For much of the last six months, Nigerians have had to deal with a frustrating fuel scarcity problem that shows no signs of abating. A major effect of the fuel scarcity problem, alongside higher transport costs and rising food prices, has been an exacerbation of a poor electricity supply situation—only 18% of Nigerians connected to the national grid enjoy reliable power supply. Relying mainly on low-cost generators to power their homes, Nigerians are often left in the dark for hours when unable to fuel these generators. Nigerians spend three times more to power their generators than they do on their irregular power supply from the local grid.
Given Nigeria’s electricity generation and supply problems, generators have grown to become an important item in Nigerian homes but a new policy is making it near impossible to use generators.
Solomon Arase, Nigeria’s police chief, has ordered the arrest of anyone found selling or buying petrol in plastic containers and jerrycans. This, he says, is to prevent fire outbreaks in homes where petrol is stored and also to attempt to stamp out the prominence of ‘black market’ petrol sellers who buy at the official rate in gas stations but resell at prices several times higher.
But despite his seeming best intentions, the new policy will inadvertently make it extremely difficult for regular Nigerians to power their homes. Predictably, the directive has been criticized.
As a standalone problem, Nigeria’s electricity supply problems can be managed by most people used to erratic supply, but coupled with the inability to fuel generators, the situation is dire as businesses and social utilities are left hamstrung. The government has previously shown disdain for the use of generators last November when it mooted a ban on the importation of small generators which have become very popular.
The government insists it is working to resolve the fuel supply problem which is an offshoot of its currency policies but while it strives to make things better, the police chief may have just made them much worse for Nigerians.