By Emmanuel Ezeagwu
In this part of the world electric power or “light”, in our local parlance, is a public utility that hardly comes by. It is, according to a friend, scarcer than water in the Sahara Desert. Of course, one can sense that this is but a wild exaggeration, and the pain sewn into the statement, however, if meticulous research and comparison be made, it may be that it is not be far from the truth. Truth is one can spend a week in any part of Nigeria without seeing ones light bulb just blink! You do not normally have a near-steady supply of power unless you use a generator. And this is talking about 21st-century Nigeria – self-acclaimed giant of Africa.
Well, it is not that the power distribution companies do not do their job, which their name clearly indicates – distribute power. They do, but most times it just does not seem as if it is important to them to provide “light” for the people. And if you ask me, this is what informs my inference: For instance, when the transformers get faulty, or the poles conveying overhead cables, which, by the way, make our cities appear cobwebbed as if invaded by giant mutant spiders, fall, resulting to a blackout (even though ironically there never was power before then), it amazingly usually takes months or, luckily, weeks before repairs commence. Even worse, when electricity is suddenly disconnected (as is normally the case whenever you are making an important use of it) we are left in the dark – no pun intended – as to what the cause of the outage was, and when power will return, that is if it will indeed return in the near future. And this is despite the fact that we are outrageously billed.
I am also of the opinion, akin to the general one (innocently and innocuously stated here) that maybe, just maybe some members of the ruling elite in our “big government” profit hugely from the importation and sales of generators much more than the government does from the payment of bills for the publicly provided – or rather unprovided – power, even though the bills are unreasonably outrageous as I pointed out earlier. And so they conspire to covertly and perpetually put off increasing the amount of megawatts generated, which by the way is incredibly meagre, and amidst public complaint, and instead increase the number of generators brought into the country.
I can vouch for this: that no country – not even the heavily populated China or India or even both put together – has equal number of generators as Nigeria’s. I think Nigeria should hold a record for having the highest number of generators in one country. (After all, we have a knack for regularly topping negative charts and setting bad records.) We have cried – the poor mass, that is, the media, the Labour Union, certain groups and NGOs, and what not, but as expected before the lamenting the government has turned deaf ear to the cries, as it almost always tends to; and so we are left with nothing to do than to contribute our quota unappreciated to the growth and sustenance of global warming – most people’s one and only global achievement. Many of us, including industries, the upper and middle classes, do it in our big ways with our generators of various sizes (alongside vehicles of course), the rest and the majority in their own small ways with
their paraffin lamps and firewood, praying and hoping that one day they will proudly join the league of generator owners.
As I draft this article on paper, my overworked medium-sized red generator is on of course. By the time I edit this manuscript on my laptop and email it to be considered for publishing I can bet that my generator will be there to help as well and as usual. And why will it not be when even most government buildings and, incredibly, the power distribution company offices run on improvised power. What could be more ironic? They do not rely on the power they provide! In the world outside the saying “A dog is a man’s best friend” holds good, but here your generator is your best friend. This is so unless you do not want to smoothly run your business, household, entire life, and any other thing that needs the breath of electricity to thrive. Besides, you do not have a dog’s chance of training a dog, because you cannot afford to when you have another animal, but this time a noisy mechanical beast with an insatiable appetite to feed. It is not unusual to see
the streets at early evening littered with folks carrying grubby oil or watering cans serving as makeshift fuel cans, marching to or from petrol stations, while their overseas counterparts are busy lazily strolling or walking their dogs.
Of a truth, one must be bitterly disappointed and deeply pained, and indeed we have always been, and may always be, about this issue which should be no issue at all in the first place. Just as it is with many other basic social amenities, many countries with a considerably lower GDP outperform us, what with corruption and bad governance. Need I explain how, leaving aside the economy, the populace suffer from this epileptic power supply? How, for example, I cannot always watch my favourite programmes on BBC or Discovery, press my Sunday best, read my books or find my way in the dark, when I want to; unless I first go out to the yard to pour petrol into the tank and pull the string of my generator. But we have adapted to this. We were destined to when good governance and the standard of living began to plummet. There is hardly a neighbourhood, whether in social deprivation or in the locality of a power station, where you will not find a generator. The problem which we are now concerned with is not one of poor supply of power, but of shortage or scarcity of fuel.
Emmanuel Ezeagwu is a Public Affairs Analyst.