…..even with the obvious danger of electrocution lurking above their heads, millions of Nigerians still feel comfortable to erect their homes directly under high-tension power lines
The electrocution in April of more than seven football fans with scores, sustaining injuries in Nyagasang area of Atimbo in Calabar Municipality local government area of Cross River State while were watching a Europa League match between Manchester United and Anderlecht football clubs may have become history, but disaster still lurks in several cities and towns going by the continuous conflict in right of way (RoW) between buildings and high tension power lines.
After the Calabar disaster, the immediate reactions of stakeholders were not surprising including those from authorities in the power sector who suddenly realised how risky Nigerians have been living over the years.
As expected, the initial rage that greeted the incident has disappeared, the issue of living under high tension lines, swept under the carpet; and life returning to normal in several cities across the country where electricity networks are in conflict with human settlements.
When our correspondent visited some cities across the federation, the conflict between man and electricity cables can be seen everywhere. Even parts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is not free from human encroachment on high tension lines right of way.
In Dutse area of the FCT, the development of structures is clearly in direct conflict with the high tension pylon that supply power to the capital city. Many of the residents, living under this dangerous condition told our correspondent that they don’t see anything wrong with the danger that hangs above their roofs.
Some of the residents claimed their lands were dully certified by the government, hence do not see any violation to the rights of way of the high tension lines.
“I don’t see any danger in me living under the high tension cables,” a Dutse resident told our correspondent.
But Mr Barnabas Ashew, a resident who has lived in Duste for 25 years, admitted to once living dangerously close to the high tension power lines, saying that the situation is “postponing the suicide day.”
Revealing to our correspondent, he said he once lived close a power line. Recounting his experience, Ashew said at the dead of the night he used to hear the cable vibrate. “I feared the cable snapping and dropping someday on my roof and that informed my relocation,” he said.
Life has been normal for the residents but many agree that their lives are not safe under the cables but had no choice than to stay.
The situation is the same in Suleja, Niger State where our correspondent noted that even after the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) had compensated home owners along its interstate pylon power lines that passes through the town, residents continued to defile the relocation order.
As more structures appear closer to the power lines, there are fears that the whole area will soon be overtaken by structures. Home owners under high tension in Suleja lay claim to legal document of the lands they occupy.
In Lagos State, over 350 illegal structures, built on the right of way of high tension power cables at Oba Wahab Ayinde Balogun Modern Market, Isheri-Olofin, in Egbe-Idimu local council development area (LCDA) of Alimosho LGA were demolished by Lagos State Government in 2016 alone.
Hassan Gboyega, a development expert foresees bigger disasters in the future, if proactive steps are not taken to clear power lines from encroachments.
“We allow the situation to degenerate to a dangerous level before we react, buildings under power lines is an invitation to death”, he said.
Meanwhile, residents of Uyo, Akwa of Ibom State who live very close to power lines told our correspondent that the state development authority approved building structures without considering their closeness to power lines.
“Demolishing the houses now will be difficult going by the number of buildings that have appeared here, but the government and the power companies can prevent further development in this area”, a resident of Aka Etinam Road, Uyo said.
It is more dangerous for communities that constantly experience rains. “A power cable snapping onto a wet neighbourhood is a disaster of higher proportion”, said Obot Udoh, an Uyo-based town planner.
He lamented that the political will to demolish structures and relocate people out of these danger zones has been lacking in several states of the federation.
The town planner further warned that, if actions are not taken by the authorities, Nigeria’s case will soon be like the situation in India where its electricity network has been adjudged the worst in the world.
Sources in the power sector revealed to our correspondent that after the Calabar viewing centre disaster in April, the Nigerian Electricity Management Services Agency (NEMSA), an agency seen as the technical police in the power sector after an assessment of the incident, immediately issued an order to the various power distribution companies (Discos) across the country to commence the disconnection of areas considered as “dangerous network areas”.
But months after the order was issued, it remained to be seen as the DISCOs are said to be caught between empathy and loss of revenue. The source further told our correspondent that it will take up a month or more to clean up a community with dangerous power distribution lines.
It also means total power outage for the customers, a situation both parties might find difficult to accept.
For the structures directly under power lines, our correspondent learned that many state governments are finding it difficult to go for the broke in demolishing the structures because of the hue and cry that are likely to follow their action.
As the families of the Calabar football fans continue to miss their loved ones, many are of the view that the nation cannot continue to risk the lives of its citizen with avoidable deaths.