By; PATRICK TITUS, Uyo
Electricity consumers in Akwa Ibom State have continued to express worries over alleged poor service delivery, high tariffs and other unpopular acts they are subjected to face in the hands of Port Harcourt Electricity Distributing Company (PHED), years after it commenced operations.
This is in spite of the huge investment of Akwa Ibom State Government’ in revitalising the power sector to assist in improved service delivery by PHED which took over the distribution of power to the state from the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria in 2013.
They observed that the approach to business adopted by the PHED has obviously set the faces of power consumers, stakeholders, government and Human Rights groups against the company in the state.
It is on record that Governor Udom Emmanuel, last year, expressed disappointment with PHED in his petition to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) for their refusal to distribute electricity produced by Ibom power plant to customers in the state.
Governor Emmanuel’s petition among other things, followed increasing complaints by electricity consumers in the state against PHED over alleged perennial power outage and exorbitant monthly electricity bills arising from an estimated billing system without commiserate consumption.
Emmanuel in his petition to the regulatory body alleged that despite sufficient power generation from the state-owned Ibom power plant to provide steady and quality electricity to the entire state, PHED has refused to pick the load.
Not satisfied with the petition, the Governor took further steps to construct 132/33kva substations at Ekim in Mkpat Enin and another in Uyo local government areas and worked to ensure that not less than 452 transformers were distributed to communities in the state.
Governor Emmanuel, some months ago threatened to explore the possibility of a state-owned power distribution company – a threat many thought would charge the PHEDC to sit-up.
Power consumers are of the opinion that the PHED has rather grown from bad, to worse as it seldomly refused seeking ways to replace worn-out transformers and broken polls as contained the business Charter it entered with the federal government.
The Company received negative criticism last week when Mr. John Onyi, Manager, Corporate Communications, PHED, issued a release, reacting to complaints by the Managing Director, Ibom Power, Engr. Meyen Etukudoh, alleging that “PHED is corrupt and offers poor services”.
Onyi said PHED is a responsible organization that has zero tolerance for corruption, adding that the Management of PHED under the leadership of Dr. Henry Ajagbawa has reinvigorated the fight against corruption in different dimensions from sanctioning to naming and shaming of offenders arising from energy theft, meter bypass, unauthorized access to the network, among many others.
Though the MD of Ibom Power, Engr Meyen Erukudoh had defended that he was quoted out of context as he did not use the word “corruption”, he has however maintained his earlier position that the PHED has failed to provide necessary infrastructure needed to straighten their business in the state .
” it was in PHEDC business plan to provide Transformers to her numerous customers but they left it for Akwa Ibom State government .
“Since 2014, PHED has not put any Transformer in any community in Akwa Ibom, except one in Eket where the consumer threatened a court action but this was supposed to be the responsibility of the Distribution Company. Recently , Akwa Ibom State Government provided 452 Transformers to communities in the state,” he said
Etukudoh frowned at situation where Transformer areas are overgrown with weeds but ignored by the Distribution Company only for snakes to make the Transformer base their natural habitat destroying some components in the system while the power company look the other way.
He reported government consistent efforts at providing power infrastructure, substations and other things in realization of the number of industries that had relocated from Nigeria due to poor power situation.
Reacting to Onyi’s claims of zero corruption in PHED, a power consumer, Mrs Arit David queried his position, saying that even the meter which PHED cane up with, “a N5000 unit could not take us a week in a small one bedroom flat with just lighting points and television.
“What do you also call a situation where a transformer is down for a whole year, and the moment the community rally round to fix the transformer by themselves, you resurface with a bill of N104,000 or more. PHED is extremely corrupt! they force us to pay for darkness because we want to protect our wires”, she said.
Another consumer, Ekpenyong Udeme accused PHCN of being dubious in its nature of exploiting consumers. He alleged that the company had gone ahead to implement increment in tariff, against the presidential directive of reduction of electricity tariffs to ameliorate the suffering of Nigerians.
For Mr. Pius Etim, a community leader in Ifa Ikot Okpon, PHED has detailed from its responsibilities, such as maintenance of power infrastructure but push the cost for both procurement and maintenance to its consumers.
In his community for instance, Mr. Etim said they spent over N5 million contributed by the community to replace a worn out transformer to service a new power line.
“Dispute the fact that the transformer was donated to us by NDDC, we spent over N5 million sourced by us to install the new transformer through PHED contractors.
“Out this money, we bought materials and other equipment used for the installation of the new meter, and for other miscellaneous charges including over N800,000 we gave to PHED officials to secure approval to link the new transformer to the grid.
“But as soon as we were linked, PHED officials began a threat that all Power consumers in the community should buy prepared meter or be ready to pay for estimated bill which will not be lower than N15,000 monthly,” he said.
Supporting the knock against PHED, a Legal practitioner and Chairman of Human Right Communities in Akwa Ibom , Barr. Clifford Thomas listed the legal mandate of PHEDC to include provision of power infrastructure such as cables, Transformers , other accessories, maintenance of power lines as well as collection of tariffs for power distributed.
According to Barr Thomas, “What they do is they procure civllDefence Corps or the police and go about harassing people stealing cables on the pretext of rolling cables away.
“The criminal code says when you take somebody’s property with an intention of not returning same, permanently depriving the owner of the ownership of same , such is stealing,” he posited.