Umuahia, the Abia State capital had since the creation of the state grappled with endemic infrastructural inadequacies and solving these inadequacies have remained the indices for evaluating the performance of successive state administrators be the military or civilian. Housing, transportation and electricity top the list. While palliative measures have changed the position of the first two, electricity had remained significantly unchanged with most parts of the city remaining in darkness upwards of two weeks.
Even in the World Bank and the Afara areas of Umuahia, electricity supply on alternate days for two or three hours are often celebrated; the government house, Umuahia, is virtually run on generating set, while for several years the street light programme was run on generators before it was converted to solar power.
Indeed, electricity supply in Umuahia and its environs could best be described as non-existent as the epileptic nature was of the highest degree. When there was electricity supply in some areas, it was just a candle light. The implication was that much of the socio-economic activities of the residents of Umuahia were paralysed. The cost of doing business including micro and small scale businesses remained high - leading to high prices of products. For instance, while a sachet of “pure water” sold for N5 in Aba, the price went for N10 in Umuahia. This was so for other goods and services.
Subsequent administrators in the state had identified the problem, and held the view that Umuahia could not be what it is expected to be until a reliable power supply was in place. That explained why in 2001, the federal government awarded the contract for a 132KV substation in Ohiya, near Umuahia. Both the residents and the government were elated by this development, but as the project moved at a snail speed, the peoples’ enthusiasm waned.
But realizing that the state’s economic blueprint could hardly be realised in an atmosphere of epileptic power supply, Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State, offered to assist the federal government to realise the 132KV/33KV substation project in Ohiya in Umuahia \south LGA. An insider said that the governor did not leave anybody in doubt that the project was dear to his heart and that his administration would do everything possible to support a project that would jump-start the economic development of the state.
It was therefore shocking when residents of Umuahia and its environs on March 29 this year witnessed steady power supply for about four days with few interruptions. And when they were told that the light came as a result of the completion of the Ohiya electricity project, their reactions were like those of ancient Israeli when they were released from captivity.
Taking Reporters round the project site at Ohiya, recently, the special adviser (political matters) to Governor Orji, Chief Tony Ukasoanya, said the project cost the state government about N1.5 billion. He admitted that the project was initiated by the federal government but the state government came in to assist it realise it after it had lingered for upwards of 10 years.
He said that the state needed the project more than the federal government, adding that collaborating with the federal government to realise the project would be of immense socio-economic benefits to the government and people of Abia state, notwithstanding the cost implication. Ukasonya said the substation would serve over 40% of the state population.
Speaking further, he said the station has five 33KV feeders at Afara, Nkwoegwu, Obowu, Ubakala and Ntigha while the first four have been energised saying that of Ntigha would be operational from next month.
He added, “This project is in collaboration with Abia State government. The state carried out the evacuation of the power from this point (substation) to serve the state.
“The implication is that electricity current will no longer travel from a far distance to Umuahia during which it sheds its power, and reaches us most often as candle light…. It is now that we will have the feel of full light”.
On what the state stands to benefit, he said: “I can tell you that today many people are happy as they can now enjoy their televisions, home video, and their small and medium scale industries using power from the national grid without having to buy fuel for their generator sets. Today, you can go to bed with electricity and wake up with electricity”.
Consequently, the price of fuel in Umuahia and its environs has stabilised. LEADERSHIP checks at some fuel stations revealed that since the steady power supply in Umuahia became a reality, fewer people come to the station to buy fuel with jerry cans.
The site engineer of Valenz Holdings Ltd, Mr. Chukwunenye Okafor, told LEADERSHIP in an interview that the substation has been completed and the project handed over to Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). “We can longer be said to be test running because we have completed that phase since and handed it over. PHCN, will now test-run the equipments for one year”, he stated.
Speaking on the status of the station, he said: “Here is just like a power bus stop dropping down from 132 KV to Umuahia and environs. It will also transfer 132kv to Ohafia and Mbalano which our own contract does not cover”.
“Evacuation means to have power around you. Before now Umuahia has been using 33KV right from Aba transmission line, and from the technical point of view, it is a long distance which informs the regular load sheding that result to candle light”.
The commissioner for public utilities, Mr. Vigilus Nwankwo, said with the evacuation of the substation, his ministry would now have enough power to pump water from the regional water pumping station at Umuopara and Ekenobizi. This would mean reticulating water to many communities thereby providing water to those who do not have.
In addition, the various skills acquisition centres would no longer be powered by generating sets but by power from the national grid at a lower rate and cost.
It is obvious that economic activities in Umuahia and its environs would come alive once more. Artisans like barbers, hair dressers, provision stores and beer parlour operators who spoke with LEADERSHIP agreed that “it is a born again Umuahia” that they were seeing even as one of them put it this way: “I have never seen ice block in my fridge but I started seeing it last week”.