The power outage occasioned by the face-off between the Ijaw Youths Council (IYC) and the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) has entered the 10th day with adverse impact.
The IYC had on December 23, besieged the offices of the PHEDC and forced the staff to ground operations, occupying the premises to protest perceived poor power supply to residents.
The development, which resulted to total power outage in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa capital and its environs including Ahoada and parts of River has compelled residents to rely wholly on generators with resultant increase in petrol demand.
Checks in Yenagoa indicate that filling stations struggle to cope with long lines of residents who throng the stations and wait for hours to buy fuel in jerry cans.
Our Correspondent learnt that efforts and talks to resolve the conflict hit a brick wall as the power DISCO claimed that it was grappling with a debt burden of N16.5 billion as at Nov 2019 which had hampered its operations as a commercial concern.
The IYC subsequently challenged the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) to substantiate its claim that customers in Bayelsa owed N16.5 billion.
Mr Kenedy Olorogun, Central Zone Chairman of IYC who spoke on the update of the dialogue convened by Bayelsa government to resolve the face-off said the debt claim was a ‘fairy tale’ to cover up incompetence.
According to him, information from the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) showed that there was sufficient power at the substation at Gbarain, Yenagoa but the PHEDC was not taking the power to homes.
An investigation shows that TCN on August 20, 2019 announced the lifting of a Suspension Order from the electricity market it placed on the PHEDC on July 27, for breach of ‘Market Conditions/participation Agreement.
According to the TCN notice available on its portal, the lifting of the sanction was a regulatory measure to ensure that distribution companies evacuate available power.
TCN said lifting the sanctions followed PHEDC’s compliance and took effect on August 19, 2019.
The PHEDC and TCN had been shifting blames on the poor power supply in Bayelsa, with TCN, saying that the PHEDC was unable to take up available power at its substation while the PHEDC allege that it was not getting enough power from the TCN’s grid.
Olorogun said that the N16.5 bn debt had no bearing with power supply to Bayelsa which was the basis of the protest adding that the claim was a cheap blackmail.
“The leadership of IYC Central Zone is challenging the claim made by the PHEDC that Bayelsa people owe electricity Bill of Sixteen Billion, Five Hundred Thousand Naira (N16.5bn).
“The people of Bayelsa have not been enjoying uninterrupted power supply over the years, which is the reason we are protesting, how come such huge amount when we are saying that we do not see power.
“The claim is just a blackmail, we are demanding for service for which we are ready to pay for 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 deformation of character caused by the allegation.
Mr John Onyi, Manager, Corporate Communication, PHEDC had said that the development had taken a negative toll on the utility company causing untold hardship to numerous customers.
He regretted that Ahoada community also shut down PHED office in the area leading to total blackout in the ancient town compelling its customers to have a ‘black Christmas’.
“Members of PHED 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 PHED offices in Yenagoa.
“In addition, the IYC threatened that any vehicle belonging to PHED 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, PHED had made its position known that the installation of breakers was for administrative convenience of the company and also not to jeopardize 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 PHED gets its share based on what is generated.
“The responsibility of PHED for the umpteenth time is to distribute what it gets to its customers in Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River and Rivers state.
“Yenagoa is NOT marginalized in terms of power supply as alleged by the Ijaw Youth Council but it is a common knowledge that every disco including PHED does systematic load shedding.
“However, the sustainability of not only PHED but the power sector depends on payment of electricity bill from the customers,” Onyi explained.
Onyi bemoaned the high debt profile stifling the company saying that as at November 30, 2019 customers in Bayelsa owed PHEDC about N16.5 billion, a development that hampers operations.
“PHED is not at war with any of its customers or indeed the IYC but where a group of persons decides to take laws into their hands by barricading and chasing staff members away from performing their legitimate duties, then it calls for a serious concern.
“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 said.
He recalled that PHEDC had witnessed series of protests in its franchise area despite its effort in improving service delivery by introducing several initiatives in midst of numerous industry challenges.