On Wednesday, March 11, 2020, Senator Bima Eniga, the incumbent senator representing Niger South, proposed a bill that will ban the importation and the use of power generators in Nigeria. The bill, titled “A Bill for an Act to Prohibit/Ban the Importation of Generating Sets to Curb the Menace of Environmental (air) Pollution and to Facilitate the Development of the Power Sector”, suggested that once the act comes into effect, the use and importation of generators will be banned immediately. However, the bill states that those in essential services will be excluded from the ban. Here, the exempted essential service providers include those that use generators for medical purposes, airports, railway stations and services, elevators and escalators, research institutes and facilities that need 24 hours power supply. Private and small scale businesses were not included among those to be exempted from the prohibition.
This bill, as stated earlier, was introduced on Wednesday, and then on Thursday the whole nation was thrown into a 12 hours blackout. For reasons best known to NEPA (or DISCO), they took light around 10am and brought it back by 10pm. I don’t know if this was all over the country but people in different parts of the country complained about the power outage, which coincidentally happened a day after the introduction of the generator-ban bill. It was as if generator dealers and importers liaised with NEPA to remind Nigerians that they can’t do without generators. And believe me when I say that Nigerians truly got the intended message – senators shouldn’t be allowed to ban the generators.
I am an ardent supporter of prohibition of indiscriminate use of generators by many Nigerians, especially in their homes. Some persons have made it a point of duty to disturb the peace and quiet, as well as the fresh air of their neighbours. These people do not care about their neighbours when they switch on their generators immediately power goes off, even to the extent of leaving it on all through the day and in the night. If you complain, people will tell you the person has a right to enjoy himself. But what they forgot is that the person’s ‘right’ is infringing on yours and that he’s causing you a lot of discomfort and harm. So to a large extent, banning generators will help in saving a lot of people from mental, nervous and respiratory related illnesses.
But the little experience I had on 12th March, 2020, when NEPA decided to remind us that this is Nigeria, made me realise that we can’t do without generators, at least for now. I had a deadline to meet, and I was working on the paper when the power went off. I allowed my laptop to run on its battery for about an hour before I shut down to reserve the remaining energy. I was hoping the power would come back before noon but nothing happened. I concluded that they (the NEPA officials) were working on the power cables somewhere and will therefore restore power later in the evening. But my mind started cutting when I read WhatsApp status messages from family and friends living in different parts of the country, who expressed their suspicion towards the power outage. And true and true, power did not come back until 10pm.
So I asked, what if there is no generator and this thing happened? What if NEPA decides we should stay in the dark for two or three days? What if our transformer blows or gets vandalised? There were so many what ifs, but their answers were all the same: people go hear am; businesses go suffer; we will go back to the early 80’s; Nigeria is already in trouble.
Of course there are many reasons why regulation of the use of generators is imperative but we are not ready for its ban. For starters, a lot of businesses need electricity, and this bill did not acknowledge that. For instance, a small barbing saloon operating in one small corner needs access to steady power because clients can walk in at any time. Denying him access to generators when NEPA is unreliable is a way of sending him out of business. What will this barber do if he doesn’t have a generator and NEPA takes light when he is cutting someone’s hair? What will become of the person whose hair was being cut? Small things like these are rarely considered until they happen. All the same, if the senate insists on banning generators, they should at least include business owners in the exclusion list.
Secondly, Nigeria, so far, doesn’t have an alternative source of power apart from the generator set. I haven’t seen a windmill around here, so that one is out of the question. As for the use of electricity from the solar energy that is gradually finding its way into the country, we can’t depend on that right now. First is that it is expensive, second is that it is unreliable. People that mounted solar panels in their houses are still connected to the national grid because electricity from solar energy cannot do a lot of things for them. So until solar power is made accessible to and affordable for every Nigerian, and until it is made more sustainable, Nigeria cannot count it as an alternative source of power.
The senate will soon debate on this bill. They need to understand that banning generators will not solve many problems in the country right now. They should rather find ways to regulate their uses. But then, they should understand that no one will remember where his generator is if NEPA behaves well.