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Renewable energy should begin from technology universities

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PHOTO: Aera Group

A former government executive from a region in the South East called me to vent his spleen over the lack of will by governmental persons to bring development to the polity. Some years back, he recalled, non-nationals from Europe visited his home-zone and requested that the government give them large swathes of land. They wanted to establish solar farms in collaboration with the state government to power the state.

The administrator asked for time to think about it. With the governor out of office now, the new man at the helm of affairs is probably still thinking. We have yet to emerge from the dark. There is no lack of a much wider audience to help Nigeria. In the wings stand The U.S., China, Australia, Israel, India, etc. with their entrepreneurs, investors, and start-up specialists. What is lacking is our will to want to move out of the darkness. How else can you explain away the practice where a nation stays glued to only one way of doing government business? Why must we wait until a certain group of people hold us to ransom?

Recently, Professor Dele Owolawi said to me, “each successive governments have laid claim to vandalisation of gas pipes in the Niger Delta as the culprit of our comatose electricity. Must electricity be generated only by gas? Why can’t a serious government make these groups of vandals irrelevant by exploring solar, geothermal, wind etc. as alternatives. Must we forever remain in darkness?” On that subject, I have to ask of what use is it to establish a federal university of technology without the resources to back it up? I had cause to go to a university of technology not long ago. For reasons I couldn’t comprehend, the school was connected to the federal power line but there was never any power. I heard it was disconnected. And here is the saddening part: all the departments in that school were (and I’m sure still is) powered by generators. Now imagine the damage to the environment, to the quality of our air, and natural resources, by a university that should know how to use new and better technology. Why can’t the university use more efficient ways of protecting the environment than relying on imported oil as a source of energy?

If a federal university of technology cannot provide its own electricity needs using solar, geothermal and wind energy, what hope is there for the larger society and Nigeria? What technologies are we actually developing in our universities of technology? Universities of technology should be funded and given the capacity to use technology to complement nature. This can be done through the establishment of solar farms to take care of the needs of the university and of the host communities as part of its corporate social responsibility. Anything short of this is fraud. If cities and a federal university of technology do not have alternatives to generate power, then what hope is there for the rural areas in Nigeria? Take a look at the U.S., where the Rural Electrification Administration was set up to give very low-interest loans to rural cooperatives so they could bring electricity to rural areas. This was established during the great depression. By 1953, it was reported that 90.8 percent of rural farms had electricity. In 1993, the date of the published report that I stumbled on, 98.8 percent of farms “have electricity.” Don’t even tempt me to cite the statistics on home telephones provided by the Rural Telephone Bank in the same report.

In the 1970s, Iraq undertook the task of building up a Technological University at a cost of over 1 billion dollars. And the contract for the buildings alone was estimated at over 200 million pounds. Primitive men saw the importance of the Sun and made use of it, why not modern
Nigerian man? Hindus and Egyptians I was reliably informed worship the sun but we don’t. We combat the sun instead even when it has been proved in Pakistan, Morocco and elsewhere that the technology of the sun’s energy shapes society positively. Millions of homes are now powered through the sun’s energy. Educational opportunities, thanks to the sun, are enhanced in Kenya. We can’t run with the hare and hunt with the hound. We are either for development or against it. Let’s not pretend that we care when it is obvious that we lack the governing capacity to bring development. It is befuddling though because with the sun’s energy we don’t have to worry about risks to ecological conditions and human health. Without a doubt, global mean temperatures wouldn’t rise much because carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will be reduced, ensuring little negative effect on ocean levels and precipitation patterns (frequencies and intensities).

Maybe we lack the humility to learn the ropes, relevance, paradigm and models for change. Maybe we should begin to solve our electricity challenge by powering Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Kaduna to de-congest the national grid. How does the DRC, despite war conditions, manage to keep the country up and running with the mining industry continuing to flourish, while Nigeria continues to play the blame game? Why do we waste time and money on foreign trips, national conferences and national retreats on development? The country would benefit more by inviting non-political experts to brainstorm and search our archives at minimal, or no, cost, resulting in the desired mandate and blueprint to move forward. We cannot solve our electricity challenge unless and until we have a proper diagnosis on the lack of governing capacity in the government. The government should be main-streamed, should stop giving lip service and should start collaborating with embassies and High Commissioners stationed in Nigeria to bring in investors. Politicians should stop their expensive junkets around the globe seeking investors when these can be reached with the touch of diplomatic buttons already in our country.

The job of installation, concentration and the diffusion of solar energy and its conversion to usable electricity is a matter of technology and organisation. It has never been, and never will be, a matter of political rhetoric. Nations that have been able to solve their power challenge are rich nations. Administratively organised, they have the resources to innovate and to dominate larger areas for economic growth. Such rich nations could undertake a venture to the Falkland Islands to protect 1800 people as a military exercise with highly-developed transport and communications. Nigeria cannot develop socially and economically without power. She needs to harness her available and abundant resources to technological skills to convert those resources to useful energy and make it available to the consumer. This cannot work without the organisation of government. Many years ago, the Indian government laid emphasis on public transport and subsidized diesel fuel while heavily taxing gasoline which was used for private vehicles. In the UK, Winston Churchill founded British Petroleum and backed it up with the might of the British Empire.

Today in Nigeria, with the government having no solutions, not done the needful, we ask that we leave power in the hands of private hands. How can? Government must do the needful to 90 per cent before talks about privatisation, there is no alternative if we are to grow, emerge from the darkness covering our land and move beyond the current, endless blame games.

Abah wrote from Port Harcourt.



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