Energy poverty: How Kano’s Gainawa community spent 20 years without electricity


By Hafsat Bello BAHARA

TWO decades ago, Gainawa emerged as a refuge for those displaced by floods, with families arriving in search of hope and solace. Named after the village they had lost to the relentless waters, Gainawa was envisioned as a haven for the dispossessed. However, today, a shadow looms over Gainawa—a darkness that stems not from floodwaters but from a pervasive sense of neglect. In this report, Hafsat Bello Bahara delves into the challenges confronting the community.


As Kano City’s neon glow surrenders to twilight, a harsh reality emerges. Just an hour’s drive away from the metropolis, in a farming village called Gainawa in Kura Local Government Area (LGA), darkness reigns supreme. No bustling streetlights, no hum of electric life – only the flickering candles casting long shadows on mud walls.

This forgotten haven, born 20 years ago from the ashes of a devastating flood that occurred at their original settlement at the foot of the Tamburawa River, South of Kano City, now lives in the shadow of progress, shrouded in perpetual twilight.

Kura LGA, with a population of 144,601  according to the 2006 census, is a hub of agricultural and commercial activities in Kano State due to its fertile land, producing quality yields, and its residents tirelessly toiling the land. One of its prominent villages, Gainawa, however, suffers a two-decade-long blackout, a stark injustice against the community’s vital contribution. High crime rates, from phone snatching to burglary and robbery, keep the community cowering.

In October 2023, during a retreat, President Bola Tinubu said about 90 million people in Nigeria do not have access to electricity.  He said, “The national grid only serves about 15 per cent of the country’s demand. This has left households and factories to rely on expensive self-generation, which supplies a staggering 40 per cent of the country’s demand.

In addition, the Nigerian Electricity Report of Q1 OF 2023 indicated that 11.27 million customers in Nigeria have access to electricity. A customer here can refer to a household which has an average of 5 individuals.

The quality of life of a large number of Nigerians is greatly affected by the lack of access to electricity. Imagine what life will be like when you can’t have a cold drink, iron your shirt, or turn on the fan when the weather gets hot. The people of the Gainawa community don’t have to imagine because life in perpetual darkness is their daily reality.

A mother of two, Maryam Ibrahim, remembers the city life she left behind after getting hitched to a Gainawa resident. Now, she clutches her children close, the fear in her eyes is a reflection of the crimes that lurk in the shadows.

Maryam Ibrahim PC: Hafsat
Maryam Ibrahim PC: Hafsat Bello Bahara

“After living here (in Gainawa) for over a decade, I am no longer afraid of the dark, but I am afraid of what the boys in this town can do to me and my children under the cover of darkness. Once you go out, they gang up on you and steal your bag and phone. I can’t send my children on errands because I’m scared of what will happen. That is not all, I have little children that cry all night because of the heat, which is made worse by lack of electricity,” said Maryam.

Gainawa’s loss and reinvention in the dark

Despite its proximity to Kano’s vibrant nightlife, just an hour away, Gainawa residents experience fear-filled nights in darkness.

A livestock farmer in Gainawa, Imrana Yusha’u,  knows the shadow’s bite all too well. One moonless night, under the village’s perpetual twilight, thieves stole his entire livelihood – 24 goats bleating into the darkness, leaving behind only a hollowness that echoed in his heart.


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“They sneaked into the compound while we were asleep and left with 24 goats. By the time I woke up, only two were left. The livestock was my sole source of income. The community rallied to help identify the culprits, but we couldn’t find them,” he said, his voice thick with grief.

Cattle rearing was Imrana’s only skill, his anchor in a sea of uncertainty. It paid for his four children’s meals and their education. “I felt like a man who’d suddenly forgotten how to breathe,” he said.

Imrana Yusha’u PC: Hafsat
Imrana Yusha’u PC: Hafsat Bello Bahara.

“From having it all, I had nothing. I had to start all over again. I sold the two goats left and started a small business and I’ve been using the profit to support my family ever since; it’s not much but at least I can provide for them again.”

