FELA AND THE NIGERIAN POWER SECTOR
It is now two decades that Afrobeat legend and king of African Music Fela Anikulapo Kuti died but his legacies live on. In order to ensure that future generations of Nigerians continue to recognise that a “prophet” once walked the land, it is important to show how Fela, through his music, described many of the things we are witnessing today in a prophetic career spanning over three decades.
The confusion in the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI) and the general mood of the larger Nigerian society was well captured in Fela’s “Confusion Break Bone” where he opined that the consequence of a lack of an independent regulator to look after the different stakeholders in the Power Sector will lead to policy somersaults, chaos, illiquidity, distrust, fraud, corruption, estimated billing, collusion and many other vices which characterise the NESI with seeming no way out today. The greatest disservice to the NESI was allowing non-Power System Engineers to be in charge of the Power Sector for the past decade. Only until recently have Engineers been put in the right number in the Commission (NERC) that regulates the activities of stakeholders in the Power Sector. The idea of not putting square pegs in square holes should have naturally been foreign to Nigeria, but over the years, politicisation of everything, the celebration of mediocrity and the quota system misnomer has led us to this disaster or “pafuka” as Fela puts it.
The power sector is at crossroad asking for investment in the network by the operators at the same time introducing the eligible customers within the same network. Crossroad is when you ask for Unity, Restructuring, and Separation at the same time. Fela Anikulapo Kuti captured it nicely in his 1975 “Confusion Break Bone” album when he says:
“I sing about one street for Lagos, called “Oju Elegba”, I take am compare how Nigeria be, one crossroad in center town, larudu regbeke, regbeke lau, lau, lau, lau. For “Oju Elegba”, moto dey come from East (calls from every section of the country in this case), moto dey come from West, moto dey come from North, moto dey come from South, and police man no dey for center, na confusion be dat ee-oh.”
Fela continues, “my people dey say Nigeria done dey, but me as I see am, I know say Nigeria go-go down, how country go dey make money, make people of country no see money?” Yes, it is not inconceivable that Nigerians should enjoy uninterrupted power supply free of charge as a social service judging by how much people steal and even stash in their farms, other rooms and cupboards with increasing number doing so with impunity.
“When I say confusion, everything out of-e control, when everything out of-e control-e go be say, e “pafuka”-oh” as Fela described it suggests that the confusion in the Power Sector will soon lead to the unwanted situation where the GenCos and DisCos will declare a Force Majeure and hand over the Power Sector to an unprepared government as they cannot continue to wallow in debt doing business in Nigeria except if a radical reconfiguration of the NESI takes place. For now, many-a-decision taken in the NESI amounts to opposing and counteracting ventures. Given 701billion Naira subsidy to generate more electricity into a very lossy transmission network will lead to the same consequence – illiquidity. Not addressing the aggregate technical, commercial, and collection losses (ATC&C) in the electricity value chain and injecting subsidy is ridiculous, myopic and a means to loot money to say the least. It’s like pouring water into a basket and this is happening because those leading the power sector are not Power Engineers.
Fela recognised that the problem with NESI is huge as he said: “my problem e no small at all, nothing de for me to sing about. If something good de I go sing, everything e de e no de good. If I sing say, food no de, na old news be that. If I sing say, water no de, na old news be that. If I sing say, electric light no de, na old news be that. Na old old, old news be that o. Na old news be that. I can’t sing say, “infilation”, mismanagement, stealing by government,
na old news be that. Na old, old, old news be that o. The problems still de paparapa (no end in sight to the cry of Up NEPA!)
Then, because of the absence of stable electricity supply, there will exist vices and robbery in different forms. This will include, says Fela, leg robbery, pick-pockets, armed robbery with guns, kidnapping, head robbery (executive, legislative and Judiciary), authority stealing by public office holders- free stealing will be the norm and generally acceptable policy in the country!
Hear him in another of his 1980 hits “Authority Stealing Pass Armed Robbery”
“Authority people dem go de steal, public contribute plenty money. Na him authority people de steal. Authority man no de pick pocket, na plenty cash him go de pick. Armed robber him need gun, authority man him need pen. Authority man in charge of money, him no need gun, him need pen. Pen get power, gun no get. If gun steal eighty thousand naira (80,000 Naira), pen go steal two billion naira (2 billion Naira). You no go hear dem shout: thief, thief, thief. You no go hear them shout at all: rogue, rogue, rogue. You no go hear dem say: robber robber…”
There must be a reason why we have not been told what has or will become of all the looted funds recovered from mid-2015 to date!!! Will they be used in 2019?
Fela mentioned the sort of words that very readily deceive Nigerians. So, when next you hear these words, please take cover.
