Energy Access & Education: My Experience in FUT-Minna, Nigeria

It was in the month of March 2016 at about 7:15 pm, the power went off and my home was dark. My laptop, phone and tab batteries were all down. I looked out through my house window and everywhere was dark, then I realized I was already sweating. Every corner of my room was so hot; should I go outside and stay? Certainly No! Outside was also hot and the mosquitoes will feast on me. My life looked miserable and I kept on thinking about what I can do. Then I asked myself, what brought me here and what am I doing here. Tears rolled out of my eyes but a soft voice consoled me, saying: ‘it is well, is just a matter of time’.

Energy! Energy!! Energy!!! This has now become a common word but it seems we haven’t understood the intricacies of the concept of energy. Energy affects our entire life. It’s the driving force of the socio-economic development of any nation. This can be seen in the developmental gap between the western countries and Africa.

For the purpose of this article, energy is considered as electricity (power), which is the most versatile form of energy. Without access to reliable electricity, education becomes very difficult and the quality of services delivered becomes poor. I had an experience of this during my mandatory one year National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) at the Federal University of Technology – Minna, Nigeria, commonly called FUT-Minna.

FUT-Minna is one of the six universities of technology in the country, specialized in the teaching of Engineering and Technology related courses. The university is well-ranked in the country, with great faculty and excellent students. However, poor access to electricity mainly by the students of this great institution affects the quality of education they receive and their entire wellbeing.

According to Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for the onward march of human race towards ever higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duties adequately, then it is well with the Nation and the people’.

Building on these words, for it to be well with Nigeria then our universities have to discharge their duties adequately which are basically: Teaching, Research and Service to Community. How can these duties be discharged in a country with electricity access rate of 48 percent? The situation is really pathetic.

Let me summarize my experiences with the faculty and students, which are the two human components that make up a university.

Comparing educational experiences of students and energy access. Credit: Google Images.

Faculty

FUT-Minna is made up of excellent faculty, with some having degrees from elite universities in the world. However, they sometimes get frustrated with the situation in the school. A lecturer will try to use teaching aids like a projector but sometimes this becomes impossible because of lack of power. This lack of electricity also affects their research output. For example, taking readings of an experiment from a machine in the laboratory and suddenly the power goes off and you realize you have wasted your time without achieving your aim. This in turn demoralizes the faculty and consequently prevents them from building their academic careers.

Students

These are the people that feel the heavy impact of the situation, and they are the most vulnerable, especially those living outside of the campus.

Lack of access to electricity affects the students’ academic performance. Students who tend to study at night have no choice but walking into the school to study. Some walk over 3 km to get to the school so they can have access to power. The problem sometimes is that there is no power even in the school campus. Students sometimes resort to studying under the street lights, which are powered by solar, or they study with their personal lanterns. I strongly have the opinion that this discourages some students from studying, and limits their access to electronic information, which in turn affects their academic performance. Sometimes, students are accused of being unserious but they are not really asked about their welfare.

Lack of access to electricity also affects students’ health. Given the fact that students try to optimize any chance they have access to electricity, they sometimes wake up at midnight when the power comes on to charge their phones, laptops and other electronic gadgets. This shortens the time they have to sleep, which consequently affects their health.

Some students that are financially buoyant buy generator sets (locally called I pass my neighbor) as backup for the epileptic power supply. This generator sets emits CO, which can destroy the mental state of a human being and also the noise associated with them is irritating. This generator sets can also lead to suffocation and even an outbreak of fire.

Students’ finances are not left aside also. Lack of access to electricity impoverishes the students financially. Given the fact that it’s more expensive to use electricity from generator sets than grid-connected power, service providers, such as photocopy shop owners, hair barbers and even restaurants, tend to increase their prices for services provided. These services are required by students on a daily basis and as such, they pay a higher amount for them, which increases their expenditure from the usual and in turn impoverishes them more.

Poor access to electricity also results to poor time management. This I experienced with students working in the laboratory for their projects. A work they were supposed to finish normally in three days took them over a week to finish because there was no power, and the supposed machine they were to use couldn’t function. Also, the time students spend while seeking for alternative sources of power and walking distances to have access to power can be diverted to other productive and rewarding activities.

There are other experiences I had, such as lectures being canceled because of lack of power, seminars delayed and students fighting over charging ports, among others. I can’t mention all but these few really struck, and I believe that if these students have access to reliable electricity, then they will be far better than what they are now.

Lessons Learned

Indeed, it was great having a firsthand experience of the plight of Nigerian students and researchers. I realized energy can transform the entire life of a human being. Understanding the nitty-gritty of energy makes you more conscious of it always. It has become a part of modern life, and one cannot think of a world without it.

Energy is used for lighting rooms, powering A/C, working fans and much more that provides us comfort. It also provides means of entertainment, radio, television and cinema. Other equipment like robots and computers also require energy to function. Even in health, without energy, activities like X-ray and ECG will be impossible. This implies that energy keeps and moves the world. What on earth is not energy?

Conclusion

Finally, this article is in no way painting a negative picture on FUT-Minna, since it is the same experience in other Nigerian universities, but it is just to blow a whistle and improve our understanding on the energy-education relationship and how it affects Nigerian scholars negatively. I therefore call on the government, private sector and meaningful individuals to intensify their efforts and make energy access a priority, given the numerous benefits accrued to it. I also want to call on all to support the UN Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative.

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Michael Dioha, a Nigerian, holds a BSc Degree in Mechanical Engineering (First Class Honours) from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana. His main areas of expertise include Energy transitions, Energy/Climate policy, and Energy-economy-environment (E3) modelling. At present, he is pursuing his Ph.D. in the Energy & Environment Department of TERI School of Advanced Studies, India. He has published several monographs and scholarly articles in peer-reviewed journals. Dioha is also a member of the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE).

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