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The stranded power of Nigeria’s human resources (I)

Stranded power. 

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I googled Stranded Power Nigeria, and discovered that as at February 2018, Nigeria had 2000 Megawatts of stranded electricity power. In March 2018, Maikanti Baru, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, at a seminar, spoke extensively about Nigeria’s stranded gas as well, which could be used to generate more power but most of which is being flared. We will get to the cost of generating the stranded power in a minute – and the opportunity costs of flaring gas as well – but let us look at another phenomenon. In the Niger Delta today, we have a spreading rash on the face of the mangrove soil, called Illegal Refineries. The locals, out of a combination of frustration, discontent and ignorance, are despoiling their own environment and poisoning their own very waters through this crude process of refining crude oil (pun unintended) which is called illegal refining. The process is awful, and continues to claim more and more of arable farmlands because there is no way of convincing these locals anymore that there is value in waiting for years to reap from tree crops or fishing, when our leaders and everyone in between are showing them that all that matters is to make money immediately. And to make lots of it.

To make matters worse for the Niger Delta, in comes the Nigerian Civil Defense Corps, or the Navy, government entities that are convinced that the best way to show patriotism is to destroy the end product of these illegal refineries, by emptying tonnes of processed products into the waters! The level of destruction going on in the environment  – whether in the waters or in the air in this region – is unimaginable. Residents of Port Harcourt have been complaining of soot lately. The black stuff just overwhelms the town and villages from time to time. One thing about nature is that it takes no crap. Whatever you push to her that is not hers, she returns to you, sometimes angrily. Look at the sea? every last bit of plastic is washed ashore for that reason. The seas, the oceans, occupying 70% of the Earth’s surface, remain squeaky clean as it pushes back to man what is not its. Sort yourself out, it seems to be saying.

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But the issue is not power today, as much as I wish to make an analogy that underlines the fact that too many things are stranded in Nigeria – especially our most precious resource; Human Capital. 

The issue for today is that Mr Bill Gates came into Nigeria the other day and gave a frank though uncomfortable talk about Nigeria’s Human Capital. Mr Gates urged Nigerian leaders to invest more in the country’s human capital. He said our human capital could never compete globally what with its perennial neglect.  He also looked at the issue from the angle of health, which is the core focus of his Bill Gates Foundation, which has spent all of $1.5billion in Nigeria. Just two months ago, the Foundation was called upon by Nigeria’s government to help pay a debt of $76million which Nigeria was owing to Japan in payment for efforts towards the eradication of Polio. Most Nigerians believe Gates had earned the right to be frank with our government, and for the first time Nigerians actually saw a foreigner who should be busy making his money, actually show genuine concern for us as a people. No one needs a PhD to know that Gates will never be invited by this government to any cocktail parties again. 

Many Nigerians in my view have mistaken Gates’ call for investment in human capital to mean that we should increase budgetary allocations to education and health. I disagree, howbeit slightly. Apart from falling into the trap of inefficiency – by which we increase allocations and watch money disappear into the pockets of the owners of ghost workers, and also into moribund knowledge that is unwilling to transform itself – the critical need is for new spending to radically transform our human capital because what Gates is saying is that our youths are in serious knowledge and productivity deficit when compared with youths elsewhere. From the health angle, Gates described the problem Nigeria has with malnutrition, to the extent that 30% of our children are stunted. He said oftentimes their brains will remain small, already damaged and curtailed by poverty. 

Like crude oil and NEPA, like Nigerian youths

The story of Nigeria’s youth is exactly like the story of Nigeria’s power and oil sector. We have produced graduates of institutions with no work to do, so they are stranded just like power generated by the GENCOs with no transmission systems to take same to DISCOs who also complain that final consumers don’t like to pay for what they enjoy (just as many businessmen and governors who enjoy the final product that is Nigeria’s human capital (her graduates) simply refuse to pay salaries. 

In the same vein we can draw parallels from the petroleum sector. Just as gas is being flared massively making Nigeria the highest polluting economy in sub-Saharan Africa, so also are our youths and their energy being wasted, flared away, burnt off and turned into pollution to the global environment where many have become nuisance and are being despised, sometimes feared, hunted and killed from time to time by xenophobes. We have simply refused to bottle that energy for productive use here.  Our youths are being smuggled abroad for prostitution and other menial jobs just as illegal bunkerers steal our crude (500,000 barrels of it every blessed day). Yet others are washed into the Mediterranean sea like the diesel that our civil defense corps pour into our rivers here! 

Even, there is an illegal intellectual refinery that churns out Nigeria’s youths as products. These are the new digital cheating centers for WAEC exams, the miracle centers where students always pass even if they know nothing, the many forgery centers all over the country where our youths have been conditioned to believe that honesty and straightforwardness does not pay but that twisting the system is all that matters. Our illegal refineries of the mind extend to the universities where professors issue sexually-transmitted degrees and others brazenly collect money from students in exchange for a pass. The effects on the lay of the land is the same as the kind of devastation, barrenness, and contamination of the water table that the people of Niger Delta are using their own very hands to foist on their own land and heritage, compounded by government complicity, if not worse. And just as the major oil companies have gone deep-sea where they use new technology to get the same resources aplenty, so also smart countries like Canada are attracting our best brains, plus billions of dollars each year paid for the education of our privileged youths most of whom never return. This time, they don’t have to come here. Our own well-trained young people are ready to sell houses and belongings to migrate abroad. No more on-shore foraging for crude oil or trained graduates. Deepsea it is; powered by technology.

 

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