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Benin Disco Shuts Down Electricity In Warri And Environs

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SAN FRANCISCO, May 02, (THEWILL) â€' Coming just a few days after former employees of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), sacked the Warri, Ughelli and other offices of the Benin Electricity Distribution Company's (BEDC) over the non-payment of their severance benefits by the successor company, the company has shut down power supply to Warri and its environment.

The development has therefore thrown residents of the affected areas into total darkness as they alleged that BEDC deliberately shut them out of supply over the incident.

Ex-PHCN workers had embarked on a major protest across Edo, Delta and Ondo States on Tuesday following which a coalition of labour unions including Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), and the Nigeria Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) also picketed all the main offices of BEDC in Warri and its environs.

Some of the protesters also blocked the East-West Road in Ughelli, and reportedly shut down the Ughelli Power Station after they prevented the staff from entering into the premises.

Investigations revealed that since the protest and subsequent picketing of BEDC's offices by NLC, BEDC's management has practically shut electricity supply to major towns where the protest took place.

It was learnt that some parts of Warri, Enerhen, Ekpan, Effurun, Udu and Ughelli have been in darkness for almost five days.

Spokesman of Warri Area Office of BEDC, Mr. Edmund Gbiwen, said it is possible that some areas in Warri have no electricity but said it had nothing to do with the protest by former PHCN staff.

He however lamented that several BEDC offices across Edo, Delta and Ondo were sacked by protesting former workers of PHCN as a result of backlog of issues bedeviling BEDC's operations.

Gbiwen, who spoke in a telephone conversation, said BEDC is handicapped to restore electricity as a result of the picketing by NLC.

'I hope you are aware that almost all of our offices were locked by NLC and you don't expect BEDC personnel to hire private vehicles to monitor and restore electricity in areas where there are no light,' he said.

The ex-PHCN's workers who had organised themselves into groups were said to have stormed various BEDC's in Warri, Enerhen, Ekpan, Effurun and Ughelli, threatening to continue the protest until their demands are met.

Business Managers and other categories of workers of BEDC were seen in the early hours of the day stranded outside their offices after they were locked out by the picketers.

In Warri, the angry protesters were led by NLC representative, Augustine Omars, who vowed that the protesters would occupy all BEDC offices in Warri and environs until their entitlements are properly settled by the company.

Speaking during the exercise, Omars said all the offices would remain shut until the issues are resolved as he decried the non-payment of terminal benefits to workers laid off by the defunct PHCN as earlier agreed upon.

He said it was unacceptable for BEDC to continue to treat the workers in such manners, lamenting that all attempts to draw the attention of the company to honour the earlier agreement had failed.

Omars however accused the Managing Director of the company, Mrs. Funke Osibodu, of what he described as a 'display of arrogance' and deliberately ignoring several official communication to her office.

''Before the concessioning, BEDC agreed that all the disengaged workers would get their dues, but they have refused to do their part of the bargain after we have made sacrifices to keep our side of the bargain.

''We have written several letters to her, but she's adamant. They have left us with no option than to picket.

'They promised us severance packages, but today our families are suffering. Our leaving here will depend on the BEDC.

'Even if it takes them 20 years to meet our demands, we will remain here. This is the last warning before we will go on a solidarity strike', he said.

Also speaking on the protest, the President of the Warri branch of NUEE, Mr Augustine Njagwani, said the union members have been dehumanised by the company, stressing that since the retrenchment, life had become difficult for most of the disengaged workers.