SPECIAL REPORT: Lagos communities host multi-billion naira investments but have no electricity

Despite their communities hosting multi-billion-naira investments, residents of over 40 communities in Ibeju-Lekki Local Government Area of Lagos have continued to wallow in darkness.

The communities host the Lekki Free Trade Zone and the popular Dangote refinery among other multi-billion-naira projects.

Former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu in 2006 launched the ambitious Lekki Free Trade Zone, domiciled in Ibeju Lekki, as an agenda to turn the region into one of the largest investment destinations in Africa.

At the ground-breaking on May 12, 2006, Mr Tinubu likened the creation of the export free zone to one of the most effective strategies for transforming a country like Nigeria from third to first world.

Since then, Ibeju-Lekki local government has seen the entry of huge private investment and one of such is the much-celebrated Dangote Petrochemicals Refinery, a $15 billion investment, reputed to the largest single-train refinery in the world upon completion. The refinery sits on 6,180 acres (2,500 hectares) of land.

Another is the Lekki Deep Sea Port, a $1.5 billion investment, which upon completion is projected as one of the largest deep seaports in Sub-Saharan Africa.

While residents and indigenes are happy to hear officials speak glowingly about the potentials of these investments for economic growth, they are worried that many communities in the local government still lack electricity.

The affected communities include Tiye, Mobido, Idasho, Ilege, Magbon-Segun, Idotun, Itokin, Lekuru, Ebute-Lekki, Okunraiye, Olomowewe, Origanrigan 1, Origanriran 2, Oshoko, Lekki, Shiriwon, Ibekodo, Itamarun and Oniyanrin.

Others are Ogogoro, Igbolomi, Idata, Otoolu, Folu, Ikegun, Lepia, Okun-Ise, Okun Abumiti, Igbogun, Obada, Ilagbo, Ide Island 1, Ide Island 2, Igbodola, Batedo, Imobi-Oke, Imube-Omi, Ereke, Okegelu and Apakin.

The communities, according to the 2006 census, serve as homes to over a hundred thousand people.

Bitter Tales

Many children living in various communities in Ibeju-Lekki do not believe that there could be light from an electric bulb without the use of a generator. Residents who spoke with our reporter narrated tales of woes and the difficulties they face due to lack of electricity.

For a first time visitor, the presence of electric poles, a transformer and electric cables may suggest that the communities in this local government have electricity. The residents describe them as ‘mere decorations.’

PREMIUM TIMES’ findings revealed that the electric poles, transformer and cables were brought in the year 2000 during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Then, the community felt their years of darkness would soon come to an end. That has, however, remained a pipe dream.

In early 2000, after the materials were brought, some of the communities had limited power supply for a few years. Soon, the darkness returned fully and that has remained the situation since then.

Our correspondent also gathered that their years of challenges vary. While some of the communities have not had electricity for the past 15 years, some residents said total darkness in their communities started about 10 years ago.

On a recent afternoon in Lekuru community, Tawakalt Olayemi-Malik sat on a wooden stool in front of her house. Placed before her was a carton of frozen fish which she was about to roast. She picked up a fish, bent it, and used a tiny bamboo stick to pierce the head and tail, forming a circular shape.

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Next, Mrs Olayemi-Malik placed them on a net, on top of a huge metal container. Beneath the container, fire from a coal pot blazed towards the fish, roasting them.

This has been her new source of livelihood after her hairdressing business crashed due to a lack of electricity, she told PREMIUM TIMES. Her ‘bitter’ experience started 15 years ago after she got married to an indigene of Lekuru community.

Before marriage, she could cater for her necessary needs with the income from her hairdressing work. Back then, she had five apprentices but on getting to Lekuru to live with her husband, they all left.

The total blackout in the community frustrated the business and that was “the beginning of my predicament,” she said.

“Most of the tools we use such as dryer, steaming machine and many more require electricity to function. I have the tools but we cannot make use of them because the community does not have electricity.”

After losing all her apprentices, she abandoned the hairdressing job to start petty trade. Still, it failed, she said.

“I later began a petty trade, took money from my savings to buy a generator and freezer. After nine months, the generator got spoilt. I now live in penury. People are working in the refinery adjacent to my house but I have nothing to sell to them,” she said, explaining why she turned to charcoal-roasted fist business.

