Darkness, Hunger, Anger, Frustration, Indebtedness in Ondo State

Darkness

Ondo is popularly known by the slogan ‘The Sunshine State’. But between three and eight years, four local governments Okitipupa, Ode-Irele, Ese-Odo and Ilaje all in Ondo South Senatorial District, have lived in darkness. They have been cut off from the power grid for alleged indebtedness to the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC). Ever since, life in the region has been defined by frustration, hunger, anger, poverty and joblessness, writes YEKEEN AKINWALE, who was in the state to document the pains of the people. 


“This is frustrating,” he soliloquizes, simultaneously using a cardboard to blow air into a charcoal-powered pressing iron.

Fanning the iron with one hand and looking away to avoid the choking smoke gushing out of the iron, Oluwashina Omoyeni cannot not hide his frustration as a fashion designer whose most important resource, electricity, is lacking.

With pieces of clothes — newly sewn and freshly cut — lying on his table waiting to be ironed, he struggles to stoke the fire in the iron but the charcoal wouldn’t just burn immediately. This drudgery is what makes him continue lamenting the suffering of everyone in the area.

His experience sums up the frustration of residents of Ondo South Senatorial District, who have been without electricity for years; it is three years for people of Okitipupa, and five for those resident in Ilaje, Irele and Ese-Odo.

THE BONDAGE OF POWER OUTAGE

Omoyeni struggling to light up charcoal iron
To power his iron, despondent Omoyeni looks to charcoal

A tour of the district reveals that the people have resigned to living without electricity. Igbotako, Ile-Tuntun, Ikoya, Aye, Atijere and Erinje, among others, have not experienced electricity for about eight years, and there is no hope it will be restored soon; it’s mission near-impossible.

Darkness is a lifestyle in the district, it seems. An envelope of darkness at night at Igbekebo town creates an ominous scene for a newcomer, summarizes the bondage of power outage afflicting the community. Except for flashes of lights from headlamps of motorcycles and a few vehicles coming from Irele, the entire environment looks like a town of the dead.

The headquarters of Ese-Odo local government in Igbekebo, not far from Omoyeni’s shop, is powered daily by an industrial generator. Civil servants at the local government come to office with rechargeable lamps, some even sneaking their clothes into the secretariat for ironing.

DASHED HOPES

In March 2016, Omoyeni relocated from Lagos to Ese-Odo, his place of birth, to explore opportunities as a fashion designer and stylist. He made the move with huge hopes for his business. But one year after his return, he is full of regrets for leaving the hustling and bustling life of Lagos. For him, social and economic life in the whole of Ondo South Senatorial District is “dead without electricity”.

“Since March 7, 2016, when I returned from Lagos where I was based, I never enjoyed electricity here,” he says.

“I have not seen electricity. You know the kind of work I do, we use electricity to power our machines, iron clothes and all that.

“Even after work, you cannot relax at home to watch news or any other programme on the television. In fact, this power outage is affecting us in all ramifications. I use the generator only when I need to work overnight, otherwise it is not profitable to use generator because the population in this area is unworthy of that kind of investment.

“We don’t have customers. It seems to me that people here are used to darkness, they don’t know the value of electricity because they are not doing anything to even impress it on the government that they need electricity.”

To charge his phone, he has to pay N50 at a generator-powered charging point, and what he gets in return is a recharged phone battery that won’t even last the entire day.

“By the time you take your phone for charging, you can imagine how many businesses you would have missed, and that is if the customers’ phone were also charged!” he continues.

“It is a major problem we’re experiencing here. I live in Okitipupa but I work here. From 7pm onward, this place looks like a graveyard because everywhere will be in darkness.”

Though both Rotimi Akeredolu, Governor of Ondo State, and Agboola Ajayi, his deputy, have their roots in Ese-Odo Local Government, the area is yet to feel their impact. Ajayi was the Chairman of Ese-Odo Local Government between 2004 and 2007.

