I gave up on the possibility of witnessing regular electricity in Nigeria in my lifetime four years ago. I had gone to spend some time with a friend of mine who is a very very big Oga at the top in the Federal government. A Nigerian big man with a NAFDAC number.
Nearly a week into my stay, NEPA had still not 'taken light'. Not once did it blink. His neighbourhood had constant electricity supply. At first, I thought, well, this is where the Ogas live in Abuja. This is their neighbourhood. Maybe the electricity people are saving their necks and jobs by keeping the light on here?
After a while, I decided that even if this were the case, one week of uninterrupted public electricity supply anywhere in Nigeria, even in Aso Rock, deserved commentary.
I told my host:
"Oga, you people are trying now o. The light has not blinked in this neighbourhood since I arrived o"
He smiled - the expansive smile of a member of the Nigerian ruling class whenever they think that they have caught one of their virulent critics in an aha moment! They love such moments with a critic who, in their estimation, never appreciates their efforts to fix Nigeria, who never gives them sufficient credit for what they are doing to "move Nigeria forward".
I can't recall his exact words - it is four years ago - but his delighted response went something like this:
"Prof, this is why we say that you people should be coming home regularly. You sit out there, always condemning Nigeria, believing that there is no improvement. So, you think that things are so bad that we still use noisy generators in this country? People now use soundproof generators."
He said it before he realized the folly and the bitter irony of his statement. It turned out that what I had thought was constant power supply was the work of soundproof Mikano generators working noiselessly 24/7 in every compound in the entire posh neighbourhood the whole time I had been there!
And here was one of the people who should be fixing Nigeria defining progress as the move by members of his class from noisy generators to noiseless soundproof generators. The next step in their definition of progress will be for Mikano to design generators that they can turn on and off with an app on their phone when the whole family is on vacation in Dubai.
When the power crisis started in Ghana and their power cuts rapidly approached Nigerian proportions, the people took massively to the streets, protesting "dumsor" (power cuts). I reassured my Ghanaian friends that they had two options to fix their problems:
- The Nigerian option - generators.
- The South African option - no generators, keep applying critical intelligence till you find a solution.
Yes, I told my Ghanaian friends that if they adopt Nigeria's option, they will never fix their electricity woes because there are no rehab clinics to fix a country's generator addiction. And the Nigerian elite are already defining progress not as improvement in public electricity supply but as improvement in the standard of generators! If you go the Nigerian route, I warned my Ghanaian friends, a generator cartel will emerge, a diesel cartel will emerge - and Ghana is finished!
The South Africans could not risk the folly of the Nigerians in their own approach to their electricity woes. You may blame them for having irresponsibly allowed the constant electricity supply that the Apartheid state handed over to them to become a post-Apartheid nightmare that has placed an uncomfortable question mark on the black man's ability to manage the infrastructure of modernity, but, at least, they have resisted the lure of generators and are applying critical intelligence to solving the problem.
The mental laziness of the Nigerian elite, which defines progress in the power sector as the provision of improved soundproof generators to the rich and mighty, creates a superstructure which suppresses the intelligence of anybody operating from Aso Rock and its environs.
The cliche says that if all you've got is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail. In the Nigerian power circles, solving the electricity problem means creating ease of access to soundproof generators; facilitating importation deals and mechanisms with Japan and China; etc. This is the world of political and economic symbolism in which Fashola and Femi Adesina now function.
Aso Rock runs on soundproof generators. For the first time in his life as an adult Nigerian, Femi Adesina is about to enjoy one year of uninterrupted electricity. And he does not hear the sound of the generators. You expect a man like that to still be capable of reason and common sense? That environment does things to the mind. That is why he can tell you to go and catch the vandals - forgetting that it is the responsibility of his boss to provide infrastructure for Nigeria and also secure the infrastructure. He forgets that Buhari and Arase should be the ones catching the vandals, not Nigerians. Exposure to one year of Mikano epistemology is what was talking to you, Nigerians, on Channels TV.
One year after I warned my Ghanaian friends against the Nigerian option, I returned to Accra. I noticed that practically every faculty on the campus of the University of Ghana had acquired gigantic soundproof Mikano generators. Even Departments were in a scramble for Mikanos. I couldn't believe how many Mikanos had been acquired on that campus in just one year.
I decided to tour the very posh neighbourhoods in Accra. Mikanos everywhere!
I shook my head in sadness. Apparently, the Ghanaians had shunned the South African approach to salvation and decided to stand in solidarity with their Nigerian cousins on the road to perdition...