Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
”If darkness were a natural resource, Bayelsa would be one of the richest states in Nigeria” Mr Welson a frustrated resident of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital wrote to lament the epileptic power supply in the state. Welson is not alone. Residents of Yenagoa agonise daily on the poor power situation in the state. It has crippled businesses; forced some to relocate out of the state; threatens night life and makes crime and criminality thrive. For those who live in Bayelsa between 1999 and 2005 and enjoyed steady power supply through the state owned Gas Turbine at Imiringi, the present situation is unbearable.
In October 2006, residents of Yenagoa and Bayelsans across the eight local government areas celebrated the Bayelsa State connection to the national grid which many expected to boost electricity supply by complimenting the operations of the Gas Turbine for residents to enjoy regular power supply. The reverse has however been the case. Not only has the Gas Turbine gone comatose, the connection of the national grid which is only to Yenagoa has been a curse. To make matters worse residents believe the privatisation of the power sector with the coming of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) has been a punishment for the people of the state. Residents pay light bills and yet they don’t have electricity.
Unable to bear the pains and general complaints by the people, the umbrella body of Ijaw Youths the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) gave a 30-days ultimatum to PHEDC to fix the power situation in state or face the wrath of the IYC. It held a closed door meeting and extracted a committed of guaranteed 6 hours in the day and night from officials of PHEDC until it solves its distributions problems. However at the expiration of the 30days ultimatum and failure to provide the 6 hours light it promised, IYC led by Chairman Central zone, Kennedy Olorogun staged a peaceful protest against what they called the “wickedness” of PHEDC officials. Armed with placards with inscriptions such as “We want freedom from darkness” “ PHEDC is exploitative” “ Agidi must go” “ We say no to rationing of light, give us steady power supply” the youths marched from Ekeki Motor Park to PHEDC office at Biogbolo according to the IYC is the last warning to PHEDC.
“Ijaw youths under the leadership of the IYC are saying we are tired of the epileptic power supply in Yenagoa. Today we agreed that it is going to be a peaceful protest this is why this PHEDC building has not been brought down” says Joshua Amangala who was nominated to speak for the IYC. “However our message is very clear, if PHEDC refuse to give Yenagoa residents steady power supply next time we are coming here, they should better pack their loads and leave Bayelsa. PHEDC is not only wicked but enemy of Ijaw people. Enough is enough. It is time for them to sit up or pack their load and leave” he added.
Another speaker, Mr Kevin accused officials of PHEDC of using energy breakers “to exploit and dupe us”. “PHEDC should give Bayelsans the quota of power that is being allotted to Bayelsa. PHEDC are cheating Bayelsans by selling the quota of light meant for Bayelsa to other places.” According to him PHEDC are doing nothing for Bayelsans because the transformers and wires are bought by the people while PHEDC only do the connection. “PHEDC should no longer come close to our transformers and wires it does not belong to them. If you feel people are not paying bills please bring your records. There is also the case of over bloated light bills for places that do not have light. PHEDC should sit or leave Bayelsa.”
Pastor Miebi Bribena who heard about the protest on face book and came to show solidarity says his heart breaks anything he comes to Bayelsa and see that the “ are in perpetual darkness”. “Take a stroll in the night and you would see all the streets and houses are in darkness. I am in solidarity and commend the agitation of the youths under the leadership of Kennedy Olorogun. It is shame that our elders cannot come out and support the youths on such an important issue” he said.
Bribena stated that officials of PHEDC have exhibited insensitivity towards the unbearable conditions Bayelsans are made to live without power. He said “I want to state here that the problem of PHEDC is not power generation or transmission lines. The problem is their wickedness, callousness, greed and exploitation. That rotation of light must stop today. The selling of quota of megawatts of electricity to other places must stop today. The manipulation of the transformers must stop today. This is a warning to officials of PHEDC that the next protest would not be like this.”
Olorogun who recalled the several meetings IYC has had with PHEDC said the next time the youths would visit the PHEDC, the officials should be ready to have it rough. Hear him “I told officials of PHEDC in a closed door meeting that it is either they are wicked or someone is paying them to punish Bayelsans. It could also be that they are incompetent. This is because in Rivers, Akwa- Ibom, Cross Rivers there is steady light. That politics must stop today. In the next few weeks if you don’t change, we would come when we know you people are here and come and do what we have to do. This is the last warning of playing politics. If we leave here today and there is no positive improvement, we would send you people out of Bayelsa and stay in darkness because already you are putting us in darkness. The politics of light distribution must stop. This state is too small. We would get the right things done by any means necessary”
Mr Agidi who heads PHEDC in Bayelsa State denied all allegations levelled against the company noting that refusal to pay light bills by people is one of the problems the office is having. According to him there are genuine problems affecting power distribution in Bayelsa State because of lack of it in some feeders and they are working assiduously to solve it. He pleaded for patience and asked IYC to nominate two members that would be with the office to know progress being done.
An activist and socio-political commentator, Mr Kizito Andah believes IYC should be more strategic in its engagement over the power situation. The first step he said is for the IYC to mobilize and ensure that illegal activities of PHEDC are stopped. “As an initial step, I would ask they mobilize communities to scrap light communities, that illegal contraption set up to aid PHEDC to collect revenues they have not earned. PHEDC officials should collect their fees themselves or give us meters”
He continued “IYC should be sensitizing Bayelsans on the need not to pay for light not provided. Billing by transformer should also stop. Bayelsa is the only place I know where this happens. Simple apps exists that track power supply in any household. We can make our case with facts and figures”
Another commentator, Mr Wisdom Ikuli expressed regret that the Bayelsa State Government has not taken adequate steps to bring back the Gas Turbine after the initial repairs.
“If the government is serious or sensitive to the plights of Bayelsans, it would have repaired the Gas Turbine it deliberately destroyed. It would have also partnered with the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) to procure Pre-paid Meters which it would have installed in every household. PHEDC is maltreating Bayelsans that way because it is using Estimated Billing System where Bayelsans are forced to pay for darkness. They pay for electricity they don’t ever use.”