Monday, February 10, 2014

Nigeria: Blackout Giant

Madukar Orji

Growing up as a teen in the 1970's in the coal city of Enugu was hilarious; a pride in a nation that bestowed so much hopes, so much dreams, so much aspiration, unlimited enthusiasm in her then emerging next generation of nation builders; dreams were dreamed by young men and women, achievable dreams; hopes became brightened by starring stars of the night. As it was true then in the hearts of many young men and women not to ask much of their country but to give their best to their country with the hope that their commitment would challenge their country to fulfill her social responsibilities, so is true now that Nigeria has failed her young men and women to sustain hopes and dreams they once had. It was true then that the nation indeed provided for her young; prospective graduates got employed while in final year of higher education, before ever called to national youth service. The wealth of the nation ushered in new brand of Westernization; Western diplomats flocked and clustered the nation's shore in a renewed spirit of neocolonial fraternity; multinational industries and oil companies sprouted everywhere like germinating seedlings in a season of plantation to scramble for bounties of a new prosperous nation. The West sleeved in disguise of neocolonialistic agenda, began the scavenge of a nation. Nigeria gave the world so much hope, lavished so much wealth, bragged so much about her wealth, and hosted the world in a festival of African arts and culture (FESTAC) in 1977. Regrettably, the nation did not outlived her glorious moment; in default, the hopes and aspiration gradually began to melted away. Today, Nigeria has become a scorn among comity of nations; she has left tainted frustration in her citizens, and forced her young to flee her suckling palms to foreign lands in search of new dreams, to rediscover lost dreams, and to rekindle faded hopes. Infrastructures have become alarmingly dilapidated, and in most places, none existent; electricity, the center point of this essay, has become so epileptic to become a badge of dishonor of a wealthy nation; citizens are left in blackouts for weeks and/or months depending on area one lives - a ritualistic way of daily life in a country that still, deceptively, self-acclaims herself as a "giant of Africa". A nation without electricity is like a blind man walking unguided in an unguarded street - a trademark of a failing nation.

Does it mean that politicians who find their way to elected office do not articulate economic and social issues in the country, which should be their primary reason they were 'elected'? Why has Nigeria remained a weeping nation year after year, regime after regime? I remember in 1999 when Olusegun Obasanjo assumed political office, he vowed alongside his minister for mines and power, Bola Ige, that electricity interruption would be a past by the time he ended his tenure. He came flamboyantly like a comet. He assumed the messianic personality of a 'Mandela', from prison to presidency; Nigerians thought that the prison incarceration had revisioned in him the lesson of humility and service. Regrettably, he became another disappoint the nation had; he was not the Chinua Achebe's 'Man of the People' wrongly presumed', a man hoped would bring renaissance of renewal; he was a symbol of institutionalize corruption like those before him, those that came after him, and those that will come. The promise became a lying tongue of a man drunk in grandiose of political power. The blackout darkness of a nation degenerated. By 2010 Nigeria had an operational electricity generation capacity of 4 Gw, an unimaginably low number for a country size in scope and population of about 165 million people, comparable to 160 Gw generated in an industrialize nation. It's true Nigeria does not have the industrial capacity to utilize such comparative huge electricity generation capacity as in industrialize West but one-fourth of the capacity would put Nigeria on footpath of a developing nation and rekindle life anew for her citizens. In light of the country's predicament, Goodluck Jonathan says he wants to build made in Nigeria cars. If to ask: is the auto factory going to operate with generator sets, generators fueled by crude oil? How could a nation that could not successfully assembly Peugeot cars or Mercedes trucks least build one? Or is the Nigeria 'dream' cars going to be built by Nissan and Stallion car makers as president Goodluck met at the 2014 World Economic Forum with their chief executive officers. Another man with a lying tongue, lust in illusion and deception of leadership. Yet, given the country’s vast crude oil and natural resources, a larger proportion of the population is stuck in a trap of poverty, a recycling dance of death that subjects 60.9% Nigerians to absolute poverty. According to 2010 National Bureau of Statistics, this figure represents 112.47 million Nigerians. The bureau predicts likely continuation of the rising trend.

