By Cosmas Odoemena
At a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols one of the performances was by a group of girls who did a rendition of “The twelve days of Christmas.” This time, the lyrics were adapted for Nigeria. So, instead of “three French hens,” you had “three turkeys,” instead of “four calling birds” you had “four puff-puffs” like that. Of all the lyrics the line that took the cake for me was “On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, seven generators!” All through the song, whenever it got to that part the comedic master of ceremonies with the audience will chorus “seven generators!” turning it to a sort of leitmotif.
Electricity generators, often shortened to “gen” by Nigerians have become a part of us. From government House to the people’s home, from the rich to the poor you find electricity generators. It comes in different power grades, and sizes.
During the Christmas season, apart from buying food items and those things we adorn, the next thing that gets attention from Nigerians is their electricity generators. Attention to our cars does not really come close, as there are more Nigerians who own generators than cars. While a Nigerian may own one car, he has at least two generators. One runs during the day, the other at night.
One businessman “emergency importer” in November shifted his focus to generators. He told me “na season.” It is estimated that Nigerians spend 5 billion dollars annually on importation of generators. No serious Christmas promo gifts are complete in Nigeria without a generator. Don’t trifle with something that has found its way in traditional marriage list.
There was a time in the past I had told myself I would never use a generator. In our home then thanks to my conservative dad, generators were seen to be dangerous. So if there was no power supply we made use of lamps and rechargeable lanterns. But even those days power supply was still better and in no time light supply was back. We even prayed for power outage so we could play under the moonlight.
I carried on this conservative attitude to the use of generators even when I got married. My wife was not anything different from me in that light, no pun intended. When there was power outage we would use rechargeable lanterns, but sooner rather than later the light would come back.
One November, power supply changed. We could not get two hours supply of light in a day. It continued on, till December, still there was no improvement. Three days to Christmas I found myself going to buy a generator. My wife’s face was a picture when she saw it, betraying a longing. That generator later got a “twin brother.” I might add that my dad also has joined the trend. He has two generators.
A colleague of mine who boasted years ago that in Abuja he had no need of a generator, sings a different song today. He also has two generators in a government quarter in Asokoro.
As Nigerian children grow up their earliest words include “mummy,” “daddy,” “phone” and, yes you got it “gen.” I can almost hear my two-year old daughter after a power outage plead ‘daddy “on” the gen.’
As expected this Christmas season there will be many get-together. This is the season when there is more pollution from generators as people want to outdo one another. I remember two brothers who were living in the same household, but not in good terms. On Christmas day they both held separate parties for their friends and well wishers, with separate DJs, and of course two generators trying to outsmoke and outdo each other with noise.
People who would otherwise not use their generators during the day will want to use it as there will be no dull moment if there is power outage, further adding to the pollution.
Tailors, and seamstresses, may use their generators round the clock not to disappoint more customers. Barbers’ shops and hairdressing salons are also those who will use their generators more. Of course, boutiques and retail stores, hotels, restaurant and bars will also use their generators more.
For technicians who repair generators this is when they make more money, as people who don’t want to take any chances service their generators, and those who may not afford to buy new ones repair their old ones.
Expect more hearing impairment, irritability, sleep disturbance, hypertension, stress and aggression, as consequences of noise pollution.
This period there will be the increased risk of deaths from inhaling carbon monoxide by those who are foolish enough to use their generators indoors.
All this will happen because Nigeria has failed to get it right with power supply after several years of pretending to try, with stupendous amount of money gone down the drain.
In developed countries electricity generators are used in farm settlements for irrigation, or for countryside picnics, or when there is a disaster like hurricanes that affect power supply.
The House of Assembly, or rather The 8th National Assembly at its inception committed itself to a Legislative Agenda (2015 – 2019) to devise “Legislative Initiative on Power.” It said it “shall take legislative action to tackle Nigeria’s energy crisis that has led to a general collapse of industries and businesses and inflicted hardship on citizens.
“Legislative measures to support improved generation and distribution of electricity to homes and businesses will be encouraged.”
It remains to be seen how it has gone in this task with many of them politicians now being distracted by 2019 elections.
With 6000 MW of electricity for a population of 180 million people, with certainty you can be sure that electricity generators will remain part of us for a long long time to come.
Years of political mediocrity, insincerity, thieving, corruption, insincerity, dishonesty, injustice, and man’s inhumanity to man, have all contributed to make sure Nigeria can’t get it right with light supply.
In one of my lamentations on poor power supply I remember writing a piece “Darkness as Nigeria’s friend.” The Jesus we celebrate his birth said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness…” Never mind “gen” lighted Christmas trees. Until we truly act like Christ as a people we will continue to “walk in darkness.”
Dr Odoemena, medical practitioner, writes from Lagos