Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
The shutdown of facilities belonging to Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) by Ijaw youths entered day four yesterday with the company seeking a resolution of the altercation which led to a total blackout in Yenagoa and parts of Rivers State.
Last Monday, the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) marched on the offices of the distribution company and occupied its premises, forcing the staff to ground operations.
The youths insisted that after several meetings with officials of the firm to increase the supply of power to the Bayelsa, it had not yielded any results.
But the Manager, Corporate Communication, PHEDC, Mr. John Onyi, said yesterday that the development had taken a negative toll on the utility company.
The company said its employees now live in palpable fear as their lives have been threatened by the Ijaw youths who have warned them not to be spotted around the offices.
“In addition, the IYC threatened that any vehicle belonging to PHEDC spotted in the city would not only be seized and impounded but have the driver of such vehicle assaulted.
“The IYC according to its leadership is demanding for 24/7 power supply and removal of breakers to enable the residents of Yenagoa have uninterrupted power supply.
“At various meetings previously held with the IYC, PHEDC had made its position known that the installation of breakers was for administrative convenience of the company and also not to jeopardise the life span of the equipment.
“On 24/7 power supply, the IYC has repeatedly been told that the limitation from the national grid does not allow that for now and PHEDC gets its share based on what is generated.
“The responsibility of PHEDC for the umpteenth time is to distribute what it gets to its customers in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers states.
“Yenagoa is not marginalised in terms of power supply as alleged by the Ijaw Youth Council but it is a common knowledge that every DisCo including PHEDC does systematic load shedding.
“However, the sustainability of not only PHEDC but the power sector depends on payment of electricity bill from the customers,” Onyi explained.
He bemoaned what he said was the high debt profile stifling the company, saying as at November 30 customers in Bayelsa State owed PHEDC about N16.5 billion, a development that hampers it operations.
“We therefore, call on relevant government functionaries and security agencies to prevail on the IYC to vacate PHED offices.
“On the other hand, Ahoada community did not only shut down office but damaged all items including office materials in addition to seizing its operational vehicles totaling two,” Onyi alleged.
But the Chairman of the Central Zone of IYC comprising Bayelsa State, Mr Ken Olorogun, insisted that the youth group was dissatisfied with the performance of the utility firm.
He maintained that there was no basis for using estimated billing to arrive at bogus figures when there’s no corresponding supply.
He said: “Our position is that PHEDC should be alive to its responsibility of making power available to our people, and our resolve is total. The only thing we can do is to shift the date forward by suspending the current action till next year.
“The argument of N15.5 billion is blackmail. We cannot be paying based on estimates when there is no power, even the regulators have outlawed estimated billing. So how did they arrive at the figures?
“I can tell you that we have been in talks and going by the intervention of stakeholders, we are going for another meeting soon where we may take decisions to suspend the current action.”