28 December 2017

Nigeria: Concerns Over Rampant Cases of Electrocution

There have been concerns about rampant electrical accidents and electrocutions in Nigeria in recent times. Many people have lamented that what is even most worrisome is the fact that more lives and properties are being endangered with issues such as falling poles and ignorance that are still common especially in low brow areas.

On the 12th April, 2017, a cable that had been lying low snapped and fell on a roof in the Anguwar Hausawa community of Nyanya, a busy suburb of Abuja, the Federal Capital under the operational jurisdiction of Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC), sparking an inferno that led to the death of 6-year old Hassan Umar Tsafe, Umaimah Umar Tsafe (son and wife respectively of Mallam Umar Tsafe) and one Mallam Ali Umar and burnt properties. It is now eight months after the incident and the family is yet to get any form of compensation from either the government or AEDC.

"I have not yet received anything from them, but I believe it is still being processed", Mallam Umar Tsafe, the bereaved man told LEADERSHIP in a telephone chat, recently.

Upon investigation, LEADERSHIP was told by a resident who pleaded anonymity that the community had earlier in a petition signed by the Sarkin Hausawa of Nyanya, Alh. Musa Ishaq, community Chairman, Muhammad Dala, and the Secretary, Abubakar Hassan claimed that the incident was a fallout of AEDC's negligence, saying it earlier reported that a pole in the area was faulty to AEDC who then carried out partial repair with the intent of properly fixing the fault later.

According to the petition, "on arrival to fix the problem, AEDC staff demanded the sum of N5, 000 before they could do it, and even as a member of the community offered N3, 000, they turned it down, insisting that it was either the N5, 000 or no work". This is not far from the scenario in Lugbe and Kabusa as the incidents were as well blamed on the DisCo's negligence."

It happened on the 2nd July, 2016 in the Angwan Tiv community in the Tudunwada area of Lugbe, a satellite town of the FCT, claiming several lives including that of a pregnant woman who just moved into her house in the area and leaving over 5 injured. This generated a lot of concern that the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) immediately launched an inquiry into it after which report by NERC showed that AEDC was culpable by way of negligence and was blamed to have breached the regulatory code in operating its networks. According to reports, the 750KVA transformer in the area exploded with fire and was burning for about 10 minutes during when it sent out devastating current at about 9pm of Saturday, 2nd July, 2017. The dead were named to include Olewele James, Moses Joseph, and Mrs Eyileyi.

The Kabusa electrocution of 9th November, 2015 was said to have happened after the distribution company, AEDC was notified of the snapping and falling of the electric cable and the officials did not act for hours, and Mr Tade Ayodele, a spray painter lost his 7-year-old son, Samuel Ayodele who fell on a cable in a gutter while trying to cross. Consequently, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission for a second time in a short period ordered AEDC to pay N18.1 million as compensation for the electrocution, noting that it's accident investigation team had looked into the incident and discovered that the DisCo failed in its responsibilities to respond to complaints by Kabusa residents that a snapped 0.415kv aluminium conductor was hanging precariously close to the ground.

As at 31st July, 2017, the Niger State Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA) confirmed the death of two persons from electrocution in the Angwan Biri area of Minna, the State Capital, while 10 others sustained serious injuries. It was said to have resulted from a power surge caused by contact between a 33kv line and a distribution line in the area.

Not long ago, in September, 2017, 7 European football fans met their untimely death as 11 others sustained injuries of varying degrees at a viewing centre in the Nyaghassang community in Calabar Munipality of Cross Rivers State after a live high tension cable which was UNICAL's 11kv feeder snapped from its mooring overhead and fell on the viewers. And even as the trauma of that one remains fresh, another has just been reported to have happened, claiming about 2 lives in the same Calabar.

Alh. Lateef Ajikanle, an APC member was electrocuted in his home at Bolaji Omupo Street, Somulu in Lagos on Saturday, 22nd July, 2017 while attempting to pick dirts around his compound.

The case of Adeyemi Ogunleye in Akure, an electrician, appears to be largely self-caused, and may not be blamed on the respective DisCo. Ogunleye got electrocuted on a sanitation Saturday while trying to fix a faulty cable that supplies power to his house.

However, victims of the Lugbe accident said they have been paid: One of the victims, Donald Odende who suffered severe shock that threw him out of his house told LEADERSHIP without mincing words that he had received payment from AEDC as compensation, adding that the entire bill incurred at the hospital including transport was also paid for by the company.

"They have paid me, and paid my hospital bill including transport fare," he said.

One of those who allegedly lost a relative, but declined stating name when our correspondence got across to him equally admitted that he had been paid some compensation. Another victim said, "Most of us if not all received compensation at long last". According to him, the problem with the process was long delay. He noted that it took some time to come, such that some people began to lose hope. "A relative of mine who was affected got about 10 million as I was told," a resident woman anonymously noted. One Stephen Achor, a resident also confirmed that to the best of his knowledge, virtually all those who suffered losses in one way or the other were paid not only compensation, but also hospital as well as burial expenses. "Although it used to take time, the good thing is that they paid," he said. He said the community which suffered blackout for about four months before the transformer was restored now enjoins electricity again.

In a similar way, a source close to the family told LEADERSHIP that the electrocution of a minor which happened in Kabusa area of Abuja sometime ago has been compensated by AEDC.

Though AEDC has been seen going round and embarking on safety sensitisation at one location or the other within its franchise area, especially the FCT in recent times, investigations generally show that most of the DisCos do not adhere to safety standards and as such unhealthy and aging networks, a prime factor in most electrical accidents that have taken place, are still the order of the day.

