Kainji hydroelectric dam

Year:1968

Duration:4 years

Cost:£149m (£854m today)

Country: Niger River, Nigeria

What did this project achieve?

Build a dam in Nigeria to generate power and provide irrigation for crops

Kainji dam is the largest dam on the river Niger – the third longest river in Africa and the principal river in western Africa. The dam is 72m high and 7.2km long.

The concrete structure was designed to provide electrical power for Nigeria and improved navigation of the Niger upstream as far as the town of Yelwa in Kebbi state.

Part of the dam's function was to control the Niger's waters downstream to the point the Niger meets the river Kaduna. It also provided waters for irrigation and fishing.

At the time it was commissioned the Kainji project was seen in Nigeria as more than an infrastructure scheme. It was also viewed as a statement that the newly independent country was modernising and could handle large scale industrial challenges.

The scheme created the Kainji Lake reservoir, covering an area of 1,300km². The new lake completely submerged Foge Island in the river Niger, the town of Bussa and many other settlements.

The dam's hydroelectric plant was designed to have a generating capacity of 960MW. Its eventual capacity was lower as only 8 of the planned 12 turbines were installed. The plant currently has a capacity of 760MW.

Difference the dam has made

The dam improved irrigation for farmers and strengthened agricultural industries in the region.

Kainji Lake – the largest man-made lake in Nigeria – was created when the dam was built. It provides water for fishing, an important industry in the area.

The scheme generates electricity for all the large cities in Nigeria, though not in the quantities intended. Some power is sold to the neighbouring country of Niger.

How the work was done

At the time the Kainji dam was one of the largest infrastructure projects Nigeria had seen.

Preparation work for the scheme saw engineers strengthen bridges and roads along routes totalling 1,000km so that heavy machinery and other equipment could be moved to the construction site.

Kainji is a gravity dam. A gravity dam primarily uses the weight of the dam alone to hold back the water pushing against the structure. It was mainly constructed from concrete.

Engineers used over 250,000 tons of cement and more than 25,000 tons of steel to build the structure. The cement came from Nigerian companies and from Norway – shipped in specially designed bulk carrier vessels.

Around 50,000 people were displaced by the scheme. Resettlement work saw 128 villages and 2 new townships built, as well as perimeter roads around the reservoir.

"​‌

The successful completion of this project on schedule… is symbolic of a breakthrough in our consciousness of what can be done for the development of our country.

General Yakubu 'Jack' Gowon

Nigerian head of state, speaking at the opening of the Kainji dam, 1968.

Fascinating facts

At 50 years old, Kainji is the oldest functioning power plant in Nigeria.

Kainji is one of 3 major dams in Niger state. The others are the Jebba dam (1985) and the Shiroro dam (1990). A fourth dam is currently under construction at Zungeru.

The nearby Kainji Lake National Park – created as part of the scheme – is a game reserve of 5,341km². The park is home to a wide range of wildlife including baboons, duikers (a type of antelope), hippopotami, hyenas and warthogs.

People who made it happen

  • Designers: Balfour Beatty, Nedeco
  • Construction: Impregilo, a consortium of Italian civil engineering contractors
  • Project engineer: Roy Coxon, ICE fellow

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