Electricity is an essential commodity for homes and offices. But in Nigeria, the story is different as many communities live in darkness for days, months and even years without it. REGINA OTOKPA witnessed the rage of a community in darkness
Unlike other parts of the world, including some parts of Africa, where power outage is alien to the residents, Nigerians have continued to grapple with unstable power supply. Many homes and offices are forced to run on generators or remain without electricity for several days.
When the defunct National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) was the monopoly in the power sector, it was taunted as Never Expect Power Always because of its frequent power cuts.
As the government decided to embark on the privatisation of the firm, it renamed it Power Holding Company of Nigeria ( PHCN) to which the citizens turned to Problem Has Changed Name. Although the erratic power has become a common phenomenon to young and old alike, what the residents of Mopol Quarters in Kabayi community of Maraba, did not sign up for, was living in perpetual darkness for five years.
Inside Abuja’s investigations revealed that several measures adopted by the residents to address the disheartening situation, including a communal purchase of two transformers, electrical wires, electrical poles and a compensation fee, had proved abortive, leaving the community helplessly in the dark.
The situation, however, took a new twist when staff of the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, AEDC, gave an ultimatum to the residents to clear up their bills or face mass disconnection of wires.
It was no wonder, selected youths and aged men, stormed the corporate headquarters of the AEDC, demanding answers to the threat of mass disconnection and outrageous monthly bills without access to electricity for years. Majority of the aggrieved protesters, who spoke to Inside Abuja, complained that for the past two years, they get a maximum electricity supply of 55 minutes daily.
They further expressed displeasure at the attitude of the Manager in charge of the AEDC Maraba and Abacha road field offices, who they alleged had constantly abused his office by terrorizing them. In a chat with Inside Abuja, James Ameh, a computer operator, lamented: “We don’t have light and if at all they bring the light, it is only midnight. Yet, they have been charging us exorbitant rates every month.
“They charge us from N5,000 above and every month, they keep increasing the bill. Why are they giving us light only at night? Are we doing night vigil? This has been going on for almost five years. We have been complaining to the authorities but nothing has been done.
It has totally collapsed my business.” Also speaking, the youth leader, Mr. Tony Okechukwu, said: “NEPA is giving us high bills when they give us light for only three hours in a month; they flash the light for 30 minutes in the midnight and 25 minutes during the day.
When you calculate it for a month, that is three hours. Yet, we are paying outrageous bills and now they stamped all our bills with red ink notifying us of mass disconnection tomorrow.
“They are stealing by trick. We are tired of paying for darkness. At first, when we bought the transformer, they were rationing the light, giving us three to four hours only but now, we don’t get to see the light.
Yet, our neighbours in Nyanya,just five poles away are enjoying stable light and they are paying about N2,000 without prepaid meter.” Countering the ploy by some of the staff from the field office to cover up the reality on ground, he noted that, “the Maraba engineer claims that they are giving us light seven hours every day. He has lied against us because if that is truly the case, why must we be here? “We need stable light.
That is why we are here. They don’t want to give us prepaid meters because they know what they are doing. We want our prepaid meters. We don’t want to see NEPA moving around our area with ladder cutting anybody’s light anymore.” According to another resident, Paul Thomas: “We are not going to allow them cut our wires and we will not allow them take our wires to the office because once they do, they will resale our wires back to us claiming that our wires are no more there and we will still pay money for reconnection. If they come with their ladders to our area, we will chase them away.”
A landlord in the area, Mr. Sunday Ben, told Inside Abuja: “I live in a two bedroom flat and they give me a bill of N6,800. I am not using fridge. I am not using air conditioner and no light, I do not understand why I should get such a bill. We want light. It is our right.”
Speaking to Inside Abuja, the Public Relations Officer, AEDC, Mr. Ahmed Shekarau, noted that although the protesters did not give the impression of having been without light for five years, AEDC was committed to resolving the matter by supplying the affected community with light.
He however explained that given the erratic power supply in the country resulting from pipeline vandalisation, the supply would be rationed to ensure even distribution of power to all communities linked to the substation.
“We believe they should get more hours than what they are getting. We have asked our field office to do a good load management schedule that everybody will be comfortable with.
“We will also put a meter in the transformer serving those houses to show how many hours of supply. We will also develop a sharing formula for the houses because they all don’t consume the same energy. “We will go and look at our records and we will expunge all the bills that have been given to them within that period. However, please endeavour to pay your bills,” he told the protesters.