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Phcn, trailers and a torch!

By Helen Ovbiagele
We had been having that frustrating period  of half-current electricity supply for a couple of weeks, and were trying to decide whether it wasn’t better for our sight and appliances to abandon PHCN and switch to a generator.

The electricity was so weak that all it could carry were the 60 watts bulbs; even then, the light was very dim.  There was only one phase with electricity, so, it wasn’t a case of going to try for a brighter one.

“Let’s leave it on;  it might get brighter tomorrow.” said my next door neighbour.  “At least until night time.  If the whole street goes on gen right away, the noise would be unbearable.  It’s a Sunday, and one needs some peace and quiet after the church service.”

“I suppose you’re right, and also, half a loaf is better than none at all.  Let’s hope others will cooperate and will wait until night before switching on their gen sets.”

We had hardly shut our respective gates when their was a loud explosion and all lights went off.

We rushed out again.  “Malam, what happened?” I asked one of the guards on our street who had gone to investigate.  “Madam, na lorry of Pure Water jam our transformer, and knock am down.  Ah, e go reach two months before we go see light for dis area again o.  Na wa!”

“Malam, that’s nonsense,” my neighbour told him.  “Why should it take PHCN two months to repair the transformer or give us another one?  We shall go make a report to the area office tomorrow.”

This was duly done by several neighbours the next day. Malam, our ‘Chief Information Officer’ said the owner of the lorry was a local resident and that he had been contacted; adding that if the transformer was damaged, two  million naira would be needed for a replacement, and  fifty thousand naira would be needed to fill it with engine oil. Some days later, PHCN officers came to assess the extent of the damage. We learnt it was not damaged beyond repair.  Thank God for that.

Two weeks later, we saw a frenzy of activities by PHCN officials at the site of the generator, which incidentally, is placed by the road side, without any sort of iron guards to protect it; an easy target for vehicles to run into.

The latest incident was just one of many, and one was getting a bit fed-up with it.  At the end of  a mere two and a half weeks, electricity supply was back.   We rejoiced. Four days later supply stopped again.  Malam told us it was another explosion somewhere else this time.

I guess we were all too stressed out to rush down to seek information from the local PHCN office.  Generators came alive again, but after two days, there was only the occasional noise as some gen sets packed up, there wasn’t diesel to fuel some, etc.  We plodded on.

In the middle of  this blackout, we were astonished when PHCN officers came rapping on each gate one morning.  We thought they had come to tell us why our area had a blackout and to assure us that something was being done about it, and we should be patient.

In short, an apology for their non-performance.   Oh no!  This is Nigeria.  They had come to ask us to inspect our meters to find out if there was any illegal tapping of electricity!

When they came to my place, after examining their ID cards,  I asked if they were aware that yet again, there was a blackout in our area.

“Madam, we’re aware of that,” an official told me.

“What happened this time?  It’s been several days now and there’s been no word to residents of this area about what went wrong, and how long the blackout will last.”

“Er, this is a major damage, madam.  A trailer rammed into our major feeder for several areas in this district, so, it will take some time to carry out repairs.”

“I see.  I suppose the owner of the trailer has been asked to pay for the repairs?”

“Ah, madam, we don’t know about that o!  Er, the trailer was traced to Ikeja and we reported the matter.  We don’t know what the outcome would be.  It depends on our ogas.”

“And meanwhile?”

“Er, madam, we shall see what can be done to put the feeder right within a week or so.  Maybe a few days, all things going well.”

“Thanks, that’s very comforting.  So, what are you officials here for?”

“Yes, madam, can we see your meter, the recharge card you use and evidence of last purchase?  I hope you don’t mind, ma?”

“Mind?   Oh no!   You’re merely doing your job.”

“Ah, thank you, ma,  for your understanding.  Some of your neighbours were angry with us, and didn’t want to cooperate.”

“Well, that’s understandable, isn’t it?  If you had come when there’s electricity supply they would be cooperative, wouldn’t they?  Coming when we’ve had no supply for several days and asking to see evidence of payment and inspect our meters is not very tactful, is it?

You could be attacked if you went to an area where people would want to take out their frustration on you.  Do you know how much food went bad because of the blackout?  Not to mention appliances that were damaged.  The welders and mechanics in this area depend on electricity supply to carry out their means of livelihood.

Haven’t you noticed them hanging around doing nothing; waiting for light to be restored.”

“True, but madam, we’ve not caused any offence.  We didn’t deliberately withhold electricity supply.  Like you said, we’re doing our job.  We’re the errand men, abi?  We don’t want to delay you.  We’ll just check your receipt, card and meter and be on our way.”

I went to get the card and receipt and handed them over to a relation, who would take them to the meter room within  the house.

Some minutes later, the relation came to ask me for a torch.  I asked what for?  He said the PHCN officials said they needed it in order to be able to read the figures on the meter, as the room was dark.

What a farce!  Suppliers of electricity, asking a consumer  for a torch so that they can carry out their duty!

“Mister, should the consumer be the one to supply you with tools for your work?” I asked as I handed over a torch.  “You knew you where coming to an area where there’s been a blackout for several days, and you know that most meters are located indoors.

Shouldn’t you have armed yourselves with a torch?  It should be part of the tools you use since we never have a steady supply of electricity.  By the way, what are you people doing to protect your transformers and feeders from being damaged by vehicles?   We keep getting this problem all the time.  Leaving them hang on the road with nothing to protect them doesn’t make sense to me.”

“Madam, we are just errand men.  It’s our ogas that should be asked such a question.  We’re in no position to give any answer, since it’s a situation we met on ground.  Thank you very much, ma.  Everything is in order here.  Goodbye, ma.”

Well, these men’s position is not an enviable one, since  it’s on them that we can vent our frustration/anger. Even though they’re not the decision-makers in that organization.

Frankly, I think it’s time that the PHCN looks urgently into this matter of protecting their equipments, particularly the transformers that dot the roadside throughout the country.  It makes sense to build a guard around each of them to protect them from damage from vehicles, and from vandalization.

This may be an added cost to the supply of  electricity, but it’s much cheaper than having to buy parts to replace stolen/damaged ones, or get new transformers.

Also, their staff who work on the field should be well-equipped for their job.  It shouldn’t be assumed that every household would have a torch that they should readily lend to them.  Yes, torches are cheap and affordable, but in an important organization like the PHCN, their staff shouldn’t rely on members of the public to supply them with tools.


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