The 1990s wasn’t such a bad time for Nigeria. The Dream Team won a historic gold medal in football at the 1996 Summer Olympics. The country returned to a democratic system of government after nearly 20 years of military rule. And a really brutal dictator died.
But the 1990s wasn’t such a great time for Nigeria too. And that was mostly down to that dead dictator: General Sani Abacha.
This ashy guy.
General Abacha ruled Nigeria for half of the 1990s — from 1993 when he hijacked power till 1998 when he mysteriously died, to wild jubilations.
Abacha’s legacy is defined by the trail of the destruction he left behind and the billions of naira he stole and stashed abroad. That legacy of stealing is one that even new generations of Nigerians are very familiar with. After all, much of his stolen loot is still being recovered over 20 years after his death.
However, there’s another one of his legacies that has progressively faded from memory but isn’t completely erased.
Introducing… the Abacha Stove
As a Nigerian, nothing inspires innovation more than hardship. It’s what led to things like this:
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s an aero-amphibious jet car.
And whatever the hell this is supposed to be:
It’s that same kind of hardship-enforced ingenuity that birthed the Nigerian invention that’s known as the Abacha Stove. It looks like this:
How did the Abacha Stove happen?
When kerosene became scarce and expensive as hell under Abacha, Nigerians innovated with a new stove technology. The stove wasn’t complicated and was a cheap substitute for kerosene stoves.
The Abacha Stove was mainly powered by sawdust. Sawdust is made of small chippings of wood and is commonly found at sawmills and carpenter workshops. Because it’s a waste product of woodwork operations, Nigerians could acquire it for free to cook their meals. Sawdust looks like this:
The Nigerian economy under Abacha wasn’t in the best of conditions. And sawdust was simply economical and helped poor Nigerians get around paying for expensive kerosene.
How did the Abacha Stove work?
Many of the stoves were products of Do-It-Yourself experiments. For example, you could find a metal paint container and create holes in it to stack the sawdust and let it breathe while it burned. You still needed a bit of kerosene to start the fire and keep it alive during the course of cooking.
What was so bad about the Abacha Stove?
The most pressing concern with the Abacha Stove was its health implications. Because of how unstable it was as a fuel, you still needed to keep fanning the stove with your mouth or an object to keep it burning and complete cooking your meal.
The implication of this is exposure to poisonous fumes that potentially caused lung diseases and were especially harmful to children. The Abacha Stove may have saved families money, but it was also having an adverse effect on their health.
The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) said in 2021 that almost 185 children under the age of five die every day from pneumonia due to air pollution in Nigeria. The majority of the deaths are from air pollution in the household, including that from cooking over open fires.
Is the Abacha Stove making a comeback?
Over 20 years after Abacha’s death and the eventual decline of the Abacha Stove, Nigeria is yet to fully embrace cleaner methods for cooking. The incumbent Buhari administration has been promoting the use of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) as cooking fuel. But the inflation of cooking gas prices has derailed the drive to get more Nigerians to adopt LPG in the past few years.
According to a February 2022 report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the average retail price of LPG increased by 83.69% from February 2021. The average retail price of household kerosene also increased by 26.66% in the same period.
Lack of access to clean cooking fuel is what drove many Nigerians to the Abacha Stove decades ago. In 2022, there is a danger of a deja vu as the country’s economic situation is forcing many to stick to unsafe cooking methods. And a Buhari Stove probably isn’t as impossible as many think.
May affliction not rise a second time.