“This same senatorial district subjected to many years of uninterrupted darkness is the home of the Omotoso Nigeria Integrated Power Plant that is supposed to generate 530 mega watts.
Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
These are hard and harsh times for residents in the six local governments that make up Ondo South Senatorial District. This is because there has been no access to power supply in the area since 2008.
To live in any part of the district now, there is need for a functional generating set. This development has paralysed commercial and industrial activities. Traders and artisans, especially those who rely on electricity for their businesses are daily relocating to other areas.
For 10 years now, inhabitants of Ese-Odo, Irele, Ilaje, Okitipupa, Odigbo and Ikale LGs have been living without electricity. The situation has continued unabated despite promises made by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. Not even series of protests embarked upon by residents could change their plight. The people groan daily and look up to God for an end to their problem.
On different occasions, they protested to the offices of the governor and that of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for assistance but to no avail. Although the NDDC promised to assist, nothing has been done since the promise was made. Not even the senator representing them, or their House of Representatives members could do anything positive. The immediate past government also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), on the restoration of electricity to the area.
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The problem started when the BEDC disconnected electricity over dispute with some youths in the area. BEDC claimed some of its equipment were vandalised by miscreants who also stole some properties belonging to the company.
In a Save Our Souls (SOS) message to the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, copy of which was made available to our correspondent, the residents blamed BEDC for the poor power supply before it was totally disconnected, recalling that the instability in the power supply occasioned the protest being referred to by the company.
A community leader, Mr. Kayode Fakuyi, said series of protests were embarked upon with no result, saying BEDC was not considerate as innocent people now pay for the action of the miscreants: “Many of the communities have experienced blackout for over one year while some areas have been subjected to over two years of darkness.
“The claim of vandalism of power infrastructure by miscreants is unconfirmed and therefore considered as untrue. I know that the supposed miscreants, if they truly exist, also desire to enjoy stable power supply. “Having gone through the relevant sections of the Power Reform Act, there is no provision that empowers BEDC to disconnect communities from the national grid. Even if there are genuine claims of outstanding debts, BEDC is not empowered by any law to disconnect communities. But unfortunately, the same BEDC disconnected Ondo South due to questionable and frivolous claims.
“T his unfortunate situation was foisted on Ondo South by BEDC with its unlawful activities of systemic disconnection of many communities from the national grid due to questionable claims of huge outstanding debts. The entire six local governments in Ondo South are gravely affected.”
Similarly, a human rights activist in Ilaje LG, Mr. Reka Aderanti, said: “The claims of huge outstanding debts and unpaid electricity bills by the BEDC are questionable, unrealistic and largely unconfirmed. The questionable claim is tied to pre-privatization eraandtheregimeoffixedchargeseven with epileptic power supply and weeks of no power supply. Most residents and communities dismissed any indebtedness on electricity bills as they claimed the defunct PHCN was duly paid all charges.
“The action of BEDC to disconnect Ondo South from the national grid is unlawful and it amounts to exercise of powers BEDC does not have. While it is traditional to disconnect power supply from homes of debtors, it is alien to disconnect power supply from entire senatorial district. It is impossible and unrealistic for all households in the local governments to be indebted.
“This same senatorial district subjected to many years of uninterrupted darkness is the home of the Omotoso Nigeria Integrated Power Plant that is supposed to generate 530 mega watts. The NIPP was commissioned by the last administration. It was after the commissioning that the power plants were not working because of the unavailability of gas. It should be stated that the NIPP project appears to be more of a misfortune than blessing to Ondo South.”
Mr. Ayobami Oluwaseun lamented: “Throughout this period of blackout, the traditional institutions and youth groups consistently engaged the BEDC with the hope of reaching an accord to end the reign of darkness in Ondo South. However, it appears that BEDC is rigid on illegality and lawlessness.”
Recently, residents of Okitupupa LG staged a protest and threatened to boycott the 2019 general elections should the power outage in the area persists. They also threatened to prevent the conduct of elections if the power outage is not ameliorated before the polls. Armed with placards of various inscriptions, the protesters issued a 14-day ultimatum to the federal and state governments to restore electricity to the area or face more mass actions, just as they vowed not to pay taxes until the matter is resolved.
Chairman of Tailors Association, Okitipupa branch, Wahab Muhammed, who led the protest said: “It is sad that our politicians from the Ondo South have failed us. We have been in total darkness for over 10 years and they have failed to restore our electricity. We have made up our minds that we are not going to participate in the 2019 elections, if our electricity is not restored. We will not allow them to campaign in our area.
“We are also not happy that the state government has not done anything meaningful to address the situation. Henceforth, we are not going to pay revenue to the government.” He urged the Federal Government not to renew the contract of BEDC: “It is crystal clear that BEDC has failed woefully, despite the fact that we do not owe them, they refused to give us electricity.”
But the state office of the NDDC said it concluded arrangements to come to the rescue of Ondo South. Its director, Mr. Emmanuel Audu, told Daily Sun that the commission was already working to connect the area to the national grid:
“This area has been battling with power outage for almost seven years and NDDC has risen to the occasion to ensure that residents enjoy what other people enjoy. From our findings, the 33kv supply line that connects the senatorial district emanates from Osogbo (in Osun State). But the line is old, dilapidated and not in use and this has put the communities in darkness.”
He said NDDC found out that the solution required was to relay bulk power from the Omotoso Power Plant to Okitipupa, saying that the construction of 132kv line was awarded in 2013 from the power plant to Okitipupa, which covers 60 km distance together with construction of transmitting line over 150 towers. The second part is construction of 2 by 30LVA injection substations to run 33 feeder lines that will power the areas:
“That project is currently on and we have achieved over 48 per cent completion. If that project comes on stream, the power issue within Igbokoda, Okitipupa and even the neighboring communities will be over. We hope that before the end of this year or before the first quarter of next year we will round off the project and the electricity issue in the state will be totally resolved.”
Risk Manager, BEDC, Mr. Kayode Brown, said efforts are being made to restore power into the affected areas. He added that community leaders signed an undertaking to assure the company that its properties will not be vandalised: “The communities also pledged to accommodate members of staff of the company and ensure that they are not hindered in the discharge of their duties.
“Power will be returned to all the affected six local government areas as soon as the company finalises its work. The people will enjoy power before the end of this year.”
He hinted that a stakeholders’ meeting was also held with the people of the affected area, but expressed worry on the inability of the people to adhere with the terms of agreement reached: “BEDC is not happy with the situation in Ondo South. We are worried but our hands are tied as so many equipment have been damaged, while some were dilapidated as a result of long outage.
“We have no intention to keep the people in darkness for such a long period of time, but we are constrained by available resources. We agreed that the people should pay for the repairs and we used Okitipupa LG as a case study. But the people did not comply and this prevented us from moving to other local government areas in the affected senatorial district.”
Mr. Bolu Esho, Information Officer, Office of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Public Utilities, Daily Sun: “BEDC has assured its customers that after the completion of the job, there would be enhanced power supply in the state and the area in particular.
“Residents of the affected areas have been called upon by the government to cooperate with the power distribution company during the period the repair would last. “We, however, charge all security agencies to beef up security in the affected areas to prevent bandits from seizing the opportunity to perpetrate crime, as well as call on residents to report any suspicious movement to the police.”