Ondo youths block Lagos-Benin Expressway to protest blackout …

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Olufemi Atoyebi  and Peter Dada

Hundreds of youths in the Ondo South Senatorial District of Ondo State on Wednesday trooped out to the Lagos-Benin Expressway to protest against poor power supply to communities in the district for the past 10 years.

PUNCH Metro gathered that over 1,000 communities in the  six local government areas of the senatorial district had been without electricity for over 10 years after they were allegedly cut off from the national grid following their alleged indebtedness to the then Power Holding Company of Nigeria.

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The protesters, including members of all the youth associations in the area, alleged that Ondo State and the Federal Government failed to find a lasting solution to the economic problem of the affected communities which, according to them, was caused by unavailability of electricity in the area.

The youths displayed placards with inscriptions such as, ‘Revoke the licence of BEDC,’ ‘Is this democracy of kleptocracy?’ ‘Ten years of darkness, wetin we do,’ ‘Blackout has crumbled our economic activities,’ ‘This darkness is enough,’ and ‘Bring back our light,’ among others.

As a result of the protest, there was a traffic logjam on the highway for hours and it took the intervention of the state police command and other security agencies to clear the road for stranded travellers.

The leader of the protesters, Kunle Ajayi, said they decided to shut the busy expressway in order to draw the attention of the government and compel it to find a permanent solution to their power problem.

He explained that some members of the community had met with the government and other stakeholders, adding that there was no positive response.

He said, “For over 10 years, our people have been living in darkness and this government has kept mute over our plight despite our pleas.

“The current Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, used this problem of power supply to campaign. He told us that he would resolve it, but nothing has been done till today.

“So, our demand is that we want the licence of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company, the new firm managing power in this area, to be immediately revoked by the Federal Government. We want Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and his deputy, Agboola Ajayi, to step down because they have failed us completely.

“We are also asking the government to immediately restore electricity to the affected local government areas because this suffering is enough.”

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The protesters gave the government 14 days to address the issue, saying failure to do so would bring them back to the street.

In its response, the  Ondo State Government said it was resolving the matter, adding that it had approved the fast-track off-grid electricity project in the area to end the blackout.

The Special Adviser to the Governor on Public Utilities, Tunji Ariyomo, disclosed that 12 companies won the bid to set up modular independent power in partnership with the state government, “using variety of energy mix technologies.”

Ariyomo also explained that the vision of the government was to expand the electricity value chain in the state by powering the most energy deprived parts of the state and their productive clusters which would enhance micro-economic activities.

He said, “We want to turn estimated 18,000 households into a powerful engagement force to escape the paradox of energy poverty in an oil producing state.”

He added that, apart from the mini-grids, the state government had reached advanced stage in the completion of the abandoned 30MW tri-fuel power plant near Ore.

Meanwhile, in Ogbomoso, Oyo State, commuters had a torrid time on Wednesday as residents of Ogbomoso staged a protest and blocked the Oyo-Ogbomoso road for hours.

The protesters said the action was to express their displeasure over the slow pace of work on the construction of the road for the past nine years, which they said had led to the death of thousands of people over the years.

On June 11, 2018, the residents had held a protest during which they called on President Muhammadu Buhari-led government and the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, to ensure the completion of the road before August 1, 2018.

At Takie roundabout in Ogbomoso, where hundreds of the protesters gathered on Wednesday, PUNCH Metro was told that the latest action was because of their love for citizens of the town, as well as Nigerians plying the route.

The Chairman of the Ogbomosho Community, Dr Isreal Olaniyan, said in his address that it was time the FG took the construction of the road more seriously.

He said, “We deemed it fit to organise this peaceful rally after the one on June 11, 2018, to call the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, to our plight on the snail-speed construction of the Ogbomosho-Oyo Expressway.

“We found out that the road was awarded in 2010 and was meant to be completed in four years. However, nine years after, it is about 58 per cent completed.

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“We found out that only N2.8bn is appropriated for the road in the current budget, which is grossly inadequate. Our plight is that the present Ogbomosho-Oyo road has become a death trap. It kills more people than HIV/AIDS does. Statistics at our disposal indicates that an average of 25 people die on the road per week. When this is multiplied by fifty-two weeks, it means that averages of 780 persons are lost annually on this road.”

Olaniyan added that an average of 7,020 lives lost in nine years was alarming, calling for an urgent action from the FG to complete the road.

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