Vandalism greatest threat to power supply in Ebonyi – Commissioner

Engr. Ogbonnaya Uche Ude is the commissioner for power and energy in Ebonyi state. In this interview with PAUL OKAH, he details some of the achievements of Ebonyi state governor, Engr. Dave Umahi as well as efforts being made by the state government to solve the state’s power problems and other issues.

What were you doing before you were appointed as commissioner?

I was enjoying my retirement in 2016, after putting in 33 years in serving Nigeria under the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), when I was appointed commissioner for power and energy by His Excellency, Engr. David Nweze Umahi. I worked in NEPA, PHCN and finally TCN, which is the only organ that was retained as government agency after others where unbundled. I retired as a general manager in July, 2016. Before my retirement, I was in charge of projects, whether new lines or substations. All new lines and transmission substations in Nigeria were under me. Of course, while in retirement, I was still consulting for people in the power sector. I worked for the National Power Training Institute (NAPTI) and I was running training programmes for designs, construction and maintenance of transmission lines. I stopped that the moment I became a commissioner.  I related very well with people too; as I did my best for my bosses. I became a manager of human and material resources and I believe some people were noticing me. Therefore, it is only natural that when the governor mentioned in a particular forum that he needed someone who could fit into his plans for the power sector in Ebonyi state that someone I didn’t send recommended me. I didn’t lobby for the position neither did the governor detail anyone to look for me: God simply revealed me to the governor as the most qualified and competent man to handle the power sector in Ebonyi state and he appointed me.

What are the problems of power supply to Ebonyi South?

There was a 33KVA single line that is coming from Abakaliki and is passing through Onueke, Abaomege, Akpoha, Amasiri, Afikpo North and South. Many years ago, they were collapses. The olden lines were built with wooden poles and they passed through forests and were burnt down by farmers and hunters. Even the wind played its own part in bringing down the poles, apart from human beings who hate to see others happy. This set of human beings or vandals stole electricity equipment, like wires, conductors and others from the fallen poles. Also, with privatisation, electricity distribution is now a private business and the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) have their financial problems and have not been able to rehabilitate that line. That’s why we have that problem of steady power supply. The only source of electricity to Ebonyi South is from Nkalagu. There is a feeder that goes from Nkalagu through Agba, Ishielu, Ohaozara, Oshiri, Onicha, Okposi, Uburu, Amasiri, Afikpo, Unwana, Ogbu and other places. It is not as if the line goes straight; in fact it branches off like a cobweb to all the places I mentioned above from Agba. However, it has a single source feeding the entire net. 

Did you achieve the state government’s mandate of adequate power supply during the yuletide?

We achieved the objective of steady power supply during the Yuletide. However, a big monster called vandalism was still our bane. Vandals attacked and carted away electrical equipment. We discovered that light reached Afikpo during the Yuletide, but 80 per cent of transformers were vandalised. Therefore, only about 20 per cent of residents enjoyed light during the Yuletide. Those who had light were rejoicing; whereas a greater part stayed in darkness. It was like that in different parts of Ebonyi South, like Okposi, Uburu and other parts, so it was not only Afikpo that is affected. We discovered that vandalism persists because people do not regard transformers as their property. They see transformers and electrical equipment as public or government property and nobody bothers to look after them. They turn the blind eye even when they see thieves stealing electrical equipment. For a transformer that cost four million naira or more, the benefits are greater. If people can change the “I don’t care” attitude and report vandals to law enforcement agencies, I believe we will be better for it. Vandalism is the reason a greater part of Ebonyi South remains in darkness. There is supply, but people are unable to get it because of the transformers that have been vandalised. 

So, politicians aren’t responsible for the epileptic power supply?

