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Lights, lights everywhere, but how sustainable?

By Chuks Nwanne, Paul Adunwoke and Omolade Ore
22 May 2016   |   2:05 am
One may have to look over his shoulder these days before muttering an unsavoury word about Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. To do otherwise is to risk a slap of ....
Lit up Airport Road, Lagos (Inset: a container housing a generator for the Light Up project at Hostel Bus Stop, Egbe Road (left); a knocked down post lies beside a replacement at NNPC Junction, Egbe Road)

Lit up Airport Road, Lagos (Inset: a container housing a generator for the Light Up project at Hostel Bus Stop, Egbe Road (left); a knocked down post lies beside a replacement at NNPC Junction, Egbe Road)

• Projects Illuminate Lagos, Anambra Streets
One may have to look over his shoulder these days before muttering an unsavoury word about Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. To do otherwise is to risk a slap of public displeasure. It is not hard to see why. The man has performed and is still performing the remarkable – lighting up the streets of Lagos!

The surprise about the Light Up project is not the popular streets and highways that have suddenly grown lampposts; it is rather the outback streets, the little known, the kinds that in political parlance should have streetlights by the year 2050. And so, Iyana Ejigbo road, notorious for badness, now has lampposts waiting to hear ‘Let There Be Light’. Even the stretch between Charity bus stop and Toyota bus stop now boasts of streetlights. Na wa o!

But the laudable project is generating questions among people of the city, like how long the festival would last. The lights, in many places, had no sooner come on than they began to faint. The agency charged with maintenance of the facilities will have to be on its toes eternally, to replace or repair them as soon as Danfo or truck drivers ram them, a bitter certainty that will happen again and again. This is Lagos, you know.

Security operatives and members of the public will also have to be on the look out for predators of public utilities. Early last month, one Lucky Udeagwu was nabbed by men of the Rapid Response Squad of the Lagos State Police Command for allegedly stealing a 35-meter cable meant for the project in the Ogudu area. Certainly, there are many more criminals out there, as disappeared manhole covers, and metal railings on bridges have always proved.

Even before the project is commissioned in some parts of the state, the forces of darkness have begun acting adversely on the lampposts. Along the Jakande-NNPC-Ikotun axis, for instance, ‘unidentified moving objects’ have hit some. One particular post at the NNPC/Pipeline junction still sits by the roadside; twisted in a way only a monster truck would have borne culpability.

According to the Lagos State Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, Mr. Olawale Oluwo, the project will not be powered largely by diesel guzzling generators. During a recent launch of a phase of the initiative, Oluwo, said most of the power used is tapped from the state’s Independent Power Plants (IPP), and will thereby save cost.

The lamps along the Okota-Cele road are definitely not among Oluwo’s IPP-powered streetlights, as a generator, carefully concealed in a container, is positioned at the Isolo end of the road. At Hostel bus stop, along Ejigbo-Ikotun road, Thursday, a new generator was seen peeping out of its blue container home, even as workers of the Light Up Project busy themselves with its installation. Also, at Church bus stop, near Chrisland School in the Idimu area, another ‘container-ed’ generator secretly powers the streetlights on the new Ejigbo-Idimu road.

Although officials of the Lagos State government are tightlipped about what the Light Up Project has gulped, so far, and are not willing either to comment on running costs, conservative estimates put the figure at around N6billion, with monthly operational and maintenance overheads at around N2billion.

An engineer in Ajao Estate, Mr. Willie Toyin, thinks the project will crumble with time. “It is good to light up the streets, but why are they using generators in this era of solar energy? Now, we have scarcity of diesel and high cost of purchasing it. Will government continue to spend exorbitantly for a very long time? In as much as I appreciate the streetlights, I think it is a kind of photo trick because they would soon pack up, like other lighting projects because of the high cost of powering them. The state government should, therefore, consider solar and other alternative sources of energy,” he said.

Online, Lagosians are baring their minds on the new reality. But one commentator, Nyero, has harsh words. “Lighting Lagos with generators is the **** project ever. He (Ambode) is taking Lagos back and (yet) people are praising him. If you know the amount of money spent on fuel alone for the generators, it’s enough to fix every road and provide food for every student in Lagos. Ambode is clueless and wasteful. The poles aren’t even strong. Another government would come in and would still have to replace them. As far as I am concerned, he hasn’t done a thing since he came into office. Lagos a mega city, no wind farms or solar projects…jokers!”

Another commentator notes: “The little amount of power that is being generated in Lagos will now be channeled towards our streets, rather than to our homes and work places. We fail to prioritise. We fail to tackle the main issues concerning what directly affects the citizens. We are not listening; we just want to go around the issue and make it look like it’s all getting better.”

Expectedly, however, many Lagos residents are full of praise for the state government. A civil servant, Mr. Henry Ogunjobi, said: “I have spent about 20 years in Lagos, and every day, we hear several imagined or real stories of crime or rituals. But thank God, with these streetlights, all that will reduce. People are now more relaxed and I feel safe driving at night because when there is light, one would feel secure. It has improved security because the light will empower police patrol teams to discharge their duties effectively.”

For Mr. Kalu Ibe, a banker, nightlife is better with the streetlights, which he said have also made commuting at night easier. “When I go to parties, I feel safe returning home because I can see the road and see the commercial bus I am boarding. You can see police patrol vehicles. Knowing they can spot criminals easily is good. The government is trying,” he said excitedly.

The Light Up bug is sweetly infectious, and hundreds of miles away, another state, Anambra, has caught the fever. For its ordinary folks, the-thing-that-shines-at-night is the preserve of the rich and famous, installed only in their comfort zones. But for the skeletal remains of poles on some major highways in the state, an indication that government once existed, functional streetlights are almost the subject of Oyinbo movies.

Residents began to have a feeling of streetlights recently, when politicians, especially those in the Senate and Federal House of Representatives, started introducing solar powered lamps, as part of their constituency projects. But even at that, the undertakings were not evenly distributed.

Having combated security challenges in Anambra, the state government embarked on the Light Up initiative, aimed at illuminating major roads and streets, beginning from the state capital, Awka.

With the streetlights, the state is, today, witnessing a major transformation. Though still in it’s early phase, the project is already making significant impact on communities already affected. Driving at night within Awka is now much easier. Besides boosting nightlife, the project has also improved the aesthetics of the state capital, especially at the three flyovers in Amawbia, Kwata and Aroma junctions, all on the Awka-Enugu expressway.

Recently, the state governor, Chief Willie Obiano, commissioned the 150 watts LED streetlights on the Amawbia-Enugwu-Ukwu section of the old Enugu-Onitsha road, which covers communities, like Awka, Amawbia, Nawfia, Enugu-Ukwu and Abagana. This phase of the project will terminate in Nkpor. Other communities to be covered include Ifite Dunu, Umunnachi, Umudioka, Ogidi and Ogbunike.

Streetlights in parts of the capital such as Eke Awka, Arthur Eze Road, Ziks Avenue, Amenyi Awka to Finotel Hotel junction have already come alive.

“I was in Awka, recently, and was impressed with what the state government is doing with the Light Up Anambra project; I thought it was only Ambode that is lighting the roads. My community (Amawbia) is already covered. I pray they finish it up to Onitsha,” said Mrs. Mary Akuadi.

The Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Media, James Eze, however, urged benefiting communities to own the project and ensure they protect it from vandals, adding: “The streetlights are powered from the national grid as well as through gas. Already, the ministry has set up a committee to oversee the maintenance of the project and ensure its sustainability.”