How long shall we continue in darkness?

The other day I came back home from work tofind that PHCN had cut my electricity line, despite the fact that I was not owing them a kobo, having paid my bill in full. Rolling to their office the next day, I told my marketer of the problem and he apologised profusely, asking me to pleasemake a photocopy of the bill and hand tohim, so that he can hand it to his boys and ask them toreconnect me. One thing Inoticed in the PHCN office was that they themselves had no light.

So I went to a nearby business centre to make the photocopy. There I found out from the photocopy operator that the situation is so bad that the PHCN staff actually troopto his shopin droves to charge their phone batteries with power from his generator, due to the fact that their office often does not have light. Someone I know has this funny saying that encapsulates the situation: When those in charge of rationing water begin to die of thirst, then there’s a big problem.

As I drove off from PHCN office, I began to think deeply about Nigeria’s power problem.

I remember a few years ago when Barth Nnaji was Minister for Power, and electricity supply suddenly became stable everywhere. In those days, I used to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Then came the time when Mr Nnaji was pushed off the ministerial post; then the epileptic power supply bounced back in full force. (Some people say some dark forces that have sworn that this nation shall never know stable power came after him to stop his work of bringing uninterrupted power to the country. But hey, who knows?)

Anyway, in a quest to discover what lay behind the improvement, I asked a PHCN official what Mr Nnaji’s secret was that enabled him to provide most of Nigeria with uninterrupted power for several months. He told me that Mr Nnaji had made an arrangement with several major gas producing companies in the country to supply PHCN with gas on credit (most of our power stations are gas-powered). But the moment these companies had more profitable commitments, the agreement crumbled anddarkness came flying back. Some say because oil and gas majors cut off gas supply owing to debts by PHCN that refuse to stop pilling up. So I came to the conclusion that gas (due to instability in its supply) is not the answer to our electricity problem in Nigeria.

So I asked myself: “Does it mean that in all my years of sojourn in this life I will never experience continuous uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria?

I also asked myself what I would say if incoming president MuhammaduBuhari should call me and ask: Charlie, how can we hope to get stable electricity supply in this country? I think I would say, “Stop relying only on gas.” But what alternative source of energy would I propose? Let’s look at some possibilities.

Nuclear energy: Some folks have said we should adoptnuclear energy because it is clean and efficient. The government has even flirted with going that route severally. I hope they are joking. Nuclear energy is not something we should contemplate not now not ever. Why?

Do you know what can happen if there is a simple accident in a nuclear power plant? No be onlythose weydey inside go dey affected. I fear nuclear power plants because if there is an accident inside it, the radioactive cloud and deposits may spread thyroid cancer to a lot of people even far away. Go ask the people of Chernobyl, Ukraine. In fact, square kilometresof green forest trees suddenly turned red and died.  No, nuclear power is not forNigeria.

Solar power: My quarrel (for now) with this source of power is that it isstill very expensive, infact three times as costly as producing power through gas turbines. So no no fro me.

Hydro power: Yes, it doesn’t require the burning of gas, but its results are not always predictable. Take Uganda for instance, that built a hydro scheme on the River Nile some timeago.The dam underperformed. They built a second dam and the result was a dangerous fall in the water levels of Lake Victoria, the source of livelihood and fish for 20 million East Africans. So I say no for now.

Coal power: This is themost logical solution to the power problem in our country. You ask me why I say so.Simply because coal is so abundant in Nigeria, I wonder why we aren’t using it for electricity.

You need to go look at the abandoned coal mines in Enugu. Coal is still there in large quantities and has even been discovered in other parts of Nigeria. But why has the Federal Governmentshied away from using coal to try put an end to our power problem? This coldfeet on the part of the Federal Government is a national scandal,considering the fact that coal currently supplies 40percent of the world’s electricity needs!

Look, coal supplies 39% of U.S electricity; 80 percent of China’s electricity; 45% of Germany’s electricity… and I can go on and on.

It is sad that Nigeria,which has extreme problems supplying gas to its gas stations has a stubborn policy of relying only on natural gas for electricity.

I hope if President Buhari were to call me for my advice and I gave him the suggestion to diversify into coal he would latch unto it and not disregard it.