Taming of the Niger
By “Awake!” correspondent in Nigeria
WATCHING a powerful, wild stallion galloping free as the breeze is an inspiring sight. So also is a powerful river a thing of beauty. But just as a wild stallion is of limited service to man, so too is an untamed river.
Thus, in 1964 Nigeria set out on a bold scheme to tame the Niger, the third largest river on the African continent. The Niger flows through five countries in West Africa. Starting in Guinea, it winds through Mali and the Niger Republic, along the northern border of Dahomey, and flows hundreds of miles down through Nigeria before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
The principal aim was to harness the river’s potential electrical power, since other sources such as steam and diesel plants could not keep up with Nigeria’s growing demands for power. Therefore, after much investigation, it was decided to construct a dam at Kainji Island on the Niger about 630 miles upstream from the Atlantic coast. On February 20, 1964, the work contract was awarded to Impregilo, an Italian construction firm. They arrived at the site in March 1964, and work started immediately.
Many wondered if the civil war, which started in Nigeria on July 6, 1967, would affect the construction. But since the project was well under way by that time, and all the work was out of the war area, construction continued according to schedule.
The cost for this project was estimated at $221,200,000. Who would pay this big bill? Nigeria was in position to pay more than one-third of the cost. The World Bank agreed to provide almost an equal amount, and Italy, Britain, the United States and the Netherlands agreed to finance the rest. So, the project really turned out to be an international one. Canada provided technical assistance. And machinery and building materials came from Sweden, Austria, Norway, Britain and Italy.
In time, the force working at the dam numbered 5,700. A camp was established nine miles from the construction site and grew to a population of 20,000, a regular city! It was well equipped with schools, shops, recreational facilities, street lighting, water supply and sewage disposal, as well as a hospital.
The principal section of the dam is the concrete structure. It is 1,800 feet long and 215 feet high above the foundation, about the height of a twenty-story building! Included in this section is the spillway, which has four huge fifty-foot by fifty-foot hydraulically operated gates. These are used to release excess water and to regulate the downstream flow of the river.
At the base of the dam, on the downstream side, is the power plant. Twelve intake tunnels channel water from the reservoir to this plant. Here the water turns huge turbines that each generate 110,000 horsepower. The electrical output is fed via overhead lines to the switchyard situated a short distance downstream from the dam. From there it is sent on its journey to satisfy Nigeria’s need for electrical power.
On each side of the 1,800-foot-long concrete dam are huge rock- and earth-fill dams. The one to the right is 8,000 feet long, and a similar one to the left bank is 4,000 feet long. These complete the main section of the dam. However, beyond the left-bank section is a low saddle dam that has a total length of 2-3/4 miles.
For the main dam, including the spillway, 800,000 cubic yards of cement were used. The power plant required another 175,000 cubic yards. And the fill dams used 9,000,000 cubic yards of material. If this were spread out over an area of one square mile, it would make a mound of earth nearly nine feet high!
The first electrical power was received from the dam on December 22, 1968, and the fourth turbine was installed at the end of February 1969. So, less than five years after the construction started, the dam was officially opened on February 15, 1969. In time a total of twelve turbines will be installed here, and the power produced will more than equal the amount produced in Nigeria before the dam’s construction!
The 480-square-mile lake created by the dam guarantees a good supply of water for irrigation. Also, land downstream, formerly useless because of flooding, will now be reclaimed for agriculture. Another possible benefit is a fishing industry that is hoped eventually to harvest about 10,000 tons of fish annually.
Kainji Dam, too, will be a boon to the shipping industry. A bypass canal with two locks has been built to permit shipping above the dam. And, too, the dam allows for regulating and improving the flow in the river downstream, thus extending considerably the shipping season. This should make it possible for the various products from northern Nigeria more easily to reach the ocean and be shipped to world markets.
There is also the prospect that tourism will be another benefit of the lake. Inland lakes are few in Africa, and in an area so far distant from the ocean and large bodies of water, the lake will certainly be an attraction.
As the demand for electricity increases, two future projects have been planned, which will be integrated with Kainji Dam.
First is a dam to be located near Jebba, about sixty miles below Kainji Dam. Its hydroelectric capacity will be a little more than half that of the recently opened project. The lake it will produce will extend all the way back to Kainji Dam.
Then there are plans for a dam at Shiroro Gorge on the Kaduna River, upstream from where the Kaduna meets the Niger. It will produce nearly the same electrical output as the proposed Jebba Dam. Once these dams are completed, an ingenious, integrated system is planned that will produce a large, year-round supply of electricity.
Such projects should be a boon to Nigeria’s economy.