce the cost of processing or improve their preservation capacity, we would have improved or increased their disposable income in rural areas. I like to call it ‘reengineering the rural Nigeria economy’.

In reengineering the economy, we believe that we will be able to reduce rural-urban migration, improve the economy, increase disposable income, and improve the capacity of Nigeria to be able to improve our food security because that is key for us. We spend a lot of money importing food when we have a lot of arable lands, which are not being put to use. That also is one of the factors that is impacting the economy because we’re importing too much food as well. That is the model we want to take for urban, semi-urban, and rural areas.

TE: So, as a startup or company with an office at VI, Lagos, if I want to patronize your solution. How do I go about it?

Chinedu Amah: We’ve not exploited the VI part. Once you say VI, what comes to my head is high rise. When you talk about high rise buildings or large office spaces, they are in a separate part of the spectrum. One of the first things you want to be able to do for such facilities is energy management plans. How can they reduce the amount of energy consumed within the buildings? How do you ensure that these buildings are more efficient than they are? Because if you can effect a 30% reduction in energy consumption within the building, you would have saved the company a great deal. That is one thing.

Now, the second thing you want to look at in business spaces like Victoria Island, not all of the buildings are high rise buildings, other organizations have huge complexes that may not be high rise. So, those services are possible within those spaces. You can have a high capacity or high impact solar system that functions as a hybrid within those spaces, depending on solar irradiation and the time of the year, maybe the rainy season, when the solar irradiation is not so heavy, you could mix it.

You could offer a hybrid system that, maybe, includes a generator that supports battery charging so that when there is poor irradiation or at the peak of the rainy season when there is a long period of rainfall, or another side which I like to go for, which we haven’t validated yet. Those sides of properties in Victoria Island, Lagos are windy, Right? There’s a lot of wind in Lagos, especially in the Island areas. It will require us to conduct some sort of study to determine how much wind comes in averagely, then that will also advise on the sort of wind turbine to be introduced in the space, that helps to improve the efficiency of whatever hybrid solution you offer in that space. But, most importantly, we could have a gradual shift; there’s a lot of roof space that can be aggregated.

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There’s a company I was reading about a couple of weeks ago, and one of the major specialities they offer is a smart grid service, which allows for multiple points within a common grid to share energy. I saw it and I was mind blown.

These are solutions that speak to you and say hey, it is very doable, right? smart solutions in small spaces. There are organizations today that look at battery swapping options. It might be a challenge for clustered areas like Lagos, especially in the business district, but that becomes an option.

High-power lithium-ion batteries can be introduced into small chunks of office spaces. You have a smart application that notifies you when your charge rate is dropping, and you need a swap, especially when your supply is low. So that becomes an option in this space.

Apart from the main system, which requires high capacity, through energy management processes, you can reduce consumption from the cooling system. Your lighting points and your office equipment can be powered by those small systems in small spaces.

TE: Let’s digress a bit. There’s a city coming up in Lagos, Eko Atlantic. Is there a study to know if the plan, if the buildings there align with what you are saying? Because they will be making a huge mistake if they fail to include some of these things you’re saying in the plan of the buildings there.

Chinedu Amah: Tosin Oshinowo spoke at an event, she designed, I think, one Mall in Maryland. She talked about how designers and developers need to move with trends, to understand what is needed. Before we even get to that, let me give you an example. There is an increasing trend in Real Estate development where the buildings are clustered without any source of ventilation. I see that a lot in Lagos. In a country that lacks reliable electricity, what it means is that you are subjecting the residents to exorbitant energy bills. I understand that with most of these estates, you cannot elect not to be a part of the grid, so you must be a part of their local grid. What that does to you is that you see homes that have air conditioners running for 12 to 16 hours a day. There is no thought-to-design and to the reality of the environments in which you’re existing.


Now when you take it down to Eko Atlantic city, I see that and I marvel at the thought of building a new city in Lagos, it’s awesome. I also know that Eko Atlantic City is not exactly along the coastline. So why don’t you have a wind farm surrounding the city? It doesn’t make sense. If you’re building a new city, it also means that things like waste collection can be aggregated. Why don’t you have a biogas unit that provides power for the area? You can build small units and complement them with whatever comes from the grid. But you cannot design today, without designing for Nigeria’s reality, starting designing for Nigeria’s reality.