“Did you know that the Governor’s mother is from this local government and even the Deputy Governor was a Chairman in this council?” Omoyeni asks, disappointment and anger etched on his face.

NEGLECT, RUIN, POVERTY

Vestiges of fallen electricity poles, cables, vandalized transformers and dilapidated electricity installations across Okitipupa and the three other local governments in the area paint a picture of a District in ruins. They welcome a visitor to any of these communities. An overgrown power sub-station along Broad Street in Okitipupa says it all.

Abandoned sub-station along Broad Street, Okitipupa
Abandoned sub-station on Broad Street, Okitipupa

“All these poles and cables that you see on the ground and those in the bush along all the roads to Igbokoda and Ode-Irele, Ese-Odo and Ore are the result of years of neglect. Many of them were vandalized,” says Solomo Odunwon, a worker at the palace of traditional ruler of Okitipupa.

“If you check, many transformers within the town are empty, what you have there are just boxes, jobless boys have stolen many of their contents. We are not expecting light here again; we are used to it. We run on diesel every day to power the palace.”

The relics of electrical poles and wires speak volume of the extent of the work to be done by the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) if power would ever be restored to the area.

The overgrown sub-station on Broad Street in Okitipupa hitherto served the four local governments. It belongs to the old National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) — and the creeping animals that now occupy it.

Residents say the sub-station, which still has all its installations intact though no longer functional, was abandoned by BEDC immediately it cut off the area from the national grid in 2014.

Inside the overgrown compound are three operational vehicles — a bus, two Toyota pickup vans and a Mercedes Benz 230 — parked a distance away from the rest. The vehicles are painted in the brown colour of the defunct NEPA. A big warehouse and an office overlook the installations but they are desolate.

Not far from the sub-station is another edifice in ruins — an abandoned two-storeyed building. Sitting on a plot of land along Ikoya road on the same Broad Street. The dilapidated building, already taken over by bushes and showing signs of imminent collapse, served as NEPA office in Okitipupa.

Former NEPA office
On the cusp of collapse, an abandoned office complex of BEDC in Okitipupa

ICIR gathered that members of staff of the company who were working there and at the sub-station were transferred to Ondo and Akure, after Okitipupa and its sister local governments were cut off from the main power source.

Across the town are locked shops whose owners have been forced out of business due to the electricity problem. Such is the case of a viewing centre along Akindele Street in Okitipupa, which stopped operation more than two years ago when the owner could no longer cope with huge cost of fueling the centre in the face of dwindling patronage. ICIR learnt that the owner is now a farmer and motorcycle rider.

FROM HERO TO ZERO

 

Drycleaner turns Okada rider
Forced out of business… dry cleaner-turned-motorcycle rider

But 30-year-old Oluwafemi Isaac, owner of Mega Solution Laundry and Dry Cleaning Outfit, Okitipupa, has grown resilient. He combined dry cleaning and laundry services with commercial motorcycle riding.

From the length and breadth of Okitipupa and anywhere he went Isaac received greetings; he was popular for his first-rate dry cleaning services. For more than five years, he dominated the laundry services business in the whole town, his popularity even extending to as far as Ese-Odo Local Government.

No thanks to the infamous disconnection of power supply, which crippled his business, his popularity as a dry cleaner has also waned though it has grown as an Okada rider now. What a fate!

Despite having a diesel-powered generating set with which he operates his washing machines and ironing customers’ clothes, Isaac still can’t cope with buying fuel to run the generating set with diesel, which until recently sold for N250 per litre. Aside spending N97,500 every month to power the generator, he has three workers whom he pays N7,000 monthly.

Now, he augments the business with commercial motorcycling in order to be able to raise money to eat and also to buy fuel to service few of his customers who still patronise him.

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“This problem of electricity has crippled my business because we need electricity to power the washing machine and to iron clothes,” Isaac says.

“Sometimes I get discouraged from working because of the cost of buying fuel alone. I use 13 litres of diesel every day to wash and to iron clothes. This has made our prices to go up and we have to remain in the business.

