Maiduguri: Troubled city in darkness ( Part two)

In part two of this series, Ajibola AMZAT reports how the year-long shutdown of electricity in Borno State affects government businesses and tests the endurance of its workforce.

Threat to food security

THE case of Borno Fertiliser Company Limited illustrates how terrorist attacks destabilise state institutions with mandates to guarantee food security in northeast Nigeria.

The 22-year old company, located along Ngala Road in Jere Local Government Area, stopped operations about a decade ago, according to Abba Gana Kyari, the company’s acting general manager.

Its fate was sealed in 2013 when the Federal Government banned the production and distribution of urea fertiliser.

Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) then said urea could be used to produce urea nitrate, a high explosive material used in IEDs, by simply adding nitric acid.

But the insurgents, who had learnt how urea could be used to make local bombs, were already procuring fertilisers in large numbers.

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NNPC Mega Filling Station
Borno Fertiliser Company Limited

Therefore, the government ban constrained their enterprise, but it also crippled agricultural production, leaving many farmers in Borno helpless.

In 2020, the Nigerian government lifted the ban and approved the usage of blended fertiliser, and Governor Babagana Zulum announced the re-opening of the company for operations.

Without wasting time, he directed the Ministry of Agriculture to submit a detailed proposal of all the requirements needed for the company to resume work, and to support farmers returning to their various communities after years of displacement.

The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) recently reported that over 65, 000 farmers have been displaced in Borno by insurgency.

But the huge energy cost, exacerbated by the frequent attacks on electricity infrastructure in Borno, has put operations of Borno Fertiliser Company on hold since then.

According to Kyari, the company requires about four and a half drums of diesel per day to put the plant in full operation.

“The plant can produce 10 metric tons of NPK fertiliser per hour. One metric ton is equivalent to 1000kg. So we get 200 bags of 50 kg per hour. By the time we operate for eight to nine hours, we produce about three trucks of NPK fertiliser. But if there is a shift, we can produce about six trucks between 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 a.m.,” he explained

A litre of diesel is sold as high as N380, a figure well above the regulated price. The company, therefore, requires about N8 million per month, only for diesel supply, to operate fully,

But the monthly overhead allocated to Borno Fertiliser Company is N100,000, barely enough to keep the machine running.

“We just buy enough diesel to operate the plant so that machines will not deteriorate faster,” Kyari told The ICIR in December.

Were the company to rely on YEDC for its power supply, and were there no attacks on public power supply by terrorists, the state-owned company would have saved a lot of its scarce resources.

Notwithstanding, Kyari said public electricity had never been a reliable energy source for the fertiliser company even before Boko Haram’s attacks on government infrastructure.

“Even when we were fully functional, we relied more on generator,” an indication that energy crisis in Borno has lasted for a long time.

Therefore, the company has learnt to depend on diesel as the primary source of energy, an option that raises the production cost of fertiliser to N7,000 per 50 kg bag on average.

Experts recommend eight to 15 bags of NPK and urea fertiliser per hectare of maise farmland for good yield. So a farmer in Borno will need roughly as much as N100, 000 to fertilise a hectare of farmland. Such investment makes commercial farming a costly enterprise in fragile communities.

And solar power is not even a viable option for a plant that consumes a large volume of energy, like Borno Fertiliser Company, said Kyari.

“We plan to add a solar system to the energy mix, but it is very expensive.”

For these reasons, the fertiliser company remains on the tether despite the great plan of Zulum administration.

Similarly,  Borno Ministry of Animal Resources and Fisheries Development, a ministry with a similar but broader mandate,  does not fare better.

On his assumption of office, Governor Zulum positioned the ministry to address the scarcity of poultry chickens and feeds in the state as part of his 10 -point agenda in addressing youth unemployment.

But the terrorist group had a different plan.

Frequent attacks on electricity infrastructure in the last 11 months have taken a toll also on the ministry, especially the poultry production unit.

The ministry spends N1.8 million per month to run its 120-capacity hatchery, but government officials say this is not sustainable.

A senior staff at the ministry who sought anonymity because he was not authorised to speak told The ICIR that the ministry had outsourced its hatchery to a private company. This is because it no longer can generate humidity and temperature to hatch chicken or incubate eggs due to power outage.

Nonetheless, it runs a generator from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day to carry out administrative work, spending N5,000 to purchase 25 litres of petroleum just for three days and N1,000 to service the generator.

The 330kV Transmission Line destroyed along Damaturu-Maiduguri road, Borno State
The 330kV Transmission Line destroyed along Damaturu-Maiduguri road, Borno State

The top government official said there was no provision for this extra expense in the 2021 budget; therefore, workers bear the cost.

“By the time we consider noise pollution and its implication, the cost of the electricity shutdown could be much higher than we know,” the official added.

His claim is not far from the truth.

A recent study of pollution published in August 2021 by the Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Maiduguri lends credence to the claim.

According to the study, Carbon Monoxide (CO) Concentrations in High Traffic Areas (HTA) in Maiduguri show the highest point of 36 ppm and the lowest point of 12 ppm. The highest point is above WHO and FEPA points of 25ppm and 30ppm, respectively.

