Improve Power, Kerosine Supply …Help Women Overcome Poverty, Live Better Lives

By Constance Meju Nigerian women forced to rely on firewood in the face of glaring absence of kerosine For the woman in the rural area, the ba

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By Constance Meju

Nigerian women forced to rely on firewood in the face of glaring absence of kerosine

For the woman in the rural area, the basic needs a home requires are energy (wood//kerosene) and water. She needs energy to prepare food for the family, keep the family warm and for production if she is involved in local industry like herb preparation, frying or cooking of food like akara, pudding, rice, beans, etc for sale for daily upkeep.

She also needs energy for light at night. In the more urban areas, reliance is more on energy from fossil fuel-gas, kerosene and electricity but unfortunately, this is not readily available especially in Nigeria. Years gone by electricity power supply was steady and thus women could plan their homes, cook and  store in the refrigerators, keep the family clothing ironed and invest in small businesses like hair saloon, dry cleaning, cold water sale without stress.

Over the years, this privilege has whittled down as electricity supply become erratic all over the country thanks to poorly managed power plants and power distribution centre.

According to Womin, an African women extractive industry impact tracking organisation, “We need electricity and other clean energy sources for our development and well-being.  Without it we are stuck I poverty. Without it, girls and women especially, will find it difficult to escape the many hours they spend everyday collecting wood and water, cooking, washing clothes and ironing. They will continue to be stopped from doing other things like going to school, planting food and enjoying free time.”

Womin noted further, “Most of us live in patriarchal families and communities. Men are in control. Girls and women are expected to do housework and obey men. It is especially important for girls and women’s future that we win the right to electricity and clean energy sources which we control,” as it is called for energy equality.

Steady energy source especially electricity being the man in Nigeria, aids planning. Why women can cook all her meals, store in the fridge for the week, shop for the month and be free of running to the market ever often or cooking even when not convenient, with electricity, you do your washing using machines and vacuum your house without much stress. But with the current epileptic power supply in the country, planning is difficult and the result is that what should have been free time for women and girls is spent addressing house chores. This also means less time for the school girl to read and do her home work.

Panting  this picture clearly, a female lawyer and NGO executive said the poor power supply in the country is causing havoc on the lives of families especially, women.

“You can imagine that I had to wake up my family at 4am when they brought light so that we could start fetching water and ironing. We just had to take advantage of the light since no one knows when next it would come.

We got to church later in the money, drained and lived, at some point I was even sleeping,” she narrated.

You have to have an alternative source of power to be able to overcome this stress. Even the cell phone, the wonder product that has changed the way we communicate and even do business needs to be charged to be of use.

A  friend come visiting from Rukpokwu area of Port Harcourt and narrated that most times, for as long as four days, residents get no power supply, so as she stayed, she had to sit by a charging point to recharge her phone and also keep up with the flow of events on her phone. Without power supply, she is cut off from news around and some opportunities inherent in the social media in addition to amusing herself.

The power distribution companies delight in harassing customers to pay their bills which are often estimated rather than offering them service.

In Nigeria, it is estimated that about half of the population have no access to electricity supply and most of those without, are in the rural areas.

Nigeria is an oil rich country but her energy infrastructure is very poor. Though, billions of dollars have been continually ploughed into the sector to boost power supply, corruption that manifests in the form of electricity business being handed over to people who know little or nothing about the business and have no capital to invest to raise the stakes, has resulted in low performance. About 75 million Nigerians have no access to electricity according to the World Bank while the country loses $5million yearly to gas wasted through flaring by oil extracting companies and at the detriment of the health of women in host communities.

With the wrong hands handling the power sector, the new private owners go back to government to beg for support. To survive, they resort to distributing power to industries and affluent Nigerians who can pay more for their services. Thus the generality of the people are forced to live without power, further reducing their opportunities of pursuing their livelihood.

Barbers, saloons, restaurants, mills, wielding workshops, etc., do not operate with power supply. To worsen matters, the mass of the people receive ridiculous bills at the end of the month for irregular short-lived power supply, usually from 9pm to 6am, periods the companies can sphere power change.