One of Gainawa’s first settlers, Yusha’u Musa, carries the wisdom of countless sunrises in his eyes. He remembers the day they arrived, driven from their homes by a ruthless flood. “Our old town, Gainawa, was swallowed by the water. So, when we resettled here, we named it New Gainawa, a whisper of hope for a new beginning.”

There was no electricity then, yet it mattered little.

“When you lose everything, a roof over your head becomes a blessing, a beacon brighter than any light. But we soon started feeling the impact. Without light, there’s no water and we used to walk several miles to Karfi with our backs bent under the weight of water jugs, just to meet our family’s daily needs. Then came the boreholes, drilled by the wealthier members of the community. Water became a commodity, its price dictated by fortune, not fairness.”

A native of Gainawa, Isyaku Yusuf paints a vivid picture of life without electricity, a daily reality he knows all too well.

“I grew up in darkness used to oil lamps and flickering torchlights. Until I was ten, that’s all we had for the night. Then, one of our neighbors bought a generator. We flooded his house to watch movies and football matches. He was the only one in our lane that had light, and everyone gravitated towards him. I remember how joyous we were when Dad landed a job in Kaduna. Adapting to a new environment wasn’t easy at first, but when I finally woke and slept under the embrace of electric light in Kaduna, I never looked back.”

Yet, fate had other plans. Tertiary education brought Yusuf back to Kano, dividing his life between the hostel’s fluorescent glow and weekends spent with his grandparents in Gainawa.

“Returning here is a stark reminder of their struggle in Gainawa. Everything is inflated. A cold drink costs twice its usual price, and grinding grains is a luxury – generators guzzle fuel, forcing many to revert to backbreaking mortar and pestle.”

Gainawa presents significant challenges for women, hindering their ability to thrive due to the absence of a fully equipped hospital. Consequently, many women and children find themselves compelled to endure a 40-minute drive to and from the Kura Local Government Area whenever they fall ill. The town heavily relies on a modest dispensary, but this facility, lacking electricity and essential lab equipment, is inadequate when it comes to handling complex medical cases.

Gundutse Dispensary PC: Hafsat
Gundutse Dispensary PC: Hafsat Bello Bahara.

During an interview with Maimuma Mustapha, a new mother in Gainawa, shared insights into the healthcare challenges residents face. The dispensary, she explained, becomes the go-to for basic needs such as malaria and typhoid treatment. However, in more critical situations, the dispensary’s limitations become apparent.

Maimuma recounted her journey, where complications during her pregnancy led to repeated trips to Kura. The hurdles persisted until her delivery, where timely access to the general hospital proved pivotal.

She expressed gratitude for the medical intervention that became crucial during her complicated delivery, requiring a lifesaving blood transfusion.

“I’m glad we managed to reach the general hospital early because there was a complication with the birth, and I needed a blood transfusion. I don’t know if I would have survived if I ended up giving birth at home.”

Electricity deprives Gainawa of economic empowerment

Gainawa’s darkness isn’t just a physical absence of light; it’s a heavy weight on the shoulders of its residents, a barrier to economic growth, and a plea for help that grows louder with each passing day. A visit to the community by this reporter showed that the lack of social amenities, including the high cost of fuel, is crippling entrepreneurs and stifling economic growth.

Nightfall – Gundutse PC: Hafsat
Nightfall – Gundutse PC:Hafsat Bello Bahara.

A long-time resident and owner of a phone charging centre,  and cold drink stand, Abbas, exemplifies the struggle. His generator roars against the quiet night, guzzling expensive fuel to keep his small business afloat.

“Running on generator power makes everything costly,” he informed the reporter. “Most residents can’t afford it anymore, forcing them to shut down shops and dreams.”

Abbas, one of the few remaining businesses, often operates on credit.

“Majority of my customers are my neighbours, I can’t just say no. But even my generosity has limits. Fuel prices fluctuate, ice melts in the relentless heat without proper refrigeration, and my profits often dwindle. Sometimes I sell warm drinks just to stay open,” he said.

Abbas
Abbas

Gainawa’s plight isn’t unique. An economist and  professor, Kabiru Isah Dandago, explains the stark reality: “Without power, development stalls. People can’t be productive, their purchasing power shrinks, and they feel left behind. This disenfranchised community becomes a loss, not a contributor, to the nation’s economy.”

