Maiduguri: Insurgency-Induced Power Outage Dwarfs Living Conditions, Businesses

By Abdulkareem Haruna. (Originally published by Humangle)

For months, insurgents have cut power supply to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State in Northeast Nigeria, forcing residents to adjust uncomfortably.

In mid-January, Boko Haram attacked electricity towers that link Maiduguri, Borno State, Northeast Nigeria, with the national grid and till date, the attacks on electricity sources has persisted.

The attacks, which are touted as the deadliest of all attacks by Boko Haram yet, have plunged the entire state capital with over three million people into darkness. For over 100 days now, Maiduguri and its immediate neighbours like Jere, Konduga, and parts of Damboa local government areas have had no electricity to either lighten their homes or to power their business.

Danmalam Alhaji, like several other small business owners, looks forward to earning small returns from his shop which feeds his family. The returns are now almost non-existent because the absence of electricity means he has to eat into his profits to run a generating set at all times.

Customers, who are also residents facing the same power outage plague, are reluctant to pay more to cut their hair at Danmalam’s barber shop.

Danmalam lamented that the little he makes per day is useless in the market. “Prices of goods and services have increased due to lack of electricity and increased fuel pump price,” he said.

Even before the attack on power installations, Maiduguri had been at the receiving end of poor electricity supply and inadequate supply of petroleum products.

In March, the Borno state government and the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) managed to restore electricity to the city. Barely 48 hours after residents went to the streets in wild jubilation, the insurgents attacked another transmission tower.

Credible sources, familiar with the activities of the insurgents, have hinted that they had planned to weaponise electricity by perpetually keeping  Maiduguri in darkness.

“They plan that if they cannot stage any massive attack on Maiduguri, they can at least cause non-physical pains and damages by denying the city’s people and the economy,” one of the sources told HumAngle.

These pains, similar to Danmalam’s, are widespread across the city. Local business owners and even those who depend on electricity to enjoy basic services have continued to lament the attendant difficulties caused by the blackout.

Alheri Ibrahim, a laundry shop manager also bemoaned their predicament: “it is not sustainable running diesel fuel 24 hours in a laundry business,” she said.

“We need electricity from the national grid to ease the difficulty for us. The customers are complaining about us increasing the prices of washing and pressing clothes. Some will rather now wash their clothes at home and bring them to us just for ironing to save cost.”

Nafisat Aliyu, a mother of four children, told HumAngle that her family currently spends more money than ever. They buy ten litres of fuel everyday to pump water and cool the house in the hot weather.

“We are experiencing a double-edged suffering in Maiduguri today – lack of electricity and high cost of fuel. This is not sustainable because we cannot do this for a long time. It is killing us economically; people can no longer save money because most of our earnings go to tackling the impact of power outage in Maiduguri,” she said.

The nearly 12 years of the Boko Haram insurgency in Northeast Nigeria had taken a toll on the lives of Borno residents. Both human lives and properties have been irreparably lost as insurgents picked up arms against the state and constitutional government of Nigeria. From the quest to forcefully emplace the Sharia system of Islamic rule, to what has now become an egoistic war of no clear direction, Borno, the epicentre of the insurgency shares the roughest experience in the last decade.

Maiduguri, overstretched by insurgency
The armed conflict has not only inflicted sinking damages on many towns and villages in Borno state, but it has also annihilated hinterland communities whose residents now live in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Maiduguri, being the state capital has not only received its share of countless attacks, but it also presently shoulders the crushing responsibility of hosting a population twice its original size. However, this growth in population has not earned the city infrastructure and development growth.

Although Maiduguri has demonstrated unrivalled resilience to the antics of armed insurgents, the harsh effect of unsafe routes leading to the city and the total loss of arable spaces for agricultural food and animal production has made the state capital one of the most difficult places to survive in Northeast Nigeria.

Between 2012 and 2014, insurgents carried out bold attacks on the city by targeting the Giwa barracks and Nigeria Air Force base. There were also several suicide bombing attacks on the city. While these have considerably reduced, the insurgents appear to be devising other means, including power outage, to plague the city with.

A journalist and public affairs commentator, Iliya Dauda, described the destruction of electrical installation as one of the most impactful attacks on the city. He believes the insurgent’s attack on power installations was a deliberate plot by insurgents to inflict hardship on the residents of Maiduguri.

Business model crafted by pain
Muhammed Adam sells suya and has had to increase prices because of the added cost of refrigerating chicken stock using power from generators. Bashir, a fish merchant, faces the same struggle.

“There is no way we can keep the frozen fishes intact without constant electricity. When we increase the price of fish per kilogram, our customers would complain, forgetting that we are now paying more to sell the fish in their frozen state” he said.

Hotel owners are also struggling to keep the lights on so they can serve the influx of high-profile guests that frequent Maiduguri. Hotel business is at an all-time high because of the large presence of international NGOs and military officials  but everyone has had to adjust.

A check by this HumAngle reporter showed that most of the hotels are rationing power supply from their diesel generators. Some of the hotels put off their generating sets as early as 7 a.m. and would restore power at 6 p.m.

Management of one of the newest hotels in Maiduguri told HumAngle that the hotel “used to have 24 hours electricity but since the loss of power from the national grid, we can only power our generators between 5 p.m. – 8 a.m. generator; then we put it off till noon. And from noon, we put the generator on for two hours due to the excessively hot weather in the city. This is from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.”

Any end in sight?
Currently, the Borno state government and the TCN have been sluggish with fixing the second power tower that was destroyed. Sources familiar with the matter told HumAngle that the TCN is worried about another attack.

In April, the Federal Government announced the plan to establish a dedicated power gas plant for Maiduguri and environs. The Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mele Kyari, said a gas plant would be established in four months from April to prevent the continuous plunging of Maiduguri into darkness.

Kyari said: “I have the confidence of all of us; the gas suppliers, the potential supplier of the power plant itself, and also the distribution company, to make sure this thing works. We are counting on your help and support to make sure we deliver.”

Until either the destroyed power lines are restored or the promised gas plant gets installed, residents of Maiduguri will continue to wallow in increasing economic hardship – one capable of inflicting permanent injury on the small and medium scale enterprises.

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