The Islamic State in West Africa Province’s series of attacks on electricity towers that supply power to Maiduguri has continued to disrupt normal business activities, leading to a surge in the cost of service delivery for the people in the capital city. Experts have offered several suggestions to the government as the people are eagerly waiting to see which ones will be adopted to deliver them from the problem.
Sitting under his tent with a thatched roof supported by shallow tree pillars, Abba Habu, a water vendor, expressed his dismay over the power outage bedevilling the Borno state capital. “We don’t know when power would come back again. Since these Boko Haram have discovered this tactic, it is going to be terrible for us as long as electricity is concerned,” he said.
Abba sells water to mobile water vendors popularly known as maimoya. His trench that retains spilling water from his shallow borehole has been almost dry since the prolonged power outage caused by the collapse of some electricity towers along the Damaturu-Maiduguri road. The towers were destroyed by ISWAP insurgents in what appears to be a new war tactic they have adopted in their armed struggle against Nigerian authorities to establish an Islamic State.
The current power outage has added to the ordeal of the residents. The city is already grappling with the side effects of frequent terrorist attacks along the Damaturu-Maiduguri road that disrupt the supply of essential goods and fuel to the city. “Prices of foodstuff and everything has increased in the markets. The supply of goods to Maiduguri has become a high-risk venture for businessmen. The profit is already on the edge and our customers complain bitterly over the high prices,” said Danladi Audu, a businessman with shops in the Maiduguri main market.
Umaru Garba is an ice block and cool water vendor in the city. Electricity supply is essential to his business and supplementing that with an alternative power source would mean higher costs due to an increase in diesel price. “We now buy gas (diesel) at N280 as against N220 per litre for our generators and pure water is now N100 per jumbo bag as against N50 before,” he lamented, adding that they have to increase the price of ice and pure water accordingly as this is the only way they can stay in business.
Electricity has become an essential utility in every household. From feeding and working to entertainment, the absence of a power supply has proved to render life incomplete. Nigerians were introduced to the luxury of electricity by the British colonialists in 1896 with the building of the first power plant in Lagos. The agencies in charge of the facility have ranged from the Nigeria Electricity Supply Company (NESCO) to the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) and National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). NEPA was later disaggregated to become the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), which gave birth to the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and Electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos). DisCos became fully privatised in 2013 but TCN remains a monopoly of the Federal Government.
Boko Haram, now fragmented into ISWAP and Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS), has continued to wage an unending war on the Nigerian authorities, dragging in the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon into the war front. The insurgency has claimed more than 37,500 lives and displaced over 2.5 million people from their homes with billions of dollars worth of damages since it started in 2009.
Several war tactics were applied by the insurgents and attacks on electricity facilities have become one of the recent ones, sending experts and Nigerian authorities to the drawing board to figure out solutions. Although the cables of the electricity towers carry with them thousands of watts which protects them from trespassers, they are not completely immune to attacks from adversaries like the insurgents.
Engr. Sani Haruna, an electrical engineer, explained to HumAngle that the cables could be hit from a distance or the towers could be targeted. “The insurgents possibly planted an explosive device and detonated it from a distance,” he said, adding that to prevent further attacks, new security features have to be devised for the towers, a task for both electrical engineers and security experts.
“Most of the towers are not clearly visible from the main road. So let them clear the trees and shrubs in between to expose their visibility from the main road,” suggested Goni Musa, a security analyst on the Northeast insurgency.
“You can plant landmines along the perimeter of the towers. The danger zones are areas between Mainok and Auno that fall within crossing routes of the insurgents. It is not more than 50 kilometres. Coupled with sustained security patrol, the towers can be secured from attacks,” Goni added.
He, however, believes the best way the Nigerian military can handle the problem is to “fight the insurgents tooth and nail and take the war to their doorsteps in Sambisa, Lake Chad or anywhere. The option of dialogue should also not be completely left out; perhaps they could say something reasonable that could be listened to.”
The Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) stated that on Saturday, March 27, two electricity towers along Damaturu-Maiduguri road were vandalised. Following the first incident in January, power was restored the previous Wednesday only for ISWAP to strike a few days later. TCN assured that it would do everything possible to ensure power is restored to the affected areas.
The Borno State Government, which rendered critical financial, manpower, and material support in the previous repairs of the towers, is yet to make an official statement on the incident. What options are left for the state government has been the subject of discussion in the city since the towers were again vandalised last week.
“The state government can go for the option of establishing a solar power plant. It would cost millions of dollars to generate 25 MWT to 30 MWT of solar power which can be enough for the state. The government can go for a term loan from national banks or international lenders,” proposed Mustapha Hadi, a solar power accessory dealer based in Maiduguri. “It would be a good investment for the government and the loan can be repaid in less than 10 years,” the dealer concluded.
Other experts like Yakubu Hassan suggested the installation of a biomass power plant. “But the technology is rare here. The government can still venture into it if it can pool the experience of experts in the field,” he opined.
In any case, the issue of power outage in the state would continue to be a huge constraint for businesses and other activities both the Nigerian authorities and residents of the state who are mostly at the receiving end.