Director Shasha Nakhai on her Nigerian childhood and growing up, literally, in the dark

Not much has changed since as the documentary, Take Light, documents Nigeria’s power crisis.

By Shasha Nakhai, Director, Take Light

I have fond memories of growing in in Port Harcourt, Nigeria but today the city is much different from what I remember. Once called the “Garden City,” its perfectly manicured green hedges have turned to black dust — the fallout zone of a fossil-fuel economy.

Power means everything in Nigeria. The world’s seventh most populous nation is Africa’s biggest power producer. Yet less than 50 per cent of the country’s 195 million citizens have access to electricity and those that do receive a few hours per day at best.

The documentary Take Light is about Nigeria's energy crisis, with my hometown as the backdrop. There are lots of other power struggles in Port Harcourt — the tensions between people, between past and present, between governments and colonial powers.
Take Light is inspired by my experiences living in Nigeria for 15 years. When I was growing up, the lack of electricity was a daily problem. I remember going into our backyard shed with a flashlight in the middle of the night to turn on our diesel generator. I remember being fanned to sleep by my parents during week-long blackout periods. The lack of reliable power was a defining factor of life in Nigeria, even for a privileged oyibo (non-African) like me. The problem affected everyone, rich and poor, and it continued to affect me in ways I couldn't even imagine, long after I moved to Canada at age 15.

Moving to Canada opened my eyes to how ridiculous the situation was. After returning from visiting my parents in Nigeria, I would tell my Canadian friends about life there, and they would listen wide­-eyed and laugh in disbelief. People outside of Nigeria had no clue how hard life there was. The unique perspective I gained from moving between two worlds is why I wanted to make Take Light.

I was an international student in Canada when my father passed away in Nigeria. My mother spent an entire day looking for a hospital morgue that had a working refrigerator. There weren't any. The emotional pain that this problem brought upon my family was almost impossible to endure. And so it is for many Nigerians every day.

In Canada, when people think of Nigeria, they think of the militant Islamic group Boko Haram, money-seeking email scams and refugees desperately trying to make it to European shores. With Take Light, I’m showing a different side of Nigeria to audiences around the world. In this Nigeria — the Nigeria I know — daily life may be a struggle, but the people have a resounding sense of hope, an inspiring zest for life, and boundless energy, unlike anything I've seen anywhere else.

Politicians have long failed Nigerians, so in Take Light, we meet ordinary people — frontline workers, fathers, mothers, filmmakers, activists, engineers and technicians — involved in or affected by different aspects of the energy crisis.

At a time when the world is beginning to shift to renewable energy resources, I was a bit surprised to return home to a Mad Max-esque landscape that still worships the fossil fuel — or at least the money that comes from it.

While there is much more to Nigeria than the world portrayed in Take Light, I hope it will broaden understanding of a complex place that is often homogenized and neatly packaged for international audiences.

As climate change continues to present new challenges that test our will, our sense of humanity and caring for the world and each other, the bridges of understanding, like the one I've tried to build in making Take Light, will become important.

On a recent visit, I was cautiously optimistic when I began to see cheap solar-powered lamps light up the Nigerian night markets. Like bright little dots on the horizon to a weary traveller, they brought hope.


Available on CBC Gem

Take Light

documentary Channel