Amid worsening electricity supply in the country, more and more electricity consumers have had their poor power supply woes compounded by cable thieves who have continued to inflict more pains on them in many communities in Lagos.
For over two months, the residents of Popoola/Toluwalase community in Abule Egba area of Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State have relentlessly battled to get electric power supply restored without success.
The community’s slip into darkness began in March when the residents of the area woke up to discover that two of the cables of the transformer that powers the community had been stolen. The development threw a section of the community into blackout. While efforts were on to get the problem fixed, the remaining two cables of the transformer were stolen few weeks later. Since then, efforts to put the transformer back to work have proved futile as officials of the undertaking unit of Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (Ikeja DisCo or IKEDC) managing the community’s electricity supply has been playing ‘hide and seek’ game over the people’s plight.
Residents of Popoola/Toluwalase are not the only ones affected by activities of vandals who target electrical installations. At Gbadabiu in Abule Okoro, a community in Alakuko area of Ifako Ijaiye Local Government Area of Lagos, residents are also lamenting over the vandalism and theft of their transformer cables, which threw residents of a section of the community into blackout for several weeks.
The situation appears worse in Aiyetobi area of Alagbado community in Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area, where Sunday Sun gathered that residents of the affected area are yet to get electricity supply in the last four months owing to similar development.
Residents of Arileshola and Association both in Captain area of Abule Egba, Lagos are equally still lamenting their woes over the theft of the cables of the transformers, which supply electricity to both communities.
Although vandalism and stealing of transformer cables are not new developments, the frequency of their occurrence in the recent months, especially when power supply is believed to have nosedived inexplicably has continued to elicit controversy between residents and staff of electricity distribution companies, who electricity consumers often point fingers at for the theft of the stolen cables.
Residents in the affected communities pointed out that it is very risky to tamper with electrical installations because of the possibility of getting electrocuted.
An aggrieved resident at Abule Okoro, Mustapha, one of the affected areas said: “Those who stole the cables could not have done it without the connivance of some bad eggs among the staff of power distribution companies. You don’t go near the transformer even when you know there is no power supply because you can’t predict when it will be restored except you have an assurance from somebody that power won’t be restored in the process of carrying out the act.”
Distribution companies on the other hand are quick to shift the blame on the affected communities. For instance, residents at Toluwalase community told Sunday Sun that the undertaking unit overseeing the area blamed the community for not erecting a fence round their transformer.
“I don’t think that is the main problem. The fact is that even with fence round the transformer those stealing them won’t be deterred. The only way to safeguard it is to ensure regular power supply. No thief will go near them when there is regular power supply,” a community leader at Toluwalase community, who pleaded anonymity, stated.
Yet, there are those who hold the opinion that power distribution companies might be using cases of stolen cables as alibi to conceal their inefficiency.
Indeed, transformer cable thieves have enough motivations for their criminal act. Findings by Sunday Sun showed that a meter of 25mm 4 core armoured cable currently sells for N8,000. The possibility of getting a 20-meter length of cable from a transformer is no doubt a huge lure. Apart from this, Sunday Sun learnt that there are ready markets for stolen cables in the country.
A suspected cable thief arrested in Lagos a fortnight ago attested to this in his confession. The suspect, Peter Abah, was arrested for allegedly stealing high-tension cables connected to transformers.
Abah, who was said to have been released from the Badagry Prison in December 2018 after serving a jail term for stealing solar panels, was arrested by operatives of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) along the Mobolaji Johnson Road, Ikeja, with rolls of cables, suspected to have been stolen, in his possession.
He reportedly confessed to the police that most high-tension cables stolen in Lagos were sold at the popular Alaba International Market. “There are buyers who are always waiting to buy electrical parts from us. They also buy parts vandalized from transformers,” he was quoted to have said in his confessional statement.
Worried by the spate of vandalism and theft of public power components, the Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy of the eighth National Assembly recommended a jail term of 10 years without an option of fine, for anyone found guilty to have conspired, counselled or accepted to procure or to hold in custody, stolen parts, components or pieces of a public power equipment.
According to the committee, which was chaired by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, the power equipment include electric cable, transformer, high-tension wire, power console, electrical insulators, among others. The committee also recommended that any person who willfully and unlawfully destroys, damages or removes any electricity distribution line or anything connected therewith, or otherwise prevents or obstructs the distribution of electricity through the distribution, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N5 million or imprisonment for a term of at least five years or both. The committee also recommended a term of seven years imprisonment or a fine of N2 million or both when one connects or disconnects electric wire to, either the electricity meter or to the public power supply lines.
Meanwhile, residents of the communities affected by the recent spate of cable theft have continued to lament over the failure of the concerned undertaking units of IKEDC to fix their transformers.
Some residents of the communities claimed they were asked to pay varying amounts of money before their transformer could be fixed. “In our area, we were asked to contribute N300,000 before our transformer could be repaired. Initially, when the problem occurred we were told to offset at least 80 per cent of our debt which majority of the residents of the area did, to the best of my knowledge. It was after this that we were asked to contribute another N300,000. But when I discovered that the problem was being prolonged unnecessary, I decided to call one of their business development managers and he told me that they did not request money from anybody. He said that the unit had enough cables in their office and could not have demanded money from the residents before another cable could be brought. But when I sought to know why the transformer had not been fixed almost two months later, he claimed that some residents were yet to settle their outstanding electricity bills for the months of February and March,” a resident, Mr. Adeyemi, told Sunday Sun correspondent.
When the Head of Corporate Communications, Ikeja Electric Plc, Felix Ofulue, was contacted to ascertain if the affected communities have to pay to have their transformers fixed, he said: “The residents don’t need to pay to get their transformers fixed when they are vandalized or their cables get stolen. But in situations where it has become a constant problem, they may have to pay because there must be some sense of responsibility from the community.
“When it becomes a frequent occurrence then it becomes suspicious; the community has to bear part of the responsibility. They may have to pay for certain things.”
Asked why customers are compelled to pay part of their outstanding debts before their faulty transformers could be fixed, Ofulue said: “It is also part of the policy to request the community to pay one or two months of their outstanding debts, but that does not have anything to do with the costs of the repairs. It is a policy that allows us to negotiate with the community to get part of our money, which ordinarily they would not pay you anyway. Don’t forget that the money used in fixing the faulty transformer comes from other communities so your community has to remit what you are owing.”