A new documentary by filmmaker Shasha Nakhai tells the human story of Nigeria’s energy crisis and how people adapt in times of need. Take Light showcases a community in Port Harcourt struggling with the complex realities of an over-taxed electrical grid. The film follows Martins, an electrical lineworker who daily faces the ramifications of local residents illegally taking power from the grid.
Nakhai does not paint anyone in this story as simply a hero or a villain. After all, it makes sense that people whose businesses or children’s health depend on electricity would find a way to get electricity by any means. And it also makes sense that with daily power outages and a grid that’s over-capacity, the electrical companies would need to continuously pursue and disconnect anyone hijacking free electricity.
“I really just wanted to make a window to this place,” says Nakhai, who spent the first 15 years of her life in Port Harcourt, Nigeria before moving to Canada. “For Canadian and American audiences, we don’t often see stories like this.”
Throughout the film we get glimpses of the political and economic context for this energy crisis. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is also its biggest oil exporter, with oil and gas production accounting for 90% of Nigeria’s total revenue from exports. Yet only a little over half of the country has access to electricity. Aside from the weak electrical infrastructure, a big factor in not meeting the demand for energy is the fact that Nigeria loses roughly 700,000 barrels of oil a day due to pipeline vandalism by militants. Meanwhile, since 2015, the country’s unemployment rate has been increasing rapidly, approaching record-high levels not seen since 2009.
All of this adds up to a citizenry desperately trying to make the best of a bad situation.
However, Take Light does hint at the potential for renewables and activism to make a difference. Environmental activist Amara Nwankpa discusses how he helped bring visibility to the Nigerian energy crisis when he tweeted a photo of gas flares from burning pipelines that are visible from space. We also see the story of Opus, a hospital engineer who brings electricity back to the hospital by restoring solar panels on the roof.
Nakhai says she sees the potential for renewables to be a job creator, especially with Nigerian-led solar solutions as opposed to foreign corporate intervention.
Indeed, Nigeria invested $20 billion into solar projects in the past year and plans to generate 30% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2030. Meanwhile, small-scale solutions like off-grid, pay-as-you-go solar kits are starting to take the place of diesel generators. The UN and local companies are training youth in renewable energy technologies, helping them to avoid poverty and militancy. There is a real transition happening here that will have a lasting impact.
The environmental poetry of Nnimmo Bassey is used to great effect throughout Take Light. One poem excerpt in particular, speaks to the duality of tragedy and hope that the film captures:
Our marches not in vain, we rescued the remains of the sky.
From where we once stood on sterile shorelines,
sore eyes, beholding oil spills, gas flares and military blockades.
Today, floating islands, farms of power beckon the sun, wind and waves.
Death retreats, and life comes from the sea,
brightens our homes, connecting all to the unbreakable webs of life.
It is time to enforce a celebration of life, and sing an elegy to the rigs.
Take Light is playing now at select screenings in Canada, Nigeria, and the U.S.