A few steps away from the chaos-riddled Ikorodu Road in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, Ikosi Fruit Market welcomes you, with a fading inscription, into its bowels—-in all of its chaos, dirt and all. Two young men working as cart pushers sit behind an old wheelbarrow, their eyes fixated on people moving in and out of the market. Some other boys in tattered clothes saunter into the Banana section of the market, moving through dirty waters and muddy floors. At the main entrance of the market, there are women haggling prices with customers, their high-pitched voices a mélange of insults and prayers.
Few metres away from the traders stood a giant biogas plant, installed in 2013. The huge plant was at some point a source of electricity for the market, but has now been abandoned.
Since the project failed, across stalls and kiosks in the market, traders scramble to charge their phones and power other appliances with electricity supplied through generating sets, unperturbed by the spectre of Covid-19 pandemic. From the banana section through to the orange section, the chaotic sound of generators engulfs the atmosphere, hindering communication among traders and their customers.
“We don’t have ‘light’ (electricity) here,” says Biola Rasheed, a trader dressed in African fabric material at the Banana section. “That’s why there is noise everywhere.”
Ms. Rasheed explained that their fruits easily rot due to the market’s irregular electricity supply.
“Our bananas and pineapples often get spoilt after some days, because we don’t have electricity to preserve them for a long period. If we had electricity, it would help boost our trade.”
For Tawa Ajenifuja, another fruit seller, irregular electricity supply contributes to the poor state of the market environment.
“Most of the fruits that get spoilt and are thrown away should ordinarily be up for sale, if well preserved,” she said.
Near Mrs Ajenifuja’s kiosk is a huge dumpsite, upon which rotten bananas and pineapples and other fruit leftovers are dumped. The trader argued that the huge amount of waste being dumped on the site was caused by a poor preservation system in the market, occasioned by irregular electricity supply.
Lateef, a commercial truck driver, recalls how the biogas plant was a source of hope and power for the market traders when it was first built.
“We felt it was going to solve our electricity and waste management problems once and for all when they first came with the waste-to-energy idea,” he says. “We were very happy at the time, but the whole thing didn’t operate for long.”
Ikosi Fruit Market is one of the largest markets in Lagos. The market is popular among residents, who come here to buy and sell pineapples, bananas, paw-paw and oranges.
Lagos, Africa’s largest city, generates over 15,000 tonnes of waste daily, of which only about 40% is collected by the municipal government.
Like Ikosi, there are numerous other markets in Lagos, from which waste is generated and thereafter collected by the state waste management authority. The markets include Oyingbo, Tejuoso, Balogun, Aspamda, Alaba, Ikeja, among others.
Over the years, as population skyrocketed, experts have called for more innovative and value-added means of managing Lagos’ waste.
Against the backdrop of this call for innovation, in 2013, the state government partnered with Midori Environmental Solutions (MES) to look into the conversion of waste from the Ikosi Fruit market into electricity, via the biogas system.
Midori is a Lagos-based environmental company, set up by Olumide Thompson and Aniche Phil-Ebosie—–two young Nigerians who left juicy positions in the corporate world to follow their passion in renewable energy and waste management.
The Ikosi Fruit Market produces over 5,000 tonnes of waste daily, and the idea is to transform the waste into wealth. Speaking to Vanguard newspaper in 2013, the duo said the project was initiated as a partnership with the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) to provide electricity to Ketu fruit market from waste generated from fruits.
“We have a 26,000-litre capacity biogas plant which can generate up to 9-10 KVA worth of electricity daily,” they told Vanguard newspaper in 2013.
“We generate biogas from the waste, which we then use to power street lights and flood lights for the market, because they get their delivery at night […]. This is a small initiative, there’s so much more we can do. We use fruit waste because, in that particular market, they deal on fruits like pineapple, pawpaw, watermelon etc. We tend to use one or two of them, not necessarily everything, because the more fruits you mix, the more complicated the process becomes.”
PREMIUM TIMES findings revealed that the project was designed as a pilot study, which would be replicated in other markets across the State.
In the autumn of 2013, the biogas project turned on the lights at the Ikosi market and traders jumped for joy. But despite the potential of the project, the joy was short-lived as the market plunged back into darkness after a few months. .
Messrs Thompson and Phil-Ebosie would not comment on what actually went wrong as every effort to speak to them failed. The Lagos State Government, too, failed to comment.
However, an official who worked with Midori and the government on the Ikosi project explained that trouble began months after they inaugurated the Ikosi market biogas generator.
According to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the project began to fail when the government asked the contractors to hand it over. The Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) took over the project with the promise that it would be replicated in other markets in Lagos but the promise never materialised.
The project was eventually shut down and abandoned.
When PREMIUM TIMES visited the market twice in August 2020, this reporter found that the facility had been abandoned. It is now surrounded by a new set of kiosks and shops being built by the market authorities after numerous other market stalls had been destroyed and pulled down.
Efforts to have the Lagos government comment on the development were unsuccessful in August as this reporter was given the go around at the state secretariat. Officials of LAWMA too declined comment.
Darkness in the middle of pandemic
The COVID-19 crisis is causing upheaval and impacting individuals, businesses and economies across the world. On Friday, the total number of infections in Nigeria peaked at 59,127.
At Ikosi market, more than any period in recent times, the importance of access to electricity has become clearer, as the effect of the pandemic bites harder.