The failure to generate uninterrupted electricity for Nigerians stems from the fact that Nigeria has lost the threshold of decorum of a nation whose eyes should be glued to the future. Electricity blackout has become daily occurrence in homes, in businesses, in every part of the country - and this, is increasingly worrisome. As a way out of the predicament, businesses and households purchase electricity generating sets to light their homes and offices, power machinery and equipment. These generating sets do not only increase cost liability, they also emit carbon monoxide into the atmosphere - health consequence resulting from this is polluted and poisoned air. Everybody suffers the consequence, whether it is the politician in glass-sealed mansion in Abuja, or the downtrodden streaming for space in slums of Ajegunle. Again, fuel and gas are needed to power these generating sets, thus profit margins are reduced, cost increased, and prices hiked. In spite of 10% increase in 2013 budget allocation to electricity generation, streets, homes and businesses are still littered in blackout - an affront to human dignity. Nigerians would have lived healthier has there been uninterrupted electricity to power fans and/or air conditioners in homes and offices that would provide habitable room temperatures, thus deny mosquitoes the privilege of transmitting malaria parasites, which simultaneously comes with illnesses that could disable functionality of human body. Electricity blackout could not permit hospitals to perform medical procedures on patients; women could not give successful birth delivery, hence increasing risk of accidental death and complications. The risk of human error of professional negligence by doctors and nurses no doubt worsens the already health havoc; human life in the hands of doctors becomes like a chicken ready to be slashed for a pot of stew sauce without recourse to responsibility. Again, children cannot appropriately learn in schools because blackout is everywhere; science and computer laboratories have become storage spaces when there is no electricity to experimentally utilization the equipment. The result is turnout of half-baked graduates who litter the streets in search of jobs, in most cases unqualified. The consequence is a nation of band of unemployed young men and women with deficient tools to compete and excel in modern techno-society - these are young men and women who constitute the quantum of Nigeria poor. Some of the unemployed have broken bounds with societal norms and decency to engage in armed robbery, human trafficking, prostitution, kidnapping, terrorism, and most have been frustrated to flee. Besides, the level of poverty has led to various regional agitations across the country. For example, In the Niger Delta, the youths years ago vowed to riffle the economy of the nation, they vandalized oil pipelines, kidnapped oil workers, and almost crippled the national economy. The nightmare they unleashed resulted to horrifying mayhem in the region. In the midst of delusion and passion for regional autonomy, the movement for emancipation of the State of Biafra resurrected in the East, across the beds of River Niger. In the North, Boko Haram began a campaign of anarchy and annihilation that is terrorizing the North, from the banks of River Benue toward the deserts of the Fulani caliphate. These regional resentments reflect continued scourge of poverty, undevelopment, and frustration across the regions of the nation.

Privatization of power sector or any other government sector is not panacea for development in Nigeria because the endemic corruption that has rippled democracy and fabric of the society makes nothing transparent, and nothing gets done with due administrative process. Besides, there is a level in development theory that a country can attain to provide and sustain its citizens before it embarks on privatization of its economy; certain structures must be in place, and these are not yet in place. Nigeria has a political system where the rich circumvent the law of the land in ridicule and intimation of the poor; a nation where those that are caught stolen are rewarded, released from prison, given amnesty, and/or appointed to serve same government he or she stole from without minimum regard to national conscience and consciousness. Is this a country to be celebrated and hoped to have a future? To turn things around, first, full scale electricity generation and supply must be vigorously pursued to raise industrial production and productivity, bring peace of mind and certainty to homes - these, no doubt will close the recycling trap of poverty and rekindle life anew in the citizenry. For this to come true requires effective governance, effective laws that are time-tested, and effective enforcement. Until corruption is controlled the problem of electricity, like many numerous problems confronting the nation, remains dreamful. As I look beyond the horizon, Nigerians are not yet ready to give away privileges of corruption and indiscipline, to sacrifice the present for the future - for this, Nigeria remains standstill. It's not a matter of debate but a matter of what has been seen, what is seen, and what is hope to be seen; it's the reality, not illusion of fantasy of imaginary 'Alice Wonderland'. Like in economics, politics projects same for the future. A handful of politicians cannot decide the faith of a nation; cannot decide a national conference of a people for a free people, choose who attends, or set its agenda. Nigeria is still run like an enterprise owned by a clique of investors whose sole interest is profit. Unfortunately, this is not the new Nigeria many illusively nurse the hope would still come. Though, things can still turnaround for better 'ONLY IF' Nigerians must massively determine the kind of nation, the kind of government system they want, and those who participant. Like in every meaningful nation where citizens rise up, and are still rising up, stand up for justice and corrupt governance, Nigerians must wake up from slumber; Nigerians must wear off the 'complacency of 'who cares attitude' and take fate in their hands so that their children's children yet unborn will still have a nation called Nigeria. It bemoans that the generation that my father was born into waited patiently, like vultures, to see a better Nigeria, my father died with hopes unfulfilled, dreams drowned. My generation is about to extinct, yet Nigeria still crawls like a colorless chameleon - my generation will soon die leaving our children's children go same way as our fathers. For those that still sleep in fantasy, know ye thee that neither miracle nor prayer brings about societal change. Rather, public opinion and people's deeds change a society. Responsible nations do not bruise their knees in endless prayer, wishfully waiting for a miracle that would never come; nations take their faith in their hands ready to rediscover their fate anew.

Written By Madukar Orji

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