Friday, 5 April 2013

Darkness visible

Once upon a time I believed what government said. For instance, I believed government when it said that power outages would become a thing of the past. I wasn’t alone in my delusion. Like most of my fellows, I didn’t want to believe that the problem was as bad as the evidence seemed to show it was, and that without fundamental change of the root-and-branch variety we would drift into the anarchy that has now come to pass. My conversion came at the end of Obasanjo’s second term in 2007 when it transpired, during hearings at the House of Representatives, that the $16bn earmarked for the power sector over the previous eight years of his administration had been looted, and that the main culprits were Obasanjo himself, his three successive relevant ministers and assorted local and foreign contractors, all of whom were recommended for prosecution. As if this wasn’t sensational enough, the chair of the House committee, who made much noise at the time about getting to the bottom of the scandal, was himself charged to court for fraudulently enriching himself through one of the unfulfilled contracts. And there the matter died. Nobody was prosecuted; no money was returned. Seven years later again, we are still groping about in the dark as the current administration, in keeping with its predecessors, makes promises it has no intention of keeping, couldn’t keep if it wanted to, if only because President Jonathan is too busy amassing his war chest for 2015, which is all that appears to interest him.

It was with this in mind that I once suggested to my local residents’ association that we stop paying our NEPA bills. By all means, let them come and disconnect us. What did we have to lose? We were already shelling out ten times what they charged each month to fuel our generators. Moreover, our example might energise others to do the same and then where would NEPA be? My fellow residents agreed with me readily enough – we were just then going through a particularly severe outage – but I should have known better. No sooner did the ubiquitous brown NEPA van rock up in our close a week or so later than everybody dutifully trooped out to present the receipt for their latest bill. Leading the pack was my most vociferous supporter at the meeting but then she sold drinks for a living and even two hours of electricity a day was something. Besides, hadn’t I noticed that things had improved? And hadn’t the President himself just taken the entire government on a week’s ‘retreat’ in order that they might ‘chart the way forward’?

Nigerians are like the patient who needs radical surgery, has been shown all the evidence that this is so, but prefers instead to patronise a quack selling a ‘miracle’ cure in the hope that they might thereby avoid the day of reckoning. So it was that, in the course of President Jonathan’s Easter Sunday message in the kind of well-appointed church that Boko Haram regularly blows up, he enjoined us to be prayerful if we want to survive as a single entity - ‘For me, I believe all we need is to believe in the message of Christ, which centred on love and peace. And I believe with love and peace, this country will remain one’ - whereupon NEPA promptly plunged them into darkness. Being an easy-going sort of bloke unfazed by evidence of his own failures, he sought to make a joke of it: ‘I believe they (those behind power supply) know that I am here that is why they took light. At least, to remind me that I must not sleep until we stabilise power. God willing next year, they will not take light again.’ According to the following day’s reports, the congregation spontaneously thundered ‘Amen’ in the manner Nigerian congregations invariably do with the energy they ought to reserve for more practical endeavours, if only because God has nothing to do with delivering stable electricity. One might go even further and say that asking God to do what we should be doing ourselves with the wherewithal that this same God has given us – oil, gas, sun, rain...  - amounts to a species of blasphemy; and that, like the man in the Bible who failed to make use of his talents, we will forfeit even what we have.

So the time has come to get off our knees and begin to confront the self-styled leaders in the only way available to us without taking up arms. This extends to more than just refusing to pay NEPA bills but also water rates, land use charges and all the rest of it (we will get to the issue of boycotting the elections in a later blog: first things first). In other words, we need to treat the government for what it is: a band of brigands whose only legitimacy depends on our willing collusion. My guess is that the whole rotten edifice will collapse quicker than we would have believed possible. In any case, five million people, which must be the upper limit of those who constitute the government – the federal and state legislators, the civil servants, the police, military and various other organs of what pass for the state – can hardly withstand 160 million united behind a common cause. After all, this same government, with all the tools of violence at its disposal, has no answer to the militancy in the Niger delta, much less the greater threat posed by Boko Haram short of offering amnesty to criminals who take life with impunity, security being the first condition of government. Alas, that Nigerians are not yet ready for what is hardly a bold move was borne out by the timidity of my fellow residents to seize the initiative, and the concomitant enthusiasm with which otherwise well-informed citizens chanted ‘Amen’ to the prayer offered by the very man they should be vilifying, having invited him to come in the first place to publicly insult them - even as NEPA took light.

© Adewale Maja-Pearce

Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems and The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:


  1. The Revolution in Nigeria is looming...

  2. Well said, sir. 'I think the best take is execution,' a man once said in a taxi.
    Nebeolisa Okwudili

  3. Lawal Opeyemi Isaac6 April 2013 at 01:41

    I like the concluding part of your Essay Pearce, Nigerians are not ready for a bold move, infact not any move at all!

    The 160 million people you mentions are doing everything possible to get into the 5 millioncivil service workforce, because almost everybody wants to get their share of the national cake.

    It is just so sad.

  4. "The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing. Finally, after a countless succession of rebuffs, it succeeds. This is one of the few points on which one may be optimistic about the future of mankind..." Sigmund Freud, 'The Future of an Illusion'.

  5. Akin Caulcrick6 April 2013 at 09:48

    Mallam na wa o! The NEPA (Never Expect Power Again)or is it PHCN (Problem Has Changed Name)van is not brown in colour o! it's more like DRIED BLOOD COLOUR whatever that is! Anyways me I just want it (NEPA or PHCN) to give everybody prepaid meter. Pakam! Second Base jare!