Atunrase Tolani, a barber in Tiye community, told PREMIUM TIMES that he has not used government electricity since the past 11 years that he opened his salon. He said 70 per cent of his income is spent on fuel.

“I spend an average of N4,000 daily on fuel. The youths in the communities are tired of even agitating.

“We thought the establishment of companies like the seaport, refinery and indomie will be of help to us but that is not it. We just continue to suffer in darkness.”

More travails

Residents told PREMIUM TIMES that even when efforts were made to get transformers, electricity officials failed to connect them to the grid.

A fashion designer, Eleto Monsurah, lives at Origanrigan community. She said she uses ‘stove iron’ to press her customers’ clothes and ‘it does not make my work come out well.’

Taiwo Oti, an operative of the neighbourhood safety corps who lives in Lekki, said lack of electricity has made the community unfavourable for petty business despite the government’s efforts to promote SMEs.

One of the youth leaders in Ibeju-Lekki, Muhammed Jamiu, said most of the communities in the local government have been in darkness since 2005 and efforts to find a solution to the challenges have been unsuccessful.

“The youths in the local government gathered ourselves in late 2009 to form a group under the banner ‘restore our light 2010’. We agitated and met with various leaders but no result.

“The state governor earlier this year paid visit to Dangote Refinery and we confronted him with our plight. He made a promise to look into the electricity crisis but nothing has been heard,” he said.

Disturbed communities’ leaders

The leaders of the communities in Ibeju-Lekki accused the Lagos State Government of marginalisation.

They wondered why communities that house multi-billion-naira investments continue to live in darkness for several years despite visits by officials. The leaders also called on the private investors to assist with electricity restoration.

One of the leaders in Okunraye community, Ibrahim Adedeji, lamented the situation.

“Both young and old are affected by a lack of electricity. Even some of us that build house for business sake do not have tenants because nobody wants to stay in an area without electricity. I have more than four spoilt generators in my house because I overuse them.

“We are suffering and not happy that despite the state government officials ‘visit to free zone, nothing is being done. They are always giving us excuse which makes us doubt their love for the people.”

The Baale of Tiye community, Kayode Mustapha, said his community has not witnessed electricity for several years and his subjects are fast seeing him as an incapable leader.

“While the rich are buying generators to light their houses, others knocked at their doors at night to charge. Most people use electricity for their work but they have been jobless because government fails to do what matter to its citizens welfare.”

Corroborating his colleague, the Baale of Origanrigan 2, Komolafe Babatunde, said “the children we gave birth to in this community in the last 10 years do not understand what is called NEPA light. The only understanding they have is that electricity is generated through generator.

“Many visitors have left our community to other places where they can have access to electricity. We are appealing to the state government to treat this as a matter of urgency.”

Group petitions Sanwo-Olu

As part of the effort to ensure that electricity is restored in the affected communities, a group called Ibeju-Lekki Development Vanguard, last month, petitioned Lagos Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

The group said residents in Ibeju-Lekki are compelled to live under 17th-century conditions.

“If the government cannot fix its immediate basic need now, how can they trust the government and its private sector friends to deliver jobs, education, infrastructure, security, water etc. in the future?

“The time to fix the shameful blackout in Ibeju-Lekki communities is now!” part of the petition seen by PREMIUM TIMES read.

“Earlier in the year, while on another facility tour at the Dangote Refinery complex, we read with despair that you (Governor Sanwo-olu) were not aware that a whole swath of land under your care does not have electricity for years.

“We were comforted by your promise to take immediate steps and personally ensure that the issue was resolved. But months thereafter, we are yet to see any practical steps being taken.

“We believe that you have the capacity to ensure that the people of these communities do not experience any further pain due to government neglect and inaction. We hereby passionately demand from government a quick attention to fixing the light in Ibeju-Lekki without any further delay.”

Evasive Authorities

PREMIUM TIMES contacted the chairman of Ibeju-Lekki LCDA, Ogidan Olaitan, for comments on our findings but he did not respond to calls and text messages.

The lawmaker representing Ibeju-Lekki Local Government Area at the state assembly, Raheem Kazeem, did not also respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiries.

In our first telephone interview with him, he told this newspaper to call him back but he has since refused to respond to calls and text messages.

