Metro

Crowdfunding amid blackout saves Kwara residents from losses 

When choosing a community to settle in, one of the amenities residents consider as a yardstick is constant electricity supply–it was like the holy grail for comfort and ease of doing business, and this was what attracted both residents and business people to Surulere-Alabi.

But the tide turned in 2022 when the 33KV step-down for power distribution that the Surulere-Alabi community enjoyed began to falter, leading to distress among stakeholders.

“Our once bubbling and growing community became a shadow of itself with businesses collapsing and some residents moving out due to the on and off of the transformer,’’ said Alhaji Busari Idris, the community chairman.

 

Power off

In March, 2022 the transformer that supplied power to the community was on the verge of collapse. Throughout the year, the community faced intermittent power shortage, experiencing a complete blackout for five months.

When all options to restore electric power were exhausted after several complaints at the electricity distribution company in the state, the community turned to self-help. Members agreed to crowdfund for a new transformer.

IBEDC Lead, Media Relations, Mrs Busolami Tunwase said there was no official communication from the community to the distribution company, but that the commission would reach out to them to reach an agreement.

She said they would contact the community to enter into an agreement as stipulated by the NERC to have a Memorandum of Understanding signed, which will include for its refund to be either in credit or unit.

“The procedure is for the community to apply officially and we will take it up from there, which was not done, but we won’t shy away from the fact that there is paucity of funds for us to provide all these things, and they have done it through self-help’’ she said.

Over time, Nigeria has struggled with poor power supply for decades, a challenge that is estimated to cost businesses about N44.33 trillion ($29 billion) yearly, according to the World Bank. The country has the lowest access to electricity globally, with about 92 million persons out of the country’s over 200 million population lacking access to power, says the Energy Progress 2022 released by Tracking SDG7.

Idris said the previous executive members bought a 500KVA/33KV transformer for N4,150,000, with each of the 536 households contributing N12,500. Unfortunately, the new transformer began malfunctioning after four months due to an inadequate uprisal cable, leading to frequent repairs. It was later revealed that the transformer was a refurbished one, rather than brand new.

This was how the Surulere community had to endure another blackout from June to Dec., 2023.

In a bid to find a lasting solution, with a new executive in place, by Dec. 20, 2023 the residents purchased a new 630 KVA/33KV transformer for N7.7 million, with contributions of N25,000 from each of the 476 households.

The new transformer purchased and in use by the community members

The new transformer was operational by Dec. 24, 2023 and has been reliable since.

“For the transformer we are using presently, industries and hotels paid N100,000, welders paid N30,000, households paid N25,000 and shops paid N5,000 each,’’ said the community leader.

Due to the high load, the chairman pointed out, the community decided to purchase another transformer on April 17, 2024, for N9.2 million to balance the load and allow for redistribution.

“For the second transformer, industries and hotels are to pay N70,000, welders to pay N30,000, households will pay N20,000 and shops will pay N3,000.

‘’We do not want a repeat of what happened with the spoilt transformer, that is why we want to reduce the workload on this by redistributing after its installation.

“We got it on credit for N9.2 million with a time frame to pay back, but the community members are not forthcoming with payment probably because they are already relieved with the one in use.

‘’But if we are not careful and act fast, we might go back to square one and we do not want that to happen.”

 

The second transformer gotten to relieve the load on the one in use

Idris expressed frustration that community members’ contributions were the only solution after failed attempts to get assistance from the Kwara State Government, Kwara House of Assembly, Kwara Ministry of Energy, Federal House of Representatives and Senate members representing the constituency.

He revealed that when contacted, the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) told the community members that there were no 33 KVA transformers on ground, except for 11KVA.

He noted that businesses collapsed, and some tenants left during the power outage, leaving only landlords to cope.

 

Alhaji Busari Idris, Chairman, Surulere-Alabi Community

 

Nevertheless, the community’s self help action however came before the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) warned citizens against self procurement of transformers and some other electrical components.

In furtherance of the acts of community members, the Mogaji (community head), Alhaji Jimoh Alao, praised the new executive members for finding a lasting solution and called on the government to provide basic amenities as demanded by the people.

The octogenarian said getting the transformer marked the end of nightmares for members of the community as theft and robbery cases increased during the period of darkness. He pointed out that this was the first time the community showed such strong organisation in contributions since his appointment in 1990.

 

Life without electricity

A welder in the community, Mr Sodiq Olanrewaju, said the period without electricity supply was terrible for his business as there was little work he could do using generators due to the high cost of fuel. Occasionally, he took his work to his colleague’s shop which was not always convenient.

 

 

Mr Sodiq Olanrewaju

 

 

“Apart from the inconvenience of moving materials from my workshop down to another place to couple them together, it reduces the profit I make on such work, because I will have to pay for using the workshop. So, all the jobs I got then were just to keep body and soul together, there was not enough profit on them” he said.

A typical example is a job worth N300,000 where Olanrewaju usually made a profit of almost N50,000. During the blackout, he hardly made a profit of up to N20,000.

”But now that the transformer has been fixed, all I work towards is to get called for a job and I am sure I will make good gains,’’ he said.

Corroborating his claim, Mrs Funmilayo Hussein, who sells soft drinks and provisions said she bought ice blocks to keep them cold for customers.

This cost her between N400 and N500, lasting for just a few hours. This meant little or no profit for her. Usually, she makes a profit of N800 on a pack of soft drinks if she doesn’t buy ice blocks, but this went as low as N300 or N400 during the blackout.

 

Mrs Funmilayo Hussein

 

Mrs. Hussein called on the government to help in fixing the community roads since the community members have taken care of electricity. She said most vendors have stopped coming to the area for supply due to the bad roads which makes them spend so much on transportation in order to get the goods.

 

Mr Sikiru Ajadi

 

 

A tenant, Mrs Barakat Bello, had a different experience because the blackout influenced her decision to set up a solar system in her home.

“It was a difficult decision for me then because I was not financially buoyant but I had the option of paying in instalments, which I did. That was what served me then, because if not, I might have moved out just like some other tenants did,” she explained.

‘’Now I have finished paying for it and a new transformer has been gotten, so it is a double win for me.”

During the blackout, she was unable to buy foodstuff in bulk and resorted to buying in small quantities. This made her spend more, she pointed out.

”But the shortage I had during that period was that I could no longer buy foodstuffs in bulk like I used to, so I resorted to buying in small quantities which made me spend more money than I used to,’’ she said.

Mr Wasiu Gbolagade, a landlord who owns a block of four flats, lost two tenants.

‘They lamented that they can’t cope without electricity as it was the major reason they rented an apartment in the area. One of them said he spent N40,000 on fuel alone in a month which he cannot continue because he works at home with light,” Mr Gbolagade said.

On his part, Mr Sikiru Ajadi who runs a football viewing centre said all he did then was to work at retaining his customers and not dwell on profit making. He bought N2500 worth of fuel to show a single football match at the risk of not making up to N2000.

”But now that we do not have a light problem again, even if I do not make more than N2000 per match and we show more than one match per day, I know that nothing is taking that from me other than to use it to cater for my wife and kids,” he said.(NAN)

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