“When we had electricity, we charged N100 for a complete piece of clothing but it is now N200 and customers can’t afford that, so it is affecting us now. We have clothes to iron now but customers have not paid and we cannot buy diesel to power the generator.

“If I have to use petrol, at the rate of N150 per litre, I will spend over N54,000 monthly on fuel alone. Sometimes I ride bike to augment my earnings when we don’t have fuel or work to do because people no longer bring clothes like before and you cannot blame them.”

EXTREME SUFFERING AT 80

 

Mama Eleko
To survive, ‘Mama Eleko’ has converted her deep freezer to a cupboard

But more pitiable is Olasemojo Ulawo, an Octogenarian who was famous for selling beer and soft drinks in her area before the almighty BEDC struck in 2014.

To survive, Mama Eleko, as she is fondly addressed by everyone in the neighbourhood, now sells water to residents from a borehole drilled by her late husband. A bowl of water that she uses a generator to pump in front of her house is just N10. Her daily earnings depend on the water needs of the neighbourhood.

Pointing to her deep freezer that has now been converted to a cupboard where food items such as bread and garri are kept, Mama Eleko tells the ICIR that she could not afford to use generator to power the deep freezer to continue with her cold drinks business.

Still having the pile of beer and soft drinks crates in a corner of what used to be her shop but now converted to her room at the basement of a one-storeyed building, she also augments the water business with petty trading.

Her combined earning from the sale of water and odds and ends cannot sustain her at such advanced age as a widow whose children are far away. “Let government give us light,” she moans. “The suffering is too much, hunger is killing us. This is the fifth year that we have been without light.”

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEATH

For Oke Akinbuwa, a driver in his 60s, the district is economically and socially dead. Making particular reference to Okitipupa’s Oil Palm Mill and Oluwa Glass Industry — the two companies that popularised the area in the 70s, 80s and of course 90s — Akinbuwa says there is nothing left to attract young people to the area. While Oluwa Glass situated, along Igbokoda road, is completely dead and deserted as a company, Okitipupa is moribund.

“Many people have not switched on their televisions and radio for the past three years. Radio and TV repairers here have turned to farming and motorcycle riding. No ice water to drink, beer parlours now open only in the evening. No hotel puts on the generator for 24 hours; what they do is just to switch it on between 6pm and 12am,” he says dejectedly.

“We live in the darkness; sometimes it looks like the town is empty because there is no light. There is no headway about the electricity. They are asking us to bring money and that’s the only condition for us to have light. We are old, we have nowhere to go. It is only our children who can go elsewhere.

“There is nothing in this town. If I were a young man, I would have left since. For example, when there is no light, someone who has N200 will use it to buy kerosene to power his lantern. How can you have light without food?”

Olasemojo Omotola, a civil servant, couldn’t lament less, exclaiming: “We don’t derive any satisfaction from blackout!

“Our industries are all dead; Oluwatoyin Sawmill is comatose due to this power problem. Look at welders in this town now, only a few of them are operating and they are using diesel generators. Imagine the amount of environmental pollution we are experiencing now due to smokes from small and big generators.”

Fayemi Joshua, a trained photographer-turned-motorcycle rider, lives in Ilumeje, one of the settlements under the Ilaje clan. He plies his trade in Okitipupa, but his town has not had electricity since 2003.

“We have complained everywhere but nothing has been done. The last time we had light was when late Segun Agagu was campaigning for his governorship election. We are just spending money on fuel; we don’t have money to feed,” Joshua says, straddling his Bajaj-branded bike.

“Our televisions and radios have become homes to rodents due to this problem of electricity. There is no job here and as you can see, I’m riding okada to survive because there is no light to print pictures even if I decide to work as a photographer. The people of Ondo South Senatorial District have been abandoned by their elected representatives.”

DESERTED BY THEIR LEADERS

Helping others to charge their phones
‘Communal’ phone charging

The lamentation by Emmanuel Olohunwa, a phone repairer, captures their mood. According to Olohunwa, the state government has shown no concern about their plight.

