When Powerless Government Banned Powerful Generator
• Policy Insensitive, Wicked, Say Nigerians • Generator Fumes Linked To Rising Cases Of Cancer – Experts
NIGERIANS woke up last week to the rather disturbing news that the federal government has prohibited the importation of small electricity generating sets, popularly called: ‘I Better Pass My Neighbour (IBPMN).
Customs spokesperson, Madugu Sanni Jubrin, disclosed this during a chat with journalists. Jubrin, who controls the Customs Federal Operations Unit (Zone A) in Lagos, said: “The smaller generators have been banned by the federal government because they cause air pollution and destruction of our lungs and breathing system. That is why they have banned it. But people are still interested in smuggling them in. That is why we intercepted them. If you go to the market, you still see them because people have imported them before the ban. So, it is the leftover they had before the ban that they are selling because the law did not backdate the ban and it is not an absolute prohibition. It is prohibition by trade, which means you cannot bring it in large quantity and sell to the public.”
The ban went into effect immediately, despite the fact that electricity supply in the country is on a downward turn. Added to this pain is the ongoing fuel scarcity, which has left many people in a dilemma.
Reacting to the ban, many Nigerians accused the government of insensitivity and outright wickedness.
Mr. Chinedu Ibe, a father of four, told The Guardian: “I don’t like using IBPMN but that is what I can afford at the moment. We don’t have power most times and the children find it difficult to sleep in the stifling heat. We use the generator when we sleep overnight. Now that it has been banned, I know the price is going to go up. I prefer using it because it doesn’t consume much fuel.”
A visit to several markets show that the price of IBPMN generators now stands between N13,000 and N20,000, depending on the market, brand and buyer’s bargaining power. This is a sharp rise from its previous price of N11,000-N13,000.
Mr. Fortunatus Igwe, owner of Able God Electronics at Lawanson, Lagos, said he is aware of the ban, a situation, which according to him has informed increase in his cost price. He warned that the price could still soar by Christmas.
Many Nigerians have protested the ban, claiming it is selective and targets low-income earners and the impoverished. They argue that several Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) fall into this vulnerable category and would be greatly distressed by the ban. A few people have even suggested that the embargo might actually lend credence to conspiracy theories about generator-importing cabals being behind the failure of the power sector, despite trillions of naira spent since 1999 to boost performance.
Reacting to the ban, one Ifeoma Opara said: “If truly the ban is aimed at tackling air pollution, what about banks, factories, school, hospitals etc., that make use of huge generating sets that emit even more carbon than the IBPMN models? Why does the restriction not cut across these other generators, which do even more damage to the air?”
IN Port Harcourt, residents decried the ban, saying the government is clueless on how to improve the living standards of ordinary Nigerians. Artisans, especially, said the decision would render many people jobless.
Samuel Nnadi, who makes a living by using the small generator to charge phone batteries at Romokoro Junction, said: “If the government wants to ban the use of generators in the country, it should prohibit all sizes, especially, the big ones, so that politicians who use them would feel the pinch as well.”
Emeka Wodi, a barbering saloon operator in Rumuosi, Obio/Akpor Local Council, said the decision was ill conceived and urged the government to have a rethink.
“In Benin Republic, it is hard to find small generators because there is constant power supply there. Nigeria has all it takes to have such but corruption and bad governance has deprived us. Why is government trying to emulate the policies of those who have fixed their economy? Many of the people who use these generators are youths. When you deprive them of their livelihood, what do you expect? They will certainly embrace anti-social vices,” said Kelechi, a graduate of Architecture.
And for Festus, who uses the small generator to power his shop: “Our leaders are wicked. They like to cheat the common man. They don’t want us to grow. President Buhari’s government is failing us. We are disappointed because we are not seeing the change we voted for.”
With an estimated 60 million generator users, Nigeria is sadly still a generator-dependent economy. Generation and distribution of public electricity is still abysmally low. Many homes and SME’s are dependent on the IBPMN, which is known to conserve fuel, thereby reducing cost of running businesses. How intending small-scale entrepreneurs are going to cope, as well as already existing businesses and homes, is the question on many people’s minds.