Small businesses struggle in the town, with most of them shutting down. Tailors have to use manual sewing machines, making the work tedious and strenuous on their backs. The reporter observed that women in the community are mostly relegated to petty trading at home, and they are excluded from running businesses as they lack the capital to function effectively in the expensive market.

Darkness hamstrings education in Gainawa

The impact of Gainawa’s perpetual darkness casts a wider shadow than stolen goats and melting ice. It stretches to children struggling to learn under the dimming glow in classrooms.

Gundutse Chiki Special Primary School, with about 2,300 pupils and run by 11 teaching staff, is the closest to the Gainawa community.

A teacher at the school, Muhamud Adam, paints a grim picture of learning in the school.

“The heat and lack of light make it difficult for both teachers and students to focus, affecting their performance. We can’t power computers, can’t print exam sheets.”

A father whose fourth-grade child attends primary school in the community, Iliyasu Muhammad, shares the challenges of keeping his child focused on homework under the dim light of a torchlight.

“I bought a dedicated torchlight for him to use during homework, but I have to sit with him and supervise, or he refuses to do it. He informed me that it’s uncomfortable to hold the light steady and write simultaneously.” Iliyasu, like any parent, aspires to provide his child with a quality education for better life opportunities. However, the living conditions they face make realizing that dream increasingly difficult.

Gundutse Chiki Special Primary School PC: Hafsat
Gundutse Chiki Special Primary School PC: Hafsat Bello Bahara.

This is not a new narrative. Research by UNDESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) in 2014 confirms the link between electricity and academic success, a reality lectirr at Bayero University Kano Idris Salisu Rogo echoes.

“E-learning is the future,” he said, “and students here (Gainawa) are left behind. Even WAEC and NECO will soon adopt the computer-based test like JAMB therefore students will be at a disadvantage.”

In a weird contrast, rice companies surrounding Gainawa bask in the glow of constant power. The irony hangs heavy, just as the unanswered pleas of the community do. Various efforts made by the community to call the attention of Kano electricity distribution company KEDCO, to the issue have yielded no fruitful result. Complaint letters sent to their incumbent representative for Kura, Madobi, and Garun Malam constituency at the state assembly, Hon. Kabiru Idris Danhassan, were met with a deafening silence.

Gainawa’s community leader, Ado Inuwa, chronicles the desperate struggle for basic amenities that has become the defining mark of their existence. “Living like this isn’t living. That’s why we decided to take matters into our own hands by contributing amongst ourselves.”

He emphasized that most of the community members are low-income earners, and when inflation hit, most of them pulled back from contributing. “We raised about 300,000 at the time that we planned to use for electricity access but we couldn’t continue.”

One of the youths, leading the charge for electrification in Gainawa, Abdullahi Shu’aibu Gundutse, said promises made by politicians to help the situation are yet to materialise.

Abdullahi Shuiabu Gundutse PC: Hafsat
Abdullahi Shuiabu Gundutse PC: Hafsat Hafsat Bello Bahara.

“We wrote a letter to the chairman of Kura LGA seeking his assistance, but that didn’t yield results. We wrote another letter to both our representatives in the state and federal assemblies, but no action was taken, so we reached out to the companies around here, soliciting for aid and most of them promised to provide us with money or materials to help set up light in the community, but so far none has delivered.”

When questioned, the Chairman of Kura LGA, Mustapha Abdullahi Rabiu, denied knowledge of the problem, stating that the community had not approached him. However, further attempts to follow up on the issue with the chairman have been met with unanswered calls.

Meanwhile, Gundutse revealed that the residents of the community approached the Kano State Electricity Distribution Company, KEDCO were told by some officials that “it’s a major undertaking that the company feels won’t yield much profit and therefore isn’t worth doing.”

Who is responsible for bringing light to Gainawa community?

A visit was made to the Kano Electricity Distribution Company (KEDCO) office on November 24, 2023, seeking clarification on Gainawa’s plight. However, inquiries were met with stony silence. The public relations officer was absent, and calls to him went unanswered.

A source who spoke on the grounds of anonymity revealed that KEDCO will not commit to the project because it is not its responsibility to provide the equipment needed to bring electricity to Gainawa community.

