Emmanuel Addeh in Yenagoa
People of Bayelsa State celebrated the Christmas and New Year festivities in darkness as the power outage occasioned by the altercation between Ijaw youths and Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) entered day 10 thursday.
Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) had after almost a year of unbearably erratic power supply in the state besieged the offices of PHEDC, forcing the staff to ground operations or improve on their services.
The youths have since occupied the premises to protest the poor power supply to residents after several negotiations for PHEDC to supply 12-hour of electricity to the state capital broke down.
The disagreement resulted in total power outage in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital and its environs including Ahoada and parts of Rivers, compelling residents to rely entirely on generators.
Filling stations in Yenagoa have also continued to struggle to cope with long queues of distressed customers who throng the stations and wait for hours to buy fuel in containers.
However, the distribution company claimed that it was grappling with a debt burden of N16.5 billion as at November 2019 which was hampering its operations.
But Kennedy Olorogun, IYC Central Zone Chairman, who spoke on the update of the dialogue convened by Bayelsa State Government to resolve the face-off, said the debt claim was a “fairy tale” to cover up DisCo’s incompetence.
He said information from the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) showed that there was sufficient power at the substation at Gbarain, Yenagoa, but PHEDC was not taking the power to homes.
Olorogun added that the alleged N16.5 billion debt had no bearing with power supply to Bayelsa State which was the basis of the protest.
“The leadership of IYC Central Zone is challenging the claim made by PHEDC that Bayelsa people owe electricity bill of N16.5 billion.
“The people of Bayelsa have not been enjoying uninterrupted power supply over the years, which was the reason we are protesting. How come such huge amount when we are saying that we do not see power?
“The claim is just blackmail, we are demanding for service for which we are ready to pay. We are saying that we can no longer pay for darkness and services not rendered, that is our position.
“We call on PHEDC to justify and produce a proof of their claim with all necessary documents within this period, or be ready to face legal actions by Ijaw people for defamation of character caused by the allegation,” he said.
PHEDC Corporate Communications Manager, Mr. John Onyi, had regretted that Ahoada community also shut down PHEDC office in the area leading to total blackout in the ancient town compelling its customers to have a “black Christmas.”
“Members of PHEDC staff are now living in palpable fear as their lives have been threatened by the IYC who warned them not to be spotted around the offices, claiming that it has taken over PHEDC offices in Yenagoa.
“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,” he said.