Ejiofor Alike writes on the need for collaborative efforts among communities, government, security agencies and power companies to tackle vandalism of installations which has plunged many high risk communities into darkness
In spite of the current low level of power generation caused by vandalism of gas pipelines , which account for low supply to customers, the distribution companies are also facing perhaps, the most pervasive and worrisome challenge of vandalism of power installations, thus worsening the woes of the consumers.
Electricity firms, especially the transmission and distribution companies are having sleepless nights over the activities of vandals who destroy, cannibalise or steal power accessories such as transformers, cables, and others to resell for pecuniary benefits.
Power consumers watch, sometimes in utter bewilderment, as these vandals shortchange electricity transmission and distribution companies by feasting on their installations and vandalise equipment running into millions of naira.
This dastardly act has plunged many towns and communities into darkness for several months.
This inglorious act is not palatable for power consumers, who wait, sometimes endlessly, for the vandalised cables to be replaced either by voluntary contributions by the communities or the Discos.
The menace is equally burdensome for the Discos which have to incur huge expenses on the replacement of the damaged equipment or accessories in an era where they are grappling with low revenue collection arising from poor generation from the grid and the reluctance of equally aggrieved customers to pay electricity bills.
For instance, the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) recently raised the alarm over the increasing rate of vandalism of its equipment in the Abuja City centre, mostly in Wuse District and other parts of the city centre within one week.
The company said no fewer than 10 different power system equipment were vandalised and in most cases carted away by unknown persons in Wuse area under its FCT Central Region.
It listed some of the wrecked power systems to include a feeder pillar which was vandalised and taken away from No.2, Bangui Street, Wuse II; the low voltage side of two transformers which were vandalised along Monrovia Street, also in Wuse II, with all the bus bars, feeder pillar units and low voltage cables taken away by the vandals.
The Enugu Electricity Distribution Company, (EEDC) had also decried the activities of vandals, stressing that it recorded about 50 cases of vandalism in 2015 leading to loss of hundreds of millions of naira worth of equipment.
According to the company, several arrests were made including the arrests of Oluebube Njoku, Osita Ezeugo, and Ndidi Ohanwe.
Others include:Mr. Cyprian Nwachukwu for vandalising armoured cables in Amakpu Agbani, Nkanu West, Enugu State; Mr. Kingsley Precious for vandalism at Orlu Stadium; Ifeanyi Okoye for vandalising transformer at Eke Obinagu, Emene, Enugu State; Mr. Uduma Ama-Iro for the same offence in Abaomege, Ebonyi State; and Ifeanyichukwu Okoye, who was apprehended in Ndieze Inyimagu Loko, Izzi, Ebonyi State for transformer vandalism.
The company also announced the arrests of Mr. Ifeanyi Nwankwo at New Market Road, Enugu, Enugu State, while Aminu Musa, Musa Yusuf, Aminu Yakubu and Ani Sunday were arrested at Independence Layout, Enugu, Enugu State for vandalising armoured cables.
Also Salif Samaila and Muhktari Salihu were arrested at Ariaria, Aba District, Abia State; Mr. Friday Ogboji was captured at Ndufu Amuzu, while Mr. Akpu Sunday and Odinaka Nwafor were also arrested at Agbaja Ebia, Izzi, Ebonyi State for transformer vandalism.
Benin Disco as worst hit
However, despite this nefarious act, providence has a way of rewarding the culprits of power vandalism in a manner that could be likened to the law of karma-reaping what you sow or better still the case of nemesis catching up with them.
Such is the case of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), the electricity distribution company covering Edo, Delta, Ondo and Ekiti states. The company has been confronted with the worst cases of power vandalism as confirmed by the Association of Nigerian Electricity Distributors (ANED), an umbrella body of the 11 Discos.
The worst incidents of vandalism have occurred in various locations across the company’scoverage states, in recent times. However, nemesis caught up with many of the culprits.
For instance, in Ekiti State, three people were electrocuted in different locations between February and March 2016, while trying to vandalise power installations.
The first was an unknown middle-aged man, who got electrocuted while trying to vandalise the Oke-Ayedun sub-station under the Ido-Ekiti Business Unit in Ikole Local Government Area on February 13 at about 7:30 p.m.
The vandal had succeeded in removing one of the up risers in a transformer and kept it in the bush. He was said to have gone back to remove another one, without knowing that electricity had been restored and he got himself electrocuted and burnt beyond recognition.
Another incident occurred in Ado-Ekiti, the state capital on February 14, just a day after the Oke-Ayedun incident. On this occasion, a man, who tried to damage power installations at Oke-Ureje area of Ado-Ekiti, was said to have been electrocuted when power supply was restored to the transformer at Oke Ureje where he met his waterloo.
In the process of cutting the cable he got electrocuted and burnt beyond recognition and was subsequently deposited at the morgue of the Ekiti State Teaching Hospital.
