Tony John, Port Harcourt
People of Oyigbo, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, have said “enough is enough” to the management of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC), Oyigbo Business Unit, following exorbitant estimated bills they get monthly from the company. The residents consequently took the “peaceful” battle to the doorstep of the company to register their displeasure.
The angry youths also dumped a coffin in the premises and barricaded the entrance with palm frond, forcing the staffers to flee the place. Others sacrificial items kept there included fowl eggs and hot drink.
When Daily Sun visited the PHEDC office on Wednesday, January 24, it was discovered that the protesting youths had taken over the company’s premises two days earlier. It was gathered that, since the first day of the peaceful demonstration, they cooked and ate breakfast and lunch in front of the gate.
They vowed to remain there till their grievances are addressed, which included sack of the business manager, re-connection to the Afam feeder, provision of employment for the youths and provision of prepaid meters. Inscriptions on some of their placards read: ‘PHED stop taking us for granted’, ‘Engr. Orji, B. M. PHED, must go’, ‘PHED give us light’, ‘PHED re-connect and connect us back to Afam fider’, ‘PHED employ our youths’ and ‘PHED receives N100 million from Oyigbo urban, still no light’.
Residents said activities of the electricity company were provocative. They maintained that PHEDC and other multinational firms operating in Oyigbo Local Government have taken their peaceful disposition as cowardice, which must stop.
They faulted the over bloated electricity bill given to them monthly, even when they did not enjoy PHEDC service. According to some of the protesters, the “casket, eggs, fowl, hot drink and palm frond” are very symbolic items, which should not be taken for granted.
Chief Samuel Nnamdi Azu, the traditional prime minister of Oyigbo and the Paramount Ruler of Komkom Community, commended the protesters for the step taken: “Oyigbo is a very peaceful area, quite respectful to the government and the country. But, we are being cheated in everything, as long as Nigeria and the state are concerned.
“We are one of the highest producers of gas and oil in the state. In fact, after Oloibiri Oil in Bayelsa State, Oyigbo is the second. The Afam Power Station supplies electricity to other neighbouring countries. But, we that manage the light do even enjoy it. We don’t get steady power supply.
“Yet, we the inhabitants pay monthly for the one we consumed. In fact, it is very unjustifiable that we don’t enjoy what we have and we are billed exorbitantly. Before, we were connected directly to the Afam feeder, but were recently disconnected from the 33KVA to11KVA. We don’t get light at all. But, at the end of the month, they (PHEDC officials) bring very exorbitant bills to people to pay. They don’t give us prepaid meter. Every month, we pay estimated bill and yet the light is not there.
“We are appealing to the government to address the matter urgently, by calling PHEDC management to order. They should hook us back to where we were before, because we are a peaceful community. If that is done, we don’t have any other problem with government.
“The PHEDC has grounded business activities in Oyigbo because of no light. Still, at the end of the month, you give the people bill. From where do you expect them to get money to pay you? So, the peaceful demonstration by our brothers and sisters, who are consuming the light is in order.
“We are asking the PHEDC staff management to, please, bring us back to where we were before. That is the only thing we are asking for. Also, give us prepaid meter, so that we pay according to what we consume and not to give us estimated bill.”
The youth president of Oyigbo Urban, Ifeanyi Nwachukwu, vowed that they would not leave the PHEDC premises until their demands were met:
He said: “Today, being Wednesday, is the third day of this protest. The reasons for our demonstration are not farfetched. We host multinational companies; if we look at it from government angle, it is as if we are not part of the state.
“Coming down to PHEDC, the company cannot operate without gas. As I talk to you, Oyigbo supplies gas 70 million cubic on daily basis to Afam Power Station. But, it is a pity we have seen it as a neglect to the people of Oyigbo LGA, particularly the Oyigbo Urban.
“I want also to state here that in Oyigbo LGA, we have 10 wards. But, in Oyigbo Urban, we have three wards. We also found out that out of the 10 in the LGA, seven wards don’t pay bill because we are host to the multinationals.
“But PHEDC imposed it on the people of Oyigbo Urban to pay bill. And I want to tell you that our people have been living up to the expectation by paying their bill promptly. I want to tell you that PHEDC generates N90 million to N100 million monthly from Oyigbo Urban, almost an allocation of Local Government.
“We see PHEDC treatment as a neglect and ill-treatment to the people Oyigbo Urban. Why is it that out of 10 wards, only three wards; eight, nine and 10 are made to pay electric bill?
“We are billed arbitrarily for the light we did not enjoy. Our people have complained severally by the management of the company has not done anything. We have looked at the entire situation, and said we cannot take laws into our hands and took some steps.
“We had earlier invited the PHEDC Business Manager, who is in charge of Oyigbo service centre. We told him that we heard rumour that some parts of Oyigbo connected to Afam Power Station would be disconnected. He refused to honour our invitation.
“On December 27, 2017, we booked an appointment with him. On the day we came for the meeting and called him, he (Oji) told us that he was on vacation. In fact, he told us to go to Governor Nyesom Wike, if we need light. We saw that his statement as a neglect and an insult.
“On January 9, the management from the headquarters came here. We talked at length. They pleaded and asked us to give them seven days. They said they would reconnect Oyigbo Urban and connect any other area. Our second is that they should give us a prepaid meter, so that people can pay based on power consumed. They said we should give them seven days to address the issue.”
He said the job opportunities supposedly meant for their people were given to outsiders He said the treatment was condemnable: “We saying that we can no longer continue that. What belongs to us must be given to us. Enough is enough of shortchanging our people. They are multinationals and we are their hosts. They have to solve our problem.
“I want to state here that, before the Komkom light, the PHEDC has some time ago, told Oyigbo people that they (PHEDC) has 33 and 11, which is for Afam and Oyigbo respectively. They said for us to have steady power supply, that Oyigbo people should donate a portion of land to step down the line. This was done by some of our notable people.
“In fact, today is our third day here. We have decided that either PHEDC connects us to Afam, or they will stop their operation here. We are not playing with that. We are entitled to it. If they don’t we will remain, cook, eat and sleep here. If it would take us a month to achieve our aim, we will remain here until we achieve it.
“Even while this protest is ongoing, it has come to our notice that PHED staff are going round disconnecting the people. We are telling people of Rivers State and Nigeria that Oyigbo people have said no to PHEDC, unless we are connected to the Afam grids.”
He, however, called on the federal and state governments to address them Oyigbo/PHEDC problem urgently, to avert crisis in the area.
Spokesman of the PHEDC, John Onyi, said only the company has the exclusive right to decide which grid to connect the consumers. He told journalists on telephone that the protesters owed PHEDC N4.8 billion, as at December 2017, saying Oyigbo Urban should not ask for migration to 33 Afam grid.