By Obed Mpiegbulam
For long, electricity consumers in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, have been complaining bitterly of exorbitant bills that the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED) has been unleashing on them.
They said their agony in the hands of the electricity distribution company has become unbearable, which forced them to cry out for urgent intervention by concerned authorities.
The affected people, under the umbrella of Concerned Electricity Consumers in Rivers State, are lamenting what they called epileptic power supply and, sometimes, total blackout for weeks or months, yet they are handed high bills at the end of every month. The people argued that collecting money for service not provided was a criminal offence.
With incessant power interruption, the residents have cried out that the economic and social activities in the town have remained at the lowest ebb for a very long time, hence, the situation needs to be salvaged urgently.
In fact, the people stated that what the power distribution firm has been doing for years was distributing ‘darkness’ to homes and business centres, yet, billing poor consumers at the end of the day. They have vowed this would not be allowed to continue in Port Harcourt and its environs.
The aggrieved residents of the oil-rich city claimed that PHED has refused to distribute the free prepaid metres paid for by the Federal Government. According to them, rather, the company has embarked on frequent estimated billing, which they said has skyrocketed beyond the reach of the average consumer.
Some of them also claimed that, to worsen the situation, PHED, after distributing the ridiculous bills, in a few days, would send its officials to disconnect their power supply.
“The most challenging issue is the rationing of light (power) in the city of Port Harcourt. This regular practice puts the city into darkness, and many a time people complain of their street or road being left in perpetual in darkness. The terrible thing is that whether there is light or not, you must pay the outrageous bills.
“It is frustrating because we cannot continue to be taken for fools. There have been murmurings and sometimes open confrontations with some the officials when they were about disconnecting the power supply source,” an aggrieved consumer, Ekene Udoji, said.
So, as the momentum gathered, the consumers decided recently to march to the PHED’s headquarters on Moscow Road, Port Harcourt. In one voice, they went all out there to pour out their minds. Without mincing words, they registered their grievances and the message was loud enough for their host to easily comprehend.
Just before they proceeded to the PHED’s office, the angry consumers, had on that fateful day converged on Hospital Road, wooing as many people as possible to join the peaceful demonstration. On their way, many more consumers heeded and joined the protest.
As they sang and danced to different solidarity songs, they displayed banners and placards with different inscriptions.
Some of the inscriptions read: “Treat your customers fairly and stop over-billing your consumers”; “We demand justice”; “No illegal disconnection”; “No estimated billing”; “Give me my metre”; “Stop this embarrassment”; “We have suffered enough, enough is enough”.
Arriving at their destination, they blocked the main gate of the company and raised their voices, chanting more solidarity songs such as “Freedom comes by struggle by struggle”; “PHED pack and go”; “What do we want? PHED pack and go”; “Enough is enough”.
In a sort of rage, Enetaa Georgewill, grabbed the microphone and mounted the stage to draw the attention of the public to why they were there.
He announced to anyone who cared to listen that, when the prepaid metres were not there, PHED embarked on estimating billing, which he described as daylight robbery of the people of their hard-earned money.
According to him, the company needed to act fast in the interest of the people, as well as its own interests, warning that the demonstration was the first of series of actions the consumers intend against PHED, except it repents.
“Our people were shocked this month when they received bill of N15,000, and it could increase to N20,000 by next month, without any increase in consumption. We understand that they now have targets like they do in the banking sector. They have forgotten that when you push the people to the wall, they will revolt just like what happened across the country during #EndSARS protest.
“We reliably gathered that the Federal Government paid for millions prepaid metres to be distributed freely across Nigeria. When we came for a meeting here with the commissioner for power, civil societies, traditional rulers, and religious leaders, a vital question was asked. The question was “is the prepaid metre free? The MD of PHED company said, ‘I cannot answer the question now.’
“When the Barrister Aturu committee was set up to review PHED’s activities, the committee ordered PHED to refund the public what it had overcharged us, which they haven’t done till date. We are shouting and asking why they are robbing us and killing us slowly.
“The committee was later jettisoned. This is madness, robbery and wickedness of the highest order. They should pack and go; they are worse than when they were bearing NEPA,” he said.
Earlier, while they were on Hospital Road, one of the protesters, Andy Akpotibe, told Daily Sun that their main objective of besieging the PHED premises was to drum their frustration into the company’s ears, that enough was enough.
“It is funny that most of the officials carry out their duties with highhandedness, which we understand to be contrary to the rules guiding PHED. Many of them just climb the electricity poles and disconnect the wires without explanation.
“They have been punishing and fleecing us for too long. We have never enjoyed power supply in this part of the city. I still don’t understand why they bill a one room-and-parlour self-contained apartment N65,000 per month. Then the company bills one-bedroom apartment N80,000.
“Even the infrastructures they are disconnecting were not theirs in the first place. In most cases, the communities contribute money to purchase their poles, transformers, cables and other electrical installations. Without any rebate, the power distribution company immediately claims ownership as soon as the community is connected to the national grid.
“Whenever there is a major fault in the transformer, the consumers levy themselves to fix it. It is sad, but things must not continue in this manner.
“Teachers in universities are oppressing their students, the marketwomen are fleecing customers, and the government is not helping matters. Everything is messed up in this country,” Akpotibe said.
He urged government and relevant agencies to call PHED to order so that sanity and progress would be restored in the affected areas.