By Michael Oluwagbemi
I have been following closely a somewhat “viral coalition” ongoing on the web, called “The Light up Nigeria Movement”. The Light up Nigerian Movement is a grassroot initiative by some young Nigerians to draw attention to the problem of lack of continuous power. The purpose of the group is to raise awareness of the problem from a global perspective through their website, “www.lightupnigeria.org”. This network is strewn across social sites like facebook, twitter and blogs. The broad strategy of the organization it appears is to raise awareness, compel action and engender mass participation to reverse the course of epileptic power supply.
As a matter of public policy however, one ponders whether it should really take a movement to bring awareness to the problem of power supply. Or would the goals of the movement be better served if it works towards innovative solutions to deal with the underlying problem.
Speaking specifically to Nigeria, the problem with the darkness that pervades our country today is not financial capital; otherwise the 400 billion naira President Obasanjo pumped into the sector under the Independent Power Projects (IPP), in the 2002-2008 timeframe, would have turned things around. The problem also is not human capital…ask thousands of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) workers that fix the unfixable in our moribund national grid. Perhaps the culprit is the apparent lack of political will. The lack of collective will to get anything done, absent mindless corruption, indiscipline and costly project errors getting in the way are simply lacking in Nigeria!
Provision of energy- which could range from building dams, to commissioning power stations and injecting juice into the grid is one of those truly epochal engineering feats that define the strength of the soul of a nation. There is something both physical and metaphysical about nations implementing truly mega-projects. It speaks to strength of spirit a nation engenders towards achieving a common goal.
Hence our inability to turnaround our power supply fortunes speaks to the broken Nigerian soul. Perhaps, it is of consequence that the manifestation of regular power outage in modern societies coincides with their predictable decline. The rolling black outs of the late 90s in California preceded the severe budget crisis, and weak economy that pervades that state today. Ghana had two decades of incessant power losses in the 60s until the early 80s that coincided with the rubbishing of the great legacy of that nation and her founders. The return of power to Ghana in the early 90s, under Jerry Rawlings’ leadership, perhaps was an outward revelation of the restoration of the pride and confidence of a people; albeit much misconstrued.
Another notable example is Kenya; today she is in the throes of power losses that coincide with the unraveling of the cohesive strength of that nation which marked her founding. Speaking of Nigeria, the 80s and its rolling black outs were a reflection of worse things to come. The seeming intractable “normalcy of that anomaly” put Nigeria decidedly in an unusual league of nations that are seemingly cursed with darkness of spirit that bears darkness of streets.
Even then, the completion of Kainji Dam by Nigeria in the 70s reflected the optimism and newness of spirit of the oil boom era no matter how short-lived that might have been. Contrast that with the unproductive partnership with the World Bank on the Ogunpa channelization project with no end in sight; that project started while I was barely crawling and it will remain in that state in so far as corruption, inefficiency and despondence cripples the soul of Nigerians!
The United States marked its resolute return from the manic depression of economic meltdown in the late 20s and early 30s by proving that this beautiful nation can supply its own power, build the foundations of a new industrial economy and herald a new age of military prowess. In building the Hoover Dam, America reflected a newness of spirit and confidence heading into the Great War. As she diverted Lake Mead, drilled through rocks and converted a seeming liability- a lake that flooded- into the engine of growth for the next 50 years. Completed two years ahead of schedule, and below budget, it took 114 lives and millions more in concrete earth movers and mountain scalers to construct. Only a group of people with a “can-do” spirit will be in any position to achieve this feat in the midst of the greatest economic crisis known to modern man! Where is our can-do spirit?
On the other end of the world, the majestic Three Gorges Dam and China’s ability to commission one new power station every week has put that nation on the verge of becoming the second pole in a bipolar world. It is inevitable, and if America wants to confirm the newness of this Obama era then green power that robustly challenges the notion of a bygone American century is necessary. Whether this America possesses this new spirit is yet to be seen; time will tell.
Our broken spirit (manifested best in our misplaced priorities, and cheer cynical approach to public policy) is confirmed daily by our inability to solve simple problems. Our love for watching soccer on our television sets for example, has not pushed us far enough in the direction of providing mutual power supply to ensure that game is enjoyed by all. Instead, our broken spirit has turned us to local governments in our fenced in family compounds (or dare say I, prisons).
Slowly but surely, we live in self administered prisons (with our high walls and guard dogs), and provide our own security in form of OPC or our night guard. We supply our own water through boreholes, and dispose our own garbage. Of course, air and noise polluting generators fill our homes with despair and made our young go deaf. Evidently, cases of premature death due to carbon monoxide poisoning and explosive petrol are now old news. Our collective spirit to act has been broken beyond repair in such a manner that every family has assumed governmental responsibilities that reflect a lack of trust in us to be our neighbor’s keeper.
It is therefore necessary to perceive the push for constant power supply as one not against government policy or actions, but one for the minds and souls of ALL Nigerians. The sooner we restore the confidence of our engineers, and technologists; of our project managers, and our construction workers – the better we shall be. The first step is a conscious leadership that reflects the popular will or at least possesses some form of legitimacy and confidence boosting mandate. Otherwise, we labor in vain. May be the seeds of that government are being sown in the thousands of young minds involved in this campaign…just may be. Power forward and light up Nigeria!
Originally posted on http://www.lightupnigeria.org