Fashola and the demystification of power

Mr Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing.

Mr Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Power, Works and Housing.

Power – as a synonym of electricity – is a mystery in Nigeria. Even the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, seems to be aware of this, as shown by one of his remarks at a recent forum in Abuja organised by NEXTIER, a power think tank. The forum, with the self-explanatory theme of “2016 Power Sector Review and 2017 Power Policy Direction,” brought the minister into a broad-based interaction around this theme with stakeholders in the power sector.

Fashola made the remark, which gave rise to this piece, during his presentation that preceded the interactive session, revealing the plan of his ministry to “demystify power.” He said, “The ministry intends to demystify power so that when there is no power even the layman understands why.” This is not only an indirect acknowledgement of the mysteriousness of Nigerian power by the minster but also of the need to rid it of that arcane attribute.

However, to fully demystify Nigerian power, we must understand the components of its mysteriousness. One is the component of inscrutability at which the minister hints in that remark. This is reflected by the general lack of understanding of power issues by the Nigerian public, especially issues related to the inadequacy or unavailability of power due to such factors as power outages, system failure, vandalisation, and other technical and non-technical issues some of which, like vandalisation and the sabotage it amounts to, border on the abnormal.

The other is the even more important component of near-invisibility that makes power seem a phantom to the Nigeria people, such that they hardly see it, though they hear so much about it. The minister said nothing about this other component of the mysteriousness of Nigerian power during his presentation. But it must be acknowledged that his ministry will do well to incorporate it into its power-demystification programme, which suggests a plan to launch or sustain some public enlightenment campaign aimed at simplifying ideas about power for the understanding of the general public. For the impact of such a campaign would be greater if the public understands why “there is no power” as the minister would wish, as well as what his ministry and other agencies in the power sector are doing to make power available.

To rid Nigerian power of the mysteriousness of its inscrutability while letting it retain the mysteriousness of its near-invisibility would be comparable to retrieving a flute from a menacing lunatic while leaving him with a bludgeon, the more dangerous object.

A true, because full, demystification campaign must take on both components of inscrutability and near-invisibility. It must, for emphasis, enlighten the public in clear terms on various issues related to the chronic paucity of power in the country, as well as action being taken to reverse the situation – to, as it were, exorcise the ghost of darkness from the country.

Indeed, perception management, which this anticipated or ongoing public enlightenment programme hints at, can be an effective means of encouraging Nigerians to bear the burden of inadequate power with hope, like hungry guests at a feast being hosted by a wealthy man to whom must be explained why they do not have enough food and also informed of the steps being taken to bridge the gap of edibles.

To succeed, the public enlightenment campaign the minister’s remark suggests must forge a new alliance with language as a means of simplifying even the most complex ideas about power for the layman’s comprehension. And it must be a language that invests heavily in tropes, especially similes, to bring home its point, using such figures of speech to simplify technical concepts and make them accessible to everyone, a language that integrates mass communication and creativity and thoroughly achieves the elucidatory and outreach goals of the former.

With this new language, it might suffice to explain for general comprehension the reasons Nigerians do not have sufficient power by using an extended simile to compare the situation to a man who has invited a large number of guests to a feast. But it turns out that there was not enough water and gas to cook for all the guests, and some of the pipes that conveyed gas to his kitchens had been perforated by his enemies to sabotage the feast. And that such acts of sabotage only compounded the undersupply of gas to the kitchen.

Then, that fewer plates and cutlery had been supplied by those the host paid for such supplies, resulting in the shortage of such items to serve all the available, yet insufficient, food to the hungry guests. And that it was discovered that there were far less cooks and stewards to withstand the pressure of such a great feast.

If the host or the organisers of the feast would, acting on his behalf, follow the above explanation with that of the actions being taken to resolve the guests’ genuine dissatisfaction with the situation, it would encourage the guests to bear their distress with calm and even sympathy for the host, especially in consideration of those causes bordering on sabotage for which he may be considered a victim.

I hope we can see how, with this new approach to communication, we can use the metaphors of food, cooking and a feast, to which everyone can relate, to create an extended simile that would explain for everyone’s comprehension how such complex issues as low water level and lack or undersupply of gas are responsible for low generation from our hydro power stations and gas-powered plants respectively, which is partly to blame for our not having enough electricity.

The bit about the perforation of gas pipes would explain vandalisation as one of the causes of our power malaise, while that about insufficient plates and cutlery would explain inadequate infrastructure, and the low number of cooks and stewards the inadequate staffing that continues to plague the generation, transmission and distribution companies in our power sector, resulting in low productivity across the sector.

In all, Fashola’s plan to demystify power must not only simplify the explanation of such causes of the lack or inadequacy of power supply. It must also simplify the explanation of what is being done to improve the situation to make for a thorough demystification of power.

Oke, a former employee of the National Electric Power Authority, poet and power sector analyst, lives in Abuja.



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