The NERC could do more to prevent cheap deaths

If there is anything that confirms how little life is valued in Nigeria, it is in the manner in which people die from avoidable causes. Last week, no fewer than seven football enthusiasts died of electrocution in Calabar, Cross River State Capital, with scores of others injured while watching the Europa Football League match between Manchester United and Anderlecht. The electrocution of the football fans, according to reports, occurred when a nearby transformer exploded twice during the match before the high tension wire snapped and dropped on the viewing centre built with zinc.

Although the authorities of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) have issued the usual statement following the tragedy, we urge the federal government to conduct a national audit of our electrical installations so as to put an end to a situation where power transformers are becoming sitting bombs. “We were all inside watching the match when we heard the first explosion from the transformer,” said a survivor. “The heavy sound caused panic because some people shouted and ran out. After a while, we came back into the viewing centre to continue with the match. Shortly, we heard another heavy sound and when people tried to run away from the centre, they were affected. Over 50 of us escaped death because we were standing by the door watching the game”.

What worries is that this is a tragedy that has happened several times before. In June last year, Lugbe, a satellite town in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was also thrown into mourning when a power transformer exploded and electrocuted five persons, including a pregnant woman. A six-year-old boy was among several others that were injured. “As I made to step out, the door shocked me and threw me against the wall,” said a survivor. “I shouted and made for the door again and I was flung outside where I hit my face on the ground. I later opened my eyes to find myself in the hospital.”

Although President Muhammadu Buhari has commiserated with the families of the deceased, we believe he should ask questions, especially as the death toll resulting from electrocution keeps rising. Yet available reports indicated that most of these cases resulted from the lackadaisical attitude of the electricity workers who often ignored early warnings. In several places across the country today, there are many old and broken down wooden concrete pole, some with naked wires dangling overhead. It only takes a serious rainfall or heavy wind to blow off some of the poles. There are also far too many transformers that are waiting to explode as it was the case in Calabar. In such situations, inhabitants of the affected areas or even passers-by live in constant danger.

It is noteworthy that following incessant deaths by electrocution between 2012 and 2013, the then authorities at the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) threatened to sanction the chief executives of power firms who treated safety issues with levity. By the commission’s estimate at the period, about 170 persons lost their lives as a result of electrocution, mostly due to the negligence of the power firms. Unfortunately, it turned out to be no more than empty threat as the NERC has been unable to curb what is now becoming an epidemic of deaths by electrocution.

One noticeable trend is that even when faults are reported, officials hardly respond and in such a situation residents are left on their own to seek self-help with the attendant risks. We therefore call on the relevant authorities within the power sector to develop a quick response mechanism to complaints about fallen electricity poles, exposed live wires or faulty transformers. We cannot continue to lose lives due to the criminal negligence of some officials in the power sector.