By M.A. Kemi Lapite
Nigeria’s number one status should not be taken for granted. Competition is fierce as rising African nations – Ghana, for example – nip at our heels. Statistics show that despite an impressive GDP ($510 billion as of April 2014), Nigeria is listed at 153rd out of 187 countries in the UN’s Human Development Index – statistical indicators of life expectancy, education, standard of living and quality of life for countries worldwide. Unemployment is high and poverty is increasing as the population grows. While many laud the feisty Nigerian entrepreneurial spirit, there is the undeniable reality that the country has Herculean problems, which it has to tackle and overcome if it is to maintain its position as the giant of Africa.
Muhammadu Buhari’s election is Nigeria’s opportunity knocking. I support him in his pledge to root out and reject the culture of corruption, disorder, complacency and acceptance of mediocrity, and bring focus back to discipline, order and unity in striving for excellence. This will begin to help in repairing our reputation as a corrupt, unruly and lazy people, whose actions are to be viewed with suspicion at all times, abroad.
Of the plethora of problems facing the nation, the most critical – and ultimately, most damaging – is energy. Energy to generate the power to run our homes, institutions, businesses, build our infrastructure – and propel Nigeria’s status into an economic powerhouse to rival China’s and elevate us to the position of “developed” nation.
The recent global conference on climate change underscores the importance and urgency of addressing a great threat to human existence. The debate rages on about how countries can cut carbon emissions and what individuals can do to cut their carbon footprints through energy conservation. As a global citizen and a Nigerian national in diaspora, I take serious interest in the energy debate and I see my role as an active participant in finding solutions to the problem. There are wide issues related to climate change that can be discussed in great detail – global warming, loss of biodiversity, CO2 emissions, over-exploitation. I want to address one that is of particular interest to me, and that has prompted me to write this letter to the president, and to ask these questions:
Why is a country that enjoys average sunshine hours of six hours per day still plagued by frequent power outages? Why is a country of 170 million people, with natural resources like sun, wind and rain, dogged by chronically high unemployment and poverty rates? Why is Nigeria lagging behind or invisible in alternative energy strategies and innovation? Answer: Because we have focused exclusively on one natural resource – oil –and foolishly ignored otherresources and revenue sources.
The country’s past leaders have failed the people; but the people also have failed – in their acceptance of mediocrity and their complacency. Complacency is a national disease. The Nigerian people do not demand excellence from their leaders. Accountabilityappears to be a foreign concept in Nigerian government and industry. Corruption is rife in every facet of life. Of all the ills that plague Nigerian society, complacency is the worst. It leaves fervent dreams unfulfilled. Nigeria is not lacking in inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs. Dreamers and creative geniuses walk among us. They’re in the mud huts in villages, towns and cities; on street corners selling wares; in churches and mosques, crouched over creaking desks in rundown classrooms in dilapidated buildings. These are untapped national wells waiting to be unleashed into the country’s consciousness.
Power generators are good only for those who derive obscene wealth from their importation. They have become ubiquitous on Nigeria’s landscape. There was so much money to be made, the “fat cats” saw no reason to improve the country’s power supply or entertain or develop alternative forms of energy. The status quo suited them just fine. Never mind about the pollutants being spewed into the atmosphere and the inevitable, and obvious, toll on the health and safety of the populace.
We already recognise the foolishness of over-reliance on one natural resource. Oil prices have plummeted. The wells will not gush forever. Nigeria must disengage from previous policy – action plans that were unproductive and, in fact, regressive. Otherwise, the country will continue to be a slave to opportunistic “investors”: charlatans, speculators, mercenaries, carpetbaggers, individuals, who ostensibly have come to contribute to the country’s development. The truth is: Nigeria’s future depends on developing its own people. It will be forever be beholden to outsiders until it leverages the power of its own best asset – its people- to use its natural resources to produce energy in order to become a global economic force.
This is not hard to do. Imagine schools, colleges and universities with laboratories, computers and eager students in well-lit libraries and well-equipped labs, reading and conducting ground-breaking experiments and research. Imagine hospitals with state of the art machines, instruments and robots performing delicate and major surgeries; imagine urgent care centers sprouting all over the country to serve communities in small towns and villages. Imagine ambulances whizzing through streets, where traffic has parted to let them through. Imagine helicopters, on helipads, ready to evacuate critical patients to one of many trauma centers. Imagine factories and farms churning out products and produce made and grown in Nigeria. Imagine trains, planes, cars and trucks energy-efficiently transporting goods and people all over the country. Imagine Nigeria well positioned in the UN’s Human Development Index. It isn’t a pipe dream.
We can do it.
Nigeria can build power plants – start with one – to capture the sun’s rays to generate electricity. We can build solar panels to trap the sun’s rays, so that every home, business, and institution can function efficiently and boost Nigeria’s economy. In solar storage towers, concentrated light heats up the liquid pumped into them; the heat is then used to make steam to power an electrical generator. On cloudy days, stored energy can be used 24 hours a day. Wind also produces electricity. We can create wind power plants in remote regions where electricity is little or non-existent. The challenges for this type of system can be addressed and overcome with proper planning and oversight.
Kemi Lapite writes from Lagos.