Friday Sermon: Gehenna: Hell Fire

By Babatunde Jose

“Gehenna” in the New Testament, is described as a place where both soul and body could be destroyed (Matthew 10:28) in “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). The word is translated as either “Hell” or “Hell fire” in many English versions. There is however no description in the scriptures for our situation in Nigeria. We are having a taste of ‘Hell fire’ in all its definitions and ramifications: We are are at the Gate of Hell or Puertas del Infierno. How else can we describe a situation where people live without electricity 124 years after electricity generation started in Nigeria (1896) and the establishment of the Nigerian Electricity Supply Company in 1929; four years after my late father was born.  Since then the story has not been a rosy one for the people.

Nigeria is endowed with large oil, gas, hydro and solar resources, and it already has the potential to generate 12,522 megawatts (MW) of electric power from existing plants, but most days it is only able to generate around 4,000 MW, which is insufficient and even at that we experience system breakdown when no power is available. Yet, seventy years ago, precisely on 27 May 1949, Nigeria supplied electricity to Ghana: But today Ghana’s electricity situation has improved so much that the country is now exporting electricity to its neighbors. Electricity fluctuations and long hours without power are now things of the past; but not so here.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, but it has failed consistently to generate, transmit and distribute enough electricity to power its development process and accelerate economic growth: From the petty trader selling pure water, to the small welder, the street corner barber and the mallam selling soft drinks in the neighborhood, its complaints galore. Add to this the cries of agony and anguish of industry and commerce; it’s a tale of woe. The matter has gotten so bad that Nigeria now ranks as one of the largest importer of personal generating sets in the world.

No doubt we have a huge challenge with power in Nigeria because we lack infrastructure to provide it despite all the billions of Dollars spent since 1999. The Nigerian energy supply crisis refers to the ongoing failure of the Nigerian power sector to provide adequate electricity supply to domestic households and industrial producers despite a rapidly growing economy, despite having some of the world’s largest deposits of coal, oil and gas and the country’s status as Africa’s largest oil producer. Currently only 40% of Nigeria’s population is connected to the energy grid whilst power supply difficulties are experienced around 60% of the time. At best, average daily power supply is estimated at four hours, although several days can go by without any power at all.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is reported to have blamed his successors, for being responsible for the rot in the country’s power sector. But his administration too has a share in the blame. There is a general lack of political will on the part of the country’s leaders, bothering on cluelessness.

Obasanjo focused on the reform of the electricity sector as one of the major priorities of his administration. Gas-powered plants were set up across the country; turbines and other equipment were imported. But this is not the full story. There was lackadaisical attitude towards the whole project that resulted in the inability of the power plants to meet up with the growing demands. This supply/demand gulf is the result of a myriad of problems ranging from obsolete and dilapidated power plants, lack of and very poor maintenance of the plants, and poor managerial efficiency. This is what you get when you have leaders that lack vision. Our current power generation is nothing to write home about; our consumption per capita remains one of the lowest in the world.

Between 1975 and 1983, the following power projects were developed; the Jebba Dam, Shiroro Dam, and Egbin Power Station. Between 1983 and 1999, there was no single kobo invested in power generation. If anything, the ones that were there were allowed to rot. Between 1999 and now, close to $32billion has been spent on power and nothing to show for it, but a paltry 4000 MW. Yet, in other climes, resources of fewer amounts have been judiciously used to provide reasonable amount of power. The 22,500MW Three Gorges hydroelectric power plant in China is the largest hydropower station in the world. It cost the Chinese people only $29Billion. The Itaipu hydroelectric power plant with an installed capacity of 14,000MW ranks as the world’s second largest hydropower plant. Located on the Parana River, at the border between Brazil and Paraguay, the facility cost them only $19.6 Billion. The Guri power project also known as the Simón Bolívar hydroelectric power station, ranks as the world’s third biggest hydroelectric power station. The Guri power station supplies around 12,900GW/h of energy for Venezuela. It cost the people of Venezuela only about $ 22.5bn.

Yar’Adua’s Government also launched a Gas Master Plan to address the problem of gas supply to the power plants built by the Obasanjo government, which failed to take into account the supply of gas to these stations. But despite all efforts Yar’Adua could not make much difference.

President Jonathan launched a Power Sector Transformation Plan and re-organized the PHCN by selling off the Federal Government’s majority stakes in the 18 companies unbundled from PHCN in the shape of six Generation Companies (GENCOS), 11 Distribution Companies (DISCOs) and a Transmission Company owned fully by the Nigerian government. Despite all efforts, the problem persisted.

All the past administrations, since 1999 including the present have invested resources on the power sector, yet we are not only in darkness but roasting in man-made hell. If it took Moses 40 years to get the children of Israel to the ‘promised land’, it did not take 40 years for the leaders of modern Israel to turn the Negev desert into an agricultural wonder. It did not take Singapore forever to become an Asian Tiger, nor for Japan to become an economic miracle after its defeat in the Second World War. South Korea is a modern day marvel. Dubai and other Emirates in the Gulf are today, tourist destinations and China is the second largest economy in the world. How long must we wait in the ‘Gates of Hell’? The answer is blowing’ in the wind.

In summary, we do not have regular power in Nigeria because of the security situation, corruption, and inadequate investments in increasing our generation and transmission capacities. Distribution issues are sometimes attributed – to vandalism. But the major problems remain infrastructure constraints across the entire value chain; insufficient gas pipelines, obsolete generation plants and equipment, as well as inadequate and poorly maintained transmission grid.

Transmission lines are old and at the point of system collapse on any given day. Even should more power be generated, the transmission network is unable to carry any additional load. Designed for a peak capacity of only 3,000 to 3,500MW per day breakdown of the lines is a daily occurrence. Lack of maintenance and security challenges in parts of the country only add to the difficulties.

BEWILDERINGLY, Nigeria has become a cauldron of white elephants, one of the most symbolic of the lot should be the Mambilla hydropower plant located in Taraba State, which was initiated during the Shehu Shagari administration in 1982. Thirty-Eight years later, the 3,050-megawatt project is yet to generate one watt of electricity. One phrase sums up this fiasco: shame of a nation.

Until there is a meaningful and purposeful reform of the power sector, the average Nigerian will continue to wallow in excruciating heat without deliverance. It is particularly worse at this time of unexplained climate change when the whole atmosphere is akin to the Biblical and Quranic hell fire, yet we are not dead or in purgatory. We are living beings at the gate of hell; but our condition is not permanent. Those whose hellish condition would be permanent are those who are responsible for our present predicament. Ahhhhh! They will experience the Hell Fire that was promised transgressors in the Quran. They will suffer what Allah promised in Sura Ibraheem: “And you will see the criminals that Day bound together in fetters; Their garments of liquid pitch, and their faces covered with Fire“(Quran14:49,50). See also Quran 3:192; 9:63; 3:131; 5:37; 2:167; 4:168-169; 33:64; 72:23; 66:6; 74:26-30; 40:49; 43:74-78; 10:27; 39:60; 23:104; 39:71; 22:19; 14:49-50 and countless other places.

Ultimately, the Nigerian electricity story is a symptom of leadership failure on a monumental scale. But! The ‘gates of hell’ shall not prevail against our collective resolve to create a better life for ourselves and our offspring’s. The time for change is now and we must fight against those who are bent on impoverishing our lives and making us wait forever at the ‘Puertas del Infierno.’

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

Parting Shot: “All the enormous goodwill which Obasanjo carried into office was squandered with a performance that left him . . . . short of tangible achievements. Eight years in office was ample time to put electricity on a very strong footing . . . . . .” – Awujale, 2010; p195


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