10 Months After Borno’s Blackout: Health, Economic Sectors Suffer – LEADERSHIP NEWS
In this report, FRANCIS OKOYE writes on the excruciating effects of the bombing of power transmission towers in Borno State since January 2021 on residents, the economy, and the health sectors of the state.
The lingering electricity failure resulting from the activities of Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists has not only returned Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno to the dark age but, it is hitting residents, the health sector, and the economy of the once known home of peace hard.
The entire city of Maiduguri had remained in darkness for the past 10 months following the bombing of Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) transmission towers on the 25th of January this year along Maiduguri- Damaturu highway by Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists.
Ever since then residents and businesses surviving on electricity have been groaning under hardship placed on the economy that was already battered by the terrorists’ activities.
But despite the efforts of the state government at working to rehabilitate the destroyed power facilities, the Boko Haram terrorists had continued to ensure that electricity supply to Maiduguri remains a failure haven realised its importance to the citizens.
Fortnight ago, the marauding terrorists in their nefarious attitude bombed more high tension lines within the vicinity of Auno, along the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway and thus further dimming the hope of citizens who are hopeful of having power supply back soon after eight months of waiting.
An eyewitness report had it that more than four high tension towers that supplied electricity from Damaturu to Maiduguri was blown off again by the suspected members of ISWAP Fighters last Friday night.
The incident reportedly occurred in Garin Kuturu village which is about 2kms away from Auno.
How health, economic sectors are suffering the brunt
The most strangulated in the over nine months blackout in Borno are the economic and health sectors which depended heavily on power.
The blackout has greatly affected medical services and services in many hospitals both public and private with millions of naira spent on power generating sets on weekly basis.
Again, being that medical profession is advanced now and leverage on technology for making proper diagnosis, the hospitals must investigate patients appropriately and all equipment, instruments, and machines required to investigate patients use requires electricity.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that most of the medical equipment needs high voltage electricity to work well, hence the challenges faced by the health sector over the electricity cut-off in Borno are so daunting.
This is even as the same faith has befallen artisans such as welders, hair salon operators, business centre operators among others whose source of livelihood depended on electricity before the catastrophe that the terrorists plunged Maiduguri and environs into.
Lamenting frustration faced in the health sector over the power outage, the Chairman Medical Advisory Committee (CMAC) of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH), Professor Mala Sandabe, said since the beginning of the power failure from 26th of January this year, the hospital has been using power generator consistently.
Prof Sandabe said luckily for the hospital, around 1997, Petroleum Trust Fund ( PTF ) then supplied 2100kva generators that the hospital is constantly using.
“One, they are old and they have been overused. So immediately the power failure began, one of the generating sets just after two months failed and we couldn’t repair it, so for the other one we have been using and managing, we have to see how we can maintain it, so we started a load-schedule plan.
“Before, we used to give the entire staff quarters and the hospital, but when we had only one and we are into load-schedule, we cut-off the staff quarters and allowed it only hospital services and because it is the only one we are using, the temperature started increasing. So we had to start load-schedule even with the hospital services.
“We also had to switch it off to test. So between 6 am and 9 am, the generator is switched off, then from 3 pm to 6 pm the generator is switched off, but we give constant supply between 6 pm to 6 am. So in total, our generator is working for 18 hours.
“But then, even if we switched off the generator, there are areas that could not do without electricity even for one minute. For instance, the intensive care unit, the operating ward, labour ward, special care baby unit, the laboratory, and Accident and Emergency Unit,” he said.
He noted that over time, the hospital depended on diesel, but when it discovered that it can not afford that amount of diesel that it is consuming because on average, the hospital use one truck which is about 33,000 litres every week at the contract sum of about 10 million a week.
He noted that there is also lubrication, lubricants, and services maintenance which in a month consume about N500,000.
He said since the period of power challenges, the hospital has gotten some assistance from the federal ministry of finance and ministry of humanitarian affairs through the North East Development Commission (NEDC).
“We are also calling on well-spirited individuals that can help to come to the aid of the hospital. Because as it is now, we cannot go further, if the power failure continues, the service will drastically go down. We cannot admit patients in critical areas. If we admit and there is no electricity, the patients might die.
