Some core lessons from Afghanistan

There is this story of a child who was experiencing power failure for the first time in his young life. He was then the only child in a young family. His parents had just relocated home after the proverbial pursuit of the golden fleece and were staying with another young family until they could find accommodation.

The adults were chatting in the sitting room while he was lying on a bed alone in the room allocated to them.

Then NEPA struck. And as usual, sudden darkness enveloped everywhere. His scream pierced the darkness and jolted the adults who were already trying to find an answer to the thick darkness. His mother on hearing the scream, rushed to his side like any mother would.

‘Mummy, mummy, I am black’ was the hysterical statement he made as his mother scooped him in her arms. This was some four decades ago. For years, he was the butt of jokes as many funny anecdotes were made around that statement.

The kid is now an adult with a family of his own. Of course, he got used to the blackness of NEPA like every Nigerian. However, like many of his generation whose parents could afford it, he went abroad for his tertiary education and never came back.

Nigeria can be trying on several fronts and it’s difficult to blame young people who don’t come back. There are probably times even this boy’s parents would have wished they never came back.

It is easy to believe that the issue of power failure has always been the story of Nigeria but it will not be correct. Those who are in their late 60s and above would remember the days when areas connected to the power grid had light as at when due.

Generators in institutions were rare. Generators in private homes were virtually non-existent. Paradoxically, the decline in the country started with the oil boom.

That was when money began to take the centre stage with diligence and professionalism taking the back seat.

Many well-trained professionals and technical experts left Service to become contractors to Government. The vacated positions were filled with people on criteria that had little to do with competence and know-how.

Nigeria gradually went on auto-pilot in virtually every sphere of its life. The decline had started but the petrol dollars successfully masked it for quite a while. Grandiose projects were conceived with scant regard for their viability by people whose motive and competence were suspect.

So it was no surprise that these projects were sited more on sentiments than economics and manned by square pegs in round holes.

This probably explains why none of these projects – from newsprint factory to petro-chemicals, from iron and steel to refinery, from fertiliser to plastics –survived the mediocrity and corruption that follow Nigerian projects. You can’t help thinking that they were all programmed to fail because the saboteurs are sometimes among the planners and executors.

It is the same story with power generation. Billions, as in billions of dollars, have been sunk on the power generation project over the past four decades at least. Nobody has been held accountable for the failure either in planning, execution or disbursement.

And no concerned professional group, no human rights group has demanded answers to billions of dollars spent to perpetuate darkness and despair.

By now, those who benefited and are still benefiting from the dark state of power generation in Nigeria should have been exposed. Instead, the Jonathan administration, either out of desperation or foolhardiness, handed an important aspect of the power value chain to people whose real interests conflict with the long-term interests of the country.

Today, the chicken has come home to roost with the Ukraine war. I hate to think of this senseless war. I hate the images of wanton destructions that the television screens project. More fundamentally, I hate to think of how vulnerable the entire world is to the ego and mental health of just about five people who call themselves leaders.

Unfortunately, this utterly stupid war can’t be ignored much as I wished I could partly because of the collective ineptitude of successive regimes in our country. The war is being fought thousands of miles away but the effect is already felt in Nigeria.

The longer the war goes on, the more the adverse effect on us because we are among the least prepared countries in the world for war. We are a country with the least shock absorber because our leaders over the years, had preferred importation to manufacture, foreign dependence to self-reliance. Even toothpick has to be imported.

For years, we had talked about growing our own wheat.For years, we had dithered. Now, two of the largest wheat exporters in the world are fighting each other. Bread is among the food of the poor in Nigeria. It is also one of the ingredients of the poultry industry. It’s going to be tough coping without wheat.

We are an oil producing country yet we are unlikely to benefit from the war situation because we never really developed the oil industry beyond rent seeking.

Every aspect of the by-product of crude oil is still being imported about sixty- five years after we first discovered oil in a commercial quantity. We should cover our collective heads in shame for allowing clueless leaders to lead us for so long.

As I sit here writing this stuff, the nation power grid had collapsed twice within a week. Before then, about 14 of its power stations had been underutilised or shut down.

This is at a time when diesel price is at least four times – if you can find it – what it was this time last year. Engine oil price has more than doubled. Generator spare parts have more than doubled.

It is not unusual for a middle-income family living in a serviced apartment to spend over half a million Naira a month to provide light for their family. I cannot imagine what small to medium sized businesses– like the mass media – needing a 24-hour supply of light must be going through at this moment. I can only imagine what the airline business which is just trying to rally itself after the lull of the pandemic must be facing today.

All of these with the attendant rise in food prices, will only deepen poverty and insecurity. Besides, how a country that cannot provide stable light wants to lure multi-national companies to its country is beyond me.

There is a pall of darkness on our land. It is not just because of the failure of NEPA. Power failure is but an indicator of a more significant darkness in the land. This is why we must all be concerned about 2023. We must shed the primordial interest in tribe and religion and look for ability and capability.

It is time to look at vision and passion. If our youths must come back home to develop the land;if our people in the diaspora must come home to invest in the country; it won’t be to the present darkness in the country.


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