Ever since Enugu DisCo was handed over to Emeka Offor’s Interstate Electrics, six years ago, electric power supply has been abysmally low and irregular even by Nigerian standard. The situation has become so bad that both corporate and individual consumers across the southeast states of Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi (all now served by the Enugu Electricity Distribution Plc, EEDC) have been protesting against the paradox of having poor power supply and high bills.
A greater paradox is the fate of electricity consumers in the commercial and industrial town of Onitsha. Whenever Onitsha is mentioned, the uninformed assume it is just the city known in the 1980s as host to the largest market in West Africa. But Onitsha has since morphed into adjoining towns like Obosi, Nkpor and Ogidi, and is moving towards Ogbunike, Umuoji and other adjoining towns, thus making it the biggest commercial and industrial Nigerian city outside Lagos.
Of course, Onitsha is home to the highest number of industries in the south-east: the Onitsha Harbour Industrial Yard alone boasts companies that are so big they pay as much as N40m a month as EEDC bill. A few years ago, for instance, Innosons Industries were reported as stating that despite spending a whopping N60million monthly on diesel used by their numerous giant generators, they were compelled by the EEDC to pay N100m every month for power provided epileptically. Scores of other companies employing tens of thousands of workers in Onitsha and environs are threatened by perennial power supply challenges.
The complaints against power distribution companies may be rampant nationwide, but Onitsha seems to be a special case: at times EEDC works with thugs to intimidate customers into submission; it does not provide transformers where they are needed and refuses to maintain existing ones; customers pay for purchase, installation and maintenance of distribution transformers.
Needless to say, Onitsha is indispensable to the growth and stability of the economies of the southeast and south-south, but this commercial and industrial behemoth is treated with so much levity by Emeka Offor’s EEDC. The total power supply to Onitsha averages barely three hours a day. Most parts are in total darkness for weeks or months on end. Most customers lack pre-paid meters. Those who have are forced to buy at least N2, 000 worth of credit every month. Every so often, a resident’s access to power is denied until he has paid N2, 000 to obtain what EEDC calls “tamper code” (not credit token) before he could open his meter and access power again.
It is an elaborate fraud woven together by the EEDC, which, like security operatives in all of Anambra State, only sees Onitsha as a cash cow that must be milked dry. Onitsha is populated mainly by traders with cash, but the people are not stupid as to be paying for services not enjoyed. Nobody throws money away or to the dustbin these days.
Calls for revocation of EEDC’s operating licence have been strident in recent times. When more than 1, 000 electricity consumers in Onitsha and some rights’ groups protested last year, they cited non-supply of pre-paid meters and over-billing, a charge the company denied. It is no longer just the Onitsha South Elite Forum, Concerned Residents of Onitsha South, Campaign for Democracy, and the International Human Rights and Equity Defence Foundation that are protesting against EEDC’s cheating. Now, the situation has got even worse and everybody residing in Onitsha is protesting, especially as the Christmas and New Year festivals are at hand.
We call on the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, to listen to the cries of Onitsha residents and sanction EEDC appropriately. For its part, EEDC would do well to stop extorting Onitsha residents. No power, no bill! If the people are ignored, they might decide to take law into their own hands. And the result could be dangerous both for the federal government and EEDC. Let peace reign please.
With: The Oracle Today