A public hearing on electricity distribution companies, tariff, power supply metering and billing organised by the House of Representatives Committee on Power, which was billed to hold in Benin on Friday was disrupted by angry members of civil society groups and electricity consumers over delayed arrival of the organisers.
Failure of the Committee members to arrive as scheduled at the venue of the programme which was scheduled to take off by 10 am, sparked protest and eventual boycott by members of the civil groups and some of the electricity consumers who felt slighted after waiting for several hours.
The venue of the event was packed full as early as 9 am for the event scheduled to commence by 10 am.
However, stakeholders waited endlessly for several hours, as members of the Committee and officials of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), were no where to be found.
Intermittent entreaty from junior staff of BEDC for calm fell on deaf ears as the already restless crowd, led by the civil society groups, began singing solidarity songs and decided to hold the forum on their own.
Leader of the civil groups, Comrade Omobude Agho, who called for the commencement of the programme with the singing of the second stanza of the national anthem, said it was obvious that the Committee members were taking them for granted.
“It is time to make them realise that being elected make them servants to the people, not masters. We shouldn’t take excuse from them anymore. We are saying enough is enough,” he said.
Agho who described the privatisation process of the electricity companies as fraud and political, called for the revocation of the contracts of the electricity distribution companies.
The disconnection of electricity supply to the venue of the now moderated forum by the civil activists, further heightened tension, which they said was ploy to discourage and send them out of the venue.
One after the other, the various speakers described the harrowing experiences they have been subjected to by the BEDC. They accused the management of the company of being grossly disrespectful and insensitive to the plight of their customers.
The angry protesters who finally stormed out of the hall after exhaustive deliberation and national anthem, were met at the gate of the hotel by the House Committee members who arrived at the venue at about 1.30 pm, where they (House members) were held hostage for about 30 minutes.
A member of the Committee, Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama (Oredo Federal Constituency), however succeed to persuade a few of the protesters to return to the hall. They however insisted on just handing their demands in writing to the Committee and requested for a new date for the stakeholders meeting after which they stormed out, leaving the Committee members with almost an empty hall.
Meanwhile, the Managing Director, Benin Electricity Distribution Company, Mrs. Funke Osibodu, has said Nigeria needs too generate about 160,000 megawatts, in view of the growing population and to meet world standard of electricity demand, as against the 2,000 to 5,000 megawatts currently generated.
Osibodu who was represented at the public hearing by the Executive Director, (Commercial), Mr. Abu . I. Ejor, said in spite of the insufficient power generated, transmission problem still confront the industry, owing to the dilapidated network and huge metering gap inherited by the new investors.
She also said that 14 percent of power generated is lost to poor power network infrastructure while 36 percent is lost to commercial theft or illegal consumption and non-payment of bills by electricity consumers.
The Managing Director also noted that constant vandalization of gas pipelines in the Niger Delta region has continued to limit the increase in power generation noting that it would require a huge investment of at least N250 billion annually to generate more power with most of which are import /FX dependent.
Chairman of the House Committee on Power, Honorable Daniel Asuquo, while reacting to allegation of incessant harassment of the electricity consumers by security operatives employed by the BEDC management to provide security for the staff of USAID, as alleged by the members of the civil society groups, said security operatives have no business harassing anybody, warning that if found, they would be sanctioned accordingly.
Asuquo noted that the use of military personnel was as result of the cases of kidnapping being reported in the country, stressing that the electricity consumers should see them as partners in progress and not as enemies.
He also urged the the BEDC to be polite while dealing with their customers and also strive to maintain a cordial relationship with them as they could have been the one complaining just as he advised the electricity consumers to be law abiding, pay their bills in order for the company to serve them better.