Worrisome indications emerged in the past week that the Federal Government might have placed what was described as “prohibition by trade” on the importation of mini electricity generating sets, more popularly known as “I better pass my neighbour”.
Breaking this controversial news to reporters, the Comptroller, Federal Operations Unit Zone A of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) in Lagos, Mr Madugu Sani Jibrin, alleged that government took this step because the sets cause air pollution which has a harmful effect on the lungs and the respiratory system.
While pollution and risks to the respiratory system are dangers associated with all engines that use hydrocarbon energy to operate (including all classes of electricity generators) the extra risk of these tiny generators is evident in the fact that because of their popularity among the low income classes, they are used mainly in confined spaces.
Due to the inability of successive governments to provide adequate and reliable public power supply, low income earners, such as traders and artisans, are forced to depend on these cheap generators in markets, shops and at home in the various congested slums and low cost urban housing areas. The amount of smoke these usually poorly maintained generators pump into the atmosphere indeed poses great dangers to health. It often leads to carbon monoxide-related deaths which sometimes involve whole families. It also sparks off fire outbreaks.
However, we view the ban on the importation of these gadgets without providing alternative means of power supply to the poor and vulnerable strata of our society as an act of insensitivity towards the needs of the downtrodden members of society.
If this policy is implemented, time might come when it will be difficult for the artisans and traders to survive at all. How would the ordinary people be able to survive the heat of the dry season which is upon us earlier than usual this year? This policy is bound to be seen as unkindly targeting the poor.
Besides, it will make the smuggling of these generators become even more lucrative and fuel more corruption among Customs officials, especially at the borders.
We believe it is possible to solve this problem by encouraging Nigerians to form groups to own and operate bigger generators. It is also even better if government provides cleaner and renewable energy sources such as inverters and solar options in the markets and dwelling areas while greater efforts are made to find a permanent solution through the provision of adequate public power supply.
We deplore the knee-jerk, militaristic attitude of government to problems. Before the importation of the mini generators is banned, government must first of all provide alternative options to the low-income citizenry.