Still in Ado-Ekiti, one Niyi Ogunmola, a middle-aged man, was on March 20 electrocuted at Basiri area of Ado Ekiti. The man, identified as an electrician allegedly got electrocuted while carrying out illegal reconnection of power. He was said to have fallen from a pole and died on the spot. The incident was reported at the New Iyin Police
Divisional headquarters for investigation
In Edo State, the story of vandalism is the same but the vandals have not been as unfortunate in their acts as those in Ekiti. Reports of vandalised power equipment, especially in new and developing areas, are common in the state capital, Benin, and other towns in the state. Some of the highly affected areas are Ugbiyoko, Irhirhi, parts of Aduwawa and some other communities in the outskirts of the city.
A source at BEDC told THISDAY that many Community Development Associations (CDAs) had reported cases of power outages occasioned by vandalised power installations, especially cables.
Delta and Ondo states are also experiencing the same situation. THISDAY gathered that in Ondo State, a section of the state has been in perpetual darkness for more than a year now largely due to large scale acts of vandalism carried out on power installations and equipment in the area.
According to the Head of Corporate Affairs of the BEDC, Mr Adekunle Tayo, the activities of vandals are really taking toll on the capacity of the company to distribute power to affected areas.
He said the company could no longer watch as activities of the vandals assumed a more terrible dimension and further add to poor supply of power to communities. He proposed a new initiative, to curb the activities of the vandals.
He advocated that curbing vandalism requires the joint effort of the people living in the communities, security operatives and the BEDC.
“First, it is the responsibility of the people living in the communities to watch over the installations and equipment since they are host to them. They are the first persons to know if anything happens to the equipment,” he said.
“The security operatives such as the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the police and other security operatives, also play a key role in minimizing the menace. As it is one of the fundamental responsibilities of security operatives is to see to the safety of critical infrastructure including power facilities. The fight against vandalism, not only vandalism of power equipment, but vandalism of other critical infrastructure, cannot be won without the support of the communities and security operatives,” he added.
“We expect the communities to be alert. When they suspect an act of vandalism, they should quickly draw the attention of security agencies such as the police or operatives of the Civil Defence. Nothing stops communities from organizing committee to cater for the safety of these installations. It is not too much because members of the communities are the first and immediate victims of power vandalism. We also expect security operatives to move fast when they are alerted by the communities,” Tayo further explained.
In order to encourage the communities to safeguard power installations in their areas, the BEDC, last year, rewarded members of the Ugbiyoko community, a suburb of the Benin metropolis, with gifts for apprehending three vandals who attempted to remove some cables from transformers in their locality.
The company had described members of the community as “partners in progress”, while expressing delight that the vandals were not BEDC staff as many people erroneously believe that power installations vandals are those working with the distribution companies.
A member of the community, Michael Abodeje, was quoted as saying that the community has been on the receiving end from the activities of vandals for too long, hence they decided to safeguard the installations within their community.
“We will henceforth watch out for more vandals. We as youths will not sleep, and we will ensure that those apprehended will not go unpunished. We got three of them while they were dismantling the armoured cables,” Abodeje said.
The Chief Executive Officer of the BEDC, Mrs. Funke Osibodu, praised members of the Ugbiyoko community saying “we have seen situations where people don’t even understand that public infrastructure in the communities belong to them”.
“Anything that happens to the infrastructure at the end of the day affects the lives of members of the community. We have also seen situations where it is the people of the community that destroy the things there. You did not destroy, but you also made sure that you stopped those who planned to destroy these infrastructures. So, today, we’ve decided to reward you with a token and l make sure we publicise it that the people of Ugbiyioko have done exceptionally well,” Osibodu added.
PH Disco seeks tough laws
Late last year, vandalism of electricity transformers and outright stealing of electrical installations by vandals led to load shedding, which plunged consumers in Yenagoa, tBayelsa State, into darkness.
The Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC)’s Public Affairs Manager, Mr. John Onyi had said that the Yenagoa Business Unit alone had lost 10 distribution transformers ranging from 200kva-250kva to the nefarious activities of vandals.
He said the company had identified Gwegwe Street, Ebis Mechanic Road, Ministry of Tourism, Bossy Water Tombia Road, Mgbongbon Plaza, Opolo Housing Estate and Sani Abacha Expressway as areas in the state capital as the most badly affected by the unwholesome acts of vandalism.
However, while Benin Disco is advocating for collaborative approach among the companies, communities and other stakeholders to tackle vandalism of power assets, the Managing Director of 4Power Consortium Limited, the core investor in PHEDC, Mr. Matthew Edevbie, said the National Assembly should enact a strong anti-theft legislation to empower the power companiesto prosecute electricity vandals and customers, who attack utility personnel, while discharging their duties.
He stated this while receiving the members of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Commercialisation and Privatisation, who were in Port Harcourt on their oversight visit to various successor companies to the defunct PHCN.
He, however, lamented that the condition of the network his company inherited was worse than envisaged, listing higher average technical, commercial and collection (ATC&C) Loss than the Multi Year Tariff Order (MYTO) assumption and vandalism among the challenges experienced by PHEDC.