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Electricity And Minister Adelabu’s Peculiar Mess: A Short Story

By Felix Oboagwina

“Welcome, Sir!” chorused the small gathering of guys seated at the door of the Barber’s shop, as I stopped in front of Ade’s salon. He is my regular barber. At his shop, I maintain this Saturday ritual in preparation for Sunday church service and the coming week.

“Come in! Let Oga pass!” said Ade, extracting himself from the midst of three other people seated on benches and chairs in the semi-darkness of a gloomy evening. They angled their legs to let me through.

“Are you sure you can barb my hair?” I fired at Ade in sarcastic laughter. NEPA had struck some seven hours earlier that morning. “Is your generator working today?”

“He is ready for business,” someone from the gathering said. His pals roared with laughter.

“Then, he has become truly born-again!” I responded. “I just decided to try my luck here first, before moving on to other salons. These days, you show up here for a haircut and Ade’s generator has packed up or he couldn’t get fuel to buy at any station –no fuel even when it’s costly.”

More laughter poured forth.

“Today is different, Sir!” someone testified for Ade.

He soon settled me into the seat, with his Barber’s sheet clamped down by a single clip around my shoulders. What’s happening? Shouldn’t he first put on his small I-better-pass-my-neighbour generator? Power failure was NEPA’s bad habit here in this Alimosho area of Lagos. This particular axis got supplied by the relatively reliable 33kva transmission station. Like most days, however, today, power had disappeared around 8.30 that Saturday morning. Now it was about 3pm and NEPA still kept the supply switch on OFF.

Pushing the twin sliding doors to one side to catch the dimming embers of daylight, Ade, from his drawer, produced a wireless clipper and quickly went to work on my head. Despite the pain his clippers usually dealt to my head and face, Ade was so courteous that I found myself returning to him, even when I silently cursed his clippers and vowed that each session would be my last of subjecting my head to this torture. But I usually broke that vow. Ade had this condescending, humble mien that attracted you. Plus, I found him chatty and got to hear local gossip while he worked.

“I had to buy another wireless clipper,” he said. “Hope you don’t feel pain.”

Like hell, I did! Nevertheless, I responded: “Just continue! Maybe the pain will lessen as you go on.”

“Sorry, Sir,” he consoled me. He lifted the reaper off my head and made some adjustments. Soon the wireless clipper returned, only to continue torturing my poor head. My face contorted in anguish. Stockholm syndrome, I have fallen in love with my tormentor. After a moment of silence, Ade spoke again: “I had to buy this second-hand clipper. They won’t give us light and they increase the tariff. Sir, do you know these Ikeja DisCo (IKEDC) people have pushed us into Band A, by force by fire?”

“Yes, I received their SMS!”

From June 1, despite government’s assurances it would not happen, electricity consumers in that Lagos neighbourhood woke up to their worst nightmare –the Ikeja Distribution Company (IKEDC) slammed a higher tariff on them. The DisCo did not even have the decency to notify customers. Its terse message came days only after subscribers noticed the rise in fresh purchases. I myself got the IKJELECTRIC message at 11.59am, 05/06/2024:

Dear Esteemed Customer. Please be informed that due to a recent feeder upgrade and consequent in power supply in your location, your tariff class has been moved from Band B to Band A. Thank you for allowing us to serve you.

Ade said: “Now Ikeja DisCo is charging N1,000 for 4 units instead of for 14 units. They have robbed us of an entire 10 units per N1,000. Just like that! Wicked people!”

Initially priced at N225/kHz in that unpopular nationwide increase, Band A services were later slashed to N206.80/kHz. Even then, IKEDC charges customers the unapproved old rate of N225/kHz unit. Electricity used to cost N66/kHz. Much worse is that customers don’t even get the light. In this rainy season, the light immediately disappears with the littlest breeze blowing.

Ade said: “Today, they took light around 8am. And this is 3pm, they have not restored it. The same thing they did yesterday –from morning to evening, the light just went off. We couldn’t even see light to work or do anything throughout the day. People doing power-related business here run generators all through the day; yet they push us to Band A.”

