February 2, 2019

Blackout in 444 communities: Native doctors, NGOs, communities protest

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File photo: Blackout

… As Gov.Obaseki moves to remedy situation

By Evelyn Usman

Electricity, is one of the most essential benefits that science has given to mankind, as its importance in the day-to-day routine of man can never be overemphasized.

File photo: Blackout

Unfortunately, its usefulness has eluded 444 communities in Edo state, which were plunged into total darkness for over one year.

Every day, artisans, in these communities, open their shops in vain, following the attendant negative impact of the total blackout, on their business and social activities.

Ironically, power generating set which is the alternative means for electricity is experiencing a boom in sales, at the detriment of most residents who could barely cope with daily purchase of fuel to run the power generating sets.

The expressions on the faces of the affected traders spelt gloom and despondency, as most of them whose shops are their families’ sole means of livelihood, are battling to eke out a living.

Record shows that   444 communities   spread across 18 Local Government Areas of Edo are without electricity.

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From the figure, 157 communities were yet to be connected to the national grid, 32 of the communities were disconnected by the Benin Electricity Distribution Company, BEDC  145 communities had faulty transformers, while 110 communities require network rehabilitation.

The worst hit are Orhionmwon, Uhunmwode and Ovia North East council areas.

BEDC receives knocks

The state’s electricity distribution arm- Benin City Distribution Company, BEDC has received knocks from the affected communities, civil organizations and the Edo State Government, over what was described as failure to meet its mandate of distributing electricity to customers in Edo state.

This culminated into protests, particularly when news of an alleged  plans by the Federal Government to extend the operational license of BEDC, which expired at the end of October 2018, filtered in.

There were reportedly plans by some of the affected communities to attack BEDC staff , if the situation was not addressed.  When public outrage reached a crescendo, the  Edo Civil Society Organisation, EDOSCO  began a protest, against  the alleged extension plans of BEDC services.

The organization  which described the alleged plan as another round of suffering on the populace, staged a three-day protest between October 29 and October 31, 2018 and  besieged the company’s office in Akpakpava, Benin city , calling for the removal of the Managing Director, BEDC, Mrs. Funke Osibodu.

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Spokesman for EDOSCO,  Leftist Osazee Edigin, lamented that  “within the last five years, BEDC failed to provide pre-paid meters to consumers, extend the distribution network, improve customer service delivery and reduce power interruptions as well as deliver stable power to its coverage area of Edo, Ekiti, Ondo and Delta states.

“ We are in collaboration with other interest groups and critical stakeholders, reaffirming our stand that the operators of the BEDC do not deserve an extension or renewal of operational license for a day later than the 31st of October, 2018. We vehemently object to it and sue the BPP and NERC to pursue the happiness of the people whom they swore to serve.

Native Doctors, Oba of Benin Protest

Also last year,  native doctors, communities among which was  Ihovbor community in Uhunmwonde  Local Government Area, which hosts Azura Power Plant but has been on the receiving end of the company’s antics, staged protests in Benin city. For the natives doctors, they appeared in their attires, wielding charms.

Members of  Ihovbor community who  protested to Government House in Benin City, accused officials of BEDC of removing a transformer bought and installed by them, disclosing that the action had plunged the community into darkness for 16 months.

The Edo State Council of Traditional Rulers and Chiefs, headed by the Benin Monarch, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo, Uku Akpolo kpolo, Oba Ewuare II, is not left out in the call for the discontinuation of service by BEDC in the state, as they called on the governor to seek alternative solution.

In a communique issued on November 30, 2018, at the Oba Palace, Benin City, the Council  did not only condemn in strong terms the poor performance and inability of BEDC to provide electricity to Edo residents, it also frowned at BEDC’s inability to provide prepaid meters to those willing to buy, as well as what it described as BEDC imposition of illegal and outrageous estimated billing system on its consumers.

The council also said  “ we fully endorsed the actions of His Excellency, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, Governor of Edo State, in calling for the non-renewal of the contract between BEDC and the relevant agency of the Federal Government and urge the Governor to vigorously pursue the procurement of alternative source(s) of power in order to bring comfort to the people of Edo State.”

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“We cannot continue to dwell in unending darkness and watch our people suffer untold hardship, resulting from the inefficiency of BEDC. Our people who are into small and medium scale businesses are going out of business daily and bigger businesses are having their share of the hardship.”

Governor Obaseki reacts

The situation,  set Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State against the BEDC and its management, as the former , had at different fora decried the BEDC’s lack of preparedness to extend electricity to over 195 communities in the state, in addition to 128 other communities with collapse distribution infrastructure which were yet to be fixed.

His consternation for the company’s action was  demonstrated last November, when the former walked out the latter’s MD, Osibodu, out of his office.

A visibly angry Obaseki , said on that day, “BEDC has been an obstacle all the way. They will not provide electricity and will not allow you to get alternative sources of power. The state will not allow it.

“To assist them in their function, we set up electricity committees across the local government areas chaired by the Deputy Governor of the state, Rt. Hon. Philip Shaibu, with BEDC as member to understand the challenge. But BEDC frustrated our resolve to finding a lasting solution to the issue of providing electricity to our people,” the governor said”.

“As Governor of Edo State, we have lost confidence in BEDC. We don’t want them here. We are in darkness. Let us remain in darkness until we find people who are capable of delivering electricity. This is our position. The governor said despite the fact that the state generates about 600 to 700 megawatts of electricity.

Obaseki moves to provide solution

In a bold move to free the affected communities from the endless circle of darkness,  Governor Obaseki, has sought alternatives to get electricity to power in  the affected areas, including  government offices across the Benin metropolis,   with the commencement of construction of the CCETC-Ossiomo Power plant.

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The first phase of the construction, according to the governor, is expected to be commissioned in April, which will make more electricity available for distribution in the state.

The 55MW Power Plant project which is expected to be built in phases, the governor said, would  ease the distribution of the power, as a substation would be set up around Kings Square, which would provide power for street lights.

An optimistic Obaseki said , “We believe that if the megawatts produced increase, the distribution company will have more power to distribute to other cities in the state. There is an arrangement to drop power in certain processing centres where artisans can move into and do their businesses with the assurance of steady power supply,” he said.

BEDC position

However, BEDC ‘s  Chief State Head, Mr Fidelis Obishai,  explained earlier that  issues of decaying infrastructure  was inherited by the utility company. He stated that the BEDC which had since taken over the asset and liability of the defunct PHCN in November 2013, had carried out, and still carrying out, network rehabilitation as well as changed no fewer than 150 transformers in Edo alone.

He said , “To start with, I do not quite agree with the number of communities, the question is, how many communities do you have in Edo that you will have such a figure without electricity? On this issue of disconnecting some communities and those with faulty transformers, we do not just go about disconnecting people or communities, rather, they naturally disconnect themselves.

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“BEDC is a business entity and a situation where you are owing and you refuse to pay, when you have issue and you come to us, we ask you to pay and if you still refuse, we don’t attend to such problems”, he stated.