By Joseph Ushigiale
My initial interest this week was to question our perpetual dependence on anything foreign and also our utter disdain for anything Nigerian. The fire in me was further provoked with the way the federal and state governments literally politicised the COVID-19 pandemic.
I had expected the federal government to follow similar steps undertaken by other African countries like Madagascar, to look inwards by seizing this God-given opportunity to challenge our various research institutions laying idle to get to work and seek a solution to the pandemic.
But I had to drop the write up halfway to revert my attention to myself. In other words, I am being kind of selfish today and would for the first time resort to using my platform to address an issue that affects my personal well being, which is the epileptic power supply headlined Eko Disco Harvest of Darkness. It is not very often that an individual decides to use what he has to get what he needs. When such a scenario plays out, you know that that individual has been so pushed and boxed to a corner that he has no other choice than to draw on the last ounce of power in him to fight back for survival.
That is my current predicament. A predicament that has forced me to throw caution to the winds and resort to self help for self preservation. For nine years since 2011, I have had to put up with our country’s epileptic power supply with the hope that somehow, along the line, the situation would eventually improve. My last nine years experiences have taught me that, in this country, some situations are utterly hopeless. Instead of getting better, they actually retrogress from good to worse in an intervening period.
My ordeal began sometimes in August 2011 when I changed jobs. I left journalism after I was head hunted to take up a position with a telco. At that time, I lived in Apapa on a street that was just five minutes walk to my office on Creek Road. During this period, the traffic was at its criminal best.
Things got to a head one day in particular when my driver and I got home to Apapa at 3 am after closing work on the Island around 9 pm. I therefore decided I had had enough of endangering my life on this treacherous Apapa gridlock and had to relocate. The next question was: relocate to where?
The answer to this question is usually guided by several factors chief among which is the cost of a new accomodation and proximity to work. I choose Surulere because of its centrality to Victoria Island, Ikeja, etc. Even at that, I needed to get a place that was within a cosmopolitan, urban and secure environment.
So my search started with several agents who collected various sums of money and coming up with ridiculous choices like houses in Ijesha, Kilo and Aguda even when my mandate to them was very clear on what I wanted. One day, I bought a copy of Castles newspapers and there it was: a three bedroom apartment on Ayo Idowu Close.
I drove down there the Saturday of that week and the street met my expectations but the house didn’t. Luckily for me, a few houses from there, there was yet another three bedroom flat that was available. I dialed the number of the agent advertising it and we reached an agreement. I eventually paid, did the necessary renovations and moved in.
While, by moving homes, I had succeeded in solving my first problem of escaping traffic snarls, little did I know that my second biggest ordeal was about to commence.
Most people, while house hunting, make the mistake of failing to ascertain the electricity supply situation in their proposed new accomodation. I was one of them and I have paid dearly for it for nine years which is why I am crying out loud so Eko Disco would finally wake up from its slumber.
I must first of all say that, the whole blame or our predicament on this street should not entirely be heaped on Eko Disco. After all, the distribution company only come up after the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration unbundled the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).
To be sure, I must salute the company’s Head of Corporate Communications, Mr. Goddy, his colleagues, Sulaiman Aledeh and Chief Engineer, Adewunmi Adeyinka. In those days when getting a meter was akin to passing a Camel through a needle’s eye, a colleague at Ikeja Disco, Felix, gave me Goddy’s contacts. I called him and introduced myself. He invited me to come over. I drove to Marina and met with Goddy. I was ushered into his office and within 30 minutes, a form was completed and I was on my way back to my office in Apapa.
The follow day, I was inundated with calls from their Ijora branch. These officials were virtually chasing me to have a meter installed for me. Ditto Aledeh with whom I regularly turned to for intervention whenever we had very long outages. I would also single out Engineer Adeyinka whose patience, tolerance and service orientation remain next to none.
Up till this moment, I’ve never met this man but through an introduction by another of his colleague who has left Eko Disco, Adeyinka had been able to intervene to navigate us out of darkness many times. He has always been my go to person and last resort and whatever he told me happened. If he says, we are working on a fault along a particular area and assures that supply would be restored at a particular time, that would be it.
He also made it clear to me that he would not be in a position to always take my calls but that whenever he fails to pick, I should do him a favour by sending him an sms. In all the while that I left him sms, he replied. Lastly, he introduced me to a fellow whom he said was the SMD of my area. He sent me his number and encouraged me to call him whenever I experienced any outage. It turned out that the number belongs to one KINGSLEY Okolo.
As I write this piece, Adeyinka forwarded the number of the SMD to me on April 5, a Sunday; all my several calls and sms have never been returned by this fellow. So if this is his modus operandi, how then does he interface with his customers in this area?
The painful aspect of this predicament is that while Ayo Idowu Close and Eniasoro Beyioku are almost in perpetual darkness, the supply on the adjoining street, Ajao road hardly blinks. When you ask, you would be told that your street is fed by supply emanating from Akongba station blablabla.
How is that my business? All I want is electricity supply and the company that is responsible for that is Eko Disco and it has to rise to its responsibility of doing just that. If Eko Disco can not deliver this service, it should accept the fact, wind down and go home.
This is one example of why most people including myself have found cause to criticize the unbundling of NEPA and auctioning of licenses to cronies who had scant knowledge of what power generation and distribution business is all about. If this project were to be handled by a foreign company, I doubt if we would have such shoddy service delivery.
And I often wonder how these companies make their monies when their customers go for several days and weeks without electricity supply. How do they meet their revenue targets with such apparent failure to deliver effective service to their customers? Is it not true that in a sane and accountable and transparent clime, every single minute or weeks that you have down time such as is the order of the day here, such developments would reflect heavily on your balance sheet in the long and short run? How come Eko Disco is not bleeding financially and is so comfortable with a revenue bleeding problem that has festered for nine good years?
I honestly believe that things are the way they are because these power companies hoodwink and hold government to ransom to release huge sums of money as a payment for revenue shortfalls, we the customers are left with the short end of the stick high and dry.
There is no haste in upgrading facilities to position the companies on a pedestal to satisfy their customers. Where you have system breakdown such as ours, it would take a whole nine years to figure that out? Where would such a business model work?
I think government should review these licenses with a strong view to ensuring that those companies that have fallen short in service delivery and whose licenses have expired should not be renewed. I believe in the radical solution of throwing the electricity market open to interested bidders globally who can demonstrate ability to generate, distribute and improve infrastructure.
Parcelling licenses to contractors whose only interest is to make humongous profits out of the huge Nigerian market without improving the sector and providing effective services to the people was a very wrong step undertaken by the Jonathan administration.
It is also my humble recommendation that the federal government should henceforth stop wasting task payers funds to provide gratis to these companies under any guise because instead of electricity, they are mostly subjecting Nigerians to darkness.
Lastly, there should be a total freeze on the proposed hiking of electricity tariff until we can get new electricity companies that would give Nigerians an acceptable work plan on how they can provide uninterrupted power supply over a phased period of time. Nigerians are ready to pay for electricity services not darkness.
Like I said earlier, this is not personal, all that I have written here are verifiable facts. I am therefore, hopeful that Eko Disco would pick up the gauntlet and redeem itself from subjecting us to darkness and providing us efficient and dependable services going forward.