Energy poverty: Inside Kaduna communities where lack of power supply makes poverty a way of life
Niyi Oyedeji, who spent five days in Kaduna State, visited the Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities of Kagarko Local Government of the state, where for over 37 years, residents have lived in poverty due to lack of power supply to their communities. He reports that the residents have given up hope and are not expecting a miracle again.
“I was born and bred in this village and I’ve never experienced light throughout my 37 years of existence on earth. We have lost count of politicians coming here to promise us electricity but rather abandoned us to fend for ourselves at the end of the day. In fact, we no longer take them seriously and we have accepted our fate; that electricity is probably not an amenity we would ever enjoy in our communities,” the Youth Leader for the Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities of Kagarko Local Government of Kaduna State, Christopher Danjuma, said.
The people of Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities have since lost hope after countless failed promises, they are weary of dreams that never get fulfilled in terms of having power supply like other communities and have even stopped anticipating the day they would flip a switch and a bulb will light up their darkness. According to the people, not once, twice or thrice had politicians promised to facilitate supply of electricity to their communities if they danced to their tunes, yet, after fulfilling their part of the bargain, the promises remain lip services and empty promises.
“They were even here a few weeks ago to sing the same song, asking us to vote for them in the rerun election we just had, but as usual, we are not expecting them to fulfill their promise of facilitating electricity to our community because they have never done it, we have even lost count of such futile promises,” Danjuma said.
The problem seems an endemic one for people living in rural communities across Nigeria. A look at the Word Bank statistics revealed that 25.9 per cent of people living in the rural parts of Nigeria had access to electricity as at 2015, 34.0 per cent in 2016 and 22.6 per cent in 2017.
Unfortunately, people of Oboi, Madaki and Sarki rural communities of Kaduna State were not among those captured in this statistics, as their hope of having access to electricity remains a mirage, in fact, they are used to staying without electricity and are not looking forward to having it.
People in these three communities are predominantly ginger farmers, whose lifestyles have been designed to live harmoniously without light, even though the absence of electricity tends to have limited their productivity.
65-year-old Danjuma Dere, who lives in Oboi community, told Nigerian Tribune that he goes to the farm and cuts his ginger during the day but stays idle at night due to unavailability of electricity in his community.
“If I’m not cutting this ginger during the day, then I would be on the farm. I’m always idle at night. Yesterday, I was on the farm, I couldn’t cut the ginger when I returned at night because there was no light and today, I’m cutting the ginger which means I can’t go to farm today,” Dere said.
The residents informed Nigerian Tribune that they use sticks to generate light in a crude fashion. According to Schneider Electric, 90 per cent of Nigerians and 2.3 billion people globally lack access to safe and efficient electricity, painfully, people of Oboi, Madaki and Sarki fall in this category.
Unlike Mr Danjuma Dere, who usually retires to bed at night, his wife, Murana Dere, who couldn’t afford to stay idle at night because of the need to cook for the family said she uses stick as a source of illumination. She explained that all she needs is just to use matches to light the stick which she will give to her son to hold for her while she goes ahead with the cooking and other house chores.
“Whenever my son is not around to hold the stick for me, I usually put the stick in my mouth, while I go ahead with whatever I am doing, I do this especially when I’m grinding millet,” She explained.
For Mrs Rebecca Yero of Madaki community, her children are her light stand. She explained that she usually ensures that her children are around her at night, so they can hold the sticks for her whenever she is working at night. The mother of seven explained further that the children often take turns with the sticks.
“We have many of these sticks we already brought home from the farm; we usually light average of seven to 10 of it every night. As you can see, I am the one peeling the cassava now and I can’t as well hold the stick, that’s why the children are here with me to hold it for me,” she said.
On whether the children don’t get domestic accidents from holding sticks of life flames, she said they are used to holding the sticks and have mastered how to throw away the stick whenever the stick burns near the part they are holding.
In Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities, those who have money usually put on generators at night, some use torchlight, while the rest resort to lighting of stick as a source of illumination.
Abdullah Bako, the community leader for Sarki community told Nigerian Tribune that he spends thousands of naira on batteries on weekly basis. The 65-year-old man, who has about 25 children and four wives, all living together with him, said his children are fond of not switching off the torchlight at nights, thereby causing the batteries to run out.
“I spend N1,200 on batteries every week because my children will not sleep without the torchlight being on to illuminate their rooms and they will never wake up to switch it off in the night,” Bako said.
Hazard on children’s health
As a result of the way they live and the lack of access to clean energy especially the fact that they have the task of holding flaming sticks for their mothers to provide illumination, children of Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities are already experiencing some negative effects on the health and performance in school as often, many of them battle with cough on a regular basis.
Speaking on this, Mrs Afodiya Friday, the primary one class teacher at the L.A Primary School, Madaki, the only school that serves the populace of Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities, said the children cough uncontrollably in class, adding that this is due to their exposure to smoke while holding sticks to give light to their parents.
According to her, this lifestyle is already affecting the children’s health, “Imagine these young students coughing ceaselessly in the class as a result of the smoke they inhale while holding light for their parents at home.They don’t even attend to their assignments, they keep saying they don’t have light at home to work,” she explained.
