I never saw Tai Solarin till he died except in newspapers. I also did not meet the eccentric but brilliant British Finance broadcaster when he came to Nigeria a few months back – apparently to do a PR job to shore up the image of the country. But from what I’ve heard or read these two men say, they have some profound ideas about how we can turn around the power or energy sector in Nigeria.
The advices these gentlemen are offering, are simple.
Let’s start with Richard Quest: I am presently going through some videos on Youtube where he gave several interviews about his visit to Nigeria and what he thinks we should be bothered about. Richard thinks we are too concerned with the ‘sexy’ questions; what kind of phone do I buy, what car do I drive, which duplex in Lekki will I live etc. He says we aren’t asking the hard, unsexy questions that will determine the future of Nigeria. He insinuated that we have generally accepted absurdity as normal when he mentioned that there is nowhere he has been where people tank up on power generating sets like what he has seen in Nigeria. He reeled out many countries as examples.
Then in another broadcast when he returned to his base, Richard Quest said what he saw about Nigeria, is that we have one motto; “If you can buy it, why build it?” This is a weighty motto for a country, and it says a lot about all the floundering that has been going on around the subject of power in Nigeria, as well as our age-long Balance of Payment crisis. If we can buy a generator, why build the power sector from the scratch? Why think of innovating anything? Why stretch our resurces? Why ‘manage’ what we have? Why deploy any of the theories we have learnt in physics to see how we can begin to solve our problems bit by bit? Why should our universities and polytechnics kick in and actively assist or give us ideas on what to do?
Nigerians love big, sexy things. We love to always make a statement. There is this joke on WhatsApp about a rat that swallowed a diamond. An exterminator was invited to come and catch the rats and retrieve the diamond. When the exterminator/fumigator got to where the rats hide, he saw there was one sitting all by itself as the rest scampered away. He promptly killed that one, carved it open and retrieved the diamond. Asked how he knew that was the culprit, he replied that ‘you know these guys, when they come into money, the first thing they do is separate themselves from the crowd. They stop mixing’. That is the attitude of the Nigerian.
And so people who left the village on some scholarship make it a point to stop returning to the village once they start ‘making it’. In time they come into money and look for some exclusive estate where only rich men live. We always want to make a point, and wear our wealth on our sleeves. An average Nigerian does not believe he is rich until others know he is rich, or until he can confirm that he has more money than others. It must show. Any acquisition of asset is a good reason to ‘thank God’ by throwing a party to show he has arrived. That is the reason why Kogi Governor threw a big party to ‘warm his new mansion’ even though he is owing pensioners and civil servants are taking their own lives in his state due to non-payment of salaries. He just cannot see the optics. All that matters is to show the people that he is better than them. This is the reason why we destroyed every system in the land; from education to health, to power. Nothing signifies a poverty mentality and inferiority complex more than this.
Quest says we never bother to do our own thing and make it unique and original to us – especially when we can buy it (even if that means borrowing into the next 40 years so that unborn children will pay for the profligacies of today). It would have been okay, if we bought whatever we fancied with real liquidity, but we have no patience, nor discipline for that.
During the week, as usually happens, I was driving and was meditating the reality of Nigeria. In front of me and behind, were glistening cars, the latest and the best… and sprinkled around were the odd jalopies too. As none of these cars were made in Nigeria, I wonder what kind of economic model we were operating and how long this will last. I thought about the efforts by Innoson and PAN to cobble some things together. Great efforts. But I realized that in serious countries, the cars they made are usually the majority on their roads. Renault, Citroen and Peugeot for France. Rovers, Vauxhalls and some Ford for the UK. Daewoo, Hyundai, Kia, Ssanyong for South Korea. Those who don’t manufacture try not to binge so that they will not be slaves to those who do.
