Nigeria: History

In 2001, SELF Executive Director Robert Freling and Jigawa State Governor Ibrahim Siminu Turaki began a dialog concerning the possibility of using solar electricity (photovoltaic) to power essential services in the far-flung villages of Jigawa State (in northern Nigeria). Under his leadership, Jigawa State has started a computer technology trade school and is the first state in Northern Nigeria to create a satellite-based broadband internet and communications system to link all local government districts. As project plans developed, funding commitments were obtained from the United States Agency for International Development and the United States Department of Energy. The U.S. Government entities committed about 60% of the necessary funding with the balance coming from Jigawa State. SELF was the lead implementing organization and partnered with the Jigawa Alternative Energy Fund (JAEF), a non-government organization formed specifically to promote the use of renewable energy.

The project demonstrates the comprehensive use of solar-generated electricity in a village setting to improve education, water supply, health, agriculture, commerce, security and women’s opportunities.

In the desert grasslands of Northern Nigeria, village life has changed little over the centuries. Many people still live in houses constructed of mud and thatch, use donkeys or cattle-drawn carts for transportation and scratch out a subsistence living by growing their crops in the harsh conditions found just south of the Sahara Desert. Cooking is done over wood fires and kerosene lamps provide meager lighting that produce toxic fumes and the danger of fire. Public education is not free and is therefore limited, as are the opportunities for employment. In most villages, water of questionable quality is either pulled from an open well by rope or brought to the surface with hand pumps. Village women must walk miles to the nearest water source.

Rural areas in Northern Nigeria lack the modern energy sources needed for improvements in health, education, transportation and commercial development. Outside of major cities and towns, there has been very little electrification in this region and what supply there is, is often unreliable. In contrast, Nigeria has an abundance of petroleum-based energy resources and in fact is the sixth largest supplier of oil to the U.S. Unfortunately, very little revenue from the sale of this resource filters down to help the rural population.

There are thousands of villages scattered around globe that benefit from some type of photovoltaic (PV) application; usually lighting for homes or water pumping or vaccine refrigerators. In very few places has PV been used to address virtually all of the things that a community needs energy for. But that’s what we decided to do and we were going to do it in three villages where over 7,500 people would benefit from the results.

Project Description and Impact

Having a reliable water supply is the first priority of any village and this is especially true in the semi-desert of Jigawa State where there are few rivers or other sources of water on the surface of the land. Typical methods of getting water range from open wells with rope and bucket, to hand pumps, to government supplied diesel-powered pumps that work only until they break down or until villagers run out of money to buy the expensive diesel fuel. The powerful solar-powered pumps supplied with this project are designed to run maintenance free for eight to ten years or more and are currently supplying the villages with clean, fresh water from deep wells. Because the wells are tied into a village distribution system with numerous taps, the time that families used to spend getting water has been reduced as well.

The village health clinics now benefit from solar energy. Lights enable health officers to see patients at night for the first time, vaccine refrigerators allow more people to be vaccinated at greater frequency and fans increase the comfort level of staff and patients alike.

Village primary schools now have at least two illuminated classrooms and teachers report that they are being heavily used in the evenings for adult education and as places for children to come and do their lessons. Each school has also been provided with a computer and computer instruction for the teachers. These are the first computers in the project villages and there are plans to eventually hook them to the Internet via the State’s broadband system – a process that can literally open the village to the rest of the world for healthcare, education and commerce.

Streetlights are among the most valued PV systems used by the villagers. In such a hot climate where people enjoy the cool of the evening, a great deal of business and socializing takes place after sunset. Streetlights now give people bright places to congregate. Several new food-selling businesses are now open for business beneath the lights at these new market locations. Many streetlights are located conveniently by water taps and all supply much valued security for people at night.

Villagers also appreciate having electricity in their mosques. Lighting makes nighttime activities possible and public address systems facilitate the call to prayer five times each day.

The solar-powered micro-enterprise buildings are the project centerpieces in each village. Each center provides electricity to 6 very small businesses that would otherwise not have access to electricity. The shared PV system, much less expensive than individual systems for each shop, allow tailors to move up from manual sewing machines to electric, barbers, from manual clippers to electric, and similar improvements in productivity for other types of businesses.

This project has introduced home lighting systems to each village. Compared to the kerosene lights that they replace, solar lighting offers a better light without the inherent fumes and fire danger of the old lamps. System users report that it is now easier for children to do their studies and home businesses are thriving under the better lighting conditions. And of course, families appreciate going about their normal activities with good lighting. With about 20 systems in each village, we have created demand and a great deal of interest in home systems. JAEF will be able to continue electrifying houses using a micro-credit scheme where the payments for each system will accumulate to purchase additional systems for more homes.

One of the project villages, Wawan-rafi, has a lake nearby that is used to irrigate cash crops during the rainy season. However, many of the poorest farmers are limited in their growing ability by only being able to water their fields using a hollowed-out gourd – a slow and labor intensive process. For these farmers, we developed a cattle or person pulled cart with fold-out unbreakable solar modules powering an efficient pump that can be moved from field to field. More efficient irrigation will enable farmers to produce and sell more to provide greater income for their families.

The only source of income for most village women is the production and sale of peanut oil. Traditionally, small amounts of oil are made in a process taking great amounts of time and strenuous labor. In Wawan-rafi, we have incorporated a solar-powered oil expeller that will save time and labor while earning more income for women.


As in all SELF projects, sustainability is the prime concern. A great deal of care has been taken to ensure that this project will be technically, financially and organizationally sustainable. In its role as the maintainer of all project systems, JAEF provides both local and professional staff technicians to frequently check each system. Extensive training will ensure that there is always someone in each village to address any problems that might arise. Small, affordable fees collected from users will be used to pay technicians and to maintain an inventory of spare parts.

The comprehensive application of solar electricity in these villages will bring profound changes in education, health and commerce while easing the burdens of living in a harsh environment. Beyond the benefits to these three villages, we have also created a viable model that can be replicated in Northern Nigeria and elsewhere. This project has already garnered a great deal of media attention both within Nigeria and internationally with coverage from CNN (see video above).

It has been visited by the Governors of surrounding states, by acting U.S. Ambassador Rick Roberts and by Nigerian President Obasanjo. Other governments have contacted SELF with interest in implementing aid projects that replicate what we’ve done in Jigawa State.

Governor Turaki was pleased with this project and has begun to plan the next phase that will bring the multiple benefits of PV to his people in 30 more villages. SELF is offering its experience and expertise to JAEF to help manage this project.

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