By EGUFE IAFUGBORI, PORT HARCOURT
TO be born with disability is quite challenging. Being born whole and having to suffer sudden disability for no fault of yours at a tender age could be cruel, far more challenging and regrettable.
This is the agony 12-year-old Master Uchechukwu Ewurum, a JSS2 student resident at No 8 Ojoto Street, Mile 2, Diobu, Port Harcourt, Rivers State now has to contend with. Until February 23 this year, the youngster, according to his father, Peter Ewurum, had been able-bodied, normal and “full of energy”. But that normalcy was shattered when the lad suffered electrocution which prompted the amputation of his entire right arm and left a wide wound on his belly.
Uchechukwu’s ordeal began at House 1 on same Ojoto Street where he had gone with his mother, Stella, to visit a bereaved cousin to his father. Time was about 8.30pm. On the top floor of the storey building where his host lives, high tension power lines of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, dangle across less than a metre apart from the outdoor handrail. Overtime, the space between had become even closer following collapse of the cross arm at the nearby PHCN pole which left a cable sagging a finger tip from the handrail, according to residents.
On this fateful day, the space was too close for comfort. Nobody, including Uchechukwu knew there was transferred current loaded on the handrail from the naked high tension cables. Uchechukwu was first to unconsciously touch the rail. He a received a massive shock, the impact damaging the hand on the rail as well as the right side abdomen.
“At that moment, onlookers, including his mother who was on the stairs, were too afraid to rush to his rescue. But by some stroke of luck the current flung him a little from the rail after much damaged had been done,” Mr. Ewurum narrated.
Doctors at Rehoboth Hospital, D-Line, Port Harcourt informed Uchechukwu’s father that the damaged hand had to go if his son must survive. The hand was removed to the right shoulder. Ewurum alerted authorities of the Mile 1 Ikwerre Road District Office of the PHCN which oversees power supply to the area. He felt PHCN was liable and should take responsibility for the accident.
“The cable that maimed my son has been hanging too close to more than four buildings on the street. It got closer to House No 1 when the cross arm on the PHCN pole got broken, leaving a cable sagging beside the handrail. Fault-fixing, disconnection and re-connection teams visited the line regularly. They had been alerted repeatedly by affected residents to replace the broken cross arm and also to shift the entire pole and cables farther away from the houses. No action was ever taken,” he alleged.
Discouraged at complaining to deaf ears, affected residents had ignored the deadly wires, taking for granted the misfortune begging to happen. After unlucky Uchechukwu paid the price PHCN workmen were spotted on March 19 replacing the cross arm.
It took a pre-action notice served March 5 through Ewurum’s counsel, Emmanuel Okpala, to the District Business Manager, Benedict Nwaorehu, before he conceded to a meeting with Uchechukwu’s father. The District Manager was all defensive, claiming first that he was not aware of any danger at the accident spot till he was served the pre-action notice.
Nwaorehu who confirmed meeting with Ewurum and his legal counsel based on the written notice was quoted as saying: “I pointedly told them that the so-called accident didn’t happen in the area as claimed because Ojoto is just a stone throw from our office. A serious electrocution and associated burns that led to amputation of the boy’s hand could have happened elsewhere. I suspect a cooked up story”.
The District Manager also raised issue with the delayed notification, concluding that even if the parents of the child were too unsettled to reach the office, other neighbours would have alerted the authorities immediately. But Ewurun responded thus: “Saving my son first was priority. Besides, he only granted audience because a lawyer wrote. That does not mean I had not complained earlier”.
The PHCN manager further claimed finding out that four buildings, including the accident spot, are dangerously close to the high tension cables and were among those marked for demolition by the Rivers State Government following a more critical electrocution which killed scores of persons in 2009 in Trans-Amadi when a high tension line fell on houses and pedestrians.
On April April 10, Ewurum sought the intervention of the Rivers State House of Assembly in a petition blaming PHCN’s negligence in the incident and praying the lawmakers to prevail on the company to take responsibility. The House is yet to take definite action on the petition. “I am not giving up hope in seeking redress, but the uppermost challenge now is settling the hospital bills and resettling my son to the new life with a single arm,” he said.
At the end of March, bills posted were already in the region of N3 million. I don’t know what the final figure would be but I am obviously not going to be able to raise that kind of money on my own,” he lamented.
He, therefore, called on the Government, corporate bodies and well meaning individuals to come to his aid. He gave his contact number as 08037113282.