Friday, 5 September 2008

On......a light hearted matter

There is never light. The ribcage of my laptop is now visible. The poor thing has been starved of electrical current for so long. My shaver has such little strength that it can barely walk (abi na work?). The small generator at the back mocks them with a horrible vibrating laugh. It has become stocky and robust through overuse and cruelly sneers at the skeletal frames of the other domestic appliances.

Electricity in Nigeria comes in splutters like the dying gasps of a cancerous old man. You begin to grow suspicious on the few occasions that NEPA actually do their jobs and provide sustainable electricity. The other week, we had an almost uninterrupted power supply for 48 hours. I felt a bit like a call girl who had been given one million naira by a punter. On the surface you are happy, but deep down you are deeply mistrustful of what you will have to do for this ostentatious good fortune. Following the recent awoof of light, I am beginning to fear that they are planning a three month power blackout. Nationwide. This is how wary they have made me.

I was trying to open a bank account the other day and the customer service assistant asked me for a NEPA bill as proof of my address. I was immediately gripped by overwhelming hysteria and had to be escorted out of the bank premises before I managed to stop laughing. NEPA bill ke? Do these things actually exist? What exactly is one billed for? I investigated further and I actually came across one of these so called NEPA bills. They even measure electricity in real units of measure; kilowatts. I suggest that they start billing people in kilonoughts of nonentricity used. It would save them a lot of paper work if nothing else.

Dear Mr Adekunle,
You have consumed 1 million kilonoughts of nonentricity this month. Please pay your balance of zilch before 9/9/9999 and you will be assured of continued lack of electricity.
Mr Pana-Pana

Nobody seems sure of when this sustainable power supply is to be achieved. Is it 2011or is it 2020? What are people’s thoughts? Can we really have sustainable power in this country? I fear that there are too many personal agendas for this to be a foreseeable reality. What happens to the generator sellers and distributors if there is regular electricity? What happens to the diesel sellers? What happens to big oil? What happens to Femi Otedola and co? Are we to reasonably expect all these people to quietly sail off into the night and never be heard of again? The fact is that it is still in the interest of far too many people – powerful people at that – for there to be an irregular and unreliable power supply. These people are so powerful that they helped your local government chairman win his election. And your Senator. And your Governor. And yes, even your President.

I cannot imagine that there are many more countries in the world that consume more diesel per year than we do in Nigeria. In most other countries, diesel pumps have become desolate figures on the forecourts of filling stations. In Nigeria, the stuff is at such a premium that it costs us twice the price of unleaded petrol. This diesel lust is fed by the need to power our generators because NEPA (now rejigged to PHCN) apparently generates less than 3000MW of electricity a day. The goal of the present government is to quintiple this meagre total by 2010. In the increasingly unlikely event that this is achieved, it would still not be in line with most other developing nations.

Darkness has enveloped our land at night and also the thinking and ambitions of those that rule our country. Provision of sustainable electricity should be the most pressing issue on the agenda of all our rulers. It appears that it is not. NEPA, and all its incarnations, has become a byword for ineptitude and poor performance. It is a national joke. It is hard to accept the current standards when indigenes of smaller, weaker economies are basking in the dull glow of their evening light bulbs whilst millions of Nigerians continue to eat enforced candle-lit dinners. It is a sham and I can confidently proclaim that steady electrical supply would eradicate one third of Nigeria’s problems today (a half decent road network would solve another third). Let us bring sustainable electrical power back to the forefront of the national consciousness. It is no longer enough to merely fold our arms when they deprive us of electricity only to yell “UP NEPA” when it is returned to us.

On a slightly different note, we had any number of witty acronyms for NEPA - my favourite being Never Expect Power Always. Can anyone suggest an equally apt one for PHCN?