IT is desirable but simply over-optimistic the claim that the Federal Government would in 12 months replace the use of domestic candles and kerosene lamps in Nigerian homes with ‘clean’ solar energy lamps. Reason: At every level of government in Nigeria deceit and cheap propaganda have been the hallmark even as basic needs remain undelivered to the people. So, this solar energy lamp plan must have come to 160 million Nigerians as another of those deceits, especially given the unrealistic time-frame being promised. The crux of the matter is that both parties — the ruled and the rulers, have a duty to get on reality road. The rulers, however, can do with greater integrity in the service of the people in whose trust they hold power if they would ever earn any faith or trust.
Environment Minister Laurentia Mallam’s disclosure when she hosted some private company’s officials in her office that the “archaic” household beams would give way to more environmentally and ozone — friendly, clean solar energy lamps in one year deserves a clear thought on all intervening variables and developmental challenges. If the target declared is a serious factor in the equation, the promise smirks of ignorance or outright dishonesty to satisfy political ends.
The candles and kerosene lamps are intended to be eclipsed by a ‘superior product’ under a phase-out scheme, while the energy lamp technology is distributed by Total Group at affordable prices, especially to the rural poor. For a fact, hundreds of thousands if not millions of urban dwellers are also not better off than the pitiable rural folk who are criminally denied regular electricity supply, a situation, which engendered the use of candles and kerosene lamps or whatever other crude device in the first place.
Of course, the minister’s logic cannot be faulted that solar lamps offer a solution to clean and renewable energy, favourable to global requirements for positive action against climate change that has presented mankind with a present and real danger of existence. She had also appropriately expressed concern on environmental hazards and avoidable deaths from fire outbreaks from the two sources. Therefore, a synergy with other ministries including Trade and Investment, Finance, Health and Education to ensure success of the solar initiative is desirable.
The solar alternative has been successfully introduced in a few developing countries such as Kenya, Indonesia and Pakistan and a more laudable move will be the establishment of a production plant in Nigeria to service the West Africa market. At any rate, attracting another industry will at least impact on the dangerously high number of unemployed hands in the country.
The minister’s argument that the switch to solar lamps would slash the price of kerosene is neither here nor there. Where available, the product sells now for a minimum of N120 per litre, far in excess of the advertised N50 pump price — a reflection of the endemic corruption in the industry and totally dishonest attitude of most business men. High consumption of the product can also be linked to aviation fuel as refined. But then scarcity boils down to both lack of consumption data to work with by industry chiefs and refineries operate below capacity when they are functional at all.
More importantly, like the Premium Motor Spirit (petrol), the importation of kerosene (Dual Purpose Kerosene, DPK) is shrouded in so much mystery. No one seems to know what quantities are being imported and at what cost, even by whom? Quite a number of unscrupulous marketers have, in collaboration with others in government circles been fleecing the country, collecting cash for products that are neither imported nor supplied. The burden of scarcity (and inflated prices) resulting from these sharp practices have painstakingly been borne by the helpless masses who, for being unable to afford high cost of alternative like liquefied petroleum gas, have found solace in firewood thereby depleting the forests and compounding environmental woes.
To earn any credibility, government must first solve the riddle raised recently by a committee of the House of Representatives alleging a subsidy of imported kerosene to the tune of N70 billion weekly.
One problem anticipated with the new solar lamps proposal is the usually high cost of local products against imported but substandard ones. Pricing will therefore be an important determining factor of its success. Will rural dwellers who struggle to feed be so attracted to solar lamps at its cost? Will it be subsidized enough to attract them?
Will the awareness level be raised on maintenance culture to change fixation on candles and kerosene?
Whatever move is made to get the target population hooked on solar, however, the big riddle remains: what is the way out of the mess Nigeria wallows in over electricity generation and distribution?
Of course, in this day and age, Nigeria ought not to be talking about candles, lanterns and firewood. But too much deceit and corruption in high places have left the people at a crossroads. The hope is that the plan for solar a powered lanterns is not another of those lines of deceit.