From blackout to chaos: How correcting a power problem led to crises and deaths in Benue

This report covers the fatal crisis that escalated at an electric isolation point between youths of Obi and Otukpo Local government areas (LGA) in Benue state after the Jos Electricity Distribution (JED) Plc failed to restore power. The ICIR crew Sinafi OMANGA and Olayinka FATUNBI who visited the communities, report. 


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“I was not around when the crisis broke out,” he told The ICIR.   “I was advised not to come back because the community was on fire. When I came back a few days ago, I did not know my house again,” said the octogenarian, who was still visibly shaken.

Charred items such as furniture, sets of desktop computers, television screen, kitchen utensils, tubers of yam and ornaments that once filled the apartments of the village chief are a poignant reminder of the jarring incident.

Thirty Km away lies another neighbouring community with a similar level of devastation and desolation. Blessing Sunday, a 38-year-old resident of Otobi in Otukpo LGA, was picking ripe mango fruits on Friday morning of April 21, 2023.

“I lost everything that I have laboured for so many years. Even the clothes I’m wearing are not mine. Somebody gave them to me. I lost everything,” cried the mother of four.

Ever since she fled with her four children, Sunday said they have gone to different places in search of where to lay their heads. “Only God is helping us,” she added.

As the attention of Nigeria’s over 200 million citizens and the international communities focused on the 2023 general elections, youths in the neighbouring communities of Otukpo and Obi LGAs in Benue State launched a communal war, causing death and destruction that is still being investigated, according to the police.

The genesis…

On Monday, March 13 what appeared like a peaceful protest saw youths of Ijegwu march to where the transmission isolation point that supplies electricity to the neighbouring communities is located.

There had been a protracted power outage in Obi, which has a population of 193,098 Igede-speaking people, while neighbouring Otukpo, with a population of 266,411 predominantly Idoma-speaking people, enjoyed relatively constant power supply, according to residents.

Speaking to The ICIR, Ogbu John-Lion, the national president of Ito Youth Forum, an umbrella body for youth groups in Obi LGA alleged that youths in Otukpo LGA “deliberately tampered with the transmission line in order to put Igede land in darkness.

But his allegation was based on suspicion fuelled by historical distrust between the two communities.

He said Jos Electricity Distribution (JED) Plc failed to reconnect the power despite the youth’s effort to draw the attention of the distribution company to the situation.

“The company did not explain or assure us of restoring electricity, and for more than two weeks, we were in total blackout.”

“How was it possible that our neighbours had light but we didn’t? So we went there peacefully to find out for ourselves what the problem was and to suggest how to fix it”, said John-Lion.

Ogbu John-Lion in company of some youths in Obi LGA

On reaching the isolation point, John-Lion said Idoma youths attacked and shot one of them, Jacob Iji, who climbed the electric pole to “rectify” the fault. However, John-Lion said he did not know the name of the person that shot and killed his kinsman.

“That day alone, five unarmed Igede youths were murdered in cold blood”, John-Lion added.

In contrast,  the youth leader of Otobi-Otukpo, Agbo Okwanya said they were only resisting the attempt by Igede youths to tamper with the transmission line that could have endangered the lives of residents.

Okwanya also denied allegations that they disconnected lines that supply power to Igede land.

“We are not JED Plc, all the Igede youths needed to do was to draw the attention of the transmission company to the problem but instead they transferred their aggression to us.

“Do they have evidence that we were responsible for the power outage in their land? We were just protecting public infrastructure in our community against Igede youths who came here ready for war”, Okwanya said as he recalled the brawl that ensued at the electric isolation point, which later became a theatre of bloodshed.

Okwanya identified one of his kinsmen, Ogili Onu, as the first casualty from his community. “He was shot by the Igede youths on this road”, he said, pointing to the community access road.

Like John-Lion, Okwanya told The ICIR he did not know the name of the person that shot and killed his kinsman.

As the cacophony of war chants and gunshots filled the air, women and children took to their heels but both communities went back to mobilise militias for the war of attrition that residents said lasted about three weeks. The once bubbling neighbouring communities are now shadows of the past.

Power outage is a recurrent challenge in Nigeria, where an estimated population of 200 million rely on only 4000MWs  distributed electricity instead of at least 200,000MWs based on the energy demand of a country with a Nigerian population size.

Over 92 million Nigerians lack access to electricity, according to the Energy Progress Report, by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in 2022.

Government abandoned us, victims cry…

Findings by The ICIR during a four-day visit to ascertain the level of the humanitarian disaster in both LGAs show that over three hundred houses were destroyed. The youth leaders said approximately three thousand persons, including children, were displaced.

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