“Our elected leaders are not helping us, Senators and members of House of Representatives and even the Speaker are not responding to our problem,” he says. “The immediate former governor, Segun Mimiko, was indifferent to our case but we want the new governor to help us.”

Olohunwa reveals that he spends N1,500 daily on fuel “because I switch on my generator as early as 7am and it will be on till 9pm when I close”.

“All the money that I realise from sales, repair and charging are taken away from me by fuel,” he adds. “People pay N50 to charge their phones and recharge their lamps.”

For possessing three portable generators, colloquially known as “I better pass my neighbour’, Olohunwa is one of the more respected fellows in the community. With these generators, he is able to charge customers’ phones and batteries. In a  day, he charges “more than 25 batteries”.

OFF AIR: NTA OKITIPUPA

NTA Okitipupa

Adaba FM is located in Akure but it has taken the shine off NTA Okitipupa, no thanks to the power outage. Not only is the radio station now the preferred channel of information for the people of the area, it has also replaced the seven-year-old NTA in terms of commercials and advertisements.

Residents of all the local governments that make up Ondo South Senatorial District have forgotten about the television station. Their sentiment is understandable; the station has been off air for some time. “It no longer transmits,” says a staff of the station who did not want his name mentioned.

So as households’ television sets in Okitipupa and environs are on indefinite break, so also is NTA Channel 26, situated at Idepe in Okitipupa. The coastal station, as it is known, has been off air for about three years due to the power outage and outrageous cost of fueling the station. When the ICIR visited it, the station still managed some skeletal operation because of its terrestrial paid station, Star Times.

The two industrial generating sets powering the operation room and the transmitting masts were the only reasons some part of the stations were electrified.

But Inumisan Olayemi, Marketing Manager of the station, who was himself listening to Adaba FM on his mobile phone in his car when the ICIR visited, says the station was still transmitting.

“We are transmitting but all the little money we realise from commercials goes into diesel.  It is a big problem for us and you know Start Times is here, they run on diesel 24/7,” says Olayemi.

“The problem has badly affected the marketing department because people prefer to take their adverts to radio stations in Akure to bringing it here; at least they can hear it on radio. When there was electricity, when people were planning burials, they planned with NTA adverts in mind. But now, if you go to them for advert, they will tell you that there is no light.”

He explains that the power problem confronting Ondo South has led to about 80 percent reduction in revenue generation of the television station. “We hardly get a commercial a month now,” he says.

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NIGERIA’S $15,529/DAY LOSS

Nigeria is the world’s fifth biggest producer of palm oil (Malaysia and Indonesia occupy the top two positions), but it is currently losing $15,529 daily due to the death of Okitipupa Oil Mill. This is approximately a loss of $465,860 a month for a country battling recession and with one of highest unemployment rate in the world: an increase to 14.2 percent in the last quarter of 2016 from 10.4 percent a year earlier. It is the highest joblessness rate since 2009, as the number of unemployed went up by 3.5 million to 11.549 million. Many of the workers at the mill have left after being owed several months of salary.

Employing more than 3,000 workers, the mill produces 25metric tons of palm oil per day when it worked at optimum capacity. According to Index Mundian online platform that focuses on importation and exportation of commodities, the current export price per metric ton of palm oil is $621 dollar (as of June 2017).

Okitipupa Oil mill was run aground by bad management on the one hand, and problem of electricity on the other. The carcass of the main mill at the entrance of its Marine Road Headquarters in Okitipupa says it all. What remains of Okitipupa Oil Mill is its name, which has already travelled beyond the shores of the country. The real oil mill of 1968 and early 80s is now a sorry edifice.

The elderly retired soldier manning the place denies the journalist the chance to enter the mill or take a snapshot of its relics by, but what is obvious is a mill in a state of disrepair. With collapsed roofs and fallen parts, the main mill is long dead.

“We used to have over 3,000 workers here but many left for motorcycle riding when the management could not pay their salaries,” he says.

