By Rotimi Fasan
THE world has for more than a week now been treated to images from Texas, in the United States of America, that many Americans thought belonged in the “Third World”. The state was plunged into prolonged darkness caused by extreme weather conditions that froze and disabled the power grid that was not winterised. It’s stating it mildly to say that the entire state was grounded.
While the sub-zero weather, characterised by snow storms, made outside movement impossible, life indoors was no less harrowing. It was really heart-rending to see some of the four million people affected by the dire situation breaking up and destroying their own home furniture in order to make fire that would keep them warm while wondering how they would make it through the next day.
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Many were frozen to death right inside their homes while broken water and gas pipes left many homes flooded with water. The disaster, avoidable as it was, was a firm reminder of the awesome power of nature and how nature could humble human ingenuity. Not only were residents compelled to put out containers to collect storm water for domestic use, as we normally do in our part, entire families filed out with their own bottles and other means to stand on queues where they could collect water from taps in open spaces made muddy by human feet. Texans carried water in buckets to flush their toilets and lit their homes by candle light.
After days in darkness the state gradually returned to civilisation by rationed power. Not every home could have it at the same time in order not to ground the entire power system again. Does that sound familiar? We here in Nigeria are used to the peculiar magic of our power providers, be it the defunct NEPA or its successor PHCN, providing power to two adjacent streets where one is lit and the other remains in pitch darkness.
Texans had their own Nigerian moment when they let out loud cheers after power was restored to parts of the state. There are online images of Nigerians in Texas cheering the Nigerian way of “Up NEPA!” after power was restored to their home. These are moments that show that, when reduced to the same condition, human beings are the same anywhere.
One telling evidence of this are reports of rich or influential Texans, especially politicians like Ted Cruz, bailing out of the situation rather than thinking of what to do to bring succour to the people they claim to represent. Ted Cruz took the next available flight and bolted out of town with his family to neighbouring Cancun in Mexico. Caught in the act, he responded that he was only being a good father to his daughters. Of course, other Texans don’t know how to be good parents or they would not stay back to face the situation back home.
As Nigerians remain without hopes for a vaccine, some of our politicians have been quick to make their way to America, the United Arab Emirates and other parts of Europe to get one of the available vaccines out there. Not satisfied with their acts of betrayal of a people they are supposed to be responsible for, they sent back proud photographs of themselves taking the jabs, no doubt passing the message that only politicians and others of influence deserve to live in times of danger and that taking care of oneself at the expense of the majority is good business.
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Following the power debacle in Texas, Americans have been asking questions about how they found themselves in the place where they were reduced to a Banana Republic. Well, they have been on that path in the last four years they chose to Make America Great Again under Donald Trump. The situation in which America finds itself today with its loss of influence and respect, while floundering where other countries are standing tall in their management of global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, was at least four years in the making. It all came to a head with the attempted coup of January 6, 2021 when Donald Trump, straining for tenure elongation, made one last ditch attempt to bend the electoral will of Americans.
For us in Nigeria what the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency should tell us is the importance of good leadership. Where a leader fails to step up and lead as their position demands they endanger those they lead. That is where Nigeria is today with its failed leaders. Greg Abbot, the governor of Texas, tried to pass the buck for the power crisis in his state by being political, blaming the crisis on the inadequacy of renewable energy – wind and solar power, etc.
But he was quickly reminded that the bulk of Texas electricity supply came from fossil fuel. Like Nigeria that produces oil that is beyond the reach of Nigerians, Texas is the largest producer of electric power in America. But its fixation on fossil fuel, refusal to upgrade its power grid by winterising it, were more crucial factors in the energy crisis of a state that rejects any form of federal intervention in its affairs.
As an affirmation of its right of self-determination within a federal setting, Texas runs an independent power grid outside the one controlled by Washington. If Texas could exercise its right in this manner, it also follows that it should take responsibility for its action. Save its attempt at buck-passing, is it not remarkable to Nigerians that Governor Abbot and not Joe Biden is being held responsible for the power situation in his state?
But that, together with the fact that he is a Republican, is no reason for President Biden to stand aloof. He is not issuing releases through spokespersons while staying back in the White House. He is doing what a president does at these times, even offering to visit Texas if it won’t disrupt things in the state.
But it was here in Nigeria that the plan by Lagos to begin a metro line system or even run an independent power system under ENRON was run aground and scuttled by so-called federalists who probably thought Lagos has no right to develop at its own pace. As terrorists misnamed bandits, insurgents and armed herders run over the country, making life ever more precarious, it is governors who have no control of anything outside their ill-spent security votes, without oversight or power over any of the military or paramilitary agencies- it is these governors that are called upon to secure the country even by “the presidency” in which all these powers are vested. This is what happens in a polity where it is crippled and other handicapped Nigerians that stand at road intersections to control vehicles driven by abled bodied people.
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