NEPA: The Nigerian Big Brother
For the past two weeks, there has been constant power supply in our house. No one has said a word about it, even though the oddity of it all can be seen from our widened eyes and deep sighs of relief when we wake up to light in the morning. When I ask, “Did they take light today,” all I get is an unintelligible sound or a small, “No.” There were no further comments on how lucky we are that there’s still power, or on how NEPA is doing a swell job. We can’t risk it.
There’s no Nigerian that doesn’t share this feeling of reverence for the omnipresent NEPA because we all know that, the minute you say the wrong thing, these forces will take their light away. There has been that sheer moment when someone was about to say something negative about the irregular power supply and you said something like, “Don’t let them hear you and take the light, o!” before you could catch yourself. There has also been that moment when you shouted, “Up NEPA” when electricity came back on. Yes, because deep down you know that the forces can hear this and will add your house to their good books.
These forces are even so ‘bad-ass’ that their name has not changed for the past forty-four years, not even privatization agenda or series of name-changing could taint it.
However, this is not to praise how ‘good’ the power supply situation is in the country right now, or how ‘bad’ it is. Let’s just say this is a means to say all the things everyone in my house is so afraid to talk about, so as not to be put on the naughty list by the forces.
Reminiscing about the nineteen-year journey I’ve had with Nigerian power supply, I won’t say the journey has exactly been a good one.
When I was two or three years, a.k.a. the time when children start to ‘know something’, I recall power supply as total black out. Nada. For many days at a time.
We depended heavily on those popular white-wax candles with the red label. My family wasn’t so rich so we didn’t have fancy candle holders as some of my friends did in their own homes. This meant that the candles had to be mounted on the tiled floor or on tables. Lumps of melted wax on floors were a signature feature of this era, and in fact we depended on those lumps for the next candle-mounting. To further explain, having enough melted-wax lumps meant that you got a stronger mounting spot for your candle the next day.
That didn’t mean that we had huge wax lumps growing in our house though; scraping of wax from the tables and floors were, in fact, part of the chores.
When we eventually got tired of candles and candle wax, we sought out Kerosene lamps. I didn’t understand this much, because these lamps really were high maintenance, being that they worked just like the kerosene stove which we also used at the time. We had to keep up with the price of Garri— both yellow and white— and then, Kerosene. It was hard.
The one thing I loved about this era was the fact that I was kind of a champion when it came to turning on the lamp. It required a certain level of skill and mastery to be able to remove the glass confinement, check the kerosene content, turn up the thread, light the lamp and insert the glass covering in a way that doesn’t destroy your hand or break the glass.
I revelled in this glory for only a short while, till torches came. We’re talking high-level technological advancement here.
All through this period, NEPA trucks were a regularity, and whenever you saw them you knew it was time to ‘cut’ someone’s light. Fables and tales of electrocuted NEPA workers was also a norm in this phase.
NEPA bills were the worst. You would see the white receipt hanging from your door when you got home, and suddenly a foreboding feeling would envelope you because you knew you had to act fast if not the forces would quickly come to ‘cut’ your light.
Changes were coming and we could feel it. In 2005, Former President Olusegun Obasanjo decided to do some reforms in the power sector as part of his agenda. Privatization of some sectors was his solution and NEPA and NITEL fell prey. Therefore, NEPA, National Electric Power Authority, was changed to PHCN, Power Holding Company of Nigeria. We tried to adjust, really, but saying “Up PHCN,” didn’t sit quite well in our mouths. Frankly, they didn’t hold the AUTHORITY that NEPA did, and so their name faded but the forces to which we said “Up NEPA,” remained.
The era of fuel-powered Generators came swiftly but was readily accepted. My father talked about John Holt for days on end till the day our first generator came, blue in all its novelty. I still remember the day. I think my parents had wanted to keep it a secret— even though the GENERATOR sound would be so hard to conceal from the neighbours— but I couldn’t contain my excitement. I had gone yapping to all my friends about the new generator my father had bought and how we would have light all the time now. This was also the period when my father bought a home computer set.
During this era, most people began with those little generators, a.k.a. I-pass-my-neighbour, before graduating to the bigger ones. Of course, some people bought the soundless ones right away. I remember being so envious of a neighbour’s house because their generator was soundless and came on immediately the forces struck. In hindsight, even if you had I-pass-my-neighbour or Mikano, you were still respected because either way, you had a generator in your house— some people were still using candles at this time.
Somewhere between these eras came the Prepaid Electricity Meter. This was during the Late Umaru Musa Yaradua’s regime, with his infamous ‘7-point Agenda’. Power supply had, somewhat, improved by this time, but remained very erratic. The prepaid meters were introduced to curb the crazy electrical bills that had been the order for many years.
I didn’t quite get the memo for that one because I remember being so excited at the new era of Power supply in the country. I thought that the prepaid meter units would solely determine whether you would have light or not. To some extent, they did, being that when your units were done, your light would trip off. What I didn’t know was that, your light would still trip off even if you had a billion units in your meter because, “The forces taketh power when they listeth but thou darest not question whither it goeth or tell whence it cometh.”
Fast forward to 2015 election period. My mother always says to never believe the political raves as they were all just propaganda. This was the period this saying played out to me. The drawn out battle between APC and PDP for the presidential chair was like, in the words of a friend, making us choose between Beans and Akara. For those non-Nigerians reading, I will explain.
For six years, Former President Goodluck Jonathan had been in power (as incumbent president and as elected president) and the economy was obviously dwindling. He still decided to run for a second term, but people were ‘ready’ for a ‘change’. The opposition party, APC, had a presidential candidate that people didn’t hate but didn’t particularly like either.
Seeing that there was a worthy competition, Ex-President Jonathan decided to step up his game in the short time before the elections, thereby coming up with his own agenda — we can see an obvious trend here.
Anyway, during this period, it seemed as if the country was going to collapse. Suddenly, fuel disappeared and Electricity was nowhere to be seen. In many years, my family hadn’t experienced that sort of hardship before.
Strangely enough, as soon as the elections were over and the new regime began, the Electricity gods decided to grace us with constant light. I am not trying to come up with conspiracy theories, I just find it a bit odd that prior to May 29th, which was the day of the swearing in of the new president, we hadn’t seen light for two weeks.
The forces must have really liked the new president.
If you think that the eras are done, you are very wrong. Generators would always have a special place in our hearts but we are gradually moving on.
Say hello to the era of Solar Energy. This should have been the starting point of our energy reforms, honestly, being that in Nigeria, sun is something that we have enough of. There is rarely an organization building that doesn’t have a solar panel and inverter now. It is gradually worming and warming its place into our homes.
Nigerians found this very useful in these times because of the high price of fuel and diesel which make it hard to maintain the generators. Even though the purchase and installation of this system is expensive, Nigerians have decided to just “close eye and buy it,” because it is a lasting solution. Nevertheless, generators are still a constant in many homes, even the ones with the solar panels.
My father has already begun to talk about the solar panels, even though he has been silent about it for the past two weeks. I will not tell him that he shouldn’t depend on the constant light we are seeing now. Yesterday he put on the generator, even though there was light, and let it run for an hour, just because. I don’t understand him.
I am now even more convinced about the omnipresence of these forces because they took the light while I was writing this. I never should have written this article.
“Big Brother is watching you.”- Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell

Like what you read? Give Adaobi Onyeakagbu a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.