Friday, June 12, 2009

Power to the people

The power has been especially sporadic here lately, which may be a result of tensions heating up in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, where despite last week's Shell settlement in the Saro Wiwa case, the MEND rebels are still fighting the government for a fair share of the oil proceeds. The rebels apparently blew up another pipeline this week. (BTW if you need to brush up on who Ken Saro Wiwa was, there is an excellent video about the case here.)

Whatever the reason, the charm of reading by flashlight has worn off for me, and I usually just go to bed early. But who cares about me? Imagine being a Nigerian school kid trying to get her homework done! This article discusses people's frustrations, and this sign sums up the costs to society of not having lights that work:

But I have a theory that the Nigerian power authority (NEPA) folks are actually pretty smart. Because if the power works most of the time, people will complain when it doesn’t. But if the lights almost never work, everyone celebrates the few hours a week that they do. The kids in the compound behind me sometimes let out a big cheer when the lights come on, which is only about 10% of the time.

And maybe that is a good metaphor for Nigerian politics as a whole. A couple people from back home have asked me "if things are so bad over there, why aren't people rioting in the streets?" I think the reason is that, after you've lived through the military rule of the 80's and 90's, things don't seem so bad. Nigeria even celebrated ten years of democratic rule last week!


  1. This is an awesome blog, Sean! I am a US law student with an interest in international development, and I always wondered what I could do as a lawyer for Africa. You have given me great insight!

  2. Reminds me of a story I read about the food crisis in Haiti, where food companies would withhold food so that desperation could jack up the price. Shameful and criminal behavior.

    On that note, should there be something called 'energy sovereignty'?

  3. Thanks for the kind words, Chicshik -- and good luck in your legal career.

    As for you, Ali, I should point out that I don't have any evidence that the Nigerian authorities are intentionally witholding power. I would not put it past them, though. Especially if the officials are taking payments from the companies that import portable generators, as someone once told me.

  4. Ok After reading that I will not complain anymore about my slow internet connection here. At least the power works well here.