Borno, however, is not yet among the most polluted states in Nigeria, according to IQAir, a website that collects global data on air pollution.

The number one position goes to Rivers State.

Justice at higher cost

Despite multiple attacks on electricity infrastructure in 2021, the business of justice administration continues in Borno, though at a higher cost.

Muhammed Badamasi Goni, the station registrar at the federal high court, Maiduguri division, and a realist said the court must continue to sit to avert the total breakdown of law and order.

“Yet we can’t run the affairs of the court without electricity,” he added.

So like other public institutions in the state, the high court is forced to rely solely on its 100 KV generator for electricity supply for eight hours every working day.

Three drums of diesel, which cost nearly N300,000 at N350 per litre or more depending on the market price, are expended every month, he told The ICIR.

This is about the same amount the Federal Government approved for fuel in three months for the high court.

And when the generator develops mechanical error due to overworking, staff must fix the problem despite limited resources. So, oftentimes, workers are left to worry about keeping the court running under any circumstance.

In the previous years, when the court relied on public electricity supply, Goni said the energy cost was between N150,000 and N200, 000. That is nearly 50 per cent less than the current energy bill.

“We never paid more than N200,000 for electricity.”

He said a minor mechanical breakdown could delay court business for hours. Lack of electricity, for instance, could delay typing of court proceedings and court orders, or payments of dues for filing of a court process. And this could frustrate judges and other judicial staff, therefore, weakening the administration of justice.

Last month, the Chief Judge of the High Courts, John Tosho, disclosed that federal high courts across the federation currently have a backlog of 128,000 pending cases in its dockets.

Though the high court in Maiduguri is not a busy division, “we still have almost 207 pending cases,” said Goni.

Mohammed Badamasi Goni, Station Registrar, Federal High Court, Maiduguri, Division, Borno State

However, the law officer did not attribute the number of pending cases to the protracted energy crisis in the state.

He, however, said: “the conducive atmosphere of the court cannot be guaranteed because of the uncertainty of running the office on the generator.”

His colleague at the Borno State Sharia Court of Appeal shares similar view.

In May 2020, the Grand Kadi of Sharia Court of Appeal, Honourable Umar Ramat Mukaila, announced through Practice Direction No 1 of 2020 that the court would begin online sitting as a way of partly observing COVID-19 protocol.

That decision requires a constant supply of electricity in the court premises, but it was never a problem because the electricity was stable, said the court Chief Registrar, Borno Ali Idris Ismail.

However, since January 2021, the court has been running on a generator from morning till evening.

“Without power, the operation is epileptic,” he said.

And the cost eats deep into the N2 million annual budget on energy allocated to the Sharia court.

“The generator consumes three drums in a month, and each drum contains 260 litres, and the diesel price fluctuates between N300 and N310 depending on the market price. So you can do the calculation,” he said to the reporter.

Ismail said the court also has solar power, but it is used in powering only security lights at night.

To address the challenge of additional energy costs, the registrar confirmed that the court had made a proposal to increase the 2022 budget, but the budget is not yet signed.

High energy cost at Maiduguri Airport

The terminal building of Maiduguri International Airport was an eyesore until 2019 when the government rehabilitated it. Since then, the airport commercial operation has improved.

But the cost of operation has doubled because of the impact of power outage in the entire city of Maiduguri that has lasted for nearly a year.

Maiduguri International Airport
Maiduguri International Airport

In fact, few businesses of the government in Borno bear as much financial cost of the electricity shutdown as the international airport.

When this reporter visited in December, the terminal building was still looking new and clean, but the lightning at the arrivals was dim.

Several white bulbs were blinking as if they would soon go off, but they never did.

And when the conveyor belt surged to life, it made a loud noise that rattled infant passengers.

Though the air conditioners were working, the hall remained stuffy.

The explanation for these shortcomings was the quality of the energy supply at the airport.

Since January 2021, Maiduguri airport has been running on the generator for 12 hours daily. And when a flight is delayed, the hours could be longer.

Airport Manager, Muhammadu Bashir Jamilu Bashir, said the airport uses 60,000 litres of diesel for two months and a few days. That is nearly two truck-loads of fuel. But before the shutdown, the 60,000 litres could go for more than four months.

Maiduguri International Airport Manager, Muhammadu Bashir Jamilu Bashir during interview with The ICIR.
Maiduguri International Airport Manager, Muhammadu Bashir Jamilu Bashir during interview with The ICIR.

Similarly, the airport used to service its generator after 10 days, but because of intensive use, it has reduced the number of days to seven. And six jerrycans of 25 litres of cat oil is used for each service.

Jamilu would not mention the cost because the procurement is done by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) headquarters in Lagos. But if diesel is bought at the average price of N350 in Lagos, the cost could be as high as N10.5 million per month as against N5.2 million expended before the attack on power facilities.

“Sometimes the challenge is not only about the cost, but time. You may not get the oil at the time you want it,” he added.

However, Jamilu insisted that the situation never affected the passengers.  He may not be wrong. Hundreds of people still travel in and out of Maiduguri daily, despite the terrorists’ determination to shut down the city.

To be continued

This report is produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).


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