UKNIAF is a UK Aid-funded demand-led technical assistance programme that helps the Nigerian government deliver socially inclusive, climate-smart infrastructure. Recently, Prof Chidiebere Onyia, the Managing Director of UKNIAF, spoke with Ben Llewellyn-Jones, the British Deputy High Commissioner, about climate-smart infrastructure design and development in Nigeria and the critical role the programme plays as a delivery component for UK Aid. The interview focused on aspects of UKNIAF’s primary areas of work, such as Energy, Infrastructure Financing, and Roads, and how the programme can best support the Energy Transition Councils’ efforts to prepare Nigeria for COP26 and beyond.
The Deputy High Commissioner pointed out that UKNIAF is critical to the UK-Nigeria collaboration in the Energy Transition Council, not only in preparing for COP26 but also for initiatives beyond this event. UKNIAF’s support for COP26 is seen in its work with regulators and other Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs), in the energy sector, highlighting the opportunities and working to mitigate the challenges of the energy transition, both on-grid and off-grid. These opportunities are also matched with potential investments. The Energy Transition Council allows UKNIAF to step up our engagement and efforts in the run-up to COP26. Beyond COP26, the focus will be on resolving the obstacles hindering Nigeria from making the energy transition a reality where our programme’s assistance in this respect is critical.
Coordination and capacity across key MDAs must be improved in the run-up to COP26 and beyond if policy objectives are to be met. It is clear from the initial engagement between the Energy Transition Council and relevant MDAs that much work is being done to encourage energy transition. However, the challenges of the energy transition are real, and they must be acknowledged as we work to overcome them. At the same time, we need to factor in the upcoming Nigerian elections. The Nigerian government’s goodwill and engagement, particularly that of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and the Minister of State for Power, who also serves as the Chair of the Energy Transition Council, must be recognised.
We live in a competitive world where investors are looking for a location that provides adequate return on investment. It is important, therefore, to make Nigeria as competitive as possible to attract those investments. There is a lot of goodwill, effort, and application; consequently, we must work with the Nigerian leadership while also highlighting this to potential investors. This is one of UKNIAF’s key component areas – Infrastructure Finance.
UKNIAF’s efforts to assist the regulator in developing evidence-based regulatory practices are critical in raising climate awareness and will go some way to aligning Nigerian government priorities with climate-smart principles. Metering is a good example of potential engagement in this area because, there is a natural appetite for data and an understanding of where energy is used, and, on the other hand, there is a real need to check on energy efficiency. Looking at government priorities through the lens of climate sensitivity does not preclude seeing the broader issues that require attention, such as bankability, efficiency, and access. Data is always critical for regulators and investors, and understanding the impact of policy and allowing data to inform predictable regulation is vital.
The Infrastructure Finance team of UKNIAF has been working at the federal level to increase the capacity of MDA staff and the pipeline of bankable projects and are now increasing engagement at the subnational level. The Deputy High Commissioner agreed that engaging at the subnational level is vital because Nigeria’s geographical diversity must be considered as well as buy-in and follow-through on federal-level commitments. Furthermore, a better understanding of the local context can influence the type of support required to plan and implement practicable, maintainable, and sustainable infrastructure. Although having an abstract idea of what policy should be is helpful, in practice, the implementation and application of climate-smart infrastructure can only happen at the subnational level.
UKNIAF is collaborating with relevant MDAs, building the capacity regarding infrastructure investment, to boost the confidence of potential investors in the energy, roads, and infrastructure sectors in general. Increasing the capacity of MDA personnel is an issue that has arisen across the board, including at the sub-national level. In our work, we have established a Mutual Accountability Framework at the subnational level to assist Governors and their teams in agreeing on specific aspects of the capacity-building process. The Deputy High Commissioner agreed that this is an important issue. He acknowledged that some capacity exists, but the emphasis should be on maintaining engagement in roles over time, even if this project timeframe is longer than the political cycle. This also gives external partners and investors’ confidence in the delivery of infrastructure.