For 10 months, Otuoke, the home town of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in Bayelsa State, has been in darkness, as residents say they have been cut off from public power supply for that long.
Residents of the community, which is host to the Federal University, Otuoke, said electricity was last supplied to them by the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) in June 2013 before its privatisation last year November.
Our correspondent, who was at the community recently, observed that, with the exemption of the President’s string of houses and a few others which were running on power from generating sets, the entire town was in total darkness for the three days that he spent there.
Some of residents who confided in Sunday Independent disclosed that the power outage was caused by a rain storm that destroyed properties and the only transformer serving the entire town in May last year.
Otuoke is, however, not the only community affected, as Sunday Independent learnt that the whole of Ogbia Local Government Area in Bayelsa State has not received a single watt of public electricity supply since last year.
This prompted a promise from the current governor in the state, Seriake Dickson, to restore electricity supply to the local government area after a visit to the place last year.
Ogbia LGA was thrown into darkness in August 2013 after the Imiringi Gas Turbine, which hitherto supplied electricity to the entire area, packed up.
The gas turbine was installed in the early 1980s by the first civilian governor of old Rivers State, the late Melford Okilo, while Bayelsa was connected to the National Grid in 2006 by the President Olusegun Obasanjo government, about 10 years after the state was created.
The current blackout in Otuoke and neighbouring communities has had more dire consequences on the Federal University.
Legal adviser to the institution, Paul Adujie, who confirmed this, said the situation was becoming unbearable because of the high cost of running generating set.
“It has been really good working with my Vice Chancelor, Professor Mobolaji Aluko. But one issue that needs to be urgently addressed is the darkness. We have not had light since last year. Most of our colleagues decided to live in Yenagoa. Those of us that live in Otuoke spend close to N4,000 weekly on fueling the generating set.
It is interesting for you to know that this blackout is not only in Otuoke. There is darkness in the whole local government. It is really bad,” he lamented.
Adujie observed that the turbine was damaged sometime last year and attempts to make it work have been futile.
His words: “My worry is that this is the President’s home town. This is my second time of coming to Nigeria. Each time my colleagues called me from abroad, they wanted to know how I am coping. Something has to be done urgently.”
This was corroborated by a resident, who identified himself as Ekong Eyo, a taxi driver, who claimed to have lived in the town for six years.
Eyo said the power outage was as a result of the disaster.
“The incident occurred during a heavy downpour which destroyed properties including the electric poles, transformer and other accessories and there seems to be no respite in sight.
“It was a serious incidence and, since that disaster, businesses have been running on generators. It is only those who can afford generators and fuel that have been using electricity. Most of us rely on candles and hurricane lamps,” Eyo said.
According to him, after the storm, some community leaders allegedly informed the President who was said to have offered some assistance which however did not solve the problem.
Eyo said, “Some of us believe that there are saboteurs that are frustrating all efforts to fix the problem of power supply because we know the President had raise some assistance in the past.
“We think some people are milking from the funds allegedly released by Mr. President to help restore electricity to the town. This will be the third time that government will make an attempt to fix it but one thing will just lead to another and the engineer will just announce that it was bad again. We need the Federal Government to come to our aid,” Eyo said.
Among the communities in the area, Jonathan’s Otuoke country home is the worst hit by the prolonged power outage as it houses a Federal University and a cottage hospital, among other institutions.
Between Friday March 28 and Sunday March 30, the period of the late Chinua Achebe celebration, it was observed that only the university community, the only hotel in the town as well as President Jonathan’s home, were lit by generating sets while every other home was in darkness.
It was also observed that the management of the hotel, allegedly owned by Patience Jonathan, Mr. President’s wife, had to embark on rationing the power supply because of the running cost, as lodgers were asked to switch off the air-condition and water heater at night.
At a civic reception last November, during Dickson’s ‘thank you tour’ to Ogbia as part of activities to mark his second anniversary celebration, the people had cried to him that they had been under power outage for several months, which was affecting their lives and businesses as they had to buy fuel everyday to power their generating sets.
Responding to requests made by the people, Dickson sympathised with them, assuring that the power outage in the area would be fixed before Christmas Day in December, 2013.
But, about five months after that assurance, power supply is yet to be restored to the area.
When contacted, the state Commissioner for Energy, Francis Ikio, declined comment, saying he would not speak to Sunday Independent on the phone and that our correspondent should come to his office on Monday.
“I want to see you on Monday. I am not granting interview now because of so many distortions. If you see me on Monday, I will see you face-to-face and talk to you,” he said.
Residents however expressed their appreciation to the government for the ongoing development in the linear settlement, which was said to be more rapid recently as the only bank in the town is expected to be commissioned soon after the portion earmarked for the Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) is completed.
It was also noted that the entry point of the state, enroute Yenagoa, was bombarded with heavy security personnel including immigration officers, Nigeria Police, and Nigeria Custom officers, among others. Each vehicle that passed, like any other international boundary, was offloaded and passengers were scrutinised for identities including requisition for their states of origin.