Kayode Fasua reports on the plight of four communities in Ondo State that have been without electricity for three years.
As in George Orwell’s classic-Homage to Catalonia, most communities in the Akoko zone of Ondo State are like the legendary untarred road to hell. Besides the dilapidated road networks that have virtually marooned many communities in the four local government areas that make up the zone, which is part of Ondo North Senatorial district, a near-zero level of electricity supply in that part of the state is no more than a blight.
However, stakeholders who include the Ondo State Government and the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), are not denying this reality but are only optimistic with the sing-song, “Something is being done.”
Upon investigations, four Akoko communities of Irun, Ogbagi, Ese and Afin, are united in one thing: darkness. In the last three years, according to investigations by THISDAY, these four towns whose dwellers are largely peasant farmers, have only experienced electricity in the land of the dreams.
But in a swift response to the plight of these communities, the Special Adviser to Governor Rotimi Akerodulu of Ondo State, on Public Utilities, Mr. Tunji Light Ariyomo, admitted that although Ese and Afin communities are still in pitch darkness, the state government had intervened completely in the case of Ogbagi and then, made fitful efforts in restoring light to Irun; save for a major electric cable that was stolen, and which naturally threw spanners into the wheel of progress.
A fifth community in the Akoko locale that had also been in darkness for upwards of four years was, however, lucky; as fortune smiled on it about two years ago. The community-Arigidi, now has fairly stable electricity supply.
This, it was gathered, was made possible through contributions from prominent indigenes of the town who include the founder of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), Prophet T.B Joshua, who reportedly contributed N20 million, to offset the community’s indebtedness to the BEDC; an action that culminated in the speedy restoration of electricity supply to the sleepy community.
Apart from Joshua, another prominent indigene of Arigidi is the Leader of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Gani Adams; and on the fringes, Dr. Olu Agunloye, a former Minister of Power and Steel. Agunloye is actually from Erusu, a stone-throw to Arigidi, which from recollections, is connected to the former in historical antecedents.
Reacting to the parlous electricity situation in the Akoko localities, however, a farmer in Afin community, Mr. Nathaniel Aregbe, lamented the plight of the locals in this fashion: “Power supply? We have not known anything about it for upwards of four years. In fact, a child born four years ago can faint out of psychological shock, if light is suddenly restored.
“Boldy, people now spread their clothes on electricity cables while the owner of a generating set in this community is like a king.”
His view is corroborated by a drycleaner in Ese, Mr. Yemi Aduloju, who queerly asked: “They say there is something called washing machine in the cities; tell me, does it actually exist? And if it does, does it use what they call electricity?”
But Ariyomo, who chose to take a holistic look at the situation, said it was not only these four Akoko communities that were singularly benighted. According to him, “most communities in Ondo North and Ondo South senatorial districs have electricity challenges and the state government, immediately it assumed office, swung into action, by providing mini-grids as palliative measure, until power supply is fully restored to all the communities.”
In a recent chat with THISDAY, he particularly said, “With the mini-grids, we shall be providing private power for places like Igbokoda, Igbekebo, Ode Omi, Iju Odo, Ilutitun, Kiribo, Igbootu, Ala Elefosan, Ugbonla, Aboto, Oda, Aponmu, Auga Oke Igbagbo, Ese by Ogbagi Akoko, Bamikemo in Ile Oluji and several other places with the communities themselves owning as much as five percent of the equity in the power plants.”
He added, “The Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) had also informed us at our last formal engagement that it was interested in deploying mini-grid captive power for additional communities in the state, while we have also formally approached some federal agencies, such as the Niger Delta Power Holding Company, for intervention on mini-grid, for additional communities in Ondo State.
“We are also working with the Rural Electrification Agency and other serious developers for mini-grid interventions in our major markets across the state. The Vice President recently flagged off the pilot in Isinkan market in Akure, the state capital. We are currently in the process of consummating necessary agreements for the kickoff of the markets’ elecricity.”
Only last year, however, the Akeredolu government brought succour to two communities in Ilaje and Ese-Odo local council areas, after 11 years of living in darkness. Esentially, however, virtually all communities in Ikale, Ilaje and Ese-Odo local council areas, which form the bulk of the South senatorial district, are in the dark.
In the latest effort, which drew wild jubilation from the happy locals, the state government powered Aboto and Igbobini, two large communities overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, using stand-alone solar systems under the state’s Small Home Power Utility (SHoPU) scheme.
Declaring open the power restoration programme, which was executed by R. R. Reynolds-one of the state’s power service providers, the governor assured other communities in the area that he would not relent until power is fully restored in the entire southern senatorial district.
He explained that the solar power systems were immediate palliatives for the most deprived parts of the district, and were being deployed as a start-off point. He assured the people that the company handling the project would soon put a major hybrid reciprocating gas engine in Igbokoda.
Akeredolu also promised the people that the power from the national grid would eventually reach many communities in the area, as the Niger Delta Power Company (NDPC) would be carrying out major rehabilitation works on the power distribution infrastructure.
“The solar systems that have been given to these two communities will become backups to our major mini-grids, and the power from the national level, as soon as they are ready,” the governor also assured.
He explained further that a mini-grid power plant would be sited for the use of the Ondo State University of Science and Technology (OSUSTECH), Okitipupa.
Reacting to the plight of the benighted communities of Ogbagi, Irun, Ese and Afin in the Akoko areas of the state, authorities of the BEDC said the distribution company was not to blame in any way.
In an interview with THISDAY, the Public Relations Officer of the BEDC for Ondo/Ekiti axis, Mr. Kayode Ilori-Brown, Tayo, said the problem in the area was legion.
“Those areas had been using the Okene feeder pillar before the BEDC came on board. And now, Okene is under Abuja Distribution Company. So, what we are trying to do is to ensure that we bring them under the Akure feeder, which is an ongoing project,” Ilori-Brown explained.
He said the BEDC had not neglected the communities but was still doing its best under prevailing circumstances, to ensure that electricity supply is restored to the communities.