A while back in July, on a trip from London to Abuja, my sister sat next to a talkative person on the flight. In his lamentations about visiting home, he complained bitterly about the lack of stable electricity and amid a conversation with others, he suddenly said to her “Do you know a place called Maiduguri? I heard that they have not had electricity for six months. A whole six months fa!”
My sister only smiled; not only did she know Maiduguri, but considered it home and was in fact headed there after her transit in Abuja.
It is no more news that since militants of the Islamic State West African Province blew up a power grid on January 26th, 2021, residents of the Borno State capital have been plunged into darkness. Boko Haram insurgents have concurrently damaged 33KVA transmission tower lines along the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway, thereby hampering all efforts to restore power in the capital city. Engineers from the Transmission Company of Nigeria have worked tirelessly to restore electricity to the northeastern city of Maiduguri after it was attacked but all to no avail. The technicians accompanied by security operatives have attempted several times to restore electricity but their efforts are rendered futile after a couple of days, sometimes hours, as the insurgents are quick to destroy whatever progress has been made. So many soldiers and technicians have been wounded and a few have lost their lives all in the cause of restoring electricity to the town.
And while the state government has been working hard to find a lasting solution, the people of Borno state have witnessed hardship as they have never known before. This is a state that has witnessed several bombings and mass killings, loss of GSM network and complete destruction of villages but is now experiencing another kind of disaster- Nine months of darkness.
Maiduguri, the capital of Borno, is a town that is characterised by temperature extremes; these days the temperature ranges between 37 and 41OC. In March and April of this year, they recorded a temperature extreme of up to 45OC! And this happened during the Ramadan fast. The lack of electricity made the heat unbearable causing dehydration and a worsening of conditions caused by lack of proper ventilation and overcrowding. Since the power outage was across the state, the experience is felt by all the people who live in Borno, the rich and poor inclusive. diesel and petrol consumption increased and gradually became a scarce commodity. This creates a domino effect as the cost of goods and services in Maiduguri have skyrocketed!
During this year’s Ramadan, frozen ‘pure’ water was sold at N100-N200/ piece as people were desperate to break their fast with something cool. The inhabitants of Maiduguri started rationing their provisions as buying petrol and diesel has become more important. Day in Day out, all over the city, the noise of small and large generators can be heard competing against each other.
Even water has become scarce in the city. Many households have shut down their boreholes which supply them and their neighbours due to the high cost of diesel to power them. Long queues have appeared at the few boreholes supplying water, as residents’ line up with pails and jerry cans. The price of a 25-litre (6.6-gallon) jerry can of water has more than tripled, to N100 up from N25 previously.
As for businesses, especially small-scale businesses, many of them have since collapsed. With motorised boreholes relying on electric power to operate, business and daily life have been severely disrupted in Maiduguri. A welder I know, has seen his business crippled by the power outage, forcing him to look for menial jobs to feed his wife and two children. He is now a day labourer who assists bricklayers at building sites earning a fraction of what he usually made in his previous business. Businesses like tailoring, selling cold drinks, internet cafes and catering have suffered immensely due to lack of electricity. Even large-scale businesses are complaining that they are only managing to stay afloat. Clinics, offices and large grocery stores have had to increase their fees and prices just to factor in the price of electricity.
A week ago, Governor Zulum, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, laid the foundation stone for the construction of 50 Megawatts Emergency Power Plant, being funded by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), in Maiduguri. The gas plant which was approved by the president is part of measures to address power outages in the state. The project will be jointly executed by a Chinese firm, China Machinery Engineering Company, CMEC and General Electric, GE. While the Chinese firm will execute the engineering, procurement and construction contract, the American firm, GE, would manufacture the equipment for the Emergency Power Project in Maiduguri. NNPC’s group managing director, Mele Kolo Kyari, gave assurance that the project will be delivered in good time, noting that orders have already been placed for turbine and other facilities.
This all sounds good, right?
But why did it take so long? The question we should be asking is- why after nine months? How many businesses and capital have crumbled and will continue to do so in this period? How much more will the people in Maiduguri continue to suffer until electricity is restored? At the risk of being labelled a wailer- why should we be celebrating that after nine months; a plan has finally been approved. Approved o! not executed.
In all this, I must commend the resilience of the people in Maiduguri. They have shown more patience than can be imagined. I dare say if this happened in another state in southern Nigeria, a lot of government offices and property would have been burnt and the governor would not dare to be seen publicly. But this is who we are. For all the violence that northern Nigeria has been labelled with, the majority is still meek at heart. We do not demand answers and solutions from our government officials, rather, we will fight one another over mundane things like women’s dressing or religious clerics disagreement. A clear case of burying our heads in the sand.
God bless the people of Maiduguri for their patience. May this darkness be lifted from their land.