— By Lovelyn from Nigeria
Some of the most heart wrenching experiences of my life even from childhood are in some way related to the epileptic power situation in my country, Nigeria.
My first experience was at age 5. I was only allowed to partake in minor house chores, some of which included arranging my room, sweeping and a few other tasks in the kitchen. On one of the days, my mum needed to have a warm bath, and at this time, there had been a long period of power outage, and so to heat water, my sister had to use the cooker, instead of the electric heater. I was at the corner picking palm kernel seeds with which my mum was to make ofe-akwu (a local eastern delicacy). My sister lifted the boiling kettle, and before she could get hold of its handle as it flew off in a split of a second, the kettle landed on my back, emptying its content. The next thing I remembered, I was lying face down on a hospital bed.
My second experience was even more painful. In 2002, I lost a dear friend in a fire incident that occurred in his home. A very talented teenager, who had a bright future ahead of him. On this day, I had spent time with Akeem, talking about the future we saw, as he had just been admitted into the school of his dreams, University of Lagos, and by the evening of the same day, my friend was dead. Fire gutted his house as everyone went to bed. His 7 year old twin sisters lit a candle stick for their night studies, as there hadn’t been power supply in the area for months. And so while the candle burned, the girls dozed off, as the melted wax flowed into the mattress on the floor.
There have been more of such occurrences, not just for me, but for other 169 million Nigerians in the country. Homes, businesses and even relationships suffer. Everyone is affected directly or indirectly. Once at the University during my degree program, students took to the streets in protest, as a result of a long period of power outage in the area, the school generator had to be turned off at a specific time, and that meant that the students could not study for long hours or even be able to charge their phones.
For several decades, local and at times even nationwide power outages have been the norm instead of the exception. Current electricity generation is primarily from either gas-fired or hydro power plants, with natural gas the main fuel source for power generation in Nigeria. According to McKinsey in 2013, the power generation potential from domestic gas reserves in Nigeria was greater than 10,000 MW, which is relatively higher than the potential from domestic gas reserves in other African jurisdictions, but still falls significantly short of meeting the needs of its over 170 million inhabitants.
The power sector in Nigeria has had eight ministers in five years, yet there is no end in sight to the perpetual darkness that Nigerians have been subjected to.
According to the report by Thenewsnigeria, big companies that were employing thousands of Nigerians and paying billions of naira in taxes have either left for neighbouring countries such as Ghana and Ivory Coast or have shut down their operations outright because of corruption in the power sector that has impacted the real sector negatively. For instance, Dunlop Plc, a major tyre manufacturing company had to relocate to Ghana due to the rising cost of production that was traceable to the energy crisis in Nigeria.
Another major tyre major company that left the country as a result of the power crisis was Michelin. The company said it left the country because it could no longer generate enough electricity on its own to power its production.
Many of the companies that left are yet to return and the country is the worst for it. According to a report by the World Bank, Nigeria’s per capita electric consumption is 142 kWh which puts the country in the league of countries like Nepal (128kWh per capita), Sudan (159kWh), Togo (148kWh) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (110kWh). These are countries with much smaller populations and smaller requirements than Nigeria.
At home, the story is not different; my younger ones are forced to complete their homework under the strain of candle light or rechargeable lanterns (which most times are not well charged for the same reasons). Most nights, I have to consciously force myself to get some sleep as the sound of the neighbours’ generators blaring by my window made my head ache.
As though this is not enough trouble already, one is faced with monthly electricity bills, this is regardless of the fact that the service for which these high costs are furnished are never rendered.
On July 7, my Facebook friend, Gift Nwachukwu posted on Facebook thus: “Dear Enugu Electricity Distribution Company- EEDC, I have allocated 10,000 for your monthly upkeep. This is not for services rendered as you rendered none. It is simply for your upkeep as you are now my beneficiary. Enugu Electricity Distribution Company- EEDC kindly take note of this new arrangement.”
Nigeria’s power strategy is based on the use of natural gas which is abundantly available in Nigeria, is relatively cheaper than using diesel and other fuel oils, and burns cleaner. However, the ineffective security of the critical infrastructure for transmission, as well as questionable politics in the South-South region, has exposed these critical infrastructure to sabotage.
All of Nigeria’s natural gas comes from the South-South region, and in order for it to get to power plants around the country, it must be transported in thousands of kilometers of pipelines that run from the South-South region to the power plants that utilize the gas. In the process, the gas pipelines get vandalized which often times result to blackout.
If I were the minister of energy in Nigeria, one of my first tasks would be to tackle the security issue in the South-South bring an end to the vandalisation of the gas pipeline and ensure electricity is effectively managed in the country, even to the rural areas and also maximize available sources of renewable energy for the benefit of all.
Nigeria’s electricity challenge like many other challenges that the world faces can indeed be overcome if the youths of the nation are willing to take responsibility to change the current situation, rather than wasting precious time blaming the government. We are indeed the change that we have long desired and waited for, which is why a few of my friends and I came up with an initiative #WakeUpSouthEast, to awaken Nigerian youths especially in the South Eastern part of the country to wake up and seek ways to make positive impact.
Indeed, a healthy and efficient power sector is critical to arresting growing unemployment, reducing crime rate, achieving economic diversification and rebounding the economy for sustainable development.