Audu Yusuf just moved to a new three bedroom flat in the Aso C community of Nasarawa State, about 10 minutes away from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). He got an electrician said to be among the best in the area to wire the house and connect to the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) power source.
Three months after, Audu's property narrowly missed being gulped by fire when the central wire from the electric pole sparked off flames. It took the intervention of neighbours who quickly isolated the wire to save the structure.
On a closer examination after the fire incident, it was found that the wires used for connecting the entire building were below standard.
Audu's disturbing experience about house wiring is one among the many sad tales our reporters heard resulting from the prevalent use of substandard electrical materials, during an investigation across communities in the , FCT, Nasarawa and Niger states.
Laboratory tests reveal weak wires, materials
Daily Trust sampled different brands and thickness of electrical materials and subjected them to various tests.
The materials include energy saving and incandescent bulbs, extension boxes, and wires selected across shops and markets located mostly in slum communities of the FCT, Niger and Nasarawa states.
In the local markets, the 1.5m square millimetre (mm2) and 2.5mm2 wires said to be 'NOCACO' and 'Cutix' by the retailers, were formally tested using state-of-the-art laboratory tools at the Zonal Inspectorate Office of the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA) in Abuja.
The officials at NEMSA office provided extensive insights into the failure of the many unbranded type of conductors and wires, and why they are termed substandard.
The test results showed that materials of the sampled cables lacked strength. They were first subjected to the 'physical test' before the electrical device test.
One of the standards for durable wire or cable is that the conductor must be wrapped in an insulator, a synthetic material that is strong and cannot be peeled easily, and it must be heat resistant. However, that was not the case with the tested cables.
"The other problem with the wires is that they may not take up to the voltage designed for them because of the poor insulators. During the testing, we ensure we add more voltage level to the wires and some of them melt," the revealed.
NEMSA also said some wires were made of steel instead of copper which was expensive. The wires subjected to test were however confirmed to be made of copper.
A comparison of the brands with the actual samples of branded wires produced locally and seen at the NEMSA office proved otherwise. There was huge quality differentiation in terms of the insulator strength and the thickness of the copper conductors.
While the tested wires passed the leakage test conducted at that moment by the technical enforcement agency, the thickness of the insulators of all the wires was described to be below standard and may not withstand the pressure of heat from continuous current flow or system disturbance, the report further indicated.
Chinese made bulbs reign in Abuja, Nasarawa slums
The bulbs were put to use for at least three months to observe their durability as scripted on them. However, among the seven brands of energy saving bulbs, five of the low cost versions, sold for N200 to N300, failed.
Two others sold for N500 and above, were active beyond the two months test period.
Daily Trust found that most of the energy saving bulbs sold across shops in the surveyed areas especially in the suburbs, were all produced in China. Some of the brands include LEOMAX, NOMI, and ECOMIN. The incandescent bulbs were SINOWORLD, PIILI and JUNGSRAM.
Five of the energy saver bulbs that failed gave a warranty of lighting for over 6,000 hours (about 250 days or eight months). Most of them failed before they clocked three months (90 days with average 10 lighting hour daily).
The extension boxes of ZVT and Royal brands were also from China. Two of them had their insulators snapping off after taking the prescribed maximum load of 1000 watts that consist of electronic appliances.
The ECOMIN energy saver bulb brand had two year warranty, still from China. It was lighting after the three months test period when majority of the other brands failed. However, it was among the bulbs that sold for over N500.
Electrical accidents: 329 cases recorded in 46 months
The Managing Director of NEMSA, Engr. Peter Ewesor, describes electricity as 'a humble servant but a bad master'. At several occasions, he had insisted that electrical accidents and electrocutions don't just happen, but were caused mostly by use of substandard materials and aging networks among others.
Records on electrical safety and accidents from NEMSA show that 329 electrical accidents were reported between 2015 and 2018. The accidents further resulted in the death of 453 persons.
Of the figure, 113 deaths occurred in 110 accidents in 2015; another 140 persons died in 124 accidents in 2016. There were 95 accidents in 2017 which resulted in the death of 113 persons. From January to October 2018, NEMSA reported 87 deaths recorded in 82 accidents.
Quack electricians worsen safety issues
A further survey of some electricians showed that there are more quacks than the licenced professionals. Electricians who are professionals are registered with the Licenced Electrical Contractors Association of Nigeria (LECAN). They also obtain several kinds of certifications from NEMSA which include category A to D and renewable for a period of five to 10 years.
A Directory of NEMSA Certified Electrical Installation Contractors accessed by Daily Trust shows there are 3,383 duly licenced contractors. However, more than 70 percent of the licences have expired as at November 2019.
At least 10 electricians were reached across FCT and neigbouring Nasarawa State, to quote for a three bedroom structural electrical project in Mararaba area of Nasarawa State. However, none of them was found in the NEMSA directory.
Expert says fake cables threaten lives, property
The Vice President of Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr Johnson Somadina Anene, told Daily Trust that electrical cable counterfeiting could lead to loss of lives and property.
Dr Anene, who is also the Chairman of Shelter Aid Organisation, said, "There should be adequate punishment for anybody found indulging in such criminal act.
"Substandard electric cables can cause fire outbreak in buildings. That should be discouraged and condemned in totality," he said.
NEMSA reacts, to retrain electricians
MD of NEMSA Peter Ewesor at the Otis Anyaeji Annual Lecture in Abuja confirmed the safety challenges in the power sector. He said one of the major causes of electrical accidents remained the use of substandard materials along with aging networks and poor engineering.
"We have been lucky because we don't have 27/7 power supply. The day Nigerians start having 24/7 power supply for long there will be accidents because the conductors are bad," the Chief Electrical Inspector of the Federation (CEIF), warned.
He also said to stem the tide of quack and poor quality works, NEMSA was working on a retraining programme along with the National Power Training Institute of Nigeria (NAPTIN) for members of the LECAN who have been licensed by NEMSA.
Local wire, cable firms decry counterfeiting
Daily Trust found about four local wire and cable brands reckoned to be of standard. However, dealers of electrical materials across the surveyed markets expressed their concerns over their affordability.
An official of NOCACO at its Abuja outlet, who said he was not authorised to speak, confirmed cases of cloned products mostly by dealers importing products from China and other countries.
"We are not law enforcement agents, so there is little or nothing that we can do about that but we always report these to the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON)," the sales official said.
The Customer Relations Officer of Cutix Plc, Mr Oguonu Nzube said, "We are actually aware of cases of counterfeiting."
On the high cost of the local brands, Nzube said the cost of production and labour in Nigeria is very high. "In our factory, we run power generator for about 18 hours daily for production. When you put it on grid supply, it trips off along the line and once it does that, production is cut short."
SON: We're seizing, destroying 'fake' electrical materials
When contacted on the trend of cloned and counterfeit electrical cables in circulation, the Head of SON's Public Relations, Bola Fashina, said it has made arrests.
Fashina said electric cables are classified among life-endangering products under SON regulatory purview.
SON's nationwide market surveillance in September 2019 revealed that several imported electrical cables contravene the Nigerian Industrial Standards requirements.
SON said it convened a forum of the electric cable stakeholders (manufacturers and importers) in Lagos to explore avenues for greater collaboration.
The agency re-emphasized its preparedness to implement the provisions of Act No. 14 of 2015 to prosecute all standards infractions and to seize, destroy and fine offenders.
The full version of this report is online. This investigation is supported by the Daily Trust Foundation and MacArthur Foundation.
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