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Towards the ‘Nitelisation’ of NEPA – Part 1

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nitel_headquarters_buildingMy first and very early contact with the P&T which later became NITEL was through my uncle who worked in the Telegraph section of that institution. As long as he worked there, which was for a rather long time, he sent a congratulatory telegram to every member of the family on their respective birthdays, a service which is now performed a little more loudly by social media and the ubiquitous hand set. In those days, to receive a telegram was an event all on its own because it was very rare and was a means of communication of last resort seeing that the cost involved was quite considerable as each word had to be paid for. It was, however, a very effective means of communication as each telegram arrived at its designated destination anywhere within Nigeria within 24 hours. The telegram was seldom resorted to and so, each recipient was thrown into a state of agitation upon the arrival of that buff envelope which usually meant one of two things: a birth or death disguised as serious illness or revealed in its awful nakedness.

By the 70s there was considerable telephone penetration in the country and the power of the telegram was consequently diminished. As an undergraduate at the Ibadan campus of the University of Ife, it was possible for me to place a telephone call to my parents in Lagos after joining the inevitable queue in front of the telephone room on any evening that I chose to do that. The same thing happened at Ife throughout the 80s and most of the 90s as telephone services were hardly improved over what was available in the 70s, in spite of the huge amount of money that was allegedly spent over the erection of large telephone exchange buildings and the laying of thousands of kilometres of cables all across the length and breadth of the country. Those brave enough to install a telephone in their homes paid through the nose for very poor service as their phones remained stubbornly silent day after day even though their friends, those of them that had a dialling tone on their own phones tried frantically to get through to them. The electric power situation is a mirror image of what it was with telephones in those days before the GSM revolution came and swept NITEL away without trace. Now, virtually everyone has a phone in their pocket and some hardy individuals even have as many as four sets to their name and calls can be made to any part of the country at the touch of a button. All those fort like telephone exchange buildings are now an embarrassing fixture in towns all over Nigeria and all the expensive equipment installed in them exist in the same way that bones of dinosaurs which became extinct some 65 million years ago are a mute reminder of the existence of these magnificent beasts which ruled the earth for a 100 million years.

It is now a week, a solid week of practically uninterrupted power failure where I live and there are no indications that this drought will come to an end anytime soon. This is only in the way of making a comment and not reporting any news as I am sure that, as it has been the case over the last 30 years or so, this has been the default experience of most Nigerians wherever it is they live in this country. As the quality of service dropped over the years, tariffs have risen steadily to the point where people are now having to pay for services not rendered. Successive governments have paid lip service to the provision of power to the nation but so far, the failure to do so has been uniform and utterly unacceptable. The Obasanjo government, one which has been very visible in this aspect, incinerated an enormous fortune on this business of powering the nation but all the efforts ended up in tears and recrimination as there was no improvement. Only a couple of years ago, the Jonathan government unbundled the power company and parts of it were privatised in an attempt to make the situation better only for the problem to remain intractable and in the face of ever increasing demand, for it to get worse. It means that we have been throwing money at this problem but in the face of ever dwindling returns, it is clear that we need to do more than this if we are to see any significant improvement.

• To be continued
• Prof. Lamikanra contributed the piece via Adebayo.lamikanra@gmail.com


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