A senior engineer with the oil palm mill adds “this place is moribund” but doesn’t wait to offer details when approached for further comments.

In the past, Okitipupa Oil Palm Plc produced palm oil and kernel. The company that once offered crude palm oil, technical oil, pharmaceutical sterin, palm wine, brooms, seedlings, ashes, and brown soaps now engages in what its staff called “cut and sell”.

Local palm oil makers now buy palm kernels from the mill while the management also runs local mills in place of the giant mill that is now out of operation. What a loss for Ondo state!

Adegbohun Ade, an Electrical Superintendent at the oil mill, says that although the mill has an industrial generator that used to supply power, it cannot run on the generator due to high cost of fueling. Though Ade declines to discuss the details of the problems confronting the once quoted company, he says power is a major factor.

Local palmoil mill
The local palm oil mill has replaced the Okitipupa Oil Mill

The mill, it was gathered, has its dedicated power lines from the old NEPA but they have now broken down or destroyed due to power outage.

“Even if there is light, it can never get here because since 2014 so many of our power lines have either broken down or vandalized,” he says.

“In fact, we used to have a NEPA staff occupying one of our quarters, to show the level of relationship between the mill and NEPA. But today, all that is no more.”

He says machines in the mill are also obsolete and should be replaced rather than repaired if it must bounce back to its past glories. But the mill has become a campaign tool for successive administrations in Ondo State. Every governorship candidate in recent elections has promised to resuscitate it, but the eventual winners never fulfilled their promises. No one knows yet if Rotimi Akeredolu, the new Governor, will revive the mill.

FRUSTRATED ROYAL FATHERS

Igbokoda town
Igbokoda town has not seen electricity for eight years

Andrew Ikuesan, the Olubo of Obenla Kingdom, Igbokoda in Ilaje Local Government Area, is not in the mood for any chat. He has just lost his sister and is being consoled by his chiefs and subjects. But the moment he is told the electricity situation has brought a journalist to the community, he rises from his seat.

“What do you want to know about the electricity?” he asks, his massive frame and heavily bearded face almost overshadowing his grief.

“The last time I set my eyes on light here was eight years ago. We don’t know where to go. I spend N75, 000 every month to power this palace. I don’t know what crime we committed here.”

In 2015, on the eve of the general election, Ilaje students who gathered to protest against years of blackout were dispersed by armed security men.

Up till now, many coastal villages in Ilaje Local Government, the only area with crude oil deposit, which qualifies Ondo State as an oil-producing state, have been without electricity for more than eight years.

Despite having a Nigerian Navy Forward Operating Base and one of the biggest fish markets in the South West, it is one house, one generator in Igbokoda. Even when Olusegun Mimiko, the former Governor, inaugurated a set of street lights on the only main road in the town, they were powered on the day of commissioning with a generator in 2015.

But the Ilaje king is not the only one who is angry. Oba Olanrewaju Lebi, the Olofun of Irele, is also unhappy about the darkness that has enveloped the district over the years.

With the king old and sick, his queen Ibiduni Lebi speaks on his behalf. Lebi laments the indifferent attitude of the Mimiko administration to the problem of blackout in the district. She explains that the kingdom has witnessed a surge in crime rate, especially kidnapping, since the place was cut off.

“There was supposed to be a demonstration but our people were stopped from doing that demonstration by Mimiko, saying he would look into it. But nothing has happened since then. We are still in the darkness,” she says.

“Our elected representatives in the state house of Assembly and those in Abuja are not doing anything. We expect them to do more on our behalf on this problem but it appears they are not doing anything.

“We believe that our representatives should have been able to solve this problem for us. I learnt that during the privatization of power assets, all the outstanding debt was cleared. Before they completely cut us off, what we were getting in terms of electricity supply was like once in a week. It was not regular.

“To power this palace, we spend N3000 daily on petrol and N21, 000 every week. Eighty percent of the king’s salary goes into buying fuel.”

