ABUJA, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Nigeria has approved the construction of a $5.8 billion hydroelectric power plant by a Chinese state firm, the power minister said on Wednesday, the latest in a series of Chinese deals since the project was first envisioned decades ago.
The project, if completed, could provide a much needed source of energy for Nigeria. Despite its wealth of crude oil, Africa's largest economy has long struggled with rickety power infrastructure, leaving many homes and businesses dependent on costly and inefficient fuel-powered generators.
The 3,050 megawatt (MW) Mambilla hydroelectric plant has been planned for over three decades. Various administrations have pledged to begin work, signing contracts and memoranda of understanding but next to nothing has been done.
Nigeria's cabinet signed off on the award of the contract to build Mambilla to the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), Babatunde Fashola, the minister of power, works and housing, told reporters in Abuja.
China's Export-Import Bank will provide 85 percent of the funding and Nigeria's government will supply the remaining 15 percent for the joint venture, Fashola said, adding that construction should take around six years.
"The scope of works is very extensive, it requires the construction of four dams," he said.
"It will involve a lot of preparatory work (and) resettlement ... It will also help Nigeria strike a very big blow on the climate change issue."
But environmental groups raised concerns about the project.
"Many fear that Mambilla will go the way of previous large development projects (including large hydropower projects) where contracts are meted out but projects are never built," International Rivers campaign group wrote on its official site.
"If the Mambilla dam project does continue, it could mean disastrous environmental and social impacts for those already living in poverty along the banks of the Benue River," it said. (Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Paul Carsten, editing by David Evans)