Tonye Princewill

July 20, 2012

Power line executions (1)

Power line executions (1)

By Tonye Princewill
A FEW days ago, several persons reportedly lost their lives in the Apata area of Ibadan, when a live power line snapped and fell in a vegetable market, at early morning.

This is only the most recent instance in which Nigerian citizens perished due to mishaps involving high voltage transmission lines strung over populated areas.

At one time or the other, in various population centres around the country, power cables have fallen on houses, buses, schools, flooded streets and even petrol tankers, triggering catastrophic explosions.

These accidents are clearly preventable. But that doesn’t seem to bother the policy makers and administrators whose responsibility it is to route, regulate and maintain power conducting systems.

The victims of these repeated electrocutions are faceless individuals whose demise apparently causes little emotional discomfort on the part of administrators at the Power Holding Company ofNigeria, PHCN—not to mention affected ministerial functionaries and law enforcers.

In light of this, I don’t think it would be in the least unfair to refer to power line fatalities as “executions”, rather than “electrocutions”: Because surrounding circumstances suggest that, for all intents and purposes, such fatalities amount to socially sanctioned killings.

Otherwise the loss of precious lives from power line accidents would long ago have become a thing of the past. There is no question that the technological means, the legal authority and financial resources required to render transmission areas safe, are at the fingertips of the providers.

In the interest of objectivity though, I must, perforce, emphasize that managers and policy makers like in many man- made Nigerian disasters, are not lone culprits. Those who insist on building, transacting business and holding social outings underneath high voltage lines, in defiance of local ordinances and codes, can hardly claim innocence even if Nigerian society means everyone takes their life into their own hands lest they die anyway.

Hence, the onus is on those in positions of authority. The culpability of public offenders, cannot absolve political leaders and utility administrators of blame. The latter have both the capacity and the responsibility to ensure public safety.

According to a report I read in The Pilot, for instance, the Ibadan market incident, in which a pregnant woman and a nursing mother were among the dead, was neither the first power line breakage in the Apata area nor the only one with mortal consequences.

A tailor who lives in the community, and has a shop at Apata, told Sunny Adeloye that residents had complained repeatedly that the power lines were too thin and needed to be replaced. The tailor also said the cables had snapped previously, more than once, with deaths resulting on two occasions.

But the locals reported to Adeloye that, instead of replacing the defective lines, the electricity workers took advantage of the poor state of the wires to extort money from them. “They always collect money from us before coming here to fix the wires…,” said an anonymous informant.

I have focused on the Apata incident inIbadan, because it is current and the details are conveniently available. But when it comes to PHCN, nee NEPA, “Apata” is everywhere; and we are all vulnerable.

Anyone who hasn’t seen a broken cable in a populated area, or an overloaded line, burning over residential streets, must be a tourist, a hermit or hopelessly unobservant.

Also, even those who have never thrown in a hand, to help “settle” a PHCN employee, are surely aware that this is a common occurrence in many local communities.

Corruption though, is just part of the problem—and, possibly, not the most important part. More threatening, perhaps, is the lethargy of power sector managers and policy makers who, in my estimate, simply have not been sufficiently proactive.

In the June 4 (Online) issue of The Punch, for example, Stanley Opara reports on a “warning” which Tokunbo Peters, Senior Public Affairs Manager, issued on behalf PHCN’s business units in the Molete and Akaran areas ofIbadan.

Peters urged the public to desist from erecting structures and otherwise positioning themselves “under high- and low-tension power lines” in these jurisdictions. He complained that people were not keeping the mandatory distances, which town and regional planning laws require.

I’m sure PHCN’s management issued this statement with the best of intentions. But the fact that it comes a week after the Apata electrocutions, gives me cause for concern. It’s as if PHCN is closing the gate, after the horses have bolted.

After all, what has to be done, to prevent power line electrocutions (sorry executions), is not written in Meroitic script or hieroglyphics.