Hundreds of youths from Oyigbo Urban, in Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State, had on Monday 22nd of January 2018 barricaded the Oyigbo District headquarters of Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company, sacked the entire staff and occupied the office complex.
Armed with placards which bore several inscriptions depicting poor services rendered by PHED, the youth were angry that despite the power station being fed with a daily supply of 70m cubic metres of gas from their community, they live in darkness.
When our reporter visited the PHED office located along the popular Aba/Port Harcourt Road in Oyigbo, the entrance gate was barricaded with a coffin and other items such as palm fruits, eggs, a live chicken, and alcoholic drinks. There was also an ambulance positioned at the right wing of the office complex as well as two canopies which provided temporary accommodation for the youth. There was also a large aluminum pot set on a tripod stand. One of the youth, Patrick Azuka, who spoke with our reporter, said they have been preparing their meals with the pot since they took over the office complex.
The management of PHED incurred the wrath of the community when it disconnected them from the 33KVA Afam power feeder and reconnected them to 11KVA feeders, a situation that led to total collapse of electricity distribution in the area.
Worried by the development, the Oyigbo community in a letter dated 3rd and 18th January, respectively, and addressed to the Managing Director of PHED expressed their dissatisfaction over the actions of PHED. The letter, which was signed by Comrade Victor Ifeanyi Nwachukwu, the President of Oyigbo Youths Association, had given the management of PHED a seven-day ultimatum to reconnect them to the 33KVA or face the wrath of the community. The ultimatum seemed to have fallen on deaf ears, as PHED ignored their demands.
Comrade Victor Ifeanyi Nwachukwu, who led the protest, said PHED has taken the entire community for granted for long. He said despite the contribution of the community in feeding Afam Power Station with 70m cubic metres of gas daily, the area has remained in darkness. He said that PHED generates about N90m monthly from Oyigbo Urban even as its oil field feeds the power station with gas on a daily basis.
Daily Trust sighted the letter, dated 3rd January 2018, and addressed to the Managing Director of PHED. The letter, signed by Comrade Victor Nwachukwu said that "It is important to state that PHED Company bills the residents indiscriminately. They are over-billing us and the billing process is not just absurd but with all manifest of illegality. This is contrary to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) policies. It is instructive to point out that this repressive behavior of PHED company goes on notwithstanding the epileptic power supply in Oyigbo Urban when compared with other communities in the local government area."
Comrade Nwachukwu said that the residents of the area bear the brunt of buying, replacing and repairing electricity transformers, poles and other related facilities used in the distribution of electricity despite the agreement reached with the company that host communities should be exempted from monthly billings. He said that out of the 10 wards that make up Oyigbo Local Government Area, only the three which make Oyigbo Urban pay monthly bills while the remaining seven wards were exempted from billing.
As a way of finding an amicable solution to the disagreement between the community and PHED, a peace meeting was held at the palace of the traditional ruler of the community, where it was resolved that the entire Oyigbo urban be reconnected to the Afam feeder station on or before 15th January. The meeting was attended by PHED staff such as Theophilus Bie, Engr. R.I. Chidi, Godwin .O. and the Public Affairs Manager of the company, Mr. John Onyi.
Comrade Nwachukwu said the company has implemented none of the issues agreed upon at the meeting. "It's pertinent to state that as at today we have not seen anything to show that all we deliberated and agreed on are being given the required attention. Moreover, PHED is yet to reconnect the entire Oyigbo Urban to Afam feeder. This refusal and neglect from PHED, especially after the 9th January meeting points to the facts the PHED is not ready to yield to our demand," he stated.
The traditional prime minster and ruler of Kom kom Community in Oyigbo, High Chief Samuel Azuh, regretted that PHED is taking the peaceful disposition of the community for granted.
Chief Azuh wondered why communities that supply gas to a power station should live in darkness.
"Oyigbo is very peaceful, but we are being cheated. We are one of the highest producers of oil and gas in the Niger Delta. Our huge gas deposit feeds PHED's Afam feeder, which they use to distribute light to other communities while we are left in darkness. They disconnected us from the 33KVA Afam power feeder and put us on 11KVA which was very low and insufficient to generate light. We want them to take us back to where we were before," he said.
The chief said Oyigbo community would take nothing less than reconnection to the 33KVA.
Mr John Onyi, the Public Affairs Manager of PHED, said the company would soon resolve the matter.