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Social justice and allocation of scarce resources

When you walk around your plush gated community in the morning, do you notice how the drivers and houseboys use water liberally to wash the…

When you walk around your plush gated community in the morning, do you notice how the drivers and houseboys use water liberally to wash the big men’s cars? Some will use a whole tanker load of water to wash a single car. They leave the water running at full throttle while busy with other things, like polishing the cars. The water drains away into the sewage system somewhere. That is clean, good, treated water. Some of these drivers and cleaners – whoever they may be – have not even a cup of clean water to drink (they and their families), in the ghetto where they commute from every morning and retire to at night. I’m always pained when I see those around where I live waste water. But some will say: “Is it not ordinary water?’’ In places like Abuja, we take these things for granted. But the reality is that the government people and political big men of Nigeria only made Abuja comfortable for themselves and their families by providing these essential amenities – which we now waste – at the detriment of other less-fortunate parts of the country.  Not even the high cost of houses and rents in Abuja can justify the mindless wastage and lack of social justice, or adherence to the principles of sustainability. 

What about electricity? Many of us now have meters and have been turned over to private sector DISCOs to well, face the music; pun intended. Some have taken caution and would usually turn off appliances when heading out of their homes. But the powerful and privileged in Nigeria still ride for free. And so, for them, there is nothing like ‘let us manage’. 

Barack Obama just ended his eight-year tenure as POTUS (President of the United States). He earned $400,000 yearly, out of which they deducted money for his feeding and that of his family. Even if he entertained friends on a personal basis, he picked the bills. Pius Adesanmi wrote recently about how the Prime Minister of Canada is asked to refund the economy class fare whenever he uses their own presidential jet for any personal trips. He and his family are billed. Not in Nigeria! God forbid! Our leaders and those who are connected with them or can wangle their ways however they can, always ride free and the taxpayers be damned. There is a scandal going on about how the Nigerian High Commission in London use their resources to pick up the health bills of our big men who never use Nigerian hospitals. No one cares. The case has been killed. 

Back to electricity in Nigeria. It is a case whereby the rich have used their money and power to purchase power, again pun intended. Check the trend, the richer your community, the more electricity per day you get. There used to be a gated community in Maitama, Abuja where the electricity never goes. Some of Obasanjo’s ministers lived there, and I remember once when they assumed that was how the whole of Nigeria was. The rich, and especially those who run government, can be totally inured from the reality of what Nigeria is. Since this is a class issue, even the Middle Class – though shrinking in size as many drop through the sieve daily – are also becoming disconnected. Lekki people may surely have more hours of light than those in Okokomaiko. For a moment, let us imagine the trauma that poor Nigerians go through. And it is because the powerful simply elbow them into the gutter. 

We have thus totally neglected RURAL ELECTRIFICATION in Nigeria. Where NEPA’s cables got to, they have been abandoned… or the new DISCOs and GENCOs, have simply abandoned our rural areas. Many rural areas I’ve visited in the last one year say they’ve not seen their lights blink once in 18 months… except someone turns on the power generator (I pass my neighbour). What could be the problem? Is it the privatisation? Since rural guys have less money, do the DISCOs just think they are not worth the trouble? In addition to the new focus on profit-maximisation, it is true that the rich urban areas have absorbed the little that Nigeria generates such that there is nothing to give to rural areas? And as this is going on, electricity infrastructure in the poor, rural areas are getting vandalised and cannibalised, after all they now seem useless. Getting infrastructure back on track in such places have suffered a double jeopardy. Some of them may never see these amenities to use again except something revolutionary happens in Nigeria. 

One major reason for the crisis with Nigeria’s electricity is that as the population increased and millions of houses came on board, we also disinvested from the electricity sector. Monies meant for the building of new infrastructure and maintenance of old ones like other countries do, had been diverted into personal mansions, castles and vast estates of the ‘nouveau riche’, which then connected to the national grid, leading to frequent collapse of that grid system. 

We once suggested that government brings out a building code whereby every building design of a certain status also came with provisions for solar panels and other forms of alternative energy. You build an estate. You advertise all the luxuries, the swimming pool, and whatnot. You then sell for N200million or N100million a pop. You ridiculously advertise the presence of 24hours ‘generator’ as part of the perks, as if that was a standard around the world. You plug the entire estate to the national grid and suck some away from the vulnerable.

Why won’t there be rural-urban drift, and crime? Why would we not be afraid of going to our villages over Christmas? Why would our dependants not continue to grow in number? 

Building a better Nigeria has a lot to do with attitude. Even the corruption we speak about is just plain wickedness, mixed with some sort of mental illness. People steal what they’ll never be able to spend and then watch the society go to hell. The attitude we need is one of acute social justice. We need to know the effects of our decisions and indecisions on the generality of  the society. We need to develop smart approaches that reduce wastage of resources. We need to know how to value the small things. We need to understand value chains. 

This penchant by the powerful to grab is why everything collapsed in Nigeria. It is why our public schools became no-go-areas, why hospitals became places of sorrow, and so on. Just think about it. I saw a documentary about Thomas Jefferson over the weekend, and the University of Virginia, which he built in 1819. You need to see their main hall/chapel. The symmetry, architecture and sophistication for a 19th century development, is amazing. I started to wonder why we are still at that stage in development that emphasizes our personal prowess and belongings, when for centuries, great men have seen that it is better to invert the process… UNTIL WE UNDERSTAND THAT WHAT BELONGS TO ALL MUST BE PRIORITIZED AHEAD OF WHAT BELONGS TO ONE… I sometimes feel like we haven’t totally evolved as human beings. What our leaders display is that we got stuck at the level where personal possessions and not a sense of social justice and sustainability defines the worth of men.  Let’s just say that is a bit better than beasts in the wild, some of whom show more empathy and justice to their most vulnerable.