I will tell you one truth, Nigeria is not going to have a stable power supply, 24 hours across the country within the next five years. It is not going to happen; I can stake my left hand on it. 

TE: Why do you think so?

Chinedu Amah: How much have we spent in the last 20 years?

TE: Billions of dollars, anyway.

Chinedu Amah: And we are still at less than 5000 megawatts. Look at it this way. There is design, and when you design, you procure. Then of course there’s lead time, there’s a lot of construction that needs to be done. I’ve said before that we are driving a 1970 Ferrari and we want it to pick us up from Port Harcourt to Kano in five hours. It’s not going to happen.

There is an old Cameroon line that links somewhere to Cross River State. This was pre-independence; about the period the seat of the colonial government was in Calabar. That line is still standing today and it still forms a part of our National grid. How do you want to maintain a central grid with a line that is probably older than my late father? If you want to retain a centralized system, it means you must invest heavily in infrastructure, building new lines from your power plant to feed your biggest economic and production and manufacturing centres. That is not going to happen in five years.

How many industrial clusters are in Lagos? How many industrial clusters are in South Southern Nigeria? If you want to drive growth, if you want to drive employment, you drive employment by reducing the mass cost of production which means you are giving grid power. If you are giving grid power, it means you must map the entire system. You must build and take it to them.

There is another conversation that nobody is willing to have. How many are we in Nigeria?

TE: So, is SPARK looking at securing investments; equity investment, to forge ahead with your plans because it is capital intensive?

Chinedu Amah: Someway, somehow, I knew you were going to drag me here. When we started on this journey, during the lockdowns of 2020, I mean, SPARK had been in operation for about a year before then. Because there’s a B2B site where we offer support to distribution companies, and we are even hoping to get into franchise management agreements with some distribution companies.

When we started our journey was when I started to learn and understand how building from scratch looks. Before that time, I would say what we were doing was what one of my older brothers would call subsistence business, like farmers who were trying to survive.

We were just trying to eat. In the process, we have this fantastic consulting company from the UK working with us. They’ve been awesome. Then reading so much, when I thought I knew enough, then I had to read. I thought I knew how to do cash flows, and then I understood that what I knew was nothing. I think we are looking at somewhere in the range of $70 million for our first outing. The reason is that there are a lot of hardware requirements for us because we’re not building the base model of our strategy on selling hardware. We’re building it on selling a service to people. So we’re going to have to keep or deploy an inventory across the board.

So, I think we’re looking at somewhere in the range of $70 million. I don’t know if we’re going to go for a second round, or if that $70 million is going to lead us to an IPO. Following our model, by the time we cross our first 5000 users, the next thing we want to start looking at is, we want to jump all the way heading into the EV market, because at 5000 users, whether they’re clustered or distributed, what that means for us is that we can also start deploying electric vehicles. So, I don’t know whether we’re going to go for another round of funding, or we’re just going to go head-on into an IPO. For me, the first thing is $70 million. I don’t know how I am going to raise it.

TE: Few weeks back we did a report about an experiment going on in India. Telcos are working with the electricity companies to test use of the equipment; the street poles, to deploy 5G technology. So, if DisCos come to you for collaboration, colocation, partnerships, what can you offer them? How will you help them transform some of the infrastructures they have, giving them a chance to serve the people better and maybe both parties will gain from it?

Chinedu Amah: You are blowing my mind with where you are dragging these questions to. In fact, at the time, my team and I pulled in one of the biggest fibre companies in this country, into a meeting with a DisCo and they failed to see the value in it and that deal died. These guys were willing. They were going to colocate data boxes with transformers. So from that point, if this cluster that this transformer serves is interested in using fibre, from that transformer point you shoot to the homes. The bulk unit will carry it from one pole to the other till it drops at that data point. We had the model, the concept, and the design and this guy turned it down. But the point is…Let me give you what it is. Have you ever driven without side mirrors? You won’t see what is around you, right? I’m not blaming the guy who turned down the deal. I’m not blaming him at all. The point is the pressure of running a distribution company is so heavy. The average Distribution Company in Nigeria is almost 30-40% a loss per month.

DISCOS, Chinedu Amah
| Power Distribution (DisCos) in Nigeria (Image Credit: THISDAYLIVE)

One of our B2B services is debt management for distribution companies. We are active in one today, and we know how much debt we are looking at. We have teams in the field who get in to engage customers and work with technical teams to disconnect.

