4 years after burning down PHCN office, communities cry for help

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It’s now almost four years now, that residents of some communities in the twin local government areas of Ona-Ara and Oluyole in Oyo State have totally relied on generators after public power supply became unavailable. 

On Wednesday last week, residents from one of the affected local government areas, Ona-Ara, marched to the headquarters of the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) located on Moshood Abiola Way to protest being blacked out for such a long period. They chorused to the new electricity handlers to bring back their light. The spokesman of the protesters painted a gloomy picture of how the total blackout was affecting them.   
But the people’s experience will not go away for some time to come. The manager of the electricity company told them to be patient as a substation of the defunct Power Holding Company (PHCN) in Olorunsogo, which was destroyed in the wake of a nationwide protest in 2012 against a planned removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government, was critical to the return of electricity to their areas. A whooping N131 million was said to be required to bring the facility back in operation.    
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In the intervening time, some residents of the Muslim area, who shared their experiences with Saturday Tribune, lamented the effects of the three-year blackout. Among other things, it was gathered that the resultant nosedives in social and economic activities in the area have continued to discourage prospective tenants, home owners and even people with business concerns from moving in.    
Alhaji Olaniyi Ibitoye, who was, until March 30, the chairman of Ifelodun II Landlord and Landladies Association, Muslim, said the problem was initially marked by erratic power supply in 2011 when they would only experience electricity once in a month before the situation turned into a total blackout. 
Alhaji Ibitoye said, “The truth is that nobody is helping us. The lack of electricity for four years now has paralysed our social and economic activities. The artisans and petty traders are finding it very hard to survive. Ice block makers are making profits to the detriment of petty traders here because the ice blocks cannot last long enough to cool as many pure water sachets and bottles of water and drinks that can translate into meaningful sale in a day. I know this because my wife is affected. 
“So, economically, we are suffering, just like in the area of health. The zero power supply has affected the operations of the private hospitals within the locality. Even those that have giant generators cannot run on them 24/7. Sometimes because of heat, people have to make their sick relations in these hospitals comfortable by blowing air on them with hand fans or rechargeable fans. We have been subjected to risk of environment pollution as a result of heavy use of generators, big and small, around here. An asthma patient is at great risk around here.”
Another landlord in the area, Alhaji Abdul Hamid Awwal, said the heavy use of generators in his locality had robbed people of peace. “For instance, all my tenants have their own generators and sometimes they put them on at the same time and the noise becomes very unbearable. It is hellish, to say the least,” he said.  
The medical director of a private hospital in the area, Dr Olasunkanmi Oyewale, corroborated Alhaji Ibitoye’s claim on the effect of the blackout on heath care in the area. Dr Oyewale said the electricity situation was causing the hospital a huge cost of operation and diminished capacity.  
“We are not talking of irregularity but total absence of power supply in this area for the past four years. It is a serious issue and nobody seems ready to help us. As regards our own service, the situation is telling on us a lot because we have to depend on generator from morning till around midnight and this costs money. If you want to spread the cost on the patients, the bill becomes higher and nobody would talk about the power problem again. They would say the hospital is callous; that they are billing too much. We spent roughly N60, 000 on fuel alone every month for the past three years. This is excluding maintenance of the generators which we use for daytime and night time. 
“Besides, if a patient is brought in the night, after we have put off our generator, for a case that requires urgent surgical procedure, it is a pity we won’t be able to put the generator back. We refer such patients. It is unfortunate that we have to ask patients to go to UCH or elsewhere for cases which we can handle here. 
“It is especially painful that the people in authority do not seem to appreciate our situation or even make any statement about it to give us hope. It is as if nobody cares. It is as if that we are just a set of animals in the jungle. This is not fair. This is not a small area; we extend from Olorunsogo, down to Olomi, to Akanran side. It is almost a town in some other states. So, for an area as big as this not to enjoy electricity for more than three years and for nobody to be talking about it or doing something about it is very disheartening. Maybe after 100 years, someone will remember us and put the light back on. 
“The problem is seriously affecting businesses. The artisans are being put out of work. The welders and technicians that require electricity to function properly are being prompted to ride okada and they are sustaining injuries that are capable of rendering them permanently incapacitated. Last week, one of them fell and broke his spinal cord. He became paralysed and there is no hope for him. He can’t receive medical care because he has no money. He was brought and there was no money to buy even card, not to talk of treatment. We had to give the poor young man first aid treatment and refer him to UCH. He said there was no money and he was taken home. I asked him and he said he was a welder but lack of electricity drove him to riding okada for a living. 
“The people in authority should try and assist. Even if there is no means to do everything now, they can at least give us hope. Even in some remote villages, they enjoy light. So, it is absolutely absurd for places in a whole city like Ibadan not to enjoy power supply in four years. It shows we are not developing, we are going backward. Maybe the people here have offended them, I don’t know. Maybe it is a politically-motivated problem, I don’t know because I am not a politician. There was a time some PHCN officials brought bill, I said, ‘which bill, we have not had light for a long period?’  And one of them said, ‘oga, please you have to pay. If you have us as children at home, won’t you feed us?’ I said ‘if I must feed you at home, then you must be equally useful in the house.’ How could anyone ask me to pay PHCN for services not rendered?  We remain part of Nigeria. We are part of Oyo State. They should help us.”
An artisan, who declined to mention his name, said, “Most of the small generators you see around, which are what most residents can afford, are only good for a few hours, and they can’t be used for ironing. These generators cannot be used the way you would use normal public power. In fact, the situation is affecting businesses in this area such that people take jobs, especially ones involving welding, to other places because they believe welding done with normal electricity is more quality than one done with generator power. Many tenants have moved to other places and prospective tenants are thinking twice before coming here because they can’t cope. It is not advisable to subscribe to these cable television services around here because there is a limit to which you can rely on generators to enjoy them. Social life around here has been rendered virtually non-existent.”
A commercial printer, who also preferred anonymity, described the power problem being encountered in the area as a reflection of the general social disease in the country. 
“You only get to thank God for your life, there is nothing much to celebrate in this country. I don’t know what our problem is, because abroad, they hardly use generators. As for my own business, I heaved a sigh of relief after I opened another shop in Oke-Ado. I have converted this place to business office where I only meet customers. I have not totally escaped the situation because I live here. I feel the effect most in the night when heat becomes unbearable at times like this. Before we go to bed, we have made it a habit to throw so much water on ourselves to sustain us through the night because you can’t use air conditioner or fan – no electricity,” he said.
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