• Monday, May 27, 2024
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BusinessDay

Good people, great generator nation

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KEN UGBECHIE

Nigeriais fast consolidating its Giant of Africa status.And I wonder who garbed my dear country in such overflowing robe. Nigeria does not have the largest economy on the continent. South Africa does, followed by Egypt. Yet, they tell us we are the Giant of Africa. I understand giant to mean very big, colossal, gigantic, monstrous, etc. But Nigeria has the largest population on the continent, over 140 million good people and a few thousand bad ones. May be that’s why we are the giant of the continent.
Well, that was my candid conclusion until last week when my hardworking generator broke down. The poor turbine from Japan had seen years of abuse in my hand. It had severally in the past protested, presenting occasional glitches. But each time it throws up a hitch, I quickly arranged to give it a lift; a good technical overhaul by my long standing technical partner, Lanre, had always brought it back to life. Not this time. Last week, the poor thing whooshed to an abrupt stop with a hint of a very bad situation. And yes, it was really bad. The abuse must stop now, the generator seemed to say. For the past God knows when, it had been made to run all night long every night with occasional ‘on-duty’ for a few hours during the day.
But there is always the positive side to even the worst nightmare. The death of my generator provided me a rare opportunity for self-purification and introspection. For two nights while the good old turbine lay dead in its chamber, my ears were treated to the most weird musical notes that had ever assailed the ears of men. It was the sound of my neighbours’ generators; an admixture of cooing, creaking, droning, twitter, growling and woofing. Some rattled all through the distance with high pitch tones that jarred my auditory system, some merely hummed in low and tolerable notes while yet others pealed with the notes of steel clashing against steel at the blacksmith’s workshop. It was a contest of sort. The shrieking sounds of smaller generators struggling not to be swallowed by the drowning drones of the big generators. Even generators have ego.
In the midst of the maddening din, billows of carbon monoxide oozed forth from the minefield of generators.

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And I wondered to myself, is this how we’ve been living? Was my generator ever part of this army of toxic fumes agents? Have I been a part of this colony of pollutants and I didn’t know it? More crazy thoughts wafted through my mind. May be this was why they tagged us the Giant of Africa. It is in the size of our generators. It is in the mega-size of the collective noise and fumes generated by all the generators in the country. A mischievous friend told me the other day that the aggregate output of all generators in the country would be enough to generate the 6000MW of electricity which our hardworking, hard-thinking and very caring President had been dreaming to give to Nigerians as Christmas gift this December. Right or wrong? But how do we connect all of them without having to deal with the issue of federal character, zoning and quota system. This is my worry with such proposition. If in the final analysis we were able to engineer the technology that would string all the generators in the country together for our common use, how do we share the power output equitably in a manner that no group, ethnic nationality, state or zone would cry injustice?
But isn’t it a shame that the state of our generators should be uppermost in our minds as a people in the 21st Century? In the traffic as you hurry back home through bad roads, your mind races to your generator at home. Is there fuel/diesel in that generator? Will the fuel/diesel in the tank last through the night? What if it breaks down this hot humid night? These are the thoughts that rip through the mind of a Nigerian. His counterpart in South Africa, Egypt, Ghana and other poor African nations do not worry about generators and their state of health. In fact, they do not need the services of the generator except in cases of emergencies and as offshore power support, both of which are temporal. In Nigeria, the generator is the permanent feature of our national power supply system. It is a miracle that some companies are still in the business of manufacturing. Those that can no longer service their generators have closed shops and migrated to other lands with their technology and human capital. A particular textile manufacturer in Lagos is now a major importer of cars and generators. Smart economics, isn’t it?
And why not? After all, it is obvious that the biggest industry today in Nigeria is the generator industry. The generator has forced its way into our national utilities menu such that a good N2 billion has been earmarked in this year’s budget to be spent on generators by the Presidency, National Assembly and MDAs ( Ministries, Departments and Agencies). Please note that the N2 billion is not for the purchase of new generators but to service and fuel existing ones. If you make the mistake of adding the billions that naturally would be spent to purchase new generators as part of capital projects, it would be scary what you would get.
This is why we are the Giant of Africa. Especially given the fact that in the past decade, Nigeria has consistently graced the hall of fame as the largest importer and consumer of generators and generator products on the continent. In 2005 alone, the nation spent $152 million ( about N20 billion) to import diesel generators. But that amount is low compared to the 2008 figure of over $200 million. With power from the national grid plunging to below 2000 MW since last year ( currently at 1800 MW), you would expect the generator import figure to shoot far beyond $200 million.
Nigeria has become the authentic guinea pig for budding generator manufacturers from across the world. From Dubai, France, Sweden, China et al, generator shipments to Nigeria far outstrip shipments to other parts of the continent. This must be why we are the Giant of Africa. This is not a totem of honour but a badge of shame.