BY CHRISTY ANYANWU
Anita Okuribido’s dream is to sustain public consciousness on the use of renewable energy as a major source of energy in Nigeria. Aside her amiable disposition, this green revolutionist has weathered the tough side of life. Reflecting on the death of her husband nine years ago, Anita admitted she was shattered by the loss of the man who pampered her, even to a fault. She also recalled how she faced life head on, and made a success of it without a partner. She spoke with effect recently in Lagos. EXCERPTS:
Can we know more of you?
I’m Chief (Mrs) Anita Nana Okuribido. By the special grace of God, I’m the President of the Council for Renewable Energy for Nigeria (CREN). This is a not-for-profit, multi-stakeholder association, which promotes appropriate use of renewable energy technology in Nigeria and the reduction of green house gases through reduced consumption of fossil fuels. I’m also a board member of the Solar Energy Programme, Bank of Industry and UNDP. We have just finished commissioning four of our pilot projects. One is in Osun State, another one in Niger State, one each in Gombe and Anambra states. I came back from Onono village recently. Onono village still lack access to the national grid for provision of electricity. So, with the solar energy programme of the Bank of Industry, UNDP, now Onono have 40 kilowatts of electricity through the source of renewable energy that is partly solar and the people are very happy. Now, they have been taken out of the dark age. They are now in the age of light. God says let there be light and there was light. They’ve just seen light.
Tell us about your journey into this business?
It started gradually. The cradle of it was that when I did my thesis at the University of Ife as it was called before it became OAU, the thesis was on alternative source of energy. I studied Agricultural Science and you cannot practice farming or agriculture in any urban setting. You must go to a rural setting to practice agriculture and you need to be energy efficient. I chose that thesis and as at that time, we caused an animal to go round a well and while the animal was going round the well, the energy produced by the animal we now translate it into another motorized system that would then generate electricity. From there, we can use it to power a waterfall. We can have irrigation, which was the most important thing to me at that time and power the generator for electricity for me to see and probably watch television. But it was a simple mechanism. Then, we called it alternative source of energy. Then, I was following up keenly because the project earned me so many credits in my result and my project director even featured my thesis in Oxford University. It was a novel kind of project. Maybe that inspired me. One thing about renewable energy is that it’s very dynamic. Two weeks ago, we didn’t have up to 2.5 megawatts in just a single panel but now we have it. Before, the highest we had was probably 500 watts only but now we have 2.5 megawatts when even Nigeria is battling with 4.5 megawatts and we need about 60,000 megawatts. The manufacturers have advanced, they now have single solar panel in 2.5 megawatts. That really inspired me a lot. I want to know the new thing that is happening, I’m always studying, googling and reading.
With the issues we have with electricity in this country, why is it that people are not into solar energy, is it because its expensive or difficult to maintain. Is it not far better than the generating set and the fuel to power it?
It’s the easiest of the technologies to put in place. If I come to your house for domestic installation, I would probably install all the energy needs for your apartment. All your energy needs, in the sense that you can watch television at anytime, your light will be on 24/7, even your air conditioner. If you need solar capacity for about 10kilowatts, I will install it today, it will be ready today, you’ll start using it today, so its not a difficult technology to put in place. However, the initial cost of putting it in place is what is very astronomical. But if we have the policy framework in this country whereby government has placed the deployment of renewable energy in its priority, for every worth of renewable energy, government will probably subsidized it for 50, 30 or even 90 percent like Isreal. In Isreal, government gives the citizens solar water heaters. As soon as you register that you want to build a house or moving into a new apartment, if you are on the data of the Ministry of Energy, they’ll give you solar water heater commensurate to your needs in your apartment, free.
What has life taught you as a person?
Life has taught me a lot. In 2004 (even though I had said that I would not refer it to again because it has gone into my past), I imported some solar freezers. Then, the policy came that refrigerators, deep freezers, were electronics, whether they were solar freezers or solar fridges. I had so many of them, ordered by the Nigerian Prisons Service. We brought them in from France to Cotonou and I paid all the duties in Benin Republic thinking that from Benin republic to Lagos, once I show them the duties and all my papers, it would just be easy passage. But these solar freezers were impounded. I have never seen anything like that before. I was traveling back and forth. On one of the days, it was raining and maybe the driver was sleeping, the next thing I saw was blood all over me. Because I had my glasses on, my eyes tore. It was plastic surgery that I did to put it back in this form. One thing I learnt was that, I would not have been free if not that God wanted me to serve him in a greater capacity and to serve humanity too. I just made up my mind that since I survived that accident, survived the plastic surgery, I knew God has a purpose for my life. The person that brought me into the council proper is a white lady, Monica Samec, a Canadian American. Till today, she mentors me. We discuss on phone on what position Nigeria should be in Africa and the whole world when we are talking about renewable energy. The lesson she taught me is: if a white person could leave her comfort zone, because there’s no village Monica had not been to, at least in Cross River State, talking about going green, going clean to rural women, why would I not believe that this is a good lesson for me, towing the line of my mentor.
We are looking for sponsors to work with us. We are thinking of going to the 774 local government areas of Nigeria, because there’s no point empowering women in one sector and leaving the other. When we do the trainers training, we pick women, train them and made them to train other women. When you train a woman, you are training a nation. For the rural empowerment, we are training 2000 women as first phase of our zonal women empowerment programme. The objective is to enhance agricultural output and empower rural women at the same time.
I lost my husband about 9 years ago. He was a very kind man and he really spoilt me, I must say. I could hardly do anything without God and without him. Now that he’s passed on, I have learnt to do a lot of things on my own but by putting God first. People say that God is the husband of widows. Since my husband passed on, I never thought I could go this far but I really thank God. On the job, I have learnt through my mentors that you just have to work hard. I’m a member of NAWOG, NACCIMA women business group. NACCIMA is the National Association of Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture. I have learnt that if you are not focused, so many things out there will distract you.
When you are not thinking of renewable energy, what takes your time?
I love to serve God in truth and in faith. I’m the president of Catholic Women Organization in St Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland. That too has taught me a lot of lessons because to deal with women, you need to be very wise, you need to be very patient, you need to be like mother Mary, our role model, whose virtue we try to emulate. You really have to be humble yourself to deal with women that you are leading. I have been a changed person since I became the president of the women group. I’m also a member of Lion’s club. That takes my time. I love Lionism. My strength lies in seeing somebody who is even better than me.
What does style mean to you?
For me, style comes from within. Style starts from simple things eat. As a woman, I believe a woman should eat a lot of fruits, eat a lot of vegetables and go green too. This morning, I juiced pumpkin leaves (UGU) and a little bit of Spinach, a little bit of bitterleaf and some bitter kola, I added some apple, pawpaw, it tasted lovely. Let your nutrition be stylish, go green, eat right. From there, it comes out on your skin, eyes, hair and makes you to be mentally alert. When you are mentally alert you play with colours. For me, style is simple jewelry and I love simple dressing but colourful. I love to be exquisite and style also means you dressing appropriately to an occasion. Look at Nancy Reagan who just passed on at the age of 92, she was stylish to the end. I used to admire her in those days when I was much younger. She was a celebrity in the film industry, before she became the first lady. Its good to be stylish and for me the most important style is knowing God and serving God in truth and in faith.