For five months now, residents of Itaji, a community off Haruna Street, in the Ogba area of Lagos State, have been living in darkness.
Officials of the Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC) have removed the transformer feeding the community, for the simple reason that some consumers refused to pay the bloated estimated bills.
The result is that consumers who are lucky to have the prepaid meters, as well as those who paid the estimated bills, are living in darkness. Artisans who cannot afford alternative power supply have closed shop, even as the noise, smoke and fumes from all category of generators continually rend the air.
Chairman of the Community Development Association (CDA), Adeniyi Adigun, said the problem started in August 2019 when the transformer in the area developed some fault.
He said that rather than fix the faulty transformer, IKEDC officials removed it to their office and then sent the people a list of customers who they said were indebted to the electricity company.
According to Adigun, IKEDC said the only condition for returning the transformer was that all debt owed the electric company must be paid.
“Instead of fixing the faulty transformer, Ikeja Electric officials in the Idiagbon and Oregun undertaking offices removed the transformer and took it to their office as if they wanted to work on it. They now gave us a list of the people owing them and said until every one of them paid their debt they would not return our transformer,” Adigun said.
The CDA chairman lamented that residents who have the prepaid meters are being made to suffer for the debt owed by others. He appealed to IKEDC to consider their plight.
Adigun said the actions of IKEDC officials in removing the transformer amounted to injustice and punishing those with prepaid meters for sins they did not commit.
To ensure they did not suffer much, stakeholders in the community mobilised the youth and went on a door –to-door debt recovery drive to force debtors to pay up.
The CDA chairman said that their efforts have yielded more than 70 per cent compliance but that IKEDC insists on 100 per cent before the community will be re-connected.
But IKEDC has declared that the company’s actions were justified. The firm said the money from another community should and would not be used to service the people of Itaji.
According to the head of corporate communications, IKEDC, Felix Ofulue, it is very straightforward.
“How can I use the money from another community to fix your transformer when you are owing money? Pay what you owe so we can use it to fix your transformer as well. I’ll be robbing Peter to pay Paul if I fix your transformer when you are owing. That’s what it means,” he said.
IKEDC said that while they, as a firm, sympathise with customers with prepaid meters, there was nothing they could do, as they have an “obligation to remit funds to the value chain.”
He said: “We owe an obligation to remit funds to the value chain. And the funds we remit to the value chain are the collections we get from the people that use our product. So, it is an obligation. You are compelled to pay for that product that you use.
“In cases where you do not pay for our product, we come into negotiation. But you will agree with me as I am speaking with you that one of the biggest challenges that we have in this sector is apathy to payment. People don’t want to pay their bills.
“Responsible, paying communities are paying their money and I am using what they are paying to fix your transformer and you are staying aloof. You don’t want to do anything. How does it feel? Does it make any sense to you as a reporter who is asking me?” he said.
The community has in the meantime sent a protest letter to IKEDC through its Oregun office.
“We noticed that the transformer serving our community (Itaji, Aganga, Folade and part of Haruna Street) had been removed for repairs since October 7, 2019, and has not been returned since.
“This has plunged the community into darkness and as a result, the security situation in the community has gone worse. It has also affected the commercial activities of the business in the environment. It has affected the financial capability of the people to pay their outstanding bills.”
The letter was jointly signed by Adigun and Ezekiel Asogba, the Community Assistant Secretary.