Further findings, however, painted a different picture. The 2023 Electricity Act places the onus on the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) to “promote electricity access for rural, unserved and underserved populace.” Section 128(d) of the Act mandates the REA to ensure unfettered access to electricity for such communities.

However, as a federal agency, the REA’s resources face limitations. Recognising this, the Act empowers the REA to collaborate with state electrification boards in Section 153(1), ensuring nationwide coverage. This synergy is further emphasized in Section 153(4), where the REA is tasked with “arranging technical assistance” and encouraging state governments to offer “technical and financial assistance” to local communities within their jurisdictions.

Electricity pole across Gundutse PC: Hafsat
Electricity pole across Gundutse PC: Hafsat

These provisions highlight the intricate and shared responsibility for rural electrification, with the REA playing a central role in coordination and support. While KEDCO may not be directly responsible for Gainawa’s electrification, their lack of engagement raises questions about collaborative efforts and commitment to bridging the rural-urban electricity divide.

But while the onus rests with the REA,” stated an electricity expert  Kunle Olubiyo, (“Gainawa’s plight boils down to a single missing piece: a transformer to step down electricity from the power lines feeding nearby companies.”

“The state government has a responsibility to ensure the people are connected to the grid running mere meters from their homes. The rural electrification agency doesn’t need to be the sole solution when the state can handle the issue.

“KEDCO, of course, will argue they are not liable. However, once the community purchases a transformer and connects the light to their homes, they will be quick to collect fees. They are eager to profit from the connection, regardless of who provides the infrastructure,” emphasised Olubiyo.

While acknowledging the board’s responsibility to address such situations,  The Managing Director, Kano State Rural Electrification Board, Sani Bala Dambatta, admitted to being unaware of the Gainawa issue.

“We manage numerous projects,” he explained, “and unfortunately, some cases do fall through the cracks. The community’s concerns haven’t been officially brought to our attention, but we will certainly investigate the matter and explore possible solutions.”

Elected representatives of the people like the members of the House of Representatives for Kura, Garun Malam, and Madobi Federal Constituency, Yusuf Datti Kura are sworn to champion the interests of their constituents. But despite repeated attempts to engage him on the critical issue of Gainawa’s electricity shortage, Kura remained disappointingly silent.

Multiple calls and messages, including a WhatsApp message which was read on November 27, went unanswered.

A follow-up with his legal advisor for an introduction and interview yielded no fruitful result, thereby raising questions about his priorities and his accessibility to the very people he was elected to serve.

His counterpart in the Kano State House of Assembly,  Alhassan Zakariya Ishaq, is currently marred in uncertainty as the election that awarded him victory was overturned by the Court of Appeal. Attempts to reach him for comment proved fruitless. Every call placed was diverted, and according to Aminu Abdullahi Ibrahim, a House Assembly correspondent, Ishaq has been absent from sessions since the verdict.

Experts react

A study by the University of Sheffield confirms a stark reality: darkness breeds crime. The research shows a clear correlation between reduced light levels and increased robbery rates. This echoes the concern of Abdullahi Bakoji, a security expert based in Kano.




     

     

    “Rural communities often get overlooked when it comes to development projects,” he stressed. “Take away basic needs like electricity, and you take away their livelihoods. Without jobs or income, desperation sets in, leading people to petty theft to survive. This, unfortunately, can easily escalate into more serious crimes like armed robbery and even kidnapping.”

    Bakoji’s position highlights the tragic consequences of neglecting basic infrastructure like electricity in Gainawa, where the darkness doesn’t just shroud homes but potentially fuels a dangerous spiral of crime.

    A professor at Dangote Business School, Murtala Sagagi also emphasized how energy poverty erodes the development of not just the community but the country as a whole.

    “The reality is most small businesses in Nigeria can’t survive if they rely solely on electricity from the national grid because the reality is in a decade to come Nigerian government cannot provide enough electricity for the masses,” he stressed adding that, “business owners in Gainawa should find alternative sources of power generation to sustain their needs.”

    *This report republished from  Stallion Times was done with the support of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, under its Promoting Democratic Governance in Nigeria Project.

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