From: Tony Osauzo, Benin-City
A coalition of Civil Society groups on the platform of Edo State Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) appears set for showdown with the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) over alleged assault on one Innocent Okpara on the instruction of an expatriate working with the firm.
The group, in a statement in Benin-City, signed by its spokesman, Comrade Osazee Edigin said: “Two weeks ago, the BEDC disconnected a Nigerian by the name Innocent Okpara and a White Man working with them ordered military personnel attached to him to assault him because he requested to have hold of his cables.
“We received his petition in our office, and the appropriate authorities were contacted to get justice for him.
“Afterwards, he made some payments of the money he was alleged to be owing as he had contested the outrageous estimated bills served him by BEDC.
“Having collected his money and he expects to be connected, BEDC gave him condition to withdraw all his petitions against them and the White Man before reconnection.
“We have viewed this as intimidation, misuse of opportunity and oppressive which must not be allowed to stand.
“To this end, we are calling on all our gallant comrades far and near because BEDC should be made to know that power belongs to the people”, the CSOs threatened.
But in a swift reaction, BEDC in a statement, said there was no iota of truth in the alleged molestation of a civil society member by BEDC officials or its United States Agency for International Development (USAID) partners.
The BEDC statement, signed by Head, Corporate Affairs of BEDC, Adekunle Tayo explained that “What transpired was that the civil society member in question (Innocent Okpara) a customer under our Ekae service unit under Etete Business Unit of Benin, Edo State, had been disconnected for owing electricity bills to the tune of over N80,000 for 10 times yet he kept reconnecting himself illegally to the network without sorting out the debt.
“He had prevented the service unit officials from disconnecting him either at the pole or at the transformer until that fateful day when the Enforcement Team led by one of the USAID partners went to his location and discovered that he was illegally connected. The officials promptly disconnected him without resistance only for him to later complain that his service wire should be returned to him and that the white men (USAID officials) had no right to do so. The service wire is usually taken away for safety reason and to serve as deterrent and is a policy position of BEDC.
“BEDC had always maintained that the so-called white men are expatriates working under the USAID partnership agreement with Federal government under the President Obama Power Africa Initiative geared towards improving electricity management in Nigeria through the technical expertise of the Tetratech staffers.
“BEDC, Eko disco and Abuja Disco are the few discos privileged to have the men in their network. Their operations are based on the agreement between Federal Government of Nigeria and the United States government. The security arrangement for the personnel was made from Abuja against the backdrop of high security concerns in the Nigerian environment and not by BEDC.
“The civil society members are fond of not paying for electricity bills and hide under flimsy excuses, blackmail and outright peddling of false information to whip up public sentiments against BEDC in Edo state”, the statement alleged.