The Ondo South Senatorial district is the goose that lays the proverbial golden eggs in Ondo State as it is the only oil-producing area in the state. However, for over 10 years, communities in the zone had been without electricity. BABATOPE OKEOWO reports that the communities took the law into their hands when efforts to make electricity distribution company restore light failed
Last week, youths drawn from the six Local Governments Area of Ondo South Senatorial district of Ondo State, who were protesting power outage in the district blocked the ever busy Benin/Ore road in Odigbo Local Government and prevented the free flow of traffic for over two hours.
The protest of last week was not the first of its kind as several groups under different auspices in the district have protested the disconnection of their electricity from the national grid for 10 years. In fact, political office holders, musicians, and traditional institutions have at different times, expressed their displeasure over the state of electricity in the district.
The Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), had disconnected the entire district over the debt owed the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). The debt, according to a source in the management of the BEDC is about N1 billion. The major disagreement between the company and the communities is either to pay part of the debt before the electricity could be restored or to restore and the debt paid later. As a result of the disagreement, a group Bring-Back-Our-Light movement was formed in the senatorial district.
In fact, a popular musician in the zone; Demola Suzy, sang a song where he depicted the agony of the people of the district. Giving details of effort made by the political class to restore electricity into the district, a member of House of Representatives representing Irele/Okitipupa Federal constituency, Prince Mike Omogbehin, said a joint motion was moved by the three House of Representatives members on the floor of the National Assembly. Other members included Kolade Akinjo; Ilaje/Eseodo and Mayowa Akinfolarin representing Odigbo/Ileoluji/Okeigbo federal constituencies.
According to him, a committee was set up by the National Assembly on the situation in the district. The Committee, he said, directed the electricity distribution company to reconnect light to the communities.
When the effort did not yield the result, Omogbehin said he went with five monarchs from the district, including Jegun of Idepe, Ahaba of Ijagba, Abodi of Ikale, former Speaker, Jumoke Akindele and Hon Abayomi Sheba to the Minister of Power, Lands and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fasola SAN.
Omogbehin said the Minister who promised to look at the agitation of the district, came to the state and directed that the BEDC should reconnect the communities.
The Minister, who was responding to the demand of the communities, directed the stepping down of electricity from the Omotoso Power Plant for the district. Also, he used his constituency project to install 360 high tension poles to replace the bad electricity poles.
Besides, he said the Bring-Back-Our-Light Movement went to the Nigerian Electricity Regulation Commission (NERC) and the Niger Delta Power Holding over the disconnection of the electricity and the need to restore the light. He said it was at the point that the BEDC said the communities could not be reconnected because of the humongous debt of over N800 million.
However, he said the communities disagreed with the electricity distribution company because some of them have been without electricity for years before the commercialization of electricity in the country.
It was during the checking of records that it was discovered that estimated bill of some communities in Ogun State was included in the debt profile of the Ondo South Senatorial district.
Omogbehin said it was then it was agreed that the total amount owed the BEDC by the communities was N100million. Consequently, NERC directed the reconnection of the communities. The regulatory agency directed BEDC to reconnect the communities before it started to talk about dues.
Since the whole senatorial district could not suffer for the sins of debtors, the NERC said the district should be reconnected to the national grid.
It was when the efforts failed that the youths from Irele, Okitipupa, Ilaje, Ese Odo, Odigbo and part of Ile-Oluji/Okeigbo Local Government converged on the ever busy road to demand the reconnection of the electricity.
The angry youths under the umbrella of the United Action Democracy (UAD), who had gathered as early as 7.am blocked all the routes that led to the Benin-Ore-Lagos road and disallowed movement of transporters and passengers.
Armed with placard bearing various inscriptions, such as “Restore Light Back To Ondo South, “Revoke BEDC License”, “10 Years Darkness, Wetin We Do”, “ODSG Has Failed Us”, “This Total Blackout Crumbled Our Business” the youth said that the government has failed them as the total blackout in the area has caused them more harm in their day to day activities. They accused the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) of plunging the communities into total darkness, which has empowered many unemployed youths to take into crime in the area.