DEARTH OF RESEARCH AT OSUSTECH

Vice Chancellor
Ogunduyile: there can’t be any serious research work without electricity.

With electricity cables and poles well-connected, a visitor to the Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH) will get the impression that the ivory tower is well-serviced by the national power grid. That is far from the reality.

Located on Kilometre 6, Okitipupa-Igbokoda road, OSUSTECH, with just a faculty — Faculty of Science — and 2000 students, is just recuperating from what Sunday Ogunduyile, the Vice Chancellor, describes as ‘years of neglect’. It is also struggling to fulfil its motto: “For society and development.”

In actual sense, the university has been fully run on generators since 2010/2011 when it commenced academic activities, consequently incurring a huge bill running into millions of naira for powering the university.

“The university spends as much as N9million in three months which amounts to N18million in a session to fuel its generator” says Ogunduyile.

“And we cannot put it on beyond 6pm otherwise we would have been using double and a university of this nature is expected to have students working throughout the night, lecturers doing their researches. If we are to be using it the way we should be using electricity, it means we will be using electricity close to N20million in three months.

“It has affected the university’s finances in other areas; you know a university that is just recovering from long neglect requires every kobo to bring about infrastructural development and so on.  For example, the N9million that we spend on power, if we divert that to our library to buy journals, the shelves will be filled. It’s affecting us immensely.”

As a science and technology university, OSUSTECH is expected to churn out cutting-edge researches, but absent of constant power supply means the university can only hope to achieve the feat one day when it is connected to the power grid.

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According to him, the university has yet to engage in robust practical experimentation of researches conducted by its lecturers because there is no electricity to work with.

He explains: “The researches we are doing are now being re-intensified. We have been doing them and papers have been published all over the place but when it comes to practical experimentation we need light and we have not been doing well in that area.

“We have written, pleading that we should be connected to the national grid and so on and so forth. But we have not heard any positive response. Where I came from, I normally remain in my office till 10 pm or sometimes I remained there till morning because there was light. If you are to do any serious research work, you need that privacy even after closing hour. But here, we cannot do that. Come here when it is 6pm, and you’ll see the place will look like a ghost village.”

THE REAL REASON BEHIND THE DARKNESS

In the beginning, people of Okitipupa and environs were told that the power outage was caused by a technical fault.

In fact, on October 14, 2014, Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) informed the people of Odigbo, Okitipupa, Ilaje, Ode-Irele and Ese-Odo local governments that some timber fellers destroyed the high-tension cable that supplies electricity to the district while carrying out their felling activities along Benin-Ore express road. The distribution company serves Edo, Delta and Ekiti States in addition to Ondo State.

But BEDC would later surprise them with a bill of N1billion as the district’s accumulated debt before and after the unbundling of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

At a forum organised by the BEDC ‎to sensitise customers and provide information on the company’s proposed tariff review on August 26, 2015, Edgar Ernest, Chief State Head of BEDC, was quoted as saying that the blackout was because ‎the communities owed over N1billion. He said the communities refused to pay the debt since BEDC took control of the power sector.

“We divided the ‎debt to two: pre-privatisation and post-privatisation and asked the communities to pay, even if it is only the post-privatization they could afford,” Earnest said back then.

“But ‎they did not pay. And we decided to cut their supply until they pay their debt. If you don’t pay your bill, how do you want the company to survive? We will not restore their light until they pay us. Any company that makes N1billion monthly is a big company, let alone losing such amount.”

Expectedly, it was greeted by outcry from the people of the communities. Sayo Onukun, leader of National Revolutionary Vanguard (NRV), Okitipupa, who has been deeply involved in the community’s struggle for restoration of power, tells the ICIR about the “crazy bill” brought by the BEDC.

“If they said our district owes that much, what about other districts in the state?” he asks. “This is a social injustice to our people because our people cannot be an exemption. Why is our own a senatorial billing? It has always been a house-to-house billing anywhere in the world”, he adds

Findings by the ICIR during a tour of the four local governments revealed that the indebtedness to the company is not up to half a billion naira. While bills from communities outside Ondo State were part of accumulated debts BEDC is asking the people of Ondo South Senatorial District to pay, residents allege that BEDC only gave them estimated bills without reading their metres.