On his part, the senator representing Lagos East which covers Ibeju-Lekki, Tokunbo Abiru, promised to do all required of him to ensure that the communities have electricity.

His spokesperson, Enitan Olukotun, said “although the senator was recently sworn in and he is not lacking in his responsibility of ensuring that there is rural electrification in various communities, we have done a survey on the needs of the people including those in Ibeju-Lekki. We know that legislatures do not have budget but can only facilitate projects.”

This newspaper also reached out to Olarere Odusote, the Lagos State commisioner for energy. He did not respond to enquiries sent to him about Ibeju-Lekki’s electricity challenges.

The state information commissioner, Gbenga Omotosho, simply said “the governor has ordered that they should go and fix the light. The government has met wit the electrcity people…”

When questioned further on the precise steps that are being taken by the government, he pleaded with PREMIUM TIMES for more time to get details from the ministry of energy. Over three weeks later, Mr Omotosho has not responded.

Last March, when Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu visited the free trade zones in Ibeju Lekki, he pledged to intervene in a six-year-long power outage in eight communities namely Magbon Alade, Alasia, Orimedu, Eleko, Osa Oroko, Ise, Akodo, and Solu.

Nigeria’s electricity in a mess

Nigeria has a long history of not solving its electricity problems and promises by successive governments to tackle this are yet to yield significant results.

Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 said the country would be generating 10,000 megawatts (MW) of electricity by 2007 and 35,000MW by 2020. The projection was later adjusted in 2009 by the late Umaru Yar’Adua who modified the projections, placing installed capacity growth at 6,000MW to 20,000MW by 2015.

By the time President Goodluck Jonathan came on board, he launched a privatisation exercise in 2013 with the mandate to increase power generation and provide stable supply of electricity to Nigerians at affordable cost.

His administration split the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) into six generation companies (GenCos) and 11 distribution companies (DisCos) handled by private investors while the federal government retained 100 per cent ownership of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).

Many years later, most parts of the country still battle with the irregular supply of electricity while many other communities have none at all, leading to negative economic consequences.

Last year, the Minister of Power, Saleh Mamman, said the country had an installed generation capacity of 13,000 megawatts but distributes less than 6,000MW. However, statistics provided by GET. Invest, a European programme focused on renewable energy projects, said only 3,500 MW to 5,000 MW is typically available for onward transmission to the final consumers in Nigeria, less than a third of what is required.

This significant difference in production and distribution has been blamed on the country’s poor transmission and distribution network, incessant collapse of the national grid and other factors.

Also, in spite of the poor distribution, electricity companies continue to demand more increases in electricity tariff, saying the prices Nigerians pay for electricity are not adequate to sustain the supply of electricity.

For the 40 communities in Ibeju-Lekki, however, the total lack of electricity means there is no basis to discuss tariffs.

Affecting growth of SMEs

In April, the World Bank said Nigerian businesses lose $29 billion annually to erratic power supply. This was contained in its Power Sector Recovery Programme factsheet.

According to a senior energy specialist at the World Bank, Muhammad Wakil, “Nigeria now has the largest number of ‘unelectrified’ people globally and the trend is worsening. Of the electrified, the supply is very unreliable with widespread blackouts.”

He also said Nigeria now has 25 per cent more “unelectrified” people than the second most unelectrified country in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The bank also said between June 2020 and February 2021, its board approved $1.25 billion financing to support the Nigerian government in its efforts to reset the power sector.

Earlier in 2019, it said 80 million people in the country were without access to electricity and millions more suffered from poor service.

A banker and development enthusiast, Wale Eleto, told PREMIUM TIMES that it is sad that communities in Ibeju-Lekki are among places facing electricity difficulties.

He also explained the danger of having huge investments strive while small-scale businesses are collapsing.

“The World Bank has said that by 2030, there will be need for 600 million jobs globally. It has also reminded us quickly that seven out of every 10 jobs will be provided by SMEs.

“Now, for an environment like Ibeju-Lekki, their strength will be SMEs. How can we then have employment without electricity? How many other communities are suffering like this? We have seen promises from successive governments and nothing has been done.

“We are calling on authorities to do the needful without any further delay, power must be restored in Ibeju-Lekki communities. We cannot afford the same mess in Niger Delta where people are cheated on their lands and the debacle in Apapa to happen in Ibeju Lekki.”

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