By Osa Amadi, Arts Editor
As more than 143 countries on planet earth virtually gather today in the South American country of Columbia to celebrate the 2020 World Environment Day with the theme, “Celebrate Biodiversity”, Nigeria must look inward and adapt this theme to its own peculiar environmental need and challenges.
Energy crisis is presently the biggest headache in Nigeria. Energy issues are indeed a global environmental problem with the worst kind of local variant in Nigeria. At global level, the problem of energy is not lack of regular supply of electricity, but the damage its nonrenewable sources inflict on the environment and to the existence of multiplicity of plant and animal lives, which is what biodiversity is all about.
In a country like Nigeria where there is no regular electricity, biodiversity is at risk; People run power generating sets and burn fossil fuel which release climate-damaging carbons responsible for depleting the population of biological lives, many of whose ecological importance we are yet to understand.
As the world celebrates the environment today, we use the opportunity to review the promises President Muhammadu Buhari made to Nigerians five years ago when he was seeking people’s votes to become president. One of his cardinal electoral promises, amongst others, is to give Nigerians steady electricity, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
With only three years left for the President to vacate Aso Rock, it is clear that time is running out on the president to fulfil this promise to Nigerians.
If it is possible, however, by any stroke of magic, for the president to make it before 2023, Nigerians will no doubt forgive him of his shortcomings for that singular achievement.
Beyond the writing of his name in gold, achieving 24/7 power supply for Nigeria according to his promise would be the best favour the President can do for his beloved former CoS, the late Abba Kyari, whom he had for the same purpose sent to Germany from where he had contracted the coronavirus that took his life.
This aspiration is fitting, and the ambition worth pursuing, because for greater majority of Nigerians, while we manage to run power generators in our offices and work places to enable us do our work, our internet-savvy children, many of whom are already making livings online, have no power at home to even charge their cell phones and power their computers!
This lack of energy, therefore, is the worst tragedy that can befall any twenty-first century society.
While some optimistic Nigerians believe that with sharp focus and sincerity of purpose, 8 years in office is enough time to achieve steady power supply for Nigeria and save the people and the environment, experts in energy issues believe that the 3 years which remains out of the 8 years is like a blink of an eye where nothing was done for 5 years.
But the question whether it is possible or not for President Buhari to achieve regular power supply for Nigeria by 2023 appears invalid. This is because the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed had on Friday, May 29, 2020, reassured Nigerians that Buhari will deliver on his regular power supply promise:
“Following an agreement with the German company, Siemens, in July 2019, to boost power supply in Nigeria,” said the minister, “the stage is set for the perennial power problem to become a thing of the past. Under the three-phase agreement, Nigerians will enjoy 7,000 megawatts of reliable power supply by the end of 2021 (phase 1), 11,000 megawatts by the end of 2023 (phase 2) and 25,000 megawatts in the third phase.”
The minister restated that Nigeria’s current power generation capacity is more than 13,000 megawatts, but only an average of 3,400 megawatts reliably reach consumers. “In essence,” he said, “the current amount of power that reaches consumers will more than double by the end of next year.”
The minister’s claim was no doubt hinged on the six-year power deal which President Buhari signed with German energy giant Siemens around July last year – a nebulous deal, it is appearing now to be – which the government believes will result in the production of at least 25,000 megawatts of electricity by the year 2025. The deal was first outlined in a meeting between President Buhari and Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in August 2018.
Perhaps the optimism of those who still believe that a dead fowl can still eat corns is more rooted in the assurances given by Siemens CEO, Joe Kaeser, after his meeting with President Buhari last year.
“The President,” Kaeser disclosed, “made it very clear in his speech that he wants to get this done now, together with reliable engineering partners – European and German engineering style – and I personally promised him that we are going to make this work. We have generation of all sorts: Conventional power generation, renewable energy, we have transmission, we have distribution. We can help with oil and gas and we can even supply digital platforms. So, we have the whole value chain unlike any other company in the world, and that’s why I believe we are a perfect partner for the Nigerian people.”
But curiously, Siemens CEO also disclosed that “President Buhari and I didn’t talk about money. We talked about the partnership and how we will get it done technically. We will soon enter into the first phase of the contract and then we will take it from there.” That was in July 2019. It is possible that the late Abba Kyari had tied up the money aspect of the deal with Siemens when he visited Germany early this year, giving Alhaji Lai Mohammed the confidence to make him claims.
Still, energy experts doubt the possibility. They say there is nothing on ground whatsoever to justify the minister’s claims.
Whether with unsustainable energy sources like natural gas, oil or coal which Nigeria has in abundance, or with renewable sources like solar radiation from the sun, wind, or water which are equally abundant in the country, Nigeria’s perennial epileptic power supply is likely to continue for many years to come for many reasons. Key among those reasons include corruption and mismanagement which have left Nigeria’s electricity grid in disarray.
Okonofua Eromosele Joseph writing on the DW Africa Facebook page said the talk about Siemens “is just a distraction from other burning issues Nigeria is facing, like bad governance, insecurity, rising inflation, and unemployment.”
Also, a Nigerian lawyer, Buhari Yusuf, told DW that “The policymakers are out for themselves, so they will hardly give an accurate representation of what will address our electricity problems.”
Experts agree, however, that a sustainable solution to the country’s energy woes lies in renewable sources. Samuel Ayokunle Olowosejeje, Research fellow at the University College Cork, Ireland, says “there is need for Nigerians to embrace renewable energy to mitigate the energy challenge being experienced presently. Transition to solar-based energy could reduce the country’s electricity costs. These savings are based on the current cost of running Nigeria’s electricity grid supported by petrol or diesel generators used by businesses and households.
According to Ayokunle, “Solar costs are coming down. They have become cheaper than the fossil fuel alternatives. Renewable technologies could also help to develop an electricity market where those producing surplus energy can sell it to those who have a shortfall. Currently, such a market is limited by the conventional grid systems. These are designed based on centralized big power plants and a one-way flow of energy from the power plants to the customers.
Ayokunle also faulted the design of conventional electricity grids, saying they are only stable to the extent that demand and supply is well balanced. “They are therefore not well-suited to the intermittent supply of electricity that renewables generate. The solution to these limits of conventional grids could be micro-grid clusters that can source energy from a variety of independent power producers.”
The potential for building solar units in small chunks and adding more capacity as time goes on, said, Ayokunle, makes solar-based power generation ideal for plugging the gaps in Nigeria’s energy requirements. “It is the most technically feasible and cost-effective solution to the challenge of extending electricity to 80 million people who are currently without access to energy. Solar, in combination with other technologies, can reduce the cost of doing business in Nigeria,” he said.
The connexion between sustainable energy supply and biodiversity cannot be overemphasized. As has earlier been mentioned, people resort to burning of fossil fuel in the absence of renewable energy sources. And fossil fuel creates greenhouse gasses which cause global warming and in turn deplete the storehouse of the earth’s biological lives.
It is even worse in countries like Nigeria, where adequate supply of electricity is unavailable from national grids powered by fossil fuel. The result is the chaotic situation where every household and business resorts to use of power generators further compounding the problem of different kinds of pollutions which work against biodiversity.
To realize the benefits of this year’s World Environment Day theme, all hands, both locally and internationally, must be on deck to provide a lasting and sustainable solution to Nigeria’s jinxed energy problem.