Protesting youths and women of Oyigbo Local Government Area of Rivers State have occupied the Afam Power Plant to protest failures of the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC) to restore electricity in their area.
The protesters were said to have barricaded the only road, which is in a deplorable condition, to Afam Power Plant.
The protesters had earlier issued a 72-hour ultimatum to the company to restore electricity but decided to barricade the facility following the expiration of the period.
The council, a host to the power station, has been at daggers’ drawn with the PHED because of unpaid accumulated bill running into billions of naira.
It was learned that the protest, which started on Wednesday morning, was led by the Oyigbo People’s Assembly (OPA) in partnership with other stakeholders and pressure groups from the council.
The residents on September 3 threatened to shut down the power plant if after 72 hours PHED failed to restore their electricity.
The warning was contained in a statement jointly signed by the Oyigbo Community Leaders Forum (OCLF) , and the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), Oyigbo Chapter.
The statement said: “It is on record that we have exhausted all peaceful engagements, the last being the meeting held in Port Harcourt on 27th of August, 2020 at the instance of the DSS in which all the operators, including SPDC, Afam Plant Place, TCN, Rivers State Government represented by the Commissioner for Power and PHEDC, where it was unanimously agreed that our light should be switched on.
“However it is either that, this resolution from the state and federal government agencies were not understood or that it was disregarded with reckless abandon”.
The residents said it was provocative for the PHEDC, IOCs, and federal government agencies to plunge Oyigbo into darkness for over two months with its attendant consequences on the people.
But the PHEDC recently decried debts owed by Oyigbo saying the consumers had accumulated unpaid bills of N5.8bn since 2013.
The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, PHED, Henry Ajagbawa, said the area held an erroneous belief that they were entitled to free electricity.
Ajagbawa said the community rebuffed many persuasive engagements with the company to pay their debts.
He said the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and the Management of Afam Power plant interfaced with the community to ensure the restoration of electricity in parts of Rivers state.
He said: “We have engaged the Oyigbo community for about 10 times over the issues of non-payment of electricity bills but to no avail.
“As at today Oyigbo community owe us N5, 827, 971, 896. The question is, if they owe us such a huge amount why do we have them still challenging us by shutting down our system?
“The answer is not far-fetched. They have an erroneous belief that they are entitled to free electricity, but we are a private company. There is no way we can buy electricity from the national grid and sell it for free. It is not done anywhere.”
He explained that part of the community populated by indigenes was owing over N4bn since 2013, while those connected to the Ndoki 1 transmission line, were owing over N1bn since 2015.
“Parts of Oyigbo on Ndoki 2, mostly indigenes owe N4, 037,125,477, since 2013. While those on Ndoki 1 owe N1, 790,846,420, since 2015, a total of N5, 827,971,897,” he said.