I have said a lot about the help of the governor in ensuring steady power supply in the state. I am a politician too and I feel bad when people accuse politicians of being responsible for the lack of steady power supply in Ebonyi state. I can’t think of any politician preventing his people from enjoying steady power supply and His Excellency, Engr. Dave Umahi, cannot be said to be one of them because I know the efforts he has been making. For instance, two years ago, the government intervened in the feeder supplying light to Ebonyi South. The state government voted a lot of money when the EEDC listed their problems and equipment that needed to be changed to the governor. The governor gave them the money and the replacements were carried out. That’s one effort. Let me now talk about the ones that have been happening since I became commissioner. When we urged EEDC to ensure our people enjoyed steady power supply during Yuletide, do you know that the state governor donated a Hilux van and a driver to EEDC for four days: to patrol and rectify faults? He cannot join them to patrol, but he sent people, donated and fueled a vehicle and even paid the driver to ensure that EEDC is satisfied. The governor pays Neighbourhood Watch to ensure crime, especially vandalism is drastically reduced. How then can people insinuate that the governor is not doing anything? Also, because of the inadequacies of EEDC supply, the government has spent a lot of money building solar power stations. Ten of them are already functioning in different institutions across the state. The Ikwo College of Education is on solar power station built by the state government, just like the School of Nursing at Uburu, Onicha General Hospital and the state Ministry of Health. As you know, the state ministry of health has a cold room where sensitive drugs are stored; so the governor also built a solar-powered station for the ministry. If the state government is not doing anything, who built the street light in Amasiri, Okposi, Afikpo, Edda, Akaeze and other parts of the state? Because of the street lights, some of those who used to carry out criminal activities in the dark have run away because light and crime do not mix. Also, remember that I mentioned that the governor intervened in settling the concerns arising from the transmission lines meant for the substation in Amasiri by appealing to affected land owners. He waded into the matter and instructed local government chairmen and coordinators of development centres to beg their people to allow the contractors to work, pending the compensation from the federal government. Presently, there is another substation that will have similarly capacity with that of Amasiri that the state government has gone into partnership with the TCN to build at Umuogara in Ezza North, which will commence this January. A plot of land has already been acquired and allocated to TCN by the state government. Work would have commenced since, but we have to give the natives time to harvest their crops. When it is completed, it will take care of power supply to Ebonyi central, while that of Abakaliki will take care of Ebonyi North and the Amasiri substation will take care of Ebonyi South. I can continue to narrate other interventions by the state governor, but suffice it to say that the governor means well and that politicians are not responsible for lack of power supply in Ebonyi South.

What are your challenges as the energy commissioner?

I have mentioned vandalism as the major threat to our mandate of ensuring steady power supply in Ebonyi state. If vandalism continues, we can spend all the money in the world to ensure power supply and it will still not get to the end users, because the transformers that will convert the electricity to usable forms have been vandalised. We can spend money to repair the transformers, but what is the guarantee that the vandals will not attack them again? There are instances whereby, after repairing a particular transformer today, it will be vandalised tomorrow. So, if vandalism can be tackled, if our people can now accept that they are all stakeholders in the transmission of electricity, then we won’t have many problems. Remember, it is the people that endures and enjoys the pains and gains of vandalism. It is not the state government. If we can stop the apathy and look after the transformers, we will have steady power supply. The welder, hairdresser, barber, trader and others using the power supply should look after the transformers, because their businesses will be affected when transformers are vandalised. Sometimes, the cost of repairing a vandalised transformer is bigger than even buying a new one, so it is a matter of concern.

How would compare the development in Ebonyi with other states?

The other day, we were at a function in a neighbouring state and they begged to borrow our governor even for three months because of his giant strides in developing Ebonyi state. We told them to send their own governor for apprenticeship under Governor Umahi free of charge and we will accommodate and feed him free of charge. You know, the governor is encouraging even civil servants to embrace agriculture. Loans are made available to farmers for encouragement. We are not affected by the border closure. In fact, it is making us to produce more rice. The governor doesn’t like idleness. Instead of staying idle, he encourages people to be productive. As a civil servant, he allows you to own a farm or to open a shop and put your wife in charge. He even gives loans to people as a form of encouragement. These are things that hardly happen in other states. He is doing very well and people are happy for him. People are now happy to be called Ebonyi people, Abakaliki people or Wawa people, unlike before when it was regarded as derogatory terms. There are many good things to say about the state government and the governor; just look to the right, left and centre and you will see them. 

What is the government’s New Year message to Ebonyians?

My governor and the government believe in God and what He can do. Therefore, I urge Ebonyians to embrace God first like the governor has done. As stated in Matthew 6, once you seek the kingdom of God and its righteousness, other things shall be added unto you. Even Solomon said he never saw a righteous man suffer. Therefore, if our Ebonyi people can learn to live a life of service to God and man, we will be the better for it. Ebonyians should join the governor and workers to develop the state. Wherever you find yourself, you should find something doing. There is no room for laziness and no food for a lazy man. They should also obey the law of the state and the natural law for a better life.  Time of inferiority has passed. We should be proud of our heritage wherever we find ourselves. We should make sure we compete with others and even beat them, instead of feeling inferior. Once we have the positive attitude to life, the sky is a starting point for us. 

Finally, what is your advice for Ebonyians on power supply?

One thing is that people complain about power supply because they don’t understand it. I will advice people not to stop at complaining, tell whoever you know that is in charge about the problem. Let’s know the actual problem so that we can help. It is not enough to say that there is no light in Amasiri, Afikpo and other parts: what do you think is the cause of it? We are not magicians. Instead of unnecessary criticism and saying politicians are not doing their jobs, people should speak out and find away to tell the government the problem so that we can solve it. The governor has a listening ear and is running an open government. The governor keeps receiving text messages from Ebonyians on daily basis and has been acting on them. Therefore, people should learn to send text messages to the governor, especially people of good will. It should not be all about negative criticism, they should also thank him for the best he has been doing. You can thank him for the power supply restoration and use the opportunity to tell him about other places not having power supply, instead of outrightly criticising him for lack of power supply. People should also be willing to help one another. Whoever does not work should not eat.