Nigeria Has 6th Day of Power Outage : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Nigeria Has 6th Day of Power Outage Updated 1:05 AM ET March 15, 2000 By GLENN McKENZIE, Associated Press Writer LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - When the lights go out in Nigeria, as they often do, diesel generators roar to life in rich suburbs. For the poor, candles will have to do.

Public hospitals postpone surgery. Government offices shut down. Africa's most populous nation - and potentially one of its wealthiest - grinds to a halt.

This struggling young democracy had its sixth straight day of intermittent, nationwide power failures Tuesday, posing a new threat to stability under President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration just weeks after Muslim-Christian religious riots are believed to have taken thousands of lives.

Energy experts said the blackout was worse than the frequent outages - called "lights out" by Nigerians - that becamg synonymous with the economic collapse during 15 years of rule by the country's former army dictators.

Doctors in the commercial capital of Lagos treated accident victims in a generator-lighted parking lot Monday night. Because the power failure the city in search of water.

The government-owned National Electric Power Authority - known unaffectionately by Nigerians as "Never Enough Power Anywhere" - shut down its nationwide network Thursday after thermal power generating systems in Lagos broke down. An explosion at a hydroelectric plant in northern Niger State compounded the company's problems.

On Tuesday, furious over the widespread outages, Obasanjo fired NEPA's entire senior management because of their inability to deal with the crisis.

"There can be only one verdict and this is that NEPA has failed woefully," Obasanjo said, announcing the firings. He did not say how many people would lose their jobs.

Energy experts said the worst is yet to come, warning that Nigeria's fuel and hydroelectric generators are in disrepair and need to be immediately replaced.

In short, the entire power grid in Africa's energy giant is on the brink of collapse.

"The government knows what the problem is," said Aret Adams, a Nigerian energy consultant and former senior government adviser. "Its just a matter of fixing it - and I'm surprised they haven't done it yet."

The power outage is seen by many Nigerians as another reason to grumble that their new democracy, which was elected last year following the military's 15 years in power, is not moving fast enough to improve lives.

Although this West African country of 110 million is the world's sixth largest oil exporter, the wealth is unevenly distributed and essential services are poor.

Nigeria has busy freeways and nearly a dozen airlines linking its bustling, cosmopolitan cities - but it is also a country of mud huts, donkey carts and dugout canoes.

Many former military officials illegally enriched themselves with government revenues while the vast majority of Nigerians lived in poverty without even basic services. Most government and aid officials say the gulf between rich and poor fuels existing ethnic, religious and regional tensions that frequently flare into violence.

Recently, thousands of people were killed in a chain-reaction of Muslim-Christian killings sparked by proposals to implement Islamic law, or sharia, in some northern states.

And while Obasanjo has made a priority of eliminating corruption and spreading development, so far these goals have been impeded by bureaucratic wrangling in national and state legislatures.

"Full measures become half measures by the time they go through the National Assembly," Adams said. "And half measures will not help Nigeria."

Many Nigerians complain the latest power outages are evidence of the government's inability to act decisively.

In the capital, Abuja, even the grand hallways and meeting chambers of the National Assembly have been dark during much of the blackout. Meetings were postponed or canceled.

A NEPA spokesman said Monday the company had received inadequate funding over the years to maintain its plants, warning that power failures were likely to persist until a major overhaul was done.

The government asked legislators to approve $120 million for new thermal stations, radio stations reported Tuesday

-- Martin Thompson (, March 16, 2000

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