Early Monday morning, Zungeru in Niger State was shaken by a significant explosion at the local hydroelectric dam. This unexpected event caused chaos among the residents, who scrambled to safety as the dam, which is part of the largest power plant project in sub-Saharan Africa, was heavily impacted.

Aftermath of incessant attacks: Zungeru Hydro power dam on 7-month lockdown - Vanguard News

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The explosion occurred before the day’s shift began, sparing most of the workers but leaving the dam’s installations damaged. Initial reports indicate that some workers, including security personnel and a Chinese engineer on a routine check, were injured. They were promptly taken to the Minna General Hospital, where the engineer was treated for burns on his head and hand. Due to the severity of his condition, arrangements were made to transfer him to the IBB Specialist Hospital for more comprehensive care.

The Zungeru Hydropower Project, a 700MW hydroelectric facility, is a crucial part of Nigeria’s energy infrastructure, designed to generate approximately 2.64 billion kWh of electricity annually, fulfilling about 10% of the country’s domestic energy needs. Beyond power generation, the project offers flood control, irrigation, and water supply, as well as fish breeding facilities, and provides significant employment opportunities during its construction phase.

Construction of the dam, initiated in May 2013 with significant Chinese financial and technical assistance, faced numerous challenges including ecological and legal issues, which delayed its completion until 2021. The project was realized with a $1.3 billion investment, 75% of which was funded by a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.

The dam’s complex structure includes a 2,400-meter roller-compacted concrete gravity dam, a clay core rockfill dam, an underground powerhouse with four 175MW turbine units, and various supporting infrastructure such as a tailrace channel and switchyards.

Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State and the Minister of Power, Abubakar Aliyu, recently inspected the dam, expressing satisfaction with its near completion and praising the project’s expected benefits for local communities. These benefits include increased electricity access, job creation, and opportunities for local development and training.

However, the recent explosion has introduced new concerns and challenges. The exact cause of the blast remains under investigation, and the incident has led to power outages in areas dependent on the dam’s electricity supply. This has highlighted the need for rigorous safety and maintenance protocols to prevent future occurrences and ensure the stability of the region’s power infrastructure.

The incident at the Zungeru dam has led Nigerians to criticise the government and question the dam’s maintenance culture.