For instance, there is no reason why a customer’s meter in a home is in the name of his landlord. It’s like saying that I graduated from university, I bought a car, then Nigeria has a law that says that, until I am married with children, the car will be registered in my father’s name.

So, essentially what it means is that historically, Nigerians have used electricity and yes, we know there’s a lot of controversy and fight over estimated billing. I’ve worked on several projects that involve reconciliation of estimated bills and co so that there is closure and the customer can move forward. Now, what do you see happening? What you see is that those debts and bills are in the names of the landlords.

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One of the things Chinedu says is, yes, let the meter number be resident with the landlord because it is attached to the property, but let there be an account number generated that is tied to the customer.

Why? Because what that means is that, if Chinedu is exiting his house, and he is owing 100,000 Naira, once he lands at the next location he is getting into, the debt follows him there. So, he cannot just run away.

TE: It works like the BVN; it shows everything?

Chinedu Amah: Exactly. And I will tell you, that NERC needs to look at the option of attaching BVN and NIN to electricity, and utility account numbers. Let us know the number of people we serve.

So, one of the things that SPARK is saying is, this is a solution that we’re willing to bring to the table: integrate it, and check the credit viability of each customer. I mean, in one of the presentations we had I said look, anybody who is owing way less than 100,000 Naira, I am willing to stick my neck out and find a financial partner who is going to offset the DisCo’s bill.  The offset, you give me a 20-30% discount, because I’ve just recovered funds for you. And my finance partner will slam it to you that you’re owing, by a universal tracker, anywhere it is we’ll collect your money. That is the truth.

I tell them, we are willing to procure the meter and install it. Let us strike a deal, that every month if the meter costs 50,000 Naira, for example, I can split it into 24 months with the distribution company, right? Give me the customer to manage for five years. If I split it into 60 months, what that means is that if he is owing 300,000 naira for example, discount it for me, 200,000 Naira is yours, 100,000 Naira is mine. I will take it. Then that meter, pay me the value every month, for 60 months. It means I’ve not lost my primary investment.

Alternatively, if you’re only able to offer the customers on this feeder 12 hours of supply every day, any customer who needs 12 extra hours, we will mount our solar, using your meter, so we sell and share the revenue.

Buhari, Chinedu Amah
| Prepaid meters

What that means for me is that I have built four streams of income from one customer. I will tokenize electricity customers in Nigeria and I will sell that value in the blockchain. What that means is that there is value in every electricity user in Nigeria. If I turn it into a token, and it has a five-year lifespan, anybody who purchases it will be able to trade it in an exchange. That’s all I’m saying.

We’re at the point where we cannot keep looking at old methods of doing things. Nigeria needs to fast track; if we are willing to grow, we should fast track. I love what I was told, I don’t know if I should share that because it was said to me in private, but I heard that there’s a huge power plant that’s looking to expand its capacity by up to 200 megawatts using solar. So I can’t say their name.

They are building a solar farm on their roof. I love that kind of innovation. But at the bottom of the value chain, which is the end-user, what I am saying is that we must tokenize the user because that is where to derive value. What is the lifetime of the user? The lifetime of the user is, if you analyze what is the health status, bring medicals into the service. For every customer, health insurance and life insurance are added, as a bundle.

If you are in an area where Health insurance is poor, tie the deal; SPARK will tie the deal. We will bring the health insurance company as a bundle because there is extra value to the customer if his life is extended by 10 years.

TE: Many countries are moving away from fossil fuel to renewables and tying it back to what you said before: Do you think Nigeria is prepared for this change?

Chinedu Amah: The model I’ve shared with you is essentially what SPARK is saying to Nigeria: Let’s go back to our village, improve food security, number one.

Number two, I don’t know where you stand on the controversy surrounding the farmer-herder crisis, but I will ask you to go look for this documentary. It’s called ‘Nowhere to Run’. It was done by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr. I don’t know if you’ve seen it.

One of the things that led me there was the US actor, Morgan Freeman’s docu-series on National Geographic. And it was the first place I saw the conversation around the conflict between herders and farmers in Africa. It turns out that as far away from us as Kenya, that phenomenon is currently active; herders and farmers fighting, killing each other, destroying crops, and destroying livestock.

