High tension carnage (1)

It is one horror that will never be forgotten too quickly – no fewer than 50 people were electrocuted by high tension lines in Port Harcourt February 14, 2010, when the lines collapsed at Oginigba Village, Port Harcourt. The victims were passengers of two commercial buses that were loading under the high tension transmission lines right of way. They included pregnant mothers, early morning workers and children as they were trapped in the burnt commercial buses that exploded during the incident.

The collapse was brought about by a heavy downpour which visited the city.
The high tension cable also shocked 14 bystanders who were rushed to the Braithwaite Memorial Specialist Hospital (BMH) owned by the Rivers State Government. The corpses of the victims were deposited at the same hospital as relatives and friends rushed there in search of their loved ones.

It was a black Saturday incident in Port Harcourt which jolted the residents of the city into rude shock as relatives and friends, including husbands wept uncontrollably over the death of their loved ones.

The PHCN spokesperson said that the company was still investigating the cause of the incident, and recalled that PHCN had warned the general public on the danger of either living or doing business under high-tension lines several times before the Port Harcourt calamity.

That it is grave danger to live or run any activity under the right of way of PHCN high tension transmission lines should not be news to many Nigerians by now if we go by related incidences and issues that have been recorded in the past. In 1985, in Lagos, government descended on landlords who built houses under high tension transmission lines by pulling down houses. This writer is very much at home with the high tension carnage story in question. In 1985, when he was on the staff of Vanguard, shortly after the demolition exercise that year, his story on the subject was published from Monday through Friday.

An Ijeshatedo landlord spoken to then put the number of buildings affected by the demolition order of the government then in Ijeshatedo and Aguda at 4000 units. Ijeshatedo and Aguda are on Lagos mainland. A total of over 10,000 houses were affected by the demolition order in Lagos. Several houses along the Badagry Expressway were pulled down also. Among the houses demolished were hotels. Supermarkets, shops, houses whose value ran into several millions of naira. Not only that businesses were killed, banks that held documents of properties that went with the demolition as collateral, ran into serious problem. Their books became unpleasing to look at.

A quarter of a century after this grave incidence, houses that were demolished have, like anthills, sprung up again. This is in spite of the grave danger that living or operating under high tension right of way portends. This is not because people who live or run their businesses under high tension lines do not know the import of their action, but simply because the landlords of properties in question and tenants find it comfortable operating since no one has come forward to enforce the law that they are breaching. But nemesis has caught up with them with recent development – the reconstruction of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. We will come to that shortly.

In 1985, Alhaji Salawu Buhari, the Baba Adinni of Were Nise Oluwa Mosque, Olubunmi Alonge Street, Ijeshatedo, asserted that inhabitants of buildings under high tension lines “are exposed to electric charge such as lines, shocks and in consequence, electrocution”. A butcher, along Aliu Street Ketu, confirmed that his roof “shocks if touched during rains”. He also talked about the fearful humming from the lines when thunder struck.

That was 25 years ago. Today, Christian Azu tells you a similar story, same old story. Christian, a job seeker lives in a house between Abule-Ado and Oluti opposite Festac Town on Lagos mainland, directly under high tension power line. He is aware of the danger of living under deadly power lines but tells you “I have no option now but will move out whenever I have enough money to relocate.” He confirms the dreadful humming of the lines especially at night and gives graphic details of the recent Port Harcourt calamity which took several lives. Yet, he is not bothered living under death wires. Further down Agric area, before the approach to Alaba International Market, high tension lines pass over a long stretch of homes veering off by Volkswagen and stretching over a line of houses and shopping plaza as well as a motor park and across the Iba Road, into Lagos State University.

And nobody cares. Businesses go on as usual. And domestic cores too. Residents and business persons spoken to, careless about the death hanging over them. At the Iyana Iba Motor pack, it is business as usual even when the Port Harcourt incident that claimed over 50 lives is fresh. And some at Agric tell you of incidents in the past that claimed some lives in their neighbourhood! And life goes on. They do not care.

At Jakande Housing Estate in Isolo, Lagos, many live under high tension lines unperturbed. They complain of excessive heat and discomfort. A colleague here in my newsroom lived the earlier part of his life in Lagos for three and a half year under high tension wires. He recounts, “I didn’t have the financial muscle to relocate to a better home that was on offer then”. Another colleague had to pay PHCN N250, 000 to make the company adjust its high tension line right of way at construction time in his village in Imo State. Not many can do this and it is not in all cases that it is possible to do so. After all, investigations have proved that PHCN got its right of way for its high tension power line after some areas had been built up in some cases and before they were built up in some.

In Akure, Ondo State, the story is the same. Business houses and homes are found under high tension lines that run across the city. People are not aware or pretend not to be aware of the danger next door. This is very obvious along the link road that connects Ondo Road and Ilesha Road.

Written by
Siaka Momoh
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