Lighting Up Nigeria Requires Lighting Up our Minds!

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

I have been following closely a viral coalition going on in the web, called “The Light up Nigeria Movement”. They are on facebook, twitter, have a functioning website, are on the blogs and are variously promoted at Nigerian related forums online. This grassroots movement is truly commendable, and the proportion of young people being involved is something to be proud of. But, and a big BUT for that matter – is this what it really takes? Well, may be or may be not. Let me explain.

The problem with the darkness that pervades Nigeria today is not financial capital; otherwise the 400 billion naira Obasanjo pumped into the sector under the Independent Power Projects (IPP) would have turned things around. The problem also is not human capital…ask thousands of PHCN workers daily that fix the unfixable in our moribund national grid. The problem is the will. The lack of collective and political will to get anything done, without mindless corruption, indiscipline and costly project errors getting in the way are simply lacking in Nigeria!

Provision of energy- like building dams, commissioning a power station and putting juice into the grid is one of those truly epochal engineering feats that define the strength of the soul of a nation. And I speak here both as an electrical (power systems) engineer that understand the complexity and intense coordination that goes into delivering these projects, as well as a student of human mysticism. There is something deeply spiritual and physically anecdotal about power supply.

The Nigerian soul is broken and we must fix that if we want to fix our epileptic power supply. The entry of regular power outage in most nations usually coincides with the spiral down in terms of human economic development. The inability of California to supply power preceded the severe budget crisis, and stinking economy that pervades that state today. Ghana had two decades of incessant power losses in the 60s until early 80s that coincide with the rubbishing of the great legacy of that nation and her founders, until Rawlings fixed it. The return of power to Ghana was an outward revelation of a pride restored, a people fixed and a legacy upbraided.

Kenya today is in the throes of power losses that coincide with the unraveling of the cohesive strength of that nation and rubbishing of the Ubuntu-Uhuru spirit that marked her founders following her recent wavering experiment with multi-party democracy for good or for bad. Speaking of Nigeria, the 80s and its rolling black outs was a reflection of worse things to come, and the seeming intractable normalcy of that anomaly in the 90s and worsening decade has no doubt puts Nigeria decidedly in an abnormal 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 albeit short-lived as it might have been. We have been working on the Ogunpa channelization and dam project now for decades with no end to it; 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 and inventiveness by building the Hoover Dam. Something deeply spiritual took hold in the spirit of America 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 fighting will to succeed can pull this off!

We need not look far for contemporary examples of the connection between power supply and the spirit- well, a play on words Power and Spirit, may well reflect the juice that we can’t put into the grid. The majestic Three Gorges Dam and China’s ability to commission one new power station every week on average from 2006 to date confirms the spirit that 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 with green technologies 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.

Back from our journey through human civilization and power supply, and down back here at home; our broken spirit is confirmed daily by our inability to solve simple problems. Our love for soccer has not pushed us far enough in the direction of providing mutual power supply to ensure that game is enjoyed by all without the annoying and crippling noise of personal power generating sets. Instead, our broken spirit has turned us to local governments in our fenced in family compounds.

All at once 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 and many of our citizens meet premature death in the hands of carbon monoxide and diluted petrol. 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 see the battle for the soul of 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!

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