Miss Munira Kazeem is a fashion designer and owner of House Of Muni, situated in a suburb of Lagos. According to her, after several failed attempts at getting a white-collar job, she decided to pursue her interest in fashion designing.
However, she admits that breaking even has been difficult, as there is hardly electricity to power her operations. After generator maintenance and fuel costs, she admits she is left with very little. Her bigger generator packed up recently and because of financial difficulties, Kazeem said she had to settle for IBPMN. According to her, that is what has been helping her meet up. “It is fuel efficient and easy to maintain. Now that petrol is scarce and expensive, the generator is serving me more than ever,” she said.
Why the ban spared cars, trucks, motorcycles and tricycles that contribute more than 40 per cent of carbon emission is another surprise altogether. Driving on Nigerian road reveals that many buses, trailers and cars are not road-worthy, as they emit smoke, sometimes in the presence of officials that are supposed to check such.
The Vehicle Inspection Office (VIO) is the agency saddled with checking and approving the road-worthiness of vehicles on Nigerian roads, and they can be found in every state. Findings, however, reveal that these officials are more interested in examining vehicle particulars and sundry matters unrelated to their core duties.
A young man, who spoke to The Guardian but preferred anonymity, said some unscrupulous VIO officials stopped his car at Sabo roundabout in Ikorodu and asked for his car particulars and a thousand other questions. They issued him a ticket for a tiny crack on his side mirror when they couldn’t hold him for any offence. Visibly annoyed, he said: “They wouldn’t stop those ones (trailers, trucks and commercial buses). They always prefer to stop private cars because they know we don’t want our cars impounded.”
A VIO official, who chose not to be named, however, denied this allegation saying the agency carries out its duties accordingly and that it actually books commercial buses, but because the drivers are usually not the owners of the buses, tracking them down and imposing fines is difficult.
If government decides to fight a war against air pollution, then all generators deserve to be banned, said Mrs. Tope Kalejaiye. “Are those bigger generators not emitting carbon and polluting the environment also?” she queried. She added: “The government seems to be putting the horse before the cart. Truthfully, nobody enjoys using generators but when there is hardly electricity, what are we to do? Apart from the noise it makes, which is noise pollution, it is very expensive to maintain. Some months, I feel like I have donated all my salary to petrol stations, as I buy fuel daily to power my generator. Now that petrol is scarce and even more expensive than ever, I don’t know how I will manage. This government is insensitive and doesn’t seem to have our interest at heart.”
BUT beyond protests over the ban, experts have indicated that rise in cancer cases and sudden deaths may not be unconnected to generator fumes.
A recent study published in Biomarkers in Cancer and reported by The Guardian, notes: “Generator fumes contribute significantly to the atmospheric level of Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and that the level is dependent on the distance from the point of generation. PAHs are a major component of fuel generator fumes. Carcinogenicity of these compounds has long been established. This suggests significant risk of cancer to the population in an environment where the use of generator is commonplace. Considering the lipophilicity of PAHs, small concentrations can accumulate over a long period of time.”
The study was carried out by researchers from the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Lagos and Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Basic Medical Science, College of Medicine, University of Lagos. They include: Miriam Igwo-Ezikpe; Olufunsho Awodele; Chimezie Anyakora; Clinton Ifegwu; Bukola Owolabi; and Ayodele Oyewale.
Titled: ‘1-Hydroxypyrene Levels in Blood samples of Rats After exposure to Generator Fumes’, the study investigated hematological, liver, kidney, hormonal and histopathological changes in female albino rats exposed to gasoline power generator exhaust fume at varied distance of 100, 200 and 300 meter respectively after 42 days.
It showed that there was significant increase in packed cell volume, white blood cells, lymphocytes, neutrophiles, monocytes and platelets in the exposed animals compared to control unexposed rats. Liver and kidney function parameters were also significantly increased whereas there were no significant difference in follicle stimulating hormone, prolactin, progesterone and estradiol amongst the animals, however, luteinizing hormone was increased in 300 meter exposed rats.
Histopathological investigation showed degenerated organs in the exposed animals compared to control. Generally, the observed variations in the parameters were proportional to the distance from source of exposure.