Led by Kunle Ajayi, the group said they shut down the busy express road after all dialogue with the government had failed to restore electricity to all the affected areas of the southern communities.
Ajayi, who accused the officials of the BEDC of deliberately cutting off the district from the National Grid, said there was the need to revoke the license of the power company with its overbilling estimates on the consumers.
He said that the power outage has further paralyzed major business activities in the southern areas of the state, mostly for those who needed electricity to power their trades.
According to him, the problem of the non-payment of electricity bill, which had been the excuse of the electricity company, should not be vested on consumers who had been consistent with the payment of their electricity bills.
Ajayi said the government had severally prevented the youths from speaking up against the perpetual darkness in the southern area of the state.
His words: “For over 10 years, our people have been living in a perpetual darkness and this government has kept mute over our plight despite many pleas. In fact, the current government in Ondo State under Governor Rotimi Akeredolu used this epileptic power supply for its campaign and nothing has since been done till today.”
Before the protest of UAD, a group under the aegis of Ilaje Advancement Forum (IAF), had mobilized themselves at Igbokoda, the headquarters of Ilaje Local Government Area of the state, chanting “Ko si na, ko si bo,” meaning, “No light, no election.”
Armed with placards which read: “Ilaje: enough is enough;” What offence has Ilaje people committed;” “Ondo State government has failed us;” OSOPADEC is fake,” NDDC is fraud;” The Federal Government has failed in service delivery,” “Our leaders are rogues;” “No light, no election” the Co-convener of the Forum, Tokunbo Ehinmowo, decried the deplorable state of the riverine area, declaring that the Ilaje nation, despite its huge natural resources and the contribution to the country’s GDP, is suffering neglect.
Ehinmowo disclosed that IAF is a mass movement of the Ilaje people to bring about progressive change in Ilaje land, saying unavailability of the power supply has plunged the people into untold hardship for the past 10 years.
According to her:”The movement is purposed at resisting all retrogressive changes that are socio-politically and economically created as a result of bad leadership. Ilaje people must intervene in the process of Ilaje development, rather than remain spectators or passive participants in the ebb and failure of governance in the state.”
She lamented that there was the dearth of industries, factories, the prevalence of infrastructural decay, environmental degradation, poor empowerment programmes, attributing it to the failure of their representatives at all levels.
Her words: “For the past 10 years, there has not been electricity in all our communities; and this has meted untold hardship on us. The artisans can no longer work, businesses are collapsing and life has become so unbearable for us.”
But the government, through its Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr Segun Ajiboye, who said the state government has no blame in the disconnection of the communities, said electricity was strictly on the exclusive list of the Federal Government.
Despite this, Ajiboye said the state government has met with the management of BEDC led by Mrs Funke Osibodu and extracted a commitment from them on the provision of light to the communities.
The government said the management of BEDC should be blamed for the delay in restoring light to the people of the senatorial district.
Ajiboye said the governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, has also lobbied the Federal Government through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and awarded a contract for the construction of transmission line from Omotoso to Ode Erinje in Okitipupa Local Government. He said the Federal Government has paid N600 million to the contractors for the transmission lines.
Similarly, the Chairman of the State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (OSOPADEC), Hon Gbenga Edema, sympathized with the people of the area, assuring them that efforts were on top gear by the state government to ensure that there was a restoration of electricity in the whole South Senatorial District.
He, however, noted that the menace had been lingering in the area for over a decade, revealing that he had been in the forefront of the vanguard to decry the outright marginalization of the riverine communities.
His words: “I sympathize with them and also feel their pains because an idle hand is the devil’s workshop. We agree that electricity is the key to development. A lot of our youths, who have trained as artisans need energy. The government of the day has been trying so hard to see how it can restore electricity in that area.”
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