Mr Bilatus Atama, who owns a pharmacy store situated in Madaki community is the only health personnel in the whole of Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities, said the major illness the members of the communities usually come to seek treatment for is cough.
“I opened this store 18 years ago and I can categorically tell you that the major illness that brings our people here is cough and this is prevalent among the children,” Atama said.
People of Oboi, Madaki and Sarki usually fall victim of various hazards due to the fact that they have no access to electricity in their communities.
Forty-seven-year-old Tanko Atama, who lives in Oboi, said he had suffered various injuries on his leg while walking around at nights, adding that “there is a man who usually comes around to sell rechargeable lamps to us in this village but since the one I bought from him no longer works, there is no source of illumination and I have fallen inside ditches on various occasions.
“I have at different times sustained injuries that have stopped me from going to the farm from falling into ditches, I have even warned my children not to go out at night again because they usually fall inside ditches as well,” Atama said.
Unlike Atama, whose children usually fall inside ditches at night as a result of the pervasive darkness, Bako’s children suffer a different fate; they are usually bitten by snakes.
Bako told Nigerian Tribune that no fewer than four of his children have been bitten by snakes at night. “I have many children and there is no way I can stop all of them from going out at night, four of them have at different times suffered snake bites but I ensure I have different types of natural herbs I give to them to kill the venom and heal faster anytime they go out and get bitten by snake,” Bako said.
He explained further that he spends an outrageous amount on buying batteries for lamps and torch lights to allow his children go about with enough illumination in order to avoid snake bites.
“Our Sarki community here is surrounded by bushes and we are prone to seeing snakes around but I do ensure my children either go out with lamp or torchlight to avoid snake bite,” he said.
According to the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Nigeria has spent over N1.7 trillion on power in the past three years and yet, millions of Nigerians are still suffering from inaccessibility to electricity.
Christopher Dere, the youth leader for the three communities disclosed to Nigerian Tribune that the inaccessibility to electricity is limiting the growth of youths in the area, just as he noted that most of the youths are being forced to embrace farming because there is no light for artisans to engage in any other trade, adding that artisanship doesn’t thrive in the communities.
“Most of my colleagues including myself have been forced to go into farming because there is no electricity supply to put into practises most of the vocation we learnt,” he said.
Without electricity, there can’t be development ― Expert
United States Agency for International Development (USAID) noted that improving the power sector is critical to addressing development challenges in Nigeria.
The Chief Executive Officer of Clean Technology Hub and the Country Campaign Director for Power for All in Nigeria, Ifeoma Malo, said that “Electricity is integral to humankind, it is the fulcrum of modern day development and without it the foundation for every other development would be to say the least, challenging, if not impossible.”
Reflecting on the need for rural electrification in Nigeria, Malo noted that “Rural electrification in Nigeria is important because of its impact in growing the economy, creating jobs, building rural cottage industries, and improving the quality of life for millions of Nigerians living in rural communities.
“Rural electrification will also create newer, smarter cities and also stem the tide of rural to urban migration as people would be more inclined to work close to where they reside,” he said.
While reacting to the inaccessibility to electricity in some rural areas of Kaduna State, particularly in Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities, the state government through the Kaduna State Power Supply Company (KAPSCO), said that the government is seriously intensifying its effort in making sure that renewable energy is readily available to people in the rural areas that are off-grid.
The KAPSCO Operation and Maintenance Engineer, Somtochukwu Ikeanyi, who spoke with Nigerian Tribune, said that “the Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, specifically established the KAPSCO to see to the provision of renewable energy like solar power to rural areas that have no access to electricity in the state.
“We have just completed the electrifying of Primary Health Centres (PHC) across the state and we are commencing the rural electrification soon.”
Also speaking on rural electrification process in Nigeria, particularly in the rural communities of Kaduna State, which include Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities, a former Rural Electrification Agency (REA) boss, who spoke on a condition of anonymity told Nigerian Tribune that rural electrification process in Nigeria is usually done by the agency after it has been approved by the National Assembly.
“REA can only electrify communities that have been approved by the National Assembly,” he said.
KEDCO keeps mum
Nigerian Tribune made efforts to get the view of the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO) to know why Oboi and Madaki and Sarki communities do not enjoy power supply but the top officials at the KEDCO declined to comment on the subject.
Flicker of hope
All hope seems not to be lost for the people of Oboi, Madaki and Sarki communities as they have been given hope from unexpected quarters as a nongovernmental organisation, Renewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability Initiative for Africa (REES Africa) has embarked on the electrification of the three communities with solar energy.
Speaking on the electrification process of the three communities tagged “Light up Kagarko,” the founder of REES Africa, Yetunde Fadeyi, said “one of our focus as a nongovernmental organisation is enabling renewable energy access for rural and marginalised areas. More than half of Nigeria’s population live in rural areas and are not connected to the grid due to the peculiarities of these rural areas, access to electricity is a luxury they cannot afford hence, they are excluded from this service and that’s why we have deemed it fit to light up these communities to make socio-economic and environmental impact on the lives of the inhabitants.”