The recent electricity accident in Lugbe, an Abuja suburb, in which three persons died and several others were injured, has brought to fore the need for operators in Nigeria’s electricity industry to improve on safety, writes Chineme Okafor
Few weeks ago, an indigenous community, Tudun Wada in the Lugbe axis of Abuja lost three of its residents to electrocution with several others injured when a conductor from a transformer snapped and passed unsafe electricity to their homes.
Though the incident happened in the poorly planned settlement where resides under the right of way of two 330KV/132KV high voltage electricity transmission lines, it was however part of the growing trend of the pervasive poor culture of supply and use of electricity in Nigeria.
Serviced by the Abuja electricity distribution company (Disco), Tudun Wada from investigations by THISDAY is badly connected to the Disco’s network. It has its electrical facilities loosely connected and hanging on metal roofing sheets of houses without earthings.
According to experts, such practice can electrocute anybody in cases of electrical accidents.
Also from inquiry, the community has like most informal settlements in the country consistently engaged in illegal connection of their homes, perhaps, without the knowledge of the Disco, and mostly through quack electricians whose acts were said to have amplified the accident’s casualties.
While official investigations into the incident by both the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and the Disco have commenced, the development again indicates that the country’s electricity industry may be failing in its mandatory compliance with safety regulations by the NERC.
NERC’s safety regulation
According to NERC, the Nigerian Electricity Health and Safety Code, which it signed into law in 2014, is a practical document formulated with best industry practices to achieve the standards of health and safety in the supply and use of electricity as required under Part III Sections 32 (1) (e) and 32(2) (b) of the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005.
When the regulator launched the code, it said it was developed by an encompassing industry-wide panel under its leadership, after all regulatory consultation processes as required by it to meet global energy industry’s best practice in safety.
Membership of the panel, which drew up the safety code for the sector were drawn from the generation, transmission and distribution subsectors of the industry, as well as from the federal government’s ministries of power and justice and Licensed Electrical Contractors (LECAN) amongst others.
NERC noted then that code applied to all its licensees and any such person in the electricity value chain who operates an electrical premises. It explained that such stakeholder had the responsibility of ensuring the health and safety of workers, equipment and the public in the circumstances described in this code, which include safe supply of electricity.
The commission’s then chairman, Dr. Sam Amadi stated: “With the health safety code in place, it is expected that the industry operators will step-up the health and safety activities in their respective companies otherwise they will be faced with stringent penalties. From now on, electrocution cases will no longer be treated lightly.”
He also explained that while the commission worked hard to ensure cost reflective tariffs to improve the funding and revenue stream of the utilities to provide world class services to customers, it will then be expected that the utilities will pay greater attention to the improvement of efficiency and safety of the network.
Tudun Wada as a test case
While it will be almost difficult to state the level of culpability of the Abuja Disco in the Tudun Wada accident, the fact remains that both the Disco and residents of the community may have to share blames perhaps for negligence of the danger that lurked ahead before the accident.
As stated by community members shortly after the incident, the Disco had continued to supply electricity to the community and collected revenues from the almost 5,000 residents despite their poor connections.
While community members engaged in illegal connections to the network using substandard practices and quack electricians that were not under the employ of Abuja Disco, the Disco perhaps failed to recognise this as a legitimate ground to discontinue power supply to the area and guarantee safety.
That perhaps could be part of the reasons that a regulatory sanction on it would be taken to drive home the point that it placed profit before the safety and lives of its customers, a practice NERC strongly frowns at.
For the community, its decision to carry on with its routine practice of illegal and unhealthy connections speaks of how poorly they appreciate safe use of electricity.
As narrated by a resident, Peter Ukoh, indiscriminate building and wiring of houses in the community means that even such accident would almost be impossible to overcome. Ukoh said the incident is almost predictable with the community’s wiring system.
He said the Abuja Disco supplied them electricity and collected monthly income from bills issued to them despite the untidy installations. This he averred makes both parties guilty of negligence.
“Worst still, the AEDC feeds power to the households and generates bills for the customers without cleaning up the network comprising poor cables and illegal connections,” Ukoh alleged.
In this regard, the acting chairman of NERC, Dr. Anthony Akah, who also visited the community, said a team from the commission will undertake a detailed investigation to establish how the incident happened as well as come up with hands-on strategies against a possible repeat of such accident.
The Abuja Disco also indicated that without interference with NERC’s investigation, it was going to conduct its own as part of its legally mandated accident reporting requirement.
It said that it has collated information of the victims and taken over their medical bills, in addition to dispatching a team of eight men to investigate the accident.
The Disco said preliminary reports from this team showed that an 11 Kilovolt (Kv) wire from a transformer that supplied electricity to a section of the community snapped and fell on a metallic channel iron that sent high voltage to the residents who were electrocuted and injured.
The company also noted that the team had visited victims of the accident who were admitted at its referral hospital, Cedar Crest in Apo area of Abuja, and the families of the three dead persons in line with its work.
Its Director of Risk and Compliance, Mr. Collins Chabuka said the team was also cooperating with the regulatory bodies – NERC and the Nigeria Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) in its investigations.
“It is AEDC’s internal Health and Safety Policy requirements that all accidents are investigated by independent internal competent persons with industry background, competence and knowledge. The purpose of the investigations is to highlight the shortcomings that may have led to the incident and also to recommend industry best practice remedial measures to prevent a recurrence,” Chabuka said.
Living under high voltage transmission lines and constant disregard to requests for safe use of electricity just the way Tudun Wada does is a common practice across Nigeria irrespective of repeated deaths recorded from this.
Clearly, communities and consumers across Nigeria have overtime helped to aggravate incidences of electrical accidents either by failing to adhere strictly to warnings against unsafe use of electricity or malpractices in their connections to their networks, while Discos have on their parts often failed to effectively take the message to customers on the dangers of illegal connections; use of poor electrical equipment; and residing too close to electrical installations just the way Tudun Wada presently does.
Until real measures are taken to ensure that safe supply and use of electricity is mutually practiced by operators and consumers, instances of electrical accidents in Nigeria may sadly continue to occur, thus putting the industry in clear disrepute before investors as one that is safety repulsive.