Generators: Killing us and the environment

FADE Environmental Articles, Weekly Column Tags: , , , ,

Barely eight years ago, I listened to a television programme in which a statistician responded to the reporter’s question on the power situation in Nigeria. While I don’t remember the whole response, I recall clearly that in it he stated that there must be about 50 million generators in Nigeria at the moment. That figure stuck with me as I thought it was such a shame.

Sadly, between then and now, we must be looking at double that number with no sign of reducing anytime soon. If in doubt, one only has to look around Victoria Island, where I have my office and residence, to confirm that, in most homes and offices, there are at least two alternating generators. The same goes for homes and offices in Ikoyi, Lekki, Yaba, Surulere, Ikeja and many other areas in the metropolis. If the generators do not vary in size and/or capacity, they definitely vary in fuel consumption all in a bid to strike a balance. Night time in Lagos is a deafening affair as each home competes in a game of whose generator roars the loudest. There is also the issue of colouring the sky grey/ black with exhaust fumes, depending on the state of the generator.

It is not just Lagos that is affected by the inconvenience caused by generators, the same happens in all the major cities across the country. Silence and fresh air in urban areas across the country are luxuries many of us have come to learn to do without, albeit grudgingly.

In preparation for the article, my team and I conducted some investigation on this matter and found that even though efforts are being made to bring the electricity situation in the country to a reasonable level, the business of importing and marketing generators and the fuel that goes with them has continued to expand.

“Could it be that, because of the revenue it generates and the amount of millionaires it has created, the efforts by the government to ensure stable power may never come to fruition?” This is the question on the minds of so many Nigerians.

It is quite disheartening to hear on a constant basis that millions and billions have been sunk into the power sector but no substantial change has occurred to our erratic power supply. In fact,
apart from the ministry of petroleum, no other ministry has ever gotten as much funding as the ministry of power. For example, a whopping N2.74 trillion has been spent in attempts to improve power supply in Nigeria since 1999. That figure would have definitely added up by now as this fact was disclosed in 2015 during the Senate committee investigation of investments in the power sector in the 16 years of PDP rule in Nigeria. Perhaps, there are some groups of individuals that will suffer a great loss to their livelihood if the power sector is restored to a dependable state and we rid ourselves and our nation of these hazardous machines that we have been forced to coexist with. Truthfully, there is a lot to be gained from a deplorable power sector.

The enforced dependency of Nigerians on generators is enriching a group of people somewhere because, one in three homes in Nigeria is partially dependent on generators, which have to be fuelled with petrol or diesel very frequently. And I don’t need to do the math for you to know that the recurring cost of running a generator can add up to hundreds of thousands per household in a year.

It is no wonder why there were, and still are, speculations surrounding the mysterious death of the late attorney-general of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige. You see, one can’t help but wonder how he was allegedly killed as the minister of power attempting to probe into the corruption in the power sector while he was in government. A probe that he had promised would finally ensure that Nigeria was on the right path to constant power supply. He was famous for saying that he would end the nightmare of electricity supply in six months. Was the timing of his death unrelated to his attack on the power sector or did he know something that eventually led to his untimely death? I guess only time can truly reveal the truth about his mysterious passing.

President Muhammadu Buhari recently mentioned that former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government (PDP) spent close to $16 billion on the power sector with no reasonable result. The counter-argument to that statement by Buhari is that the APC government has also spent close to $2 billion in only three years in office. With that being said, the APC government is following their predecessor in wasting our national budget on an ailing power sector.

Where is all that money going? Every year, we turn a blind eye to the government’s wasteful spending, which is clearly highlighted in the proposed national budget approved by the National Assembly each year. We are so used to the government allocating huge amounts of money for the same thing year after year and instead of maintaining these items, the government allocates funds to have them completely replaced. It appears that, in the same fashion, the power sector has become the government’s latest victim of the wasteful spending disease, just another vessel to siphon huge portions of our national budget for their pockets.

The questions every Nigerian should ask regarding this issue are the following:

1. If the sum of $20 billion has been spent in less than 20 years, why is it that we still don’t have power?

2. Why has the government not been able to provide alternative sources of power at a cheaper rate?

In an effort to reduce the effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, some state governors are planting tree corridors around the state. Sadly, on these same streets, we find streetlights being powered by generators. The fumes from the generators are the leading cause of death of these trees.

With our investments in the power sector, we should be one of the top 10 leading nations in power generation. If the right investments were made, we should also have planned on relying less on non-renewable sources of energy to more renewable sources of energy.

The world is leaving us behind. How is it possible for us to industrialise if we cannot provide something as simple as power?

We are blessed as a country with such resilient, innovative and resourceful people, which is why ordinary Nigerians have figured out a way to be less dependent on generators and our national grid. Nigerians have started to look into renewable sources of energy such as solar panels and inverters to store energy. Unfortunately, in the usual fashion, the efforts of the average Nigerian are being crippled by the selfish interest of a corrupt government. In order to frustrate the efforts of the average Nigerian, the federal government will start imposing a tariff on solar panels and inverters coming into the country.

The effect of generators on human life is disastrous. Starting from the polluted air we breathe to a general discomfort due to the excessive noise emanating from numerous generators at the same time. This is why an improvement in quality of life in Nigeria means moving away from clustered neighbourhoods, where the harmonious sound of generators begins at 7 pm into the late night, to a more secluded area where you are far away from the noise of any generator.

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