Access to electricity keeps people connected, protects vulnerable populations, powers vital food processing and preservation facilities, and ultimately ensures healthy living. With cleaner energy, reduction in indoor air pollution means less vulnerability to COVID-19 and the other risks associated with generating sets used by traders in the market.
However, organisations providing grid and off-grid electricity connections are experiencing severe disruptions, with dwindling financial capacity. Many have already suspended operations or delayed activities, making consumers like Ikosi market traders and buyers alike vulnerable.
For smaller and indigenous companies, the impact has been most severe.
Yet in the absence of regular supply, Ikosi market women rely on generating sets to power their appliances, despite the air pollution and risk of Covid-19 infection in a congested market.
The pandemic has also impacted consumer affordability and increased the risk for vulnerable households, artisans and trader like those in Ikosi to fall back into energy poverty.
Goal 7 of the global sustainable development goals focuses on access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and mordern energy for all.
By 2030, according to its targets, there is projection to increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix and double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
However, Ikosi market women continue to grapple with these expectations in darkness.
Traders, Customers lament
As the bio-gas plant rots away, traders and customers alike continue to lament the darkness and noise pollution that have enveloped the market vicinity.
A casual walk through the different sections of the market showed that the noise from generating sets constitutes environmental pollution that remains a threat to the health and well-being of both buyers and sellers.
“The noise is just too much; it is very dangerous for our health,” says Kayode Babalola, a trader in the market.
“We complain everyday but there is little we can do to change the situation.”
Janet, an apprentice at a banana shop said the cost of fuelling their generator takes its toll on their businesses, and the pollutions increases risk of coronavirus infection. She added that it is more expensive to generate power from alternative sources.
Another trader who declined to have his name in print said, like many other market people, he charges his mobile phone at the shop of a kiosk owner who generates power from a generator, defying risks of being infected with Covid-19. He also complained about the amount he pays to get his phone charged daily, adding that poor electricity supply affects his operations.
Nigeria’s Electricity Woe
The economic cost of power shortages in Nigeria is estimated at around $29 billion, according to a world bank report. The international organization noted that the cost is equivalent to two per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and about 47 per cent of Nigerians do not have access to grid electricity.
Analysts have submitted that even those who do have access endure regular power cuts.
A United Nations projection says that for its population of about 200 million people, Nigeria’s energy need is estimated at 170,000MW. Yet the country presently boasts 7500 megawatts (MW) of available electricity generation, with an installed capacity of about 13,000MW, according to data from the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).
In the same vein, the nation’s transmission wheeling capacity is estimated to be about 5000MW. Still, due to technical constraints, distribution capacity to homes and businesses is less than 4000MWh.
Renewables as way out
As part of measures to address the shortfall in supply, there has been a call for governments and private investors to tap into the potentials of renewable energy sources. Experts say renewable energy offers solutions to Nigeria’s chronic energy shortages and big opportunities for investment.
The Nigerian government launched a $200 million Nigeria Electrification Project (NEP) in March. The project is meant to provide off-grid energy to over 500,000 people across 105,000 households in rural communities across the country.
There have been similar initiatives geared towards deepening renewable energy investments in Nigeria.
Adebayo Qadri, an energy consultant based in the city of Ibadan, Oyo State, noted that as Nigeria struggles with its energy sector, there is a need to tap into the potentials in renewable energy.
He explained that, since proper waste management is a challenge that government authorities are still trying to solve, renewable energy sources should be used to “kill two birds with one stone”.
He said: “Renewable energy offers Nigeria the twin opportunities of cleaning our environment and providing electricity. These are areas we can channel our investment into, provide cleaner energy for our people and preserve the environment.”
In August, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari approved the much-feared electricity tariff increase effective from September 1st, 2020.
The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had approved service reflected tariffs for the electricity sector and was due to commence July 1, 2020 after it was initially postponed from April 1.
However, it was suspended after reports indicated Electricity Distribution Companies, DisCos, had pushed for a postponement until key areas of disagreement were sorted.
In August, the distribution companies finally announced the increase amid outrage among Nigerians who complained of poor supply and high estimated billings.
In the absence of stable electricity, many Nigerians power their generators with petrol—-the price of which the government also increased in the first week of September.
“As Nigerians face the twin troubles of high electricity cost and fuel prices, renewable energy offers the best solution,” Mr Adebayo noted.
As the evening sun sets on traders at the Ikosi market, and darkness gradually envelops the environment, fear sets in for buyers and sellers alike. Some banana sellers were seen hurriedly parking their wares into their stores, so they could close their shops before it gets darker. Cart pushers collecting waste move around impatiently, struggling to navigate their ways through the obscured pathways that lead out of the market. The few young men collecting waste with wheelbarrows move aimlessly onto the Ikorodu road, in a bid to hurriedly drop the waste at the famous Olusosun dumpsite, located behind the Ikosi market. Although traders have devised traditional means of preserving their fruits by placing them in the open space, in the absence of electricity, most would still rot away. Mrs Ajenifuja says most of the fruit traders in the market are poor, and they cannot afford to seek alternative means of power to preserve their fruits.
“We only hope that an intervention like this [biogas plant] would be sustained to provide us electricity,” she says, her voice a mixture of melancholy and hope.