“Mis-appropriation, yes, yes, yes, mal-administration, yes, yes, yes, nepotism, yes, yes, yes, mitigation, yes, yes, yes, make I remember another one wey dem de use, “defraudulment”, “forgeralization”, embezzlement, vilification, mismanagement, public enquiry, yes, yes, yes. Authority stealing pass armed robbery. We African must do something about this nonsense, yes, yes, yes. We say we must do something about this nonsense. Because now authority stealing pass armed robbery…”
Note that according to Fela, Pafuka (the wanton and deliberate destruction of established norms, values and institutions) will eventually kill Nigeria- Pafuka na quench!!
In a direct hit, Fela in the Egypt 80 expose´ wondered why the electricity conundrum existed. He described its appearance as one of the vocabularies of problems in the lips of Nigerians back then as happening “just Like that”. In the song written about the problem of lack of electricity “Just Like that” culled from his “Egypt ‘80” performance, Fela said: “Akuba, oroyan (2ce), white man rule us for many years we get electricity constantly, our people come take over dem come build kainji dam. Dem come build the dam finish electricity come stop. One year, two years, twelve years till now no electricity for town. Just Like That (x10)”.
When the Minister of Power says: “All Power belong to God”, I believe as Fela expressed it in one of his Egypt 80 albums “Overtake Don Overtake Overtake [ODOO]”: “the reasons for our suffer e don de show hin face to us”. When everything scatters, it will be as he puts it in his 1975 songs built on instrumental interplay between electric keyboards, horns and other percussion instruments “Everything Scatter” where he says: “before you know, commotion don start, big trouble, big argument, big fight, big everything, commotion de go, commotion de come, fight de start, fight de stop, trouble de turn round and round…”
The matter of solving the electricity problem in Nigeria by way of the privatization of the public utility into the private pockets of cronies is a big thing. Fela saw this coming and he alluded to it in his 1981 album “unknown soldier” when he said: “This thing wey happen, happen for my country. Na big, big, thing. First time in the whole world. If you hear the name, you go know. Government magic. Tell me the name now. Government magic! Them go dabaru everything, them go turn green into white, them go turn red into blue, Water dey go, water dey come. Them go turn electric to candle. Government magic….” For him, it was not all about complaining as he suggested that the abundance of natural resources in Nigeria should put the matter of electricity to rest. In his 1975 song “Water, e no get enemy”, he encouraged hydro power generation from our river basins. Hear him say:”Ko s’ohun to’le se k’o ma lo’mi o, (that is there is nothing you can do without water), ko s’ohun to’le se k’o ma lo’mi o, omi o l’ota o, water, e no get enemy! Water, e no get enemy, omi o l’ota o, I dey talk of Black man power. I say water, e no get enemy”.
Fela himself asked the pertinent question albeit rhetorically in his famous collection of songs from 1973, 1975 and 1977 but released in 1987 “Black man’s cry”. He asked:“Nijo wo la ma bo o o, l’oko eru? (that is, when will we become free of this NEPA, electricity etc problems?). He was confident of the answer as he said: “A a bo njokan o, eh, l’oko eru, a o bo njokan o o, l’oko eru, a o bo njokan o” There is light at the end of the tunnel afterall!!!
We are all victims of circumstances. Fela, in his Africa 70 series “Swegbe and Pako”, described the problem with the Power Sector when he said: “Tailor wey dey sew like carpenter na Swegbe eh (Na Swegbe oooh), Doctor wey dey do like a Lawyer na Swegbe eh (Na Swegbe oooh), Lawyer wey dey talkie like a Doctor na Swegbe eh (Na Swegbe oooh), Commissioner wey no know him work, na Swegbe eh (Na Swegbe oooh). We don finish for swegbe, now na Pako. Carpenter wey no know him work, na Pako oh (Na Pako oooh), Tailor wey dey sew like Carpenter, na Pako oh (Na Pako oooh), Lawyer wey dey talkie like a Doctor na Pako ohhh (Na Pako oooh), Doctor wey dey do like a Lawyer na Pako oh (Na Pako oooh), Commissioner wey no know him work, na Pako oh (Na Pako oooh). If you be pako, you be swegbe (Na Swegbe oooh). If you give, you be pako (Na Pako oooh). Swegbe na swegbe ehh eh (Na Swegbe oooh). Pako na pako oohh (Na Pako oooh). This is the problem with not putting people in their area of specializations when you assign tasks based on quota system.
There is need to take a step back and get the power sector right once and for all and this is a decision Nigerians have to take. Fela in his album “let’s start” first recorded in 1971 and later 1978, says “je ka bere”! Let’s take action!
By Idowu Oyebanjo