When AEDC was contacted if there was any condition a victim of electrical accident or electrocution must satisfy to be qualified for compensation, the Head of Media and publicity, Ahmed Shekarau told LEADERSHIP that his company or any other DisCo does not go into payment of compensation to the victims until upon investigating it NERC discovers that it was negligence on the part of the distributor and ordered payment.

"The compensation thing is based on NERC's recomendation. Even though we use to do our own investigation to ascertain what happened so as to take action against recurrence, it is after NERC has found that negligence was on our part that it asks us to pay for this or that before we do so. And to the best of my knowledge we have been meeting up as far as those so far recommended for compensation are concerned," Shekarau said.

According to the AEDC spokesman, the challenge is that given the nature of the society today they are not allowed to publish the names of those compensated and what was paid them.

"If you say you must publish, then you are putting the lives of those ones danger, making the victim victim of attack, so the lawyers of those families would write to us and say don't disclose it, and we have been cooperating in order to protect these people," Shekarau.

Going through the scene of the Nyanya incident, it was discovered that the clumsy and unkempt network of low-lying cables over roofs as is the case in some other spots where we reached out to our correspondence around the country, most of which are low brow areas, is still there with light restored in the area. Shekarau who admitted this however denied that AEDC had restored electricity in the area, saying he would still confirm the position of things.

As one progresses from Abuja through Kubuwa to Madala, Suleja and beyond along Kaduna, people are seen going about their daily business activities under the high tension cables overhead within the right of way of the expressway. This is in conflict with NEMSA's directive that all structures or human activities along the path of high tension cables be done away with as a proactive measure to forestall the catastrophe that often accompany any electrical fault. A man along the Kaduna road who gave his name as Mallam Yakubu, when asked why he was selling under the high tension cable hanging on a helpless pole already caving in by the roadside, said he has been selling their for many years and nothing has happened. On whether he has heard about the directive that people resident or doing business along the path of high tension wire should vacate or be made to vacate such areas, Yakubu said nobody has told him such before.

Shekarau said that AEDC has embarked on several measures aimed at forestalling the ugly incident as is humanly possible ranging from sensitization campaign to clearing and replacing of unsafe networks in its franchise area.

In a handbook issued by AEDC recently certain safety measures were listed to include: fencing off of all exposed infrastructure; installing danger warning signs at all AEDC sites; development of HSE policy; constitution of engagement team. The latest action taken in this regard is commissioning of assorted ultramodern fault detecting technologies procured by the DisCo recently. But our findings shows that much is left to be desired regarding Safety in the industry as most of the DisCos are yet to join in the quest to meet safety standards.

In his response, the Managing Director (MD)/CEO of NEMSA, Engr Peter Ewesor, an expert to the core in electricity, told LEADERSHIP that from 2016 to date the country has lost 366 persons to electrocution, largely members of the public and some electricity workers, while many others sustained varying degrees of injuries.

Ewesor who described electrical accident as "abnormality in the system" said going by his agency's investigation, the increasing wave of electrical accidents and electrocution in recent times is a direct consequence of aging and bad installations compounded by neglect of safety standards by the operators and the users.

"Electrical accident really is an abnormality in the electricity industry. If the networks and the systems have been properly constructed and installed as planned and designed and safety requirements have been fully complied with, these accidents we are talking about ought to be an alien thing in our networks. This electrical accident we talk about here in Nigeria is a crime to mention in some countries.

"Today you find that we have a lot of aging and dysfunctional networks. The conductors are very weak and tired; and you have what we call bad joints, and this is costing us lives and properties at an alarming level.

"From 2016 to date, we have recorded 366 deaths of largely members of the public and some electricity workers in 321 electrical accidents. While 86.8% of the fatalities occurred among members of the public, 13.2% happened to electricity workers. The electrocution took place across states: towns and villages. Injuries are even on the higher side but we count those ones as survivors who can be compensated. But like I use to say no amount of compensation can be worth one life lost and you cannot bring it back," he said.

Ewesor who noted that his agency with zero tolerance for electrical accident was poised to work alongside NERC and other relevant agencies to ensure safe electricity and quality supply across the country said among other measures being taken by NEMSA, the DisCos have been directed to ensure that all bad networks are cleared and renewed to standard, adding that there are plans by the agency to set up network monitoring taskforce that areas with bad networks and installations do not get electricity supply until fixed.

On what NERC is doing to stem the tide, the commission's Head of Public Affairs, Dr Usman Abba Arabi who noted that the commission is deeply concerned about safe supply and safe consumption of electricity in the country said the commission's priority is prevention of accidents.

"Issue of compensation comes next to safety and accident prevention in ranking order. It is for the sake of prevention that we have the Health and Safety Manual for the industry to which all operators sign into. We also have the directive on third party insurance for the industry through which accident victims or relatives are compensated. There is also the accident reporting obligation on the operators to notify the Commission within 72 hours," he said.

According to the NERC's spokesman, the Commission despatches Accident Investigation Team as soon as report is received to investigate the remote and immediate cause of accidents and give directives on compensation, where the operator is found guilty.

Dr Arabi who confirmed that there was N20m compensation paid families of two victims of electrocution in July, 2017 in Kogi State, said payment through third party insurance for the April 20, 2017 accidents in Calabar is about being concluded but for the verification on insurable interests.

Arabi who acknowledged compliance of the operators with NERC's sanctions so far said the commission would not hesitate to apply the necessary regulatory provisions as clearly stipulated in the safety manual and codes should any operator disobey in carrying out its directives.

According to him, the report of the Team detailed to investigate another electrical accident that lead to the electrocution of two lately is being reviewed by the Commission. It is after the review that definite pronouncement can be made by the Commission. In the interim the Disco involved has picked the bill for burial expenses.

"It is after the review that definite pronouncement can be made by the Commission. In the interim the Disco involved has picked the bill for burial expenses," he said.

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