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Living in the dark in rural Nigeria

Zaharaddeen Umar
December 15, 2018

The lack of electricity is pervasive in rural Nigeria, where 90 million people live entirely off the grid. DW's Zaharaddeen Umar asked people in one village in far northern Katsina State how they get by in the dark.

Cables between pylons glowing at sunset
Image: AFP/Getty Images/D. Garcia

The village of Unguwar Dogo, comprised of some 2,000 households, has never been connected to the electricity grid. Jamilu Sanusi, a 34-year-old resident, says the villagers are in dire need of electricity.

"We have to travel to another village to charge our mobile phones. It usually takes 40 minutes to reach the place. But if there was electricity here, we could charge the phones from the comfort of our homes," says Sanusi.

The people of Unguwar Dogo depend largely on subsistence farming, but during dry spells the young among them have to move to urban areas to make a living. Youth leader Adamu Haruna says the absence of electricity is fueling the exodus.

"Most of us are skilled in various trades, especially welding. If there is electricity, we would stay here and do business. As I speak now, some of our people have moved to Kaduna and other urban areas to find work," says Haruna.

A map of Nigeria
Katsina State is home to more than 7 million peopleImage: Fotolia/Sean Gladwell

Fueling migration

In Kaduna, more than 300 kilometers (185 miles) away from Katsina State, electricity is available but the supply is often interrupted, and providers sometimes violate the guidelines of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission.

Read more: To prosper, poorest countries need avenues to electricity

Malam Muhammad, speaking over the sound of the diesel-powered grinding machine he uses in Unguwar Dogo, says he needs at least 7.5 liters (2 gallons) of diesel a day. He believes that an electricity supply would reduce the burden.

"Electricity will enable us to bring coil here, which will reduce the cost of grinding from 50 naira (€0.12, $0.14) to 10 or 15 naira. This will be a good relief," says Muhammad.

Pylons along a road in Zonkwa
Electricity is available in Zonkwa in Kaduna State, NigeriaImage: DW/K. Gänsler

Women in the dark

Elderly resident Ramu Kabiru says she spends no less than 2,400 Naira a month (€6.00) on batteries for the Chinese-made torch light she acquired when the price of kerosene rose. 

"We use it to light up our rooms. We spend our last money on batteries. So, you see electricity is very important, because if there is electricity here, we don't need to bother ourselves with batteries," Kabiru says.

Women in Unguwar Dogo told DW that the lack of electricity is not only forcing them to cook with firewood but also standing in the way of their entrepreneurial strengths.

With electricity, "we would all rise up and start a business we can depend on," says Kabiru. 

A pile of firewood
Women in the Nigerian village of Unguwar Dogo say the lack of electricity means having to cook with firewood and set aside their entrepreneurial ambitions Image: UNFPA Nigeria

Slow delivery

Abdullahi Bala, general manager of the Katsina State Rural Electrification Board, says the state government under Governor Aminu Bello Masari has done its utmost to provide electricity since it was voted into office in 2015.

"From the inception of this government in 2015 to date, over 60 villages were provided with electricity. Apart from those that have been provided, we still have a plan at hand — the provision annually of electricity to 50 villages that are not yet connected."

In 2017, Nigeria was ranked second out of 137 countries on The Spectator Index of countries with the worst electricity supply. The daily average supply in Africa's most populous country averages around 3,850 megawatts.

Two rows of solar-powered lamps along a freeway
Solar lamps line some of the main streets in northern Nigeria's Katsina State Image: DW

Despite the progress local government officials claim and a reported increase in energy output from 4,000 megawatts to 7,000 megawatts, Unguwar Dogo is among at least 8,000 villages in Africa's most populous country that are still being left to fend for themselves in the dark. 

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