BLACK – OUT

It was Saturday night, the street was usually dark and calm almost everybody had retreated to their dwellings. The melodies of generators engrossed the atmosphere like a host of choristers chorusing a mournful carol song. Our compound is one of the few without any generator, which compelled me to visit friends and neighbours most nights in order to charge my Nokia 3310. This Saturday night was not an exception. I left the house with the intention of going to charge my phone and that of a few others at John, my best friend’s house. A house not too far from mine. As I plodded around the street maneuvering through the shortest route to John’s place, I heard nothing save the voice of generators pitching high into the sky and cacophonous sounds from those who could not control the volume of their televisions. The stars stared me down as the moon directed my path. John lived in a duplex apartment surrounded by wooden coverings, which served as fence to about three houses in the compound, but without a gate.

John, his parents, brother and two sisters inhabit the upper part of the duplex while a number of tenants shared the lower region. On getting to the apartment, I reached for John’s room where I plugged all I came to charge and then headed to the balcony of the building, to both welcome refreshing breeze and have a pleasant view of the town. The street is roughly arranged like many other Nigerian streets, with houses looking bigger than the land on which they were built and some looking smaller. No particular pattern was used to build those houses as everyone built their house in accordance to their pocket and level of modernity. Houses made of mud outnumbered those made of modern bricks. Almost everywhere was illuminated as if the electricity company had made power available. However, the town is almost celebrating two years of total blackout. I could remember clearly the last time we had electricity in this town, it was that day when the incumbent governor came to campaign for his second term bid.

On that faithful day, it was as if the queen of England had come to pay us a visit. Preparations had started many weeks before the arrival of Mr Governor. Our school was decorated such that you would wonder if His Excellency was coming for a marriage ceremony. Students were banned from using the playgrounds especially the school field, which was where the governor would deliver his campaign speech. We were mandated to come to school early and to ensure we come along with a broom for girls and a cutlass for boys. After the general assembly, pupils of lower classes were allowed to quietly troop to their respective classrooms, while those of us in the upper classes waited to receive instructions on which part of the school we would work for that day. Boys were made to weed all grassy part of the school compound and its immediate surroundings except for the school field, which was trimmed by a noisy machine. Mr. Adeoye, who owned one of the bushy lands behind our school compound will forever be grateful to primary six pupils. Girls were given the mandate of sweeping both the dirty and clean part of the school.

After about a week of doing nothing except cutting grasses, it was time to replace our cutlasses with charcoals. We were told to keep our cutlasses at home and come to school with charcoals, which we used to mask our chalkboards. Some unknown government officials whom we assumed to be local government workers brought paints of three different colours to our school in large quantities. With the help of about fifteen painters and a host of pupils, the whole school was painted within three days. New equipment was brought to our school, some so new that we wondered if our teachers will ever give our hands the opportunity to touch them.

Several banners of endorsement, prayers and goodwill of various groups littered the street. Posters of the governor’s campaign adorn many walls.  A very big banner, big enough to envelop the entire town was placed in front of the king’s palace and at the main road that leads directly into the heart of the town. His Excellency was welcomed with it and assured the vote of every eligible voter in the town. A day before His Excellency arrived, our headmaster addressed us while we were about to close for the day. He urged pupils in junior classes to stay at home while those in senior classes were asked to come early in other to welcome His Excellency on his arrival. After admonishing us, we were given a special vest, which we were told to put on the following day. The vest was of a colour similar to blue and had over a thousand words written on it, each preaching the same gospel – endorsing the governor for second term.

Whether it was the headmaster’s appeal or our eagerness to see His Excellency that made many of us to arrive the school compound earlier than we should, I cannot say. Almost all of us arrived the school’s compound before 7am. Many of the students in junior classes found it difficult to stay at home, some came on their own while several others came with their parents. The entire school compound was already congested by 9am. The headmaster addressed us and we were later led into a long vehicle, which transported us to the main road that leads directly into the heart of the town. On getting to the entrance of the road, we were made to line up on each side of the road, facing each other, waiting for the exotic arrival of His Excellency. For hours, we stood by the roadside under the scorching sun, waiting for the governor who arrived much later than expected, little wonder many of us fell sick after that day.

After hours of waiting, the governor arrived at half past 2pm in a fleet of luxurious cars. He was welcomed by the entire village. There was a joint group of communal workers including farmers, hunters, market traders, a host of unemployed youths and a special delegate of elders sent by the king himself, all dancing, singing and rejoicing as though the arrival of the governor had put an end to all our maladies. The governor was taken straight to the king’s place after which none of us could tell what happened next. We were all abandoned to find our way back into the village. While some were fortunate to have their parents around to take them back, others had to walk miles back to the village. By the time we returned to the village, the governor had left, it was said that he had a few other villages to visit that day. Despite His Excellency’s early departure, the entire village was electrifying till dusk and power was made available throughout that day. There was also a large banquet at the school field, free food; drinks and a bunch of other freebies were made available for all. Two months later, His Excellency was re-elected in what appeared to have been a large but also controversial victory and so began another cycle of misery.

It was said by some villagers that our blackout is as a result of an unfortunate explosion in the city, where electricity was manufactured. Some said it was because many villagers were yet to pay their electricity bill, which according to them had plunged the village into a huge electricity debt. Those of the opposition party claimed that the government had been bribed by foreign companies that produced oil and manufactured generators. In his victory speech, the governor said that the opposition party was responsible for our blackout, that they had sponsored hooligans to beat up workers of the electricity company and burned down the power grid that supplied electricity to our village and other neighbouring towns. He also said the state was penniless and that it will cost a fortune to restore electricity to affected villages.

About 18 months ago, a popular newspaper published an article which revealed that the electricity we enjoyed during the governor’s campaign was made possible with the help of the fast selling leviathan generators, which are said to be strong enough to power city blocks and that our black out is as a result of what the writer described as “a united conspiracy of corruption among bureaucrats, capitalist and local stakeholders.” The article was however retracted two weeks after it was published, precisely the day the newspaper editor became a special adviser to the governor.

Till today, nobody knows what actually went wrong or when the village will once again have electricity. All we do is pray and hope.

OLA OGUN

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