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Nigeria signs $1.3 billion power plant deal with China

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria has signed a deal for Chinese state companies to build a $1.3 billion power plant, the finance ministry said on Sunday, part of efforts to end chronic electricity shortages that are a major brake on growth.

Nigeria produces only a few hours of electricity a day, forcing those who can afford it to rely on expensive diesel generators that drain billions of dollars from Africa's second largest economy and discourage foreign investment.

President Goodluck Jonathan is on a drive to increase investment in the power sector and has nearly completed the privatization of its inefficient state electricity company.

A loan from China's Eximbank will pay for 75 percent of the planned 700 megawatt Zungeru hydro-electric power plant, while the Nigerian government has put up the rest of the cash.

The plant would be a boost to the country's current 4,500 megawatt electricity capacity and is scheduled to be finished in four years, although Nigerian projects usually run over time and over budget and many are never completed.

The building of a hydro plant in Zungeru, Niger state, was first announced three decades ago but this is the most significant effort yet to get the project underway, experts say.

"This project will create thousands of jobs for Nigerian engineers, technicians and artisans during the construction phase ... It will also boost the economy," Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in a statement.

Despite holding the world's ninth largest gas reserves, Nigeria only produces a tenth of the amount of electricity as South Africa for a population three times the size.

(Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Joe Brock; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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