Wominan African alliance of women in the extractive  sector captured this well.  “Power stations that produce and supply electricity do not make sure all people can benefit. They focus on getting electricity to big businesses.

For example, in Lesotho, South Africa and Tanzania power lines that carry electricity to the big mining companies pass over communities. People below still have to use kerosene or burn wood for energy. These give off pollution that makes people sick.”

Coming back home, in Rivers State, Afam  and neighbouring areas cannot access electricity though they host the Afam power station. The Benin Electricity Distribution Company covering Edo and Delta States has been having issues with customers in both states because of poor power supply. The people in Ogwashi-Uku/Ibusain Delta allege that BEDC factories and big businesses in Asaba, the state capital buy up power from BEDEC so that power distribution meant for these communities really get there.

Ezenekwe, a NSE fellow said there are technical and non-technical problems which until tackled by effective management, will continue to hinder power supply in Nigeria.

According to him, 60 percent of power generated is lost due to transmission issues while only 29 per cent of power so generated, are adequately captured for distribution, a waste paid for by consumers connected. He added that 80 percent of the population, are not connected to the national grid and revenue collection realized is low, only about 25 percent and that is putting the power distribution companies, Discos in trouble with threatening bankruptcy.

“Transmission structures are dilapidated and operating at 50-60 percent efficiency; system collapse between January and June 2018, stood at six and  Discos are resorting to load-shedding to avoid further collapse, the former senior Shell official stated.

He blamed communication gap in the three business units of power generation-Generation, transmission and distribution units-due to lack of policy and poor control. Questioning the rationale for placing the overall management of a specialized and critical sector  in the hands of a non-professional as minister, Ezenekwe said the matter is made worse with the federal attorney general  as next on the ladder.

To understand the power problem, Nigeria was generating up to 6000 megawatt of energy from 4000 megawatts in the 60s and  about 4000 megawatts in 2015 but today from recently released figures, this has further dipped to about 3000 megawatts even as the Power minister, Tunde Fashola was trying to deceive Nigerians that many states are enjoying 24 hours power supply.

Ezenekwe identified limiting means of transporting generated power as a major challenge. “The country has capacity for transporting only 7000 megawatts of power while it can generate 12, 532 megawatts. At least 3000 megawatts of energy is lost and the cost of all wasted power generated is built into the consumers tariff causing high payment for less power even though the Nigerian tariff is low compared to other countries.

Ezenekwe also identified corruption as a detractor. “Corruption is also a detractor including putting square plugs in round holes. Politicians are our main problem; not looking the direction of empowering the people but thinking self”.

Stating that energy is the most vital tool for diversification of the economy, being  the base of industries, transportation and commerce, the speaker called for the adoption of some measures to correct the existing anomalies.

“Immediate efforts should start with an effective management system-create room for technocrats to manage the three critical segments of the power supply chain-Generating Company, Transmission and Distribution companies”, he suggested.

Power supply is a right this government must address better as it comes into a second term. Poor power supply or non-supply plays a major role in the worsening state of insecurity in the country as well as the daily increasing poverty level in the country. With Nigeria as the poverty headquarters of the world, it is evident that many women are being dispossessed of the opportunity to hop out of poverty as the presence of power supply opens doors to overcoming poverty.

Even the more commonly used power for cooking, kerosene has become a scarce commodity as the genuine kerosene is fully channeled to the aviation industry while the populace resorts to unrefined kerosene sourced from illegal refiners. The reward for this is the many recorded incidents of death and injuries from explosions of stoves and lanterns of users. Many families have lost dear ones and properties arising from this contaminated source while the government that should protect citizens from this danger pretends nothing is happening. Those afraid of this fate go back to the forests to fetch firewood.

  Other African countries are encouraging alternative and affordable energy sources which is helping ordinary people pursue their dream and create economic opportunities to beat poverty. Nigeria needs to thread that path especially so that the burden of living will become less heavy on the women.

Constance Meju is the publisher of Port Harcourt based National Point Newspaper and dedicated gender equality and human rights advocate.

#Gender and Accountability