Olamide Babatunde, Lagos
Residents of Enilolobo in Ifo Ogun State, on the fringes of Iju-Ishaga bordering Lagos State, have petitioned the Minister of Power, Saleh Mamman, over what they have described as maltreatment ceaselessly meted out to them by the Abule-Egba Business Unit of power distributor Ikeja Electric.
The residents have been in a long-drawn battle with Ikeja Electric over the refusal of the power company to reconnect them to the national grid after disconnecting them for over three weeks without notice.
They were previously disconnected for three months from June through August earlier in the year.
According to the residents complaints, when power was finally restored to the community in September, Ikeja Electric had promised that they will not be billed for the months they were not supplied.
“But to our dismay, when they sent us the September bill, not only did they add the months they disconnected us, but [they] had inflated the bills,” Ismail Balogun, Chairman of the area’s youth forum said.
The face-off, which has lingered for over three years, started when the residents decried Ikeja Electric’s high billing, demanding that they be metered in compliance with government regulations.
But according to the residents, instead of providing them with the meters, Ikeja Electric resorted to disconnecting them from the national grid without prior notice as required by the regulations by National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
“We were due for load shedding. They came with the pretext that they were shedding load and told us that there is a shortage of oil in the transformer and disconnected us. It has been over three weeks now and they have neither come to restore power nor fixed the oil they said is short in the transformer,” Balogun said.
In response to the allegations by the community, the Business Manager, Abule-Egba Unit, Oloyede Adelakun, told our reporter that the community has refused to pay their bills, and so he ordered that they be disconnected from the national grid.
“About four months ago, I had a meeting with them and they made some requests that I have to carry out some repairs on their network before they can make payments. Right there in their presence, I deployed about 400mm of aluminum conductors to make the necessary repairs and asked them to restore the supply,” he explained.
“For about one or two months, my undertaking manager there called me and said each time they go for cash drive in the area, the community always sends them away. I went there and had another meeting with the community after the first one. They complained about a new transformer someone in the community provided. The person provided the transformer without accessories. They said we should come and provide the accessories. I told them that the accessories you asked us to provide are more expensive than the transformer and that the person who donated the transformer did not come to us to get our approval so that we can give them the specification. I promised to present it before management,” Adelakun said.
But the community has however refuted Adelakun account, saying that they have provided all the accessories required to power the new transformer.
A visit to the site of new transformer confirmed the community’s account, having observed that installation on the new transformer is about 90 percent complete.
“We brought Adelakun to the transformer. Immediately he came, he condemned all the accessories on the transformer and demanded that we give him about N2 million to buy new accessories for the transformer,” residents of the community said.
On the issue of nonpayment of bills by the community, the residents provided our reporter with proof of payment of September bills, paid after power supply was restored the same month.
This was further corroborated by the Marker of the area, Adejumo, who said 90 percent of the residents have paid their September bills.
They said they had petitioned the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Ikeja Forum, but nothing has so far come of it.
“The best we could get from the NERC was that the Forum Secretary, Lola Olanihun, promised to call Adelakun,” one of the residents said.
The community showed our reporter a letter purportedly written by Adelakun to the NERC stating that all the issues in their petitions have been addressed. The letter has just one signatory – Adelakun.
The residents say they have no knowledge of the letter, neither are they signatory to the letter Adelakun sent to the NERC.
“This proves to us that NERC and Ikeja Electric are working hand in glove to frustrate our efforts in getting a fair hearing. How can an arbiter like NERC, which is supposed to be neutral, have connection with the same people we came to them to be rescued from?”
Calls to the NERC Ikeja office were neither returned, nor did they reply to an SMS sent to their mobile line.
The community threatened to seek legal redress and had their lawyer write to both Ikeja Electric and the NERC, giving both a 14-day notice to respond to their request or face legal action.
Ikeja Electric did not reply to the letter, while the NERC refused to acknowledge the letter by their legal representative.
Alexander Sebastian, ESQ, of law firm Blue Diamond, representing the community, said not only has Ikeja Electric flouted regulations by the NERC but they have colluded with them to frustrate their clients.
“One would have expected that, judging from the urgency of the letters and the issues raised, Ikeja Electric or its business unit would have responded in writing stating their reasons, if any, and their interest in resolving the issues raised, only for them to totally disconnect our clients from the transformer in reaction to our letter, even after receiving payment for September billing from our clients based on our directives. This can only be explained as a total abuse of power by the Business Manager Mr Adelakun,” Sebastian said.
“We also wrote to the NERC Ikeja and they refused to acknowledge our letters, for reasons we don’t find tenable. The NERC is a public office and I wonder why a public office should reject correspondences and letters adequately addressed to them,” he said.
Our reporter had called Adelakun, asking that power be restored to the community, but the community rejected the offer, saying that they would not allow power to be restored until Adelakun promises that the three weeks they have been in darkness and the previous three months would be totally wiped from their bills.
“We don’t trust him. He has made several promises in the past which he did not keep. Unless he commits in writing that he would not bill us for these days, and until he meets our demands, we won’t allow him to power the transformer,” Balogun said.
“We are ready to continue in darkness until we get justice from either the NERC or from the court. We are ready to embark on street protests to their Abule-Egba Business Unit and their head office at Ikeja. We must get justice,” he said.