Nigerians had a laugh at their country’s expense this week when a government minister harped on sending compatriots to space; at a time when a creaky and dilapidated power grid was collapsing for the umpteenth time.

“LMAO! Just give us light, please,” commented writer and social media critic, Gimba Kakanda, above the news of Nigeria's impending space exploration by Premium Times.

Delivering a keynote address at the 2020 National Convention of the Izzi Old Students Association on Thursday, January 16, 2020, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Ogbonnaya Onu, challenged students to take science and technology a little more seriously.

“The principals and teachers should bring people who can enlighten the students on the importance of engineering to nation-building,” Onu said.

“It will be very sad if in this school we don’t have young people aspiring to be engineers because in Nigeria we have plans to send people to space.

“Yes, we have that plan; don’t ever think it cannot be done, it may take 20 years, 30 years, but we have that plan and I will be very happy to see somebody from this school to go into space and you cannot do it without science and engineering.

“There are so many resources we have in our state and in our country and one problem we have faced is that we have always allowed our economy to depend entirely on commodities.”

Electricity consumers, EEDC, bicker over plans to phase-out pre-paid meters. [dailypost]
Electricity consumers, EEDC, bicker over plans to phase-out pre-paid meters. [dailypost]

Moments after Onu’s remarks on Nigeria’s space ambitions, all of the country was thrown into darkness as the grid collapsed for the 12th time in twelve months.

“We have not solved land problems and we want to go to space? I prefer that we are land champions,” said Maduabuchukwu Jose.

“It must be a spiritual landing,” one Twitter user who identified himself as Norman, commented.

Nigeria has struggled to generate and transmit near stable electricity to homes and businesses since independence in 1960, even though billions of dollars have been splurged on the power sector in that span.

A 2013 privatization exercise that ceded power assets to private sector cronies failed to move the needle one way or the other.

System collapse

“Dear Customer, the outage which occurred at 1237hrs is due to a TCN system collapse. The team is working to restore power. Please, bear with us,” tweeted Eko Electricity Distribution Company soon after Thursday’s all too familiar collapse of the grid.

“Dear Customer, another system collapse was recorded at 14:15hrs today. Restoration efforts are ongoing. Kindly bear with us,” another private electricity distributor outfit in the Lagos area, Ikeja Electric, shared.

Perennial woe

Nigeria’s recent grid collapse arrived just weeks after electricity workers downed tools while protesting unpaid salaries, pensions and allowances owed 50,000 workers of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) before the 2013 privatization of the power sector.

At night in several places across Nigeria, it is darkness (Punch)
At night in several places across Nigeria, it is darkness (Punch)

Public power supply in Nigeria is an erratic, ever problematic, unreliable affair, with a nation of some 200 million people having to make do with a meager 4,000megawatts of electricity from the grid, at the best of times.

Federal lawmakers recently asked electricity distribution companies to halt a hike in tariff until prepaid meters are distributed to most homes and businesses.

Engr Olusesan says Nigeria’s new power minister, Mamman Sale, has got to do better. “Since Mamman was made power minister, the grids collapse, even when birds land on them or winds change direction. Whatever informed Mamman’s new transmission approach to continuously allot power to DISCOS highly notorious for abruptly rejecting power, will ruin all the gains of the new smart substations. We are back to using mobile phone calls to manage load shedding. Are we not mad?”