Residents groan as Minister Muhammad Bello leaves Abuja streets in darkness

Deteriorated state of streetlights in Abuja

More parts of the Abuja metropolis are falling under a blanket of darkness from dusk, as the street lighting infrastructure appears to be collapsing in Nigeria’s federal capital city.

Lights installed on major streets such as Aminu Kano Crescent, Herbert Macaulay Way, Muhammadu Buhari Way and Ahmadu Bello Way in the city’s phase one district are at best inconsistent. The situation is even worse in most other districts.

Residents say the creeping darkness, which has now affected many parts of the once brilliantly lit city, has noticeably gathered pace since Muhammad Bello became the Minister for the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, in November 2015.

“I keep wondering if we have a department in FCDA saddled with the responsibility of maintaining these street light,” said a resident, Abraham Angelo.

“Those days when you drive round the town of Abuja in the night you will be fascinated with the beauty of the city when the lights are on. But what we have this days is darkness, you hardly drive down the length of a street or crescent and see a working streetlight,” Mr. Angelo said.

“The FCDA current administration need to up their game because the way things are, I hardly will say we have FCT minister,” he added.

Another resident, Stanley Joseph, who lives at Dakwo, a suburb of the city, also blamed the authorities.

“The way I see the problem about Abuja street lights, I don’t think the maintenance department of FCDA is doing its job. Between 1997 to the end of Obasanjo’s tenure, when Abuja street lights used to function very well, if you came to Abuja at night you would think its afternoon.”

“But nowadays you just see some section of the city having light while others don’t have light. Most of the time we experience blackout specifically the airport road axis I usually pass,” Mr. Stanley said.

But the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, said the minister is taking steps to stop the rot, as officials highlighted the factors that have made the problem difficult to resolve.

In a chat with PREMIUM TIMES, Omoniyi Olaloye, an engineer who is the acting director of Facilities Maintenance and Management at the FCDA, blamed vandalism by hoodlums and inefficiency of maintenance contractors for the deteriorating street lighting system in Abuja. He also blamed the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, AEDC.

Mr. Olaloye said the major challenge, however, was that the system depends solely on power supply from AEDC, which always complained about system breakdown.

“When they have system breakdown all over the country, we don’t have light. And they are also having challenge of vandalism. People are vandalizing their installations.

“They have their installations, we have our own and we connect them. If they have vandalism on their own side, we don’t get light and when we have vandalism on our own side we don’t get light,” he said.

“There was a time vandals cut off their main cable that feeds the transformers. It is not our own installation, but once the cable is cut, our transformer cannot get light.”

He said most cases of vandalism occur on the side of AEDC.

Unexecuted contracts mess

The FCT minister, Mr. Bello, had in June 2016 warned the street lights maintenance contractors to wake up and light up the streets of Abuja or lose their contracts.

But the minister’s warning fell on deaf ears as many street light installations in the city have remained as they were.

Mr. Olaloye accused contractors awarded maintenance contracts under previous administrations of the territory of not executing most of the major projects awarded to them.

“The Honourable Minister discovered that these contractors were not performing well, so they have been relieved of their work and new ones are coming in any moment from now,” explained the acting director.

“In fact, some of them have started collecting their award letters. They went through a rigorous process because some people in the past just buy these contracts, they don’t even know what is involved. Later they would discover, for example, that as a street light contractor, you must have a platform”.

Mr. Olaloye stressed that most contracts in the past were awarded to contractors who did not have the capacity to execute the maintenance projects.

“You know what they call a platform? It is the equipment that will take you up to the pole, it’s a very expensive equipment. Many of them don’t have it. So, the minister in his wisdom has packaged a new set of contractors, they have gone through the procurement process and they are awarding the contracts to new contractors who will be able to do the work for us”.

According to Mr. Olaloye, the maintenance department that supervises the projects is now prepared to ensure that past wrongs are not repeated.

“In the past government, people collect contracts without even being able to execute them. This is the challenge that we have been having and the minister has done his best to make sure that these things are not repeated.”

Vandalism of street lights

In the course of the investigations for this report, it was discovered that crime rate has risen in some strategic locations of the Abuja metropolis as a result of defective street lights.

Mr. Olaloye suggested that some hoodlums vandalise street lights just to provide cover for robbery and other forms of theft.

“We discovered that some bad boys hang around, the thieves, the robbers, people that when maybe you have vehicle problem in the night, they would just come out of the bush.

“They deliberately cut off our cables. When we repair in a particular place today, we discover that after one or two weeks, these people go back there to cut off the flex, the cables. They make sure that about 10 to 15 poles don’t have light so that they can operate,” Mr. Olaloye said.

“We have spots all over the city like that. Whatever you do, they go back there to spoil it.

“In fact, there is a bridge, the bridge that goes to the (National) Stadium, do you know that some people live under that bridge? If your vehicle stops under that bridge at night, they will come out. Whatever we do there, they go back, they cut the cable because they don’t want light there.

“Apart from the fact that they create darkness so that they can attack people, they also feed on the installations. They cut our cables, some of them enter the manholes at night and cut more than 50 metres and even 100 metres of cable off to sell. People have been caught.

“Some of them enter our transformers, some of them collude with AEDC officials to bring black out in an area so that they could enter the transformer and empty all the installations inside and go and sell”.

Mr. Olaloye said the minister was doing a lot to beef up security in the noticed affected spots to curb out the challenges.

“He is always holding meetings with our security agents, so that they can be up and doing,” he added.

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