In eight years, specifically from May 2001, the often-touted giant of Africa, Nigeria, spent over $70billion to tackle what was dubbed an energy crisis. While a quarter of that money was alleged to have found its way into the babaringas of politicians, three quarters of it ended up in the sewers, probably because nobody is thinking, and nobody may have recognized the need to overhaul the present arrangement of relying on a centralized method of electric power generation.
But we must define what we really mean by an ‘energy crisis’ in the Nigerian context before proposing what to do right away before everything collapses like a pack of cards. Our energy crisis simply is the embarrassment of a nation that earns more than $1billion from crude oil annually but is unsure how it should go about solving its energy needs. Of the 79 power plants in the country, only Egbin worked till March 11, 2007, before we began to hear too that that plant too went down to its lowest ebb with sporadic attacks from the robin hoods in the Niger Delta. Therefore, the formerly 3,000 megawatts that Nigeria managed to generate in year 2000, just a year after we began this democratic excursion, dropped to a paltry 1,200 megawatts. This is one reason that makes Nigeria, a potential African powerhouse, remain in relative economic obscurity.
It is this sort of situation that calls for a plan B, C and even a D. Energy experts in Europe, who facilitated discussions at a seminar for African and Asian journalists, said that countries like Nigeria with primary energy sources like oil, natural gas, water and biomass should invest 60 percent of her crude oil earnings to develop her renewable energy resources. They maintained that for Nigeria, the odds favor solar energy, probably because they may have considered that 80 percent of Nigeria’s energy needs come from a single source. What they probably mean by that is that you may still have something to rely on even after all the oil everybody is fighting for, dries up in a few decades. A part from that, the infrastructure and technology required can be sought locally, or in partnership with the countries of the world that have developed their solar power. The others, like hydro and biomass and wind energy, even though ‘cheap’ and ‘clean’ (to borrow the language of the champions of climate change), present challenges in terms area of technology transfer, and being expensive to manage present unattractive options.
But if for nothing else, Nigeria must giddy up and join the rest of the world in combating the coming storm of climate change. Increasingly, our dependence on fossil fuels heat up the earth’s stratosphere to such an extent that we are beginning to witness an unreasonable discomfort with average weather conditions. Scientists have said that the greatest danger in burning fossil fuels the way we do here in Nigeria is increasing the discomfort experienced in a greenhouse. That analogy certainly best describes how we may eventually entrap ourselves if we do not begin the revolution to decentralize our energy sources and provide the much-needed focus for other African nations to copy. At the end of the day, the argument at the Kyoto Protocol, December 1997, that African countries were not part of the industrial processes that ushered in the looming disaster of climate change may no longer be tenable.
No sensible country in the world today relies on a centralized energy source. Other countries decentralize their energy sources. Take Germany for instance: that country of about 90million does not have much. All they have is a thinking people who have suddenly realized that if they continue to depend on oil, the time will come when they would no longer be able to afford it, or that if they depend on it, they may no longer find it there. So what steps have they taken to switch from depending absolutely on one of their major power sources, nuclear power? They have taken the bold step to phase out their remaining 13 nuclear power stations and replace the 20 percent they get from nuclear energy with alternative, renewable energy. The government established a renewable energy law, like the one in the European Union, EU, which makes it possible for ordinary citizens to generate power for the national grid and earn a lot of money in the process. That way, there is no way that the German economy can shut down by, unnecessarily placing too much pressure on only one sector. That is what makes them an industrialized country.
Oil prices are not going up and down because wars and threats of wars are on the news. Nations of the world have done their arithmetic and come up with undeniable proof that the oil wells around oil-dependent areas like Nigeria will soon dry up. But most importantly, they want to take responsibility for averting the calamity of the devastating consequences of climate change like the flooding of coastal areas, erosion and land degradation and desertification.
The time has come for Nigeria to be sensible by rethinking and investing heavily in renewable energy sources. If we will not do it because it is the sexy thing to do now, perhaps we should adhere to a report from the World Energy Outlook WEO ‘ that the energy future we are facing today, based on projections of current trends, is dirty, insecure and expensive. But it also shows how new government policies can create an alternative energy future which is clean, clever and competitive’.