MY first ever encounter with the then Rural Electrification Board, REB, was during its dying days at Orerokpe almost 30 years ago. That chapter of life has since been buried in that community and most other communities that used it. It was an era that large electricity generating plants were installed and used to supply electricity to large semi-rural communities, especially local government headquarters that were not connected to the national grid.
The defining feature of the system was its central control. Everybody had light at the same time irrespective of need. The mode of operation was that the generators were turned on at six in the evenings and turned off at 7 o’clock in the morning. Most of these communities have since moved away from this practice of having electricity only for lighting at night. Sadly, however, it is to this archaic method of light for lighting purposes at night only that more than 80 per cent of Udu communities are being forced to return. Ironically, no community in Udu ever used the REB.
Over four years ago the BEDC took over electricity distribution in the area and disconnected 28 communities in what is generally regarded as rural Udu, including Aladja which is one of the largest and most urbanised communities in Udu. Efforts were made by well meaning people to resolve the issue. I recall being part of a meeting at the Ughelli South local government secretariat about four years ago where the BEDC slammed bills ranging from N2 million to N5million on the communities. Their claim was that the bills were owed to NEPA by the communities through the old estimated billing system which they insisted must be paid by the communities before they will be reconnected.
Some of the affected communities, tired of dwelling in darkness, paid off their “debts” to be reconnected. Egini, my home community after discussions with the electricity company paid N1.4m to BEDC with the hope that it will be reconnected only for the company to renege and claim that it will no longer connect any of the communities to the grid except through bulk metering system. The effect of this on the economic life and urbanisation of the rural areas can best be imagined. Rural Udu may be condemned to remain rural instead of catching up with our neighbours in Uvwie Local Government Area which is expanding rapidly.
I challenge anyone to point out anywhere in Udu where BEDC has added a pin to the electricity distribution infrastructure it met on ground since it took over. Rather it has been active in vandalising infrastructure it met on ground. A case in point was the equipment at the Ekete Substation which was built and procured with community funds. BEDC by the force of arms and active acquiescence of some leaders of the area took that critical infrastructure away despite protestations by the host community and residents of Udu. I was involved in that resistance. BEDC has now extended their exploitative prowess in Udu. They now want to completely avoid employing staff and paying people to monitor, enforce or collect electricity bills by forcing this primary duty of every profit earning company on the communities.
By the electricity regulatory guideline, the consumer is supposed to be supplied the pre-paid meter free of charge but BEDC is forcing 28 communities in Udu to pay N3 million each for bulk prepaid meter. That’s N28x3 million = N84 million for doing nothing.
Bulk metering is archaic. It is a return to the days of the Rural Electrification Boards where consumption of electricity was centrally controlled. Central control of consumption of electricity is anachronistic in this age and time when people and businesses should be allowed to grow at their pace. There will be quarrels and disagreements over what to appropriately bill the individuals. Electricity is needed more in the day time to run businesses and for economic growth than in the night hours.
This system will drive away investors and potential investors who require electricity to run their businesses during the day as most, if not all, the communities cannot afford to run their meters for 24 hours a day with the kind of bills already being paid by communities who run it for 12 hours.