Upsetting Documentary ‘Up NEPA’ Fires Up Conversations Among Nigerians On Nigeria’s Epileptic Power Dilemma

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At the end credits of Up NEPA! which premiered at Cedi Plaza, Abuja, Nigerians were grappling for hope, amidst the anger and depression roused by the documentary that depicted the hopelessness that is the Nigeria’s power sector, and the vast potentials hampered by over four decades of epileptic power supply.
Written and directed by Ishaya Bako, with the support of the MacArthur Foundation, Up NEPA! set out to answer the question every Nigerian including Bako has asked, “Why don’t we have light? And what would it take to have constant electricity?” This turned into a three-year journey to demystify Nigeria’s power sector for the average man. The answer was as complex as Nigeria itself.

Imagine a nation where trillions of dollars have been spent on its power sector, yet it can barely cater the energy needs of its citizens. Think also of the fact that while Ethiopia had its electricity dam up and running within a decade, Nigeria’s Mambila Dam project is only five percent done, 40 years after its kickoff. Consider the fact that regardless of subsidization of the power sector, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) are owed trillions of debts by government, and Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) owe electricity bills amounting to N200 billion naira. That’s the state of the nation’s power supply.
By the end of the documentary, one thing is clear corruption and mismanagement on the part of government, infrastructure deficit and inconsistency in policies are to blame. It further lists actions to be taken by the citizenry and government to address the problem (which experts in the film suggested that adequate power distribution and payment of the appropriate tariffs by Nigerians for optimal distribution will resolve).

Viewers were of a different opinion. Dr Joe Abba, former director -general of Bureau of Public Service Reforms believes Nigeria’s power problems encompasses all aspects from generation to transmission to distribution.

“There are problems all through the chain. From the fact that we don’t generate enough for a country of two hundred million; the transmission infrastructure is poor; the subsidy regime is beset by corruption, the distribution is poor, and the collection of revenue is weak. All through the chain, nothing works,” said Abba.

Countering the suggestion that Nigerians are unwilling to pay for electricity, he said the core problem lies in the establishment of a system that is designed not to work; and joined voices with other Nigerians in the call for a sequel.

“I can understand the filmmaker’s perspective, having come into a sector that they don’t understand. So, the documentary focused on getting a basic understanding of the sector and explain things in a way that people will understand it.

“Some of us are advocating for a sequel because it needs to go deeper than that, to try and unravel some of the complexities in the sector. As a first attempt at understanding the problem, I think they did a really good job.”

However, writer and director of Up NEPA! Ishaya Bako said he is returning to fiction filming to recover the bruises he had sustained whilst filming the documentary.
Up NEPA! wasn’t a walk in the park for him and his production crew, as they battled the depressing truths encountered during filming. He also had to fight the shrouded secrecy of the power sector, to access willing speakers on the subject.
“It was difficult making this film. I might come back to this but honestly, this has bruised me enough. I am completely drained.

“We received a lot of ‘No’s’ making this documentary. A lot of people didn’t want to talk to us; still don’t want to talk to us. A lot of people who were part of the problem that we approached for interviews declined. Even those from the private sector, whom this documentary will benefit declined to speak. Because the sector is shrouded in secrecy.

“A lot of people talk about power issues, but when it comes to the real issues within the sector, people are too scared to talk. From generator makers to suppliers, to people that work within the sector, and those that run associations within the sector. They are scared of any sort of repercussions from one end, but they are also scared of telling the truth.”

“It is tough enough to keep getting ‘No’s’ but you know this is an important story to tell. You hear people say it is topical now. It is topical as it was three years ago when we started it, and it will still be topical five years from now. After this, I am returning to make my fiction film, where everything is controlled.”

Deliberate attempts at highlighting hope, can be seen in the film, via a peek into the alternative off-grid sources of power (albeit in its nascent stage), and the significance of the Electricity Act of 2023, which has empowered state governments to generate, transmit and distribute electricity.
And with the feedback of partners, like executive producer, Ummi Mohammed, technical partner Electricity Hub, and MacArthur Foundation Bako has created a documentary that is accessible to all Nigerians.

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