‘Up NEPA’ By ‘Tope Oriola

I am happy to report that after 12 years, three months and 22 days of living in Canada, I have finally witnessed power outage. My first reaction to the power outage was “God don catch this Oyibo people”. It was an entertaining anti-miracle. At least, the ministry of darkness can point to that as evidence that Nigeria is not the only country where there are problems with power supply. You see, I have come a long way in my attempt to shout “Up NEPA” in Canada. It was becoming unfair to my made-in-Nigeria sensibilities. Electricity was always annoyingly constant unless you failed to pay your bill for several months. Therefore, I meant to fully enjoy the rare moment. I was in a furniture store with my friend, Donald Fajemisin. Donald was visiting from British Columbia. You may be aware of this friend. I wrote about him nearly three years ago. He was the one who renounced his Nigerian citizenship in 2016 in order to take up Venezuelan citizenship. He was already a Canadian citizen, previously lived in Venezuela and also married a Venezuelan in 2015. As a Spanish and Portuguese speaker, he was very much at home in Venezuela. Venezuelan naturalization laws allowed dual citizenship but no more than that. There was no way Donald would give up his Canadian citizenship for reasons you already know, therefore, his green passport was the sacrificial lamb. Where were we on the power issue?

You see, I was denied the pleasure of a proper power outage back at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. I was in my department’s computer lab with several other graduate students. There was “low current” and the brightness of the electricity bulbs reduced but never went off completely. All the other students ran out of the lab. Yours truly was the only one who remained in the lab. The computer backup power was on, so I continued working. The issue lasted less than a minute. Only a few of the students returned to the lab. They were apparently “too scared” to return to the lab that day. One of them in fact never returned to that lab until she graduated as she was “traumatized” by that experience. Some of the “brave” oyibo students returned to the lab. One of them was an acquaintance. She sat next to me and asked if I noticed what just happened and how everyone was scared and ran out. “Did you notice the power issue? Why did you remain in the lab”, she asked. In my head, I said “ma koba mi, arabinrin yi” (sorry, that does not translate well. I tried). I wanted to tell her how accustomed Nigerians were to power outages and how millions would be generally pleased with low current and had elaborate power stabilizers to boost power supply. I wanted to tell her that such could have been viewed as the answer to the request of prayer warriors all over Nigeria. I wanted to tell her that young children in Nigeria would not have been scared and would have instead shouted “Up NEPA”. I wanted to tell her that my fellow Nigerians would have seen nothing wrong with that and would be pleased to at least not sleep in darkness. I wanted to tell her that my people neither demanded nor expected anything significant from their government and public and private institutions. I wanted to tell her many things. But I thought to myself “shame on my enemies; why would I embarrass Nigeria and myself?” Therefore, I told her: “I didn’t think it was a big deal. It seemed to me like a massive overreaction to a minor issue”. In other words, the problem was with my fellow students who could not bear a moment of near institutional failure.

I returned to my room at Tache Hall that night and had a good laugh. I shook my head in pity at how I had been socialized to what was clearly an abnormality. I shook my head at the conditioning of my reflex reaction. I shook my head at the conditioning of my psyche. Why did I not run out like others in the lab? I told myself that I too would run out next time anything close to a power outage happened.

That was early 2006. Fast forward to 2019. I was surprised that as power went off at this furniture store, my friend and I did not react in horror. We had seen that multiple times before. Even though we had between us over 30 years of diaspora living and transnational lifestyle the conditioning of our psyche remained. One guy took out his phone and snapped pictures of the power outage. It was new and entertaining to him. The guy was probably in his 30s. It was his first time of witnessing power outage.It became clear that the effects of where children are born and/or raised last through the life course. Even reflex reactions are shaped by early socialization experiences.

Before anyone decides to use that to excuse incompetence in Nigeria be mindful that this was localized to no more than a 500-metre radius. The incident reminded me of the endless days of power outages, praying for electricity, and my church binding and losing principalities and powers to ensure that the “special” program (all the programs were “special”) would not be interrupted by NEPA. Of course, NEPA was a stubborn entity and most of the prayers offered to make it behave were never answered. It felt normal in those days to have to pray to have electricity.

To my fellow Nigerians, I am pleased to be able to solidarize with you on the perennial power issue after over 12 years. I must point out though that there is no one here fasting and praying for regular power supply. The saints of God over here have other serious issues to deal with. Power is regular over here because of the level of social organization, a no-nonsense attitude towards incompetence and institutional failure, punishment for bureaucratic malfeasance and willingness (or inability to be unwilling) to pay for services. If you are reading this where there is no power supply, you are in my thoughts but not my prayers. God is not an electrician.

Follow Oriola on Twitter: @topeoriola


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