Tunde Leye: Nepa Nostalgia
By Tunde Leye
If you are like me and you live and work in Lagos, you will probably belong to the majority who live on the mainland but commute to the island daily to work. We are the real ghost workers who move around under the cover of darkness in the morning and at night to avoid getting to work late or losing a fraction of our lives to Lagos traffic. One of the things I am thankful to IBB for is the Third Mainland Bridge which at least provides me with an alternative route for getting home apart from Western Avenue via Eko Bridge or Oyingbo.
To get home, I descend Third Mainland at Adekunle (for which I am eternally grateful that I don’t have to continue towards Oworo and shorten my lifespan daily). For many years, during that descent, there were two moderate sized potholes I always had to avoid. I had watched them grow from little depressions on the bridge into respectable potholes. They defined the trip home and I had grown to avoid them reflexively. Trust me, they had caused a couple of accidents, but I was fortunate not to have been in one, plus I was more careful than those people anyway; I always expertly avoided the potholes. In fact, I could wager that my car could avoid them without anyone at the wheels.
So one day, I was on my way home and wanted to avoid my now beloved potholes. They were not there. Someone had “fixed” the bridge and filled them up. First I rejoiced. We had finally been delivered from the perennial twin potholes. But my joy was short-lived. The fix was badly done and the potholes became twin bumps on the road that needed to be avoided. I began to miss the potholes, their familiarity and all.
Nigerians are known to fixate on the good old days, even when those days were not so good in reality. One of the reasons for this is that when issues are fixed by the government in Nigeria, in many cases, the fix creates new issues with which the people are unfamiliar. The thing about many of such issues is that they could easily have been foreseen with proper implementation of the reforms and avoided. And as it is, people begin to romanticize the previous issues. But unlike what many people would love to have us believe, this type of romanticism is not unique to Nigeria, it is a people thing. There are Russians who have nostalgic feelings of the Communist years, in spite of contrary, documented realities; because they feel the Russian state has created problems they didn’t have to deal with in the Communist era. And there were those in the Communist years who felt the same way about the previous Tsarist era.
The issue is this; where the government fails to engage the people properly when they begin to fix the issues, they fail to get the micro issues that the people are concerned about and are therefore unable to ensure that their fixes actually meet those issues without creating new problems. It is a fixation on the macro, bigger picture without the micro, smaller details which are more important to the people than your figures and hundreds of millions of dollars. You see, the Five Thousand Naira that comes out of the ordinary man’s pocket is infinitely more important to him than the big figures the government bandies. In business, it is tantamount to concerning yourself with developing a product with super features and spending huge funds on it, only to discover that people are not interested in buying your product because you have not sold the benefits to them, shown them how they have to adjust their lives because of your product and made it easy for them to make these adjustments. They will simply not buy what you are selling.
A major fix is currently ongoing in one of the most fundamental of Nigerian issues – the power sector reform. The end product of a 2005 legislation, the reforms are much needed and very welcome. They more or less take us back to the pre NEPA era where power generation and distribution was handled by separate entities. However, there is the element of privatization in the current reforms, as well as a new regulator, the NERC in the mould of the NCC in Telecoms. The names, capacities and other statistics concerning these entities have been shared by various government personnel in official releases as well as on Social Media. However, if you talk to the average person on the street, you get an uninterested response. The impression you will get is that there is no buy-in from the general public. The reasons are not farfetched. No one is actively selling the reforms to the public. You might say citizens should go out of their way to find out. But that is not how governance works. It is the responsibility of the government to actively sell its plans and engage the people. No one has done a proper impact analysis on how the reforms will affect them and then started to educate them on this impact.
No one has told them how the people’s lives will change with regards to how they get and pay for power in the new dispensation, leaving room for manipulation by officials. Power has suddenly become practically non-existent since the handover of PHCN was done. No one has engaged the public to tell them why, and for how long this will be the case, or even shared milestones as to how power will improve over time and what the pricing will be as well as show the way improved power at higher rates will still result in cost savings to them from buying fuel. No one has told them how they will get new meters. No one has told them if they can switch Distribution Companies if they are not satisfied with the service. Can I have multiple Distribution Companies serving me the way I have multiple line from different networks? Can different houses on the same street or different flats within the same house use different Distribution Companies? If yes, who then fixes the transformers and other equipment when damaged?
It is asking and answering questions like these that will force the people carrying out the reforms to think deeply and ensure that the reforms will not create new problems that will get people remembering and talking about the “good old days of NEPA” sometime in future. It will enable them aggressively sell the reforms to the people and in that way obtain their buy-in. People tend to understand temporary hardship better when they buy into such reforms. It will greatly reduce the possibility of corrupt officers exploiting ignorance to extort the people, thereby creating bad blood for the reforms.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.