By Hassan Gimba
We ended the last day of March on a high note. No other than Sale Mamman, Minister of State for Power, heralded a piece of good news. He tweeted: “During today’s FEC, the @NigeriaGov approved the sum of N10.7 billion for the design, construction, manufacturing and supply of four power sub-stations in Damaturu, Potiskum, Biu and Maiduguri. These are part of our efforts to boost the power supply across the nation ASAP.”
An electric substation is a part of an electrical generation, transmission and distribution system. Substations transform voltage from high to low, or the reverse, or perform any of several other important functions. Between the generating station and the consumer, electric power may flow through several substations at different voltage levels. A substation may include transformers to change voltage levels between high transmission voltages and lower distribution voltages, or at the interconnection of two different transmission voltages.
While this is good news, it seems we never learn from experience. Our mindset remains static and we are so lazy to think outside of the box to arrive at solutions to issues bothering us. We see a problem; we talk about it, lament, move on and repeat what may give rise to the problem again.
What Boko Haram has done and is still doing to Maiduguri residents should be enough reason for our policy formulators to think of a better way for power supply. For months, Boko Haram insurgents have denied Maiduguri residents electricity to the extent when it was rectified, both the old and young, male and female Maiduguri residents came out on the streets, dancing and singing.
Seeing the happiness on the faces of residents, and being a group that exults when people are sad, the group went and destroyed another source of power supply to the town.
Such groups always seek ways to inflict maximum pain, psychological or bodily, on the people. And many times we give them a clue to what makes us happy and they labour to deny us that. They instead work hard on what makes us sad.
As long as power into Maiduguri is through the traditional way of transmission through the grid, so long will they be destroying that chain of supply. With time, they will move beyond Maiduguri, because they know, just as we all know, that there is no way the transmission channel can be protected. But I think we should know this, not being rocket science. After all, we are dealing with guerrilla warfare here.
But come to think of it, most nations blessed with sunlight as we, with breeze as we are, now use solar and wind to generate their electricity. Italy gives a lot of incentives to the public to use solar panels and the USA is home to the oldest solar power plant in the world. Germany will soon have 80% of its population using solar while Japan is the fastest growing nation in the solar power market. China, too, is not left behind.
But Africa, though a late entrant, is not lagging. For instance, South Africa has solar power plants with a capacity of over 100 megawatts. Uganda and Zambia are also in the mix. And they are attracting foreign and local private investors.
Currently, solar power accounts for about 11 per cent of Morocco’s energy supply. With an installed solar capacity of 735 MW, the country expects that it will soon start generating over 2000 MW. This is significant when compared to other African countries. The country launched one of the world’s largest solar energy projects costing an estimated $9 billion to create 2,000 megawatts of solar generation capacity.
Another less travelled path is wind power. Lake Turkana Wind Power project in Kenya is an example of a success story. It is the single biggest operating wind farm in Africa. Capable of generating 1,400GWh of electricity annually, the 310MW onshore wind farm accounts for approximately 17 per cent of the country’s total installed capacity. With about 25-year operational life, it will offset 16 million tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide emissions a year.
South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, and Ethiopia are other African countries that have embraced wind-generated power production.
Why is it that the giant of Africa does not think of other sources to generate power close to where it is needed? The cost of transmitting power from, say, Kainji or even Mambila to Maiduguri is no doubt colossal. This is apart from energy loss on the way. Then the security aspect, since criminal elements can easily sabotage the conduit. This we are witnesses to.
Maiduguri can do well with a close-by power-generating facility. Some places can accommodate solar or wind-powered electricity generating stations within the town. There are many advantages, again. One is that distribution distance has been shortened greatly while the facility remains safe. We can add to them the boost in employment opportunities.
But do we learn?
If we do, Nigeria would now have been a country where people from other lands would come for medical attention. But we still go to Egypt, Malaysia, Singapore, Germany, England, etc.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, there was a near-total global lockdown. It was then that the government claimed it found out we had no healthcare facilities here. But for God, the Ever Merciful, over half of our population might have been “deleted” from this realm by the pandemic had what we saw happening in Europe and America happened here. It was also a period that confined everyone to where they were – meaning our leaders could not go abroad for medicare as they were habituated to.
The thinking then was that the moment things eased the attention of our policy formulators would turn to provide world-class health facilities all over the country. The pandemic exposed our lack of them. It stripped us naked and showed us up to the world for what we are. Though we have some of the best medical workers in the world, poor health infrastructure, lack of modern equipment, empty research bodies and a lack of will to make things better by those who can afford medicare elsewhere have all conspired to make our situation a sorry one.
Unfortunately, the first sign that we have “moved on” and back to business as usual was with our budgets. Both the federal and state governments did not give the deserved attention to health in their budgets – an attitude that confirms our amnesic psyche.
It took no less a person than Bill Gates to advise us we need functional, state-of-the-art hospitals around the country. He was even against us buying COVID-19 vaccines. His advice to the government was: invest the billions in healthcare, not COVID-19 vaccines.
“The impact of putting money into the health system, particularly the primary healthcare system will be very high in terms of saving children’s lives. Nigeria should not divert the very limited money that it has for health into trying to pay a high price for COVID-19 vaccines,” he advised.
Mr Gates did not stop at that. He emphasised Nigeria is already a beneficiary of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership to increase access to immunisation in poor countries. “The key is that Nigeria is still eligible, and so for a lot of those vaccines, they will come through the GAVI facility that we have raised money for”, said Gates. That means Nigeria will get a reasonable number of the vaccines for free.
Even Yahaya Bello, the governor of Kogi State, believes that with the amount meant for the purchase of the vaccines, each state in the country can have one (two for six big states) N10 billion world standard hospital and we shall be better off for that. However, there are those to whom appropriating the N400 plus billions for vaccines being rejected by Europe is a dream come true. They wouldn’t mind every one of us being poisoned so long as their bank accounts keep swelling.
So it is with power generation. We will appropriate billions, perhaps way above actual cost, for power substations that will continue to generate darkness in the northeast because Boko Haram terrorists have destroyed what feeds them.
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