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Ondo Blackout: How Long Shall We Persevere By Adewale Momoh

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Adewale Momoh

…The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.…”

From North to South, East to West across various Nigerian homes one of the first words a toddler tries to mutter is the “Up Nepa”!!! cacophony that pervades households irrespective of ones status anytime electricity is taken or restored.

Though, NEPA has long ago metamorphosed from PHCN into privately owed distribution companies, the word is still the only word that is fully understood between the literate class and laymen in the country, probably due to the what we never realized was a “minimal” epileptic operation of the company back in the days which probably led to its change of name and to the final stage of its sales to private firms for enhanced productivity and better output.

Majority of Nigerians will agree with me that reverse has been the case since power generation and distribution were fully handed over to private investors, as the present electricity situation in the hands of GENCOs and DISCOs can comfortably be referred to as “acute epilepsy” in some quarters and a state of  “absolute coma” in others, depending on your location.

With this situation considered to be pathetic, the mentality of Nigerians as regards electricity has no doubt been redirected to see power as luxury and no longer a necessity, with generators competing for spaces in various households and  no option other than to acclimatized to its attendant effect of noise pollution, irrespective of one’s capability to afford N145 per litre of PMS or not.

As if this seems not to be so glaring, daily on the pages of newspapers and broadcast media we are being slapped with the Federal Government’s resolve to improving the economy by wooing foreign investors to the land, encouraging SMEs as well as artisans alike in a country where before drawing your business plan, generating ones electricity is topmost on the agenda. This is where the generator aspect comes in and of course, the over bearing cost of diesel and PMS readily staring you in the face.’

After trying to find their footings and realized that the grip isn’t holding, they fly to other countries, even smaller nations where proper, conducive and suitable environment are evidently pronounced. This is applicable to Nigerians with multi-billion dollar investments in neighbouring African countries, Europe, Asia and the Americas. Sure, it’s all about business hence “man must survive”.

But, what about those with no means of relocating?… If you would agree with me, dead dreams right ?… And artisans whose budgetary plan for fuel is no longer feasible? Your guess is as good as mine.

To the crux of the matter, Ondo State, South West Nigeria, where dreams are being killed daily. Where sources of livelihood vanish in the twinkling of an eye. Where a teenager hardly remembers what is called power from the national grid. Where electric cables now serves as lines for effective sun drying of clothes. All of these, no thanks to the Benin Electricity Distribution Company.

For many years now, residents of Ondo South Senatorial district, particularly in five of its local governments (Odigbo, Okitipupa, Irele, Ese-Odo & Ilaje LGAs) have been in total darkness due to delibrate action by BEDC to disconnect the district from the national grid.

There crime? Debts incurred by some households since the days of NEPA and PHCN are still outstanding.

Reason for this, according to the BEDC officials in some of the numerous meetings privileged to witness with top government officials of the Dr. Olusegun Mimiko led past administration and  members of the Ondo State 8th House of Assembly was that when the privatization of the power sector was formalized on the 21st February, 2013, assets and liabilities were hand over, hence their resolve that all outstanding debts of consumers from the days of PHCN and the preceding company must be paid, which according to BEDC is in the tune of hundreds of millions of naira.

Not minding that some households never defaulted, as they religiously maintained up-to-date payments of their bills, BEDC insisted that the affected local governments be cut off in a strategy I believe was to force non debtors to compel debtors to pay up and as such everyone will bear the brunt.

But the questions are: Why must I bear the brunt of my neighbour’s iniquity when we are definitely operating different metres? Why must I pay for the inefficiency of PHCN? Why should I be made to suffer just because BEDC wants to make unending profit?

With the stance of BEDC on this, one begins to wonder if the company had actually sat to analyze the pros and cons of this issue, whether it’s on the winning side or the losing, considering the accumulated losses since its official take over.

Sequel to the blackout, how many jobs do you think must have been lost? what about lives during emergencies at hospitals within this area? And the industrious youths that have been rendered restless and restive owing to the fact that this area makes Ondo State part of Niger Delta? Students of the Ondo State University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa as well as other educational institutions situated within the axis, how would they have been coping with this abnormality?

My take: BEDC should just accept its fate, be bold and courageous enough to eat  the humble pie and as such see this issue as bad debt and one of the risks involved in doing business. At least BEDC won’t fail.

The blackout is not only limited to the southern senatorial district, as the northern senatorial district, has also been having its fair share of the BEDC imbroglio with the people of Akoko, adjoining towns and communities losing memory of the last time they saw electricity, thus making the town’s socio-economic activities at its lowest ebb.

Apart from the other public institutions situated in this district, the area is also home to the acclaimed best state owned university in Nigeria (AAUA) where the students will confidently tell accurately the total number of hours they saw “light” from the national grid in the course of their academic sojourn.

Even the Central Senatorial district that is host to the state’s sit of power and expectedly with largest concentration of residents and SMEs is not left out of the “powerful and inhumane wand” of BEDC. At times, there’s outage of power for more than three days or more in the state capital without any form of explanation or apologies on the part of the power company.

Just some days back, a young tailor who’s a graduate with his shop situated within Akure metropolis was lamenting with a dampened morale how the power situation has adversely affected his business. Same goes for wielders, salon outfits, computer centers, among others.

This’s the same situation across board where genuine businesses are forced out of the country, all because of the unending power problem. How then will the economy boom when the agile and able bodies as well as the most productive segments the society are not encouraged.

No doubt, you’ll agree with me that this is a serious and dangerous situation as the white collar jobs are no longer there for youths hence their resolve to acquire a skill. But they are also been frustrated by the same system preaching the gospel of entrepreneurship.

Serious countries that are ahead of us in all ramifications and those we’re once at par with have left us behind and it is a fact that they didn’t just achieve the feat without tackling the energy sector. Most of them now have more than excess power such that citizens are advised on the need for heavy use of energy. But reverse is the case in my dear country where TCN cautions GENCOs on power generation that is entangled in daily free fall.

Federal lawmakers from Ondo State have stood up in the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly to seek legislative solutions to this malady, Royal entourage have taken their pleas to the power minister, Peaceful protests have been stage by youths, all to no avail. Where else shall we run to?
 

Perhaps, the working visit of the Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola to the state some days back might be the silver lining in the dark cloud. And if the BEDC thick dark clouds continue to rule, then, we await PMB’s visit. When will that be? “Serious gobe”

Hmmmmmmm……. How did we get here? How long shall we be here? How long shall we persevere? Just how long…

Adewale Momoh is a journalist, blogger and a writer.

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