“ Like in intensive care unit ( ICU ), when you put a patient in ventilator, it is the ventilator that helps him to breathe. If you cannot assist him to keep the temperature,
the patient will die. Many women are coming with obstructed labour, difficult labour, we have to do an emergency cesarean section. If we don’t have light, those women through labour will die.
“I want to appeal to Nigerians from all over the country to look into our situation differently from that of the other parts of the country. We have the issue of insurgency, the poverty rate is high. Secondly, loss of electricity supply to the State since January this year has further worsened the economic situation of the State,” Sandabe said.
The CMAC noted that people that have businesses dealing with electricity cannot do it now, saying that people that can actually bring their patients to the hospital and pay are drastically reduced.
He said people will now come, bring their patients to the clinic, before you know it, they have disappeared abandoning the patient.
“So you see the patient and treatment. For some of the internally displaced persons (IDPs), we treat them and discharge them free. If you don’t discharge them, they will occupy the hospital beds and block the revenue. So I am appealing to Nigerians to come to our aid.
BOCCIMA laments effects on businesses
For the Sole Administrator Borno State Chamber of Commerce, Mines, Industries and Agriculture (BOCCIMA), Alhaji Ahmed Ashemi, the most frustrating aspect of the power failure is its effects on the lower cadre of the society.
According to him, the people at lower cadre are the ones that are involved in micro activities like the use of grinding machines, barbing saloons, hairdressers, adding that cost of services that need electricity has skyrocketed.
The BOCCIMA Boss said lingering power failure has a multiplier effect of triggering inflation in the State.
“And when it comes to the social aspect, in time when there is heat, people need electricity for their fans, refrigerators but now you can see that a lot of ailments are coming up that was triggered by the heat and lack of electricity.
“We have lost billions of naira in the volume of business and we have lost thousands of hours of productive work in the state. It is very negative and very devastating. We only hope and pray that government will do something and restore this electricity by all means,” Ashemi said.
Saboteurs making it impossible to restore electricity
Amidst the effects of the power outages, the Nigerian Army alleged that saboteurs were making it impossible to restore electricity to Borno State.
Theatre Commander of Operation Hadin Kai, Maj-Gen Christopher Musa, who said there was every reason to believe so noted that it was important to look inwards because there are people that are doing everything to ensure that the work is not completed for whatever reason.
Speaking at the town hall meeting on the restoration of electricity in Borno, he said, the terrorists have information about troops’ movements on a daily basis, adding that in as much as the military try to maintain surveillance, as soon as they leave, information is passed.
The Theatre Commander said another thing is to make the item being vandalised very difficult to sell, noting that there must be punitive punishments for anyone found selling those things in the market.
“We should have carbon markings placed on some of this equipment, so any market where these things are found could be traced to who is bringing it,” Maj Gen. Musa said.
Borno’s 50 megawatts plant to begin soon – Zulum
But, the governor of Borno State, Babagana Umara Zulum, hinted that a 50 megawatts gas power plant being funded by the federal government is on stream to electrify parts of the state.
This is even as the governor insisted that since it is virtually impossible to provide 24 hours protection to power lines in the state or any other part of the country, it has become a matter of technological imperative for the federal government to look into the possibility of deploying technology to protect physical infrastructure.
Speaking at the town hall meeting, Zulum recalled that in August, the NNPC sealed a deal with contractors for the commencement of the plant in Maiduguri, which is expected to be completed in six months.
Zulum expressed deep appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari, for directing the Federal Ministry of Power to look into the possibility of establishing a 50 megawatts power plant in Borno.
He said, “Let me at this juncture, convey my gratitude to the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari for approving the establishment of alternative power supply to Borno state through the NNPC.
“Just a few days ago, the contract for the installation of a thermal energy station in Maiduguri was signed by GMD NNPC, Mele Kyari, and the contractors. Very soon, the contractors will mobilize to the site and the project will be completed in the next 6 months.
“The president has directed the Federal Ministry of Power to look into the possibility of providing 150 megawatts of solar energy plants in Borno state to ensure sustainable power supply to the state. The state government will provide the necessary support to the officials of the Ministry of Power to achieve the objectives.”
Zulum described the nine months of blackout as a harrowing situation, particularly to those he said depend on power supply for their daily livelihood needs.
The governor added that substantial resources have been committed to the efforts of power restoration to Maiduguri and surrounding communities both by the federal and state governments, which was destroyed days after successful repair work.
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