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From Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
Life in the six local government areas that make up Ondo South Senatorial District of Ondo State is different from life in other parts of the state. Here, there is no access to electricity. To live in any part of the district, there is need to have a functional generating set.
For almost seven years now, the residents of Ese-Odo, Irele, Ilaje, Okitipupa, Odigbo and Ikale local government areas have been living without electricity. This situation has affected both social and commercial activities, even as many of them have relocated to other parts of the state, especially Akure, the state capital.
Not much has been done by either the state government or the Federal Government to ameliorate the sufferings of the people. Not even the series of protests embarked upon by the residents of the affected areas could help them. The people groan daily and look up to God for a day an end will come to their problem.
On different occasions, the people protested to the Office of the Governor and that of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), for assistance but to no avail. Although the NDDC promised to assist them, nothing has been done since the promise was made.
The former administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), on the restoration of electricity to the areas, but nothing was done on the matter.
The problem started when the BEDC disconnected electricity in the areas over dispute between the management of BEDC and some youths. BEDC claimed that the offence committed by the people was the vandalization of some infrastructure of the company by some miscreants who also stole some of the properties belonging to the company.
This development brought untold hardship with negative implications on the social and economic lives of the people. As a result of which some residents petitioned Senate President Bukola Saraki.
A community leader, Mr Kayode Fakuyi said series of protests were embarked upon with no result, saying the BEDC was not considerate as innocent people now pay for the action of some “miscreants.”
In a Save our Soul (SOS) to Saraki, copy of which was made available to Daily Sun, he blamed BEDC for the poor power supply to the areas before it was totally disconnected. He said the instability in the power supply occasioned the protest:
“Many of the communities experienced blackout for over one year while some were subjected to over two years of darkness. The claim of vandalization 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.”
He lamented the hazard done by the lack of power: “This 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 debt. Many of the communities experienced blackout for over one year while some were subjected to over two years of darkness.”
A human rights activist in Ilaje Local Government Area, Mr. Reka Aderanti, said: “The claims of huge outstanding debt and unpaid electricity bills by the BEDC are questionable, unrealistic and largely unconfirmed.
“The questionable claim of outstanding debt is tied to pre-privatization era and the regime of fixed charges even 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.
“The action of BEDC to disconnect Ondo South from the national grid is unlawful. It amounts to deployment of powers BEDC does not have. While it is traditional to disconnect power from homes of debtors, it is alien to disconnect entire senatorial district. It is impossible and unrealistic for all households in the local government to be indebted.
“This same district is the home of the Omotoso Nigeria Integrated Power Plant that is suppose to generate 530 mega watt. The NIPP was commissioned by the last administration. It was after the commissioning of the NIPP across the country that the power plants were not working because of the unavailability of gas. The NIPP project appears to be more of a misfortune than a blessing to Ondo South.
“Now that the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari has provided conducive environment for the availability of gas to fuel power plants which led to a general improvement in the stability of electricity across the country, Ondo South is still subjected to unending blackout by BEDC.”
Mr. Ayobami Oluwaseun also lamented: “Throughout this period of blackout, the traditional institutions and youth groups consistently engaged the BEDC with the hope of reaching an amiable accord to end the reign of darkness in Ondo South. However, it appears that BEDC is rigid on illegality and lawlessness.”
But the state office of the NDDC said the commission has plans to rescue the district and bring an end to years of its total blackout. The director, Mr Emmanuel Audu, said 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. The NDDC has risen to the occasion to ensure that residents also enjoy what other people enjoy.
“From our findings, the 33kv supply line that connects the Southern Senatorial district emanates from Osogbo, 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 Omotoso Power Plant to Okitipupa, saying that 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.
According to him, the second part of the contract 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 of that project success. 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.”
BEDC’s Risk Manager, Mr. Kayode Brown, said efforts are being made to restore power into the affected area. He disclosed that the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state government under former Governor Olusegun
He added that the leaders of various communities in the affected area also signed an undertaking to assure the company that its properties will not be vandalized. The communities also pledged to accommodate the staff of the company and ensure that they are not harmed in the discharge of their duties.
He assured the communities that power would be restored as soon as the company finalized its work: “The people of the area will enjoy power before the end of this year.”
Brown said a stakeholders’ meeting was held with the people of the affected area, but expressed worry on the inability of the people to adhere to the terms of agreement reached:
“BEDC is not happy with the situation in Ondo South Eenatorial District. We are worried with the situation there, but our hands are tied as 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 Local Government 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.”
He appealed to the people of the area to be patient with BEDC “as all necessary things are being done to restore power.”