I chipped in: “Ade, you don’t know what pains me most? We have this Minister of Power, Adebayo Adelabu, who appears to be fish out of water in that ministry. With a background in accounting and banking, this Minister does not consider citizens’ interests at all. He appears to be more concerned about assisting DisCos to make unjustified profit. He wants to satisfy these Shylocks, whose interest is not to render service but to rip off longsuffering consumers without rendering commensurate service.

“How will rain be falling and you switch off power? Haba! When they do, they don’t restore electricity for that entire day or several days. Any organisation interested in generating money won’t let that happen. Check out electricity firms abroad, during the worst of snowstorms or rainstorms, they ensure that electricity remains available without any break. In fact, it is said that people will freeze to death should power go off in winter. Do their own power suppliers have two heads ni?”

Ade responded: “Shameless DisCos!”

I went on: “Some weeks back, they interviewed the Power Minister on TVC –the television station owned by President Bola Tinubu. The man described himself as an Accountant. But he struck me as one of these pampered boys, whose father left with a sizable inheritance. Of course, he is the grandson of Adelabu, that Ibadan politician they called ‘Penkelemesi.’”

Ade said: “Oh, you must mean, Adedibu, the strong man of Ibadan politics under PDP.”

I replied: “Noooo! I mean Adelabu! Adegoke Adedibu is different from Lamidi Adelabu.”

The Barber said: “No wonder! No true son of Adedibu will do what this guy is doing. Adedibu was in touch with commoners. God rest his soul. Adedibu, with his Amala Politics, had a heart for the masses. Adedibu knew where the shoe pinched. No son of Adedibu will come into office and increase the suffering of the masses. This Adelabu is collaborating with DisCos to do what his father called PECULIAR MESS in the nation’s power sector.”

I replied: “Don’t mind him. Adedibu apparently sees his assignment as robbing Nigerians to pay the DisCos. He has turned himself into DisCos’ marketing executive.”

Sounding angry, Ade chipped in: “I wonder o! How can a Minister of Power be saying Nigerians like to leave on their fridge and air conditioners 24/7; and that Nigerians waste electricity this way? How does a seller complain that his customers consume too much? He should have been sacked instantly! Can a salt seller be complaining that people are over-salting food, therefore his stock finishes too fast? Is it not logical that the more salt you sell the more money you make?

Maybe Adelabu will be happy if we kuku return to using clay pots for cool water.”

I said: “Hospitals responded to that his ridiculous statement. They educated him that some drugs, medications and even blood needed refrigerated preservation in real time at a particular temperature; and any drop in temperature would destroy them. What of mortuaries? What of industries? Many run three shifts. You can bet that this Minister will say they should cut down on their shifts in order to reduce the load on the grid. A colossal misfit! Talk about putting square pegs in round holes. In a country overflowing with engineers, Tinubu chooses an Accountant to supervise Power and Electricity. This peculiar mess is the result.”

Ade said: “Oga, sebi you be journalist; help us tell government say make dem reverse dis high tariff and return the old rates. Those old rates were even over-priced by these yeye DisCos.”

I said: “Even if people write, will they hear? They have only ears for songs that DisCos sing. Instead of pandering to DisCos’ demand to raise tariffs, the government should be pushing them to embark on expanding their distribution networks and exploring new markets –horizontal growth of more customers instead of vertical growth of higher tariffs. Isn’t that how the telecoms are making their huge profits despite lowering airtime price? In this country, DisCos have a massive market waiting to be served with electricity. More profit will come not with higher tariffs, but with more customers and greater efficiency. Isn’t that the simple rule of demand and supply?”

Ade said: “Oga, I am completely lost with all your grammar. You know say me na ordinary Barber. Write am make dem read am.”

I laughed. He removed the sheet from my shoulders; and I handed him the usual fee for his service.

Ade gave a shy smile: “Sorry, Sir, our price has changed! New tariff, new price!”

FELIX OBOAGWINA IS A JOURNALIST AND HE LIVES IN LAGOS

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