But here, not only do we not really care about this basic moral lesson of really standing on one’s own and creating one’s reality rather than relying on others, we see nothing wrong in reaching for the best and most-expensive things created by other people, even if we have to borrow. I will relate this with the power sector in a minute. For now, let’s reiterate Richard Quest; Nigerians believe that if you can buy it, why make it? Or why build it? If you can enjoy and eat it now, why keep and admire it? Why wait till tomorrow to enjoy even what you don’t have? In other words, what Britisher Quest, being a descendant of a nation of minimalists and masters of subtlety, is trying to tell us is that we have no sense of fear for the future, nor a contemplation of our past. We just live for the moment… and take the rest to God. Well, OK.
So what did Tai Solarin say about this subject matter? I may have written it on this page before but it bears repeating. There was an argument at the Ibadan House of Assembly in the formative stages of the Nigerian project. The subject was education. How do we fund it? Who should benefit? How do we proceed? How do we include the vast majority of our children and make profound impact on society? How do we best deploy our resources in this area? Awolowo’s view was for universal, basic and free education. And for this, he later built the schools that were half mud and half cement and proceeded to be the envy of other regions of Nigeria with his mass education program. Tai’s argument was for something more profound. He wanted a scenario where everything is slowed down and methodical, to the extent that our children will be taught how to solve every problem using their own intelligence. He wanted Nigerian youths to learn how to build things rather than build a sense of entitlement and expect off-the-shelf solutions. In other words; think, think, think!
Tai believed that having posh schools like Kings College will corrupt our children and turn them into graduates that have their eyes and allegiances elsewhere but Nigeria. Like Julius Nyerere, he believed that education should necessarily lead to personal responsibility, independence of thought, creativity, a problem-solving mind, and a fierce allegiance and commitment to, and ownership of society. No less. He asked why children who lived in mud houses should attend well-built cement schools which they don’t understand the technology behind? He wanted an ownership of every process, to the extent that if the students had to build their own schools from the scratch, so be it. Of course Tai did not win the debate and the best he could do was start a model school that could reflect what he had in mind; Mayflower School.
On the 1st of January 1964, in a newspaper article Tai wrote;
“May your road be rough. I am not cursing you; I am wishing you what I wish myself every year. I, therefore, repeat, may you have a hard time this year, may there be plenty of troubles for you this year! If you are not so sure what you should say back, why not just say, same on you? I ask no more.”
Though the message was well-received in 1964, today, 53 years after, most Nigerians will swear for Tai Solarin for asking that their roads be rough. We have been conditioned for enjoyment, and enjoyment only. Our pastors, while collecting their tithes, offerings and other sundry donations, have assured us that all that matters in life is a life of wanton luxury. And they have created that atmosphere of fierce individuality. We no longer cooperate… and Nigeria is being feasted on by all who have the opportunity, just as hyenas will tear away at cadaver.
THE EASY ROAD
Nigeria is where it is today because we chose the easy road. The elite preferred to send their children, first to Kings College, and today, to the most expensive private school in the land. We even have 9 years old children being sent to foreign primary schools while their parents are in Nigeria these days. When you ask, they tell you ‘we can afford it’. But can society afford it? Tall question. The fact is, nobody cares about society. Cheap greed, rat race, has blinded us to all of that.
Regarding the power or energy sector, there is nothing we have not seen. We have heard about the power plant that was imported for installation somewhere in the South-South, but which was stuck for two years at some riverbank down there because no one thought about the bridge that needed to be built in order for the power plant to make it across. We have heard about several grandiose projects most of which were avenues for grand larceny and corruption. We have heard about gas. There was a time in Nigeria that all we heard about was gas, gas and more gas. Not being an engineer, I used to wonder at the prospects. Years have passed and what we hear not is how no one thought of how to pipe the gas to power generating units. Imagine the investment that will be required? Imagine the logistics issues in a clime where busting of pipelines is the new sport? We have heard of privatization, which was meant to solve all our problems. But I was shocked last week, reading the former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Agency, Professor Sam Amadi, when he said the privatization of that sector was wrong-headed. Just this morning we are reading in the newspaper how some distribution companies (DISCOs) may have been installing fast-running fake meters in people’s homes.
