UNIMAID Solar hybrid power plant: Lessons for Universities

By John Araka

The Trumpet of April 9, 2022, reported that the Federal Government will soon complete a hybrid solar plant at the University of Maiduguri, UNIMAID. Persons conversant with the city of Maiduguri and environ are familiar with sunlight and its attendant heat in that part of Nigeria. Not surprisingly therefore a good number of research projects in that area are focused on sun energy.

Meeting electricity power demand is a major challenge that most public institutions face. Most internally generated funds are expended on diesel and other power generation-related overheads by the universities. Lack of electric power supply is the malaria equivalent of most of our universities. It has become a veritable source of corruption and sleaze in the system.

There is diesel racketeering; inflated cost of generators purchases and repairs. Given its essentiality, managements of most of our institutions usually insinuate that officials of power distribution companies are “settled” under the table for a guarantee of more regular power supplies.

It was therefore cheery news when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, announced that through the economic Sustainability Plan approved by the president, NNPC, REA and Yola DISCO are partnering with FG and Borno State government to deploy 30MW of Solar Power to critical areas of Maiduguri.

Borno state is a natural home to solar energy. Apart from gas and hydro related sources of energy, sub-Saharan Africa is highly endowed with solar and wind as sources of energy.

It was recently reported that a superfast solar-powered charging station that could charge vehicles in 35 minutes is in operation at Baga Road, Maiduguri. This city also prides itself as hosting Africa’s largest fully automated solar plant factory at Jimtilo Village, Maiduguri that could produce 40 Megawatts worth of panels per year with each panel imbued with a capacity of 300 watts. Students at the University of Maiduguri recently developed a fish drying machine that is also solar driven.

The above are both locally relevant and related problem centred initiatives. It attests to the fact that every part of the country is blessed with resources that can be deployed for the benefit of humanity.

The President – as the Visitor to all its universities – must task its research and teaching institutions to tackle our local problems and challenges to turn our societal weaknesses into strength, and our threats into opportunities.

The time has come for Nigeria to elevate itself from a raw material producer into finished products producer.

Many universities in Nigeria are acclaimed announcers of grants received from various local and international agencies.

This is commendable. But they should be challenged to announce the research outcomes of the received grants as quickly as they do when they win the grants. The parasitic nature of our teaching and research institutions should also be checked as quickly as possible.

The moment funds are not received from Abuja and TETFund, the universities begin to creak. Most of the books in universities’ bookshops and libraries are foreign. Universities have not been able to attract industries such as printing, publishing, bookshop, hotels, and hostels that are traditionally part of the large scale of industry associated with an ideal university town. The reason is not far-fetched.

We have a university system that disdains local publications and conferences for its senior research and teaching members. In turn, they neglect publication of, or in, local journals.

They seldom patronize local publishers; attend or organize local conferences. Consequently, the system is littered with “unknown Professors”. Our university landscape has lost publishers such as Longman, Heinemann, African Writers’ Series and even the University Presses and Bookshops.

The system which the universities have foisted on themselves is strangulating, suicidal and self-destructive. The time has come for university administrators to reverse this trend.

The loss of foreign exchange is huge. Emphasis should be on the local. Nigeria boasts of a high number of tertiary institutions spread across the country. Consequently, the research output of our academic institutions should be massive. Industries associated with our universities should be thriving and vibrant.

With mounting myriad of problems which we are facing as a people, universities should be tasked and challenged to identify with well-spelt out problems.

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They should be given the requisite funds for research and development. This was exactly what Europe did when the reality of COVID-19 faced humanity.

Nigerian universities should be challenged to do the same in areas of our social engineering, security, book production, food production and preservation, repairs and maintenance of our refineries and other production plants as well as in designing and fabricating relevant technologies from the spheres of household to military, factory, social and other interventions of human needs.

The federal government’s intervention through collaboration with Borno State government on the energy needs of UNIMAID should be replicated in other institutions.

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