Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Daily life in Nigeria

In our household, we often joke about our "First World Problems" when a squirrel trips a fuse on an electrical transformer and we lose power for an hour or so or when we overtax the water heater by running the dishwasher and showering at the same time. As Adewale Maja-Pearce writes, there are people with real problems.

Nigeria’s Power Problem
The NEPA people came the other day… Though the organization is now called the Power Holding Company of Nigeria…

I had been expecting them. They come about once a month, a van containing a crew of four or five guys, going from house to house, ready to cut off your power if you lack proof that your payments are up to date…

I owed several months for the electricity they had barely been providing. Even though about 85 percent of Nigeria’s urban areas and 30 percent of rural areas are on the power grid — the result of years of government monopoly and its attendant corruption — the supply is intermittent at best. I’ve been getting about three hours a day, if lucky, and even then rarely at a stretch. Sometimes you don’t get any power for three or four days. Like many people here, I rely on a private generator to bridge the gaps…
Nigerian power meters
The affable crew boss who confronted me was sincerely understanding as I explained to him how my problem had begun six months ago, when my monthly bill jumped from $30 to nearly $185. But arguing was pointless… my power was cut…

I was looking at fees of around $525. I went home and discussed the problem with my wife, but in truth there was nothing to discuss and we both knew it. We already paid $215 a month to run our generator, which is not powerful enough to draw water from the well I had dug when the state water authority, equally comatose, finally stopped supplying us many years ago.

To say that this couldn’t have happened at a worse time assumes that there is ever a good time to be hit with an outrageous bill. We had just embarked on major renovations, and a newspaper that had hired me to write a weekly column suddenly and without explanation stopped paying.

Then there was always “the Nigerian factor,” which is to say the uncertainties of life in a country where even the power of the government itself is something of a fiction. This is most obviously demonstrated by the fact that none of the more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted over three months ago by Boko Haram terrorists have been rescued (although a few of them managed to escape)…

And yet, even as I write this, I’m not as perturbed as perhaps I should be. Cutting corners has become a way of life for all Nigerians, great and small. We don’t expect anything better, which is why we are so quiescent under conditions that should ordinarily make people rise up and say, enough is enough.

But power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and, in their own small way, so do power shortages.

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