Also a number of the distribution companies are threatening force majeure, threatening to down tools, because the government is trying to make access to power easier for some big time users. In another instance, the transmission network is grossly incapacitated to convey the kind of energy that Nigeria needs. Generate too low, the transmission crashes. Generate too high, it crashes. Generating firms are therefore complaining that they are suboptimising their potentials, profits and projections. All the so-called investors are suddenly alleging that they were not allowed to do a full due diligence on the assets they bought. Imagine that! Who does that? These are super-smart guys, mind you. This complaint has led to government bailing the sector out – twice. Imagine someone buying something off you and then returning for you to give them money to operate it? The Vice President also casually told us the other day that we will have to pay a lot more for energy consumption. The government and their friends are dumping the inefficiencies and corruption in that sector on the laps of Nigeria. I can wager that what we pay for electricity here is already pretty high compared with most other countries. What a shame.
So, the problem of the sector is embedded in what these gentlemen had to say. From quest we can get the fact that we need to learn how to BUILD things from the scratch, and sustain them. It reminds me of the political project I and others are working on now – ANRP. Nigerian youths don’t understand the need to build a party from scratch. How will they know when our elders don’t see why we should build tangible things like the power sector from scratch, and think outside the box?
From Tai we can also get the need to use our intelligence to solve this energy problem.
For me we have now got to a crossroads. Except Nigeria is trying to put a lie to established science and technology, we have no excuse tackling this energy problem for a whole five decades. Science does not lie. Only humans do. So it must be that we are practicing the science and the technology, wrong. What happened to everything we learnt in schools. Why don’t we have a rash of youth in all our villages trying to solve this energy problem using what they learnt in school? Part of the problem is that the focus on entrepreneurship more than subtly revs the greed engine and promote individualism. We have not encouraged our young ones to do anything out of love, or the need to solve a problem, or for the country. Only to ‘blow’. The youth are also looking at the older ones and disconnecting fast.
If we continue this way, we will remain at the same spot in another fifty years. Ministers will import huge power plants that we have no capacity to maintain, or prevent from sabotage, or produce spares for. The costs of the technology will continue to increase while we are unable to ramp up the value of what we produce – crude oil, solid minerals, or agric products – which are dependent largely on international market prices.
I believe that Nigeria now needs to invert the process. Rather than this top-down approach of importing technology and equipment of which we have no input, why not begin to solve the energy problems of our smallest units. Rather than a situation where many of our villages have been in darkness, some for upwards of ten years, we should unleash our most important resource – our human resources – to assist with micro units of energy production. Right before our eyes, solar energy that used to be as difficult and expensive to achieve as rocket science, has been made achievable and fairly cheaply through innovation. The people we buy the technology form merely sat down and thought through the process of making things more efficient. Knowledge is layered; you build on what you know. But in order for that to happen, a society must understand and appreciate the power and value of the brain. Nigeria, unfortunately keeps getting more and more anti-intellectual. In fact, we have mainstream mediocrity lately and turned it into a system of governance.
Our universities and polytechnics must sit up. We have had enough of intellectual lethargy, whereby the gown stands aloof and none of its end products make it to the town. Our academia must stop being a drawback and lodestone to the development of this country. This is the time to go back to the admonitions of these two gentlemen and others like them. Sometimes, we have to slow down, unlearn what we think we know, try a totally new approach. This is time for government to halt this appalling, unacceptable, unimaginable and unprecedented wastage and financial recklessness going on, and unleash the power of our youthful intellect on the energy and other industries.
We have come to the point where we have to admit the fact that our best resource – the soft matter between our ears – has really never been tapped, while we suffer from relying on other people’s best resources (their brains). It is what has led to us importing vaccines and anti-snake venoms from places like University of Costa Rica. We certainly cannot continue like this. Or can we?
Balogun O. (2009): A Philosophical of the Educational Thoughts of Obafemi Awolowo and Tai Solarin. Retrieved from: https://www.ajol.info/index.php/tp/article/view/51592
Monomiye M. (2014). Tai Solarin and Education for Self-Reliance. Academia.edu. Retrieved very from; https://www.academia.edu/8749037/Tai_Solarin_and_Education_for_Self_Reliance