So, when I saw ‘Nowhere to Run’, I became afraid. Do you know why? Because the whole controversy started with ‘Herdsmen; they want to come and Islamize the whole country, they want to come and claim land. I think it is at a rate of six metres, every day that the green land is receding due to global warming.

Olusosun Dumpsite Inferno
| Olusosun Dumpsite Inferno (Ojota)

What does that mean for us? It means that the capacity to produce food in Northern Nigeria reduces every minute because of the increase in drought in that region. So why we started to have increased incidents of the herder and farmer clashes is that the herders had to start moving far from expanding drought to be able to source food for their cattle.

That is one side of our problem. The other side of our problem is that there is a lot of sand filling for the sake of real estate development and oil spillage along the coast. What is that doing to us? It is destroying our natural continental shelf. As it’s destroying our natural blockade against the ocean waves, what is the other thing that is happening? In the north pole, ice peaks are melting and increasing the volume of the water in the world’s oceans. So what is happening today is that the oceans are eating up our coastline. If you watch that documentary, you’ll confirm that in about 30-40 years, the cities we call our coastline will most likely be underwater.

TE: Of course, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) predicted that Lagos and other cities may be submerged by the year 2050.

Chinedu Amah: Thank you; and it is also a result of global warming and human action. So, Nigerians, Africans, do not necessarily need to go start to reinvent the wheels from when they started building wheels, right? Just like India, Thailand, Singapore and co are doing today. They didn’t go back to becoming Thomas Edison.

For us in Nigeria, we must first appreciate the fact that we don’t have time. You cannot say you don’t have power, but you continue to collect import duty on solar panels and batteries which are supposed to reduce your dependence. You cannot say you do not have power, and you are still allowing 200 watts bulbs, which is extremely inefficient, into your country. You cannot see that you do not have power and you’re not looking for solutions and policies that will encourage innovation in power.

Lagos is the only city in Nigeria that has a public transport system – the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit). It may not be the best, but we must start to transition our public transportation to clean sources. You have BRT, how many thousand buses? Lagos can afford to set up charging stations for those buses. After every 10 or 20 bus stops. Reduce dependence on oil, fuel, and diesel.

People have started using hybrid cars. If you drive your hybrid car, once you are passing the Lekki toll gate, your toll fee turns to 50 Naira. If you are driving a fuel car, your toll fee turns to 200 Naira, if it is diesel, 500 Naira. You graduate penalties to discourage the continued use of fossil fuel-driven cars.

Last year alone 11,000 people died from pollution-related breathing problems that weren’t COVID related. Nigeria needs to involve policies that will encourage that level of innovation quickly. Why are we not building EVs? Some time ago, I saw some guy in Bauchi State who’s building electric buses. We need to fast track those moves. We need to eliminate those generators. In fact, the continuous use of generators is further affecting our foreign exchange.

Opibus first-ever electric bus designed and developed in Africa
| Opibus first-ever electric bus designed and developed in Africa

I watch the ASUU strike every day and I laugh. Do you know why? The one or two lecturers I have spoken to, one of the things that SPARK will do is that we’re going to set up R&D centres with higher institutions, and within those higher institutions, by the second and third year, Engineers would have started working in our solar panel factories. We want to fund battery research because we want to make it home-grown and reduce dependence on importation. But then again, there is a policy of the government encouraging people to find funds to build locally. You cannot continue to say I’m going to spend another 4 trillion naira on fuel subsidy. In this century?

I laughed when Senator Ben Murray Bruce talked about electric cars and Senator Ike Ekweremadu berated him. I was embarrassed at the ignorance displayed by a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Why? You earn so much. It means you are supposed to be able to employ the best to help you think.

So, if at this point, you do not see the reason why Nigeria needs to wean itself off fossil fuel it tells you that we are still thinking in the 1950s, for crying out loud. Because of fuel alone, in a country that does not refine its fuel, I asked somebody recently, I said, do you think Dangote is going to sell you fuel at 100 Naira when he comes on board? No, he’s not.

TE: Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and wishing SPARK the best in your quest to solve Nigeria’s perennial power problem and Africa at large

Chinedu Amah:

Thank you very much.



Peter Oluka

Peter Oluka is the Editor, TechEconomy. Email: Peter.Oluka@TechEconomy.NG

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