“In my house, I was given a metre, but they didn’t bother to read the meter, they were billing on estimation, which is also criminal,” said Omoyele Oke, a driver. “We stay in darkness. There is no headway about the electricity and they are asking us to bring money. They said that is the only condition for us to have light.”

It was gathered that several coastal communities that have not had electricity for more than eight years were also billed up to 2015, forming part of the N1billion debt.

According to Solomon Bitire, a former Chairman of Okitipupa Local Government and current Chairman, Planning, Strategy and Implementation of Operation BringbackOurLight in the district, the actual indebtedness to the company is less than 20 percent of N1billion —N174billion.

“The state governor called a meeting between BEDC and stakeholders. At the meeting, BEDC said we owe N1billlion,” said Bitire, who was the Chairman in 2015 when Mimiko convened a meeting between the management of BEDC and people of the affected local governments.

“They said Okitipupa Local Government owes them N598million out of the N1billion. I told them that they have to convince us about how they arrived at that figure; the Governor asked them if they could do that and they said yes. After two weeks, they brought to my local government about 15 ‘Ghana Must Go bags’ of bills and billing history with a covering note. They said this is the money we owe.”

But the report of a committee set up by the local government, under the chairmanship of S. Aderehinwo, a former Marketing Director of the defunct NEPA, revealed that Okitipupa owed N113million rather than the N598million quoted by the company. Ese-Odo and Ode-Irele Local Governments owed N12 and N9million respectively, while Ilaje owed N40million.

Despite a meeting of stakeholders, which held at the headquarters of Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) in early July 2017, there is yet no respite for the District.

The outcome of the daylong meeting has not been made public, but the ICIR was told by one of the attendees that the commission had directed BEDC to reconnect the district to the power grid. The commission, it was learnt, gave the distribution company a two-week ultimatum to start the repair of all the damaged poles and other installations.

 

Vandalized transformer
Vandalised transformers like this litter the district

“The management of NERC was very angry and directed that within two weeks of the meeting, BEDC should start repairing all the damaged poles and properties in our area. They also said within a month, they should reconnect us,” said a party to the meeting who did not want to be mentioned.

“They said they should go to Ondo and reconnect us. The third one is that the technical partners from NERC, BEDC and TCN would meet to discuss the technical issues affecting Omotosho Power Plant. They also asked TCN to fix a 133KVA in Omotosho whose only problem is circuit breaker.”

At the meeting, the BEDC was also said to be uncomfortable with the N174million that the people of Ondo South Senatorial District reduced the N1billion debt to. But NERC had directed the two parties to meet and discuss about the reconciliation of the debt.

When contacted for response, an official at the Media Department of the Commission confirmed that “there was an all-day meeting between the management of the Commission and BEDC and representatives of Ondo South Senatorial District”.

She however declined to speak on the details of the meeting and its outcome, insisting that “consultation on the matter” was still ongoing. “Besides, when we are ready to brief the media on the matter, we will invite the media,” she added.

Vivian Mbonu, Head of Media Department of NERC, who just returned from a break, said she had not been briefed on the matter.

Efforts to confirm from the management of BEDC were also unfruitful. Calls and SMS sent to the telephone number of the Ondo Branch Manager of the company, who led representatives of the company to the meeting, were not answered.

When she was called, the BEDC official whose name was simply given as Kunbi told the journalist to send his e-mail address with a promise to respond with steps taken by the company to resolve the problem. But as of the time of filing this report, she was yet to send the mail.

When someone intending to start a hotel business in Okitipupa called the Customer Care Unit of the company requesting for the possible date of restoration of electricity to the area, he was simply told that there is no time frame for his wish.

“We are working to resolve the matter but I cannot tell you the time frame when it will be finally resolved” a female voice said from the other end.

First Published on icirnigeria.org

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