A NATION WITHOUT LIGHT
Thomas L. Friedman, the foreign-affairs columnist for the New York Times is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner. In one of his finest books titled “Hot, Flat and crowded”, he tackled the all- important question of why the World needs a green revolution and how we can renew our global future.
In that widely acclaimed book, Friedman also extensively analyzed what he aptly called the ‘energy poverty’ that afflicts all of Africa including Nigeria with the exception of South Africa which towers far above most countries on the continent in terms of advancement and infrastructural development.
He wrote thus; “How will we know when Africa as a continent stands a chance to climb sustainably out of poverty? My metric is very simple: It’s when I see Angelina Jolie [American movie star] posing next to a vast field of solar panels in Ghana or a wind farm crowded with turbines in Zimbabwe. In recent years, Jolie and other celebrities have done a great service by drawing attention to Africa’s travails. In highlighting the issues of poverty and disease, they have brought some much-needed global aid and debt relief. But there is one problem in Africa that almost never gets the spotlight, and that is Africa’s shortage of Light”.
The author narrated a dramatic story of how backward Africa is in matters of electricity power when he wrote thus; “If you look at satellite pictures of the earth at night, it is quite stunning. Little lights flicker across Europe, the America’s, and Asia, while vast swaths’ of Africa are simply pitch-black”.
I think all that any rational observer needs to do in order to ascertain Nigeria’s extreme poverty of electricity energy is to airlift a typical Nigerian who has never traveled to the developed western world and just let him experience the unrelenting and constant power supply situation in that place and ask him to offer assessment of what he has seen. The surest answer is that of disbelief that there really exists a place on this planet where light is constant. I too was shocked when I first visited the Western World some few years back.
Friedman found explanation for the state of Africa’s and Nigeria’s backwardness in energy power when he observed rightly that; “Energy, in fact, is Africa’s oldest orphan. But how, one wonders, will the tides of poverty, HIV/AIDS, unsafe drinking water, and malaria be turned back in Africa for good without enough energy to turn on the light? I subscribe fully to the view that we may never overcome poverty, diseases and underdevelopment in Nigeria if we do not tackle the electricity power crisis.
The World Bank said that Netherlands today produces as much electrical power annually as all of Sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa: 20 gigawatts [twenty gigawatts]. In the same vein, every two weeks or so China adds as much power–1 gigawatt [one gigawatt] of electricity–as the forty seven countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, add every year.
The author wondered why the issue of universal access to electricity not added as one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals that were set out by the United Nations and the world’s leading developing institutions in 2000. Quoting Robert Freling, the author reminded his readers that “the right of every person to have access to energy is as fundamental as the right to access to air and water” but “it is often overlooked by very smart people, who are dedicated to solving the problem of development”.
Friedman did not provide the reason why universal access to electricity was not added by the United Nations as a part of the millennium Development Goals. But my take is that the rest of the world are disappointed that some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa like Nigeria are very endowed with enormous mineral deposits that there is no reason under the Sun why Nigeria should not be sufficient in electricity supply to the citizenry.
Decent people around the world are shocked that political leaders in Nigeria for decades prefer looting public treasury and amassing personal fortunes from the public funds rather than use these resources to build the right kind of infrastructure that will make Nigeria sufficient in electricity power. Put differently, you do not expect outsiders to come to your home and help you clean up your ‘mess’. We have messed up our opportunity to be sufficient in electricity; we ought to rectify this mess by first and foremost investigating and reaching a clean determination of where all the stupendous budgetary releases meant for building electricity infrastructure have disappeared into. We must arrest all those that stole the resources meant for building these basic infrastructures, retrieve our stolen wealth, punish the offenders and truly complete the entire abandoned and ongoing electricity infrastructures so that our people can be salvaged from our current sorry state of energy poverty.
Thomas L. Friedman provides profound intellectual support to what I wrote above when he stated thus; “But if there is one common denominator that cuts across all energy – poor countries, it’s the simple fact that they don’t have functioning utilities that are able to raise financing on the scale needed to build and properly operate power plants and transmission lines. And the reason is that these countries are plagued by either persistent misgovernance or persistent civil war – or both. The two are usually interrelated, particularly in Africa”.
Friedman further said: “…And even in places where the government works and the society is stable, power projects often run aground because that government doesn’t allow the utility to operate as an independent commercial entity and charge the prices they require to keep investing, or because it turns the utility into a honey pot of patronage or booty for political leaders. Much of the debt relief offered to Africa today is actually about forgiving loans made for power projects that were built but failed because of corruption or misrule”.
The above assertions reminds me of the recent revelation in The Guardian on Sunday of February 13th 2011 whereby a former Federal Permanent secretary and former secretary (minister) of petroleum Chief Philip Asiodu disclosed that Nigeria paid $ 3 Billion United states dollars fine on metroline and not one kilometer was built. According to him; “They (metroline contractors) started designing Lagos and Cairo the same time. Then people did Coup against Shagari and decided to cancel the project of which we had already paid fifteen percent per $ 60 million USD. Work had started in Yaba. They then took us to court and they found us guilty naturally and fined $ 60 million. I am sure that’s part of what we settled finally in the Paris club debt. It must have become $ 3 billion dollars and not one kilometer was constructed. You can see the stupidity and how we waste money. But these same characters- then, we had not gone back to civilian rule – were very happy in 1990 to be honoured guests in Cairo at the commissioning of Cairo mass transit which has made all the difference to Cairo and we are not ashamed….”
Political leaders during the last chief Obasanjo’s regime stole all the money meant for power plants in Nigeria and have all hidden those loots in western countries where their children are attending the best schools in those societies where electricity power is guaranteed for twenty four hours every day and yet they have left us with a nation that has no light. I think we need Egyptian type of revolution to retrieve our stolen wealth. Who will bail the cat?
Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria.