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Column No.6: Electric cars in a time of electricity scarcity

To be honest, Abuja should work, because it’s designed and built to. On paper

When I recently read somewhere, that the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) is set to introduce an environment-friendly transport system in Abuja as part of plans to make the national capital a green city, of course I was happy. The FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, made this known during a visit by Jelani Aliyu, Director-General of the National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC) to the FCTA. While Jelani, a personal hero of mine, said plans are underway to start the use of electric vehicles in the city, my happiness was short-lived, as I suddenly got a reality check. This is, after all, Nigeria, as well as Abuja. For some reason, over the years, many a grand idea has been introduced, but has failed.

The very thing electric cars need to operate with, a no-brainer, is electricity. And that’s something in short supply around the city, not to mention the whole nation, but let’s not digress. How will users find energy to charge their vehicles? Will they require generators? And don’t forget that because electric cars will require conveniently-placed charging points, one will have to add an extra layer of endeavour to make things go smoothly: security. If not properly monitored, vandals and thieves will have a field day. We’ve seen what has happened – and is still happening – to manhole covers citywide.

To be honest, Abuja should work, because it’s designed and built to. On paper, at least. I say this because I see structures and systems put up by ministers of the past fade away because their successors did little or nothing to maintain them. You want examples? There are too many to list here. But take a look at some roads around the metropolis, the drainages, and even the bridges. Speaking of bridges, if you want to be shocked beyond your imagination, just go underneath some of them in the Wuse general area. The structural decay is ridiculous, not to mention potentially dangerous.

As for security, it’s also low on scores. Even with the notoriously hard-to-ban police checkpoints, carjacking is still rampant, as is ‘one chance’ robberies and abductions. Bust stop muggings are ever in vogue at most crowded spots where people joust for rare seats in share taxis and mini buses. Don’t forget that kidnapping is inching closer, too, as cases in nearby Bwari have been recorded, joining the ones in Gwagwalada in their shocking intensity and level of violence involved, like the murder of an army general not too long ago.

But let’s not dwell on the woeful failings of the city of Abuja, and focus on the issue at hand: electric cars, in a city where even the street lights that line the roads that frame the presidential villa can go for hours without electricity, leaving the famed Aso Rock and it’s military barracks neighbours in uneasy darkness many times. How, then, will such an ambitious project take flight? Even if your answer is ‘solar power’, I’d still have to call Science Fiction, and it would still mean a host of brand new problems, and a whole new column to boot. The cost of electricity is also a major factor, as anyone who owns a prepaid meter and uses an electric water heater would tell you in-between tears. I’m no expert on power consumption, but I can bet you a car would guzzle far more units than Ariston’s finest appliances.

I should be happy, really, at the prospect of a cleaner city. But if we don’t factor in all these important aspects, our joy will be quite temporary. Even the enthusiasm with which the whole idea was greeted smacks of ‘photo-op’ tastelessness. I mean, we’ve had some good FCT ministers in the past, maybe even one excellent one. But for a project like this electric car thing, we need a practical one. One who respects, supports, and champions good ideas. Unfortunately, our capital city has become a graveyard of ideas, where they shamble, only to die. I think we should strive to get many other things to work, only then will the ‘green city’ part follow naturally, allowing geniuses like Jelani and others to truly thrive and serve the nation.