•Story of Nigerians surviving under electric installations
In view of flagrant violation of setbacks to electric installations by developers and property owners in the country, EMMANUEL ADENIYI visited some of these installations, submitting that government needs to swing into action to prevent the undesirable.
EVEN the horrifying buzzes and hums made by electric current passing through wires on pylons is enough to instill fear of electrocution in one, let alone having one’s building or business centres directly under or close to high tension wires, but many Nigerians appear unfazed by this, though none can claim ignorance of the danger involved in having their buildings close to electric installations.
In places like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, Ibadan and other major cities in the country, many people – for reasons best known to them – have their houses and business centres erected close to overhead power lines and utility poles without observing stipulated setbacks.
Though setbacks – the distances that houses and structures are expected to leave away from power lines, rivers, roads and other sensitive installations – are an important component of urban and building planning regulations in the country, not many house owners adhere to these regulations, as many have their structures jut out into roads, while some have theirs closely bordering electric installations and water bodies.
In Ibadan for instance, the indiscriminate erection of residential buildings as well as business centres under power lines or close to these sensitive energy installations leaves no one in doubt that great fatalities could be recorded should any untoward thing happens to the towers carrying these electric wires.
It will be recalled that some people lost their lives a few years ago at Apata market, when an electric cable fell down on some women who were selling their wares under an electric pole, while many of such incidents have been recorded in other parts of the country with greater fatalities.
When Sunday Tribune went round the metropolis, it discovered that places such as Elebu road in Oluyole extension, Adeyemi area, Power Line area, Ojoo and other places where electric installations pass through have clusters of houses and business centres around and under them.
While most of the houses in the areas are within an inch of pylons and other electric poles, many business owners, in a show of defiance, have their businesses directly under these electric towers without minding the attendant hazards.
Due to the closeness of buildings to these installations, the buzzing sounds made by the flow of current inside overhead electric cables could even be heard within the houses, though most of the residents and business owners claimed that they were oblivious of the frightening sounds.
The manner with which the people go about their businesses under high tension wires and their nonchalance similarly creates an impression that many Nigerians don’t care about their safety, as some artisans, such as welders, furniture makers, block makers and petty traders were seen welding, frying fishes and yam under sensitive electric installations.
In other places, children were seen playing under the wires while the audacious ones throw stones at birds that similarly risked their lives flying in between parallel single-circuit lines, yet their parents looked away from them.
They prefer doing business under power lines
While speaking with Sunday Tribune, a furniture maker, Mr Bayo Francis, said that he decided to establish his business under power lines in Oluyole Extension because he had no other place, noting that nobody gave him the place, but that his coming there received the blessing of leaders in the community.
“I relocated to this place when I was pursued from where I was using as my workshop. Potential buyers of furniture easily notice one here, and I thank God because sale is good here too.”
He said he knew it was dangerous doing business and having his workshop under high tension wires, but that he had nowhere to go since he had a family to cater for.
A petty trader, who was frying yam when Sunday Tribune got to her makeshift shop, claimed that making fire under electric wires was harmless, adding that since she started her business there a few years ago, no accident had ever been recorded.
“We don’t even hear any sounds at all. It is not dangerous at all. In fact, we are happy doing our business here,” the woman, who refused to tell her name, declared.
Though most of the artisans and landlords approached declined comments, it was observed that they knew the implication of having their businesses in unapproved areas and failing to set their structures back from power lines.
A landlord, whose house is less than 15 metres to power lines at Aba Eko, Ojoo, said he got the appropriate building plan and approval from Akinyele Local Government Council, stressing that it was wrong to say that he did not leave a setback when constructing his house.
“I don’t know what you mean. I got the approved building plan before I commenced work on this house. Why would you now say I didn’t leave a setback? My house is not close to power lines at all, and I don’t care about what anybody says,” he said with agitation.
The Baale of Aba Eko, Pa Abdullai Rasheed, whose house borders power lines in the community, though many metres away, disclosed that he knew that it was hazardous to have a house close to power lines, hence his decision to leave a portion of land between his house and the power lines. He, however, maintained that the electric installations did not pose any danger to them.
Mr Moses Adesokan, whose house is more than 80 metres away from power lines, said that when the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) officials came to Goodness, Cele community in Ojoo, they told him to cut a cashew tree in front of his house, which he did.
He also claimed that the power lines made a terribly deafening noise many years ago which frightened the residents of the community, adding that because of the sensitivity of the installations, a house was prevented from being roofed because it was too close to power lines.
“The main road in the community is directly under the power lines. This is so because there is no other place where we could use for road, besides the road had been there before power lines were brought to the community.
“As you can see, my house is far away from the power lines. I observed setback, because I know the implication of not doing so. I can’t speak for other landlords. One thing I know is that government officials do come here to inspect and nobody has been arrested for contravening building codes since they have been coming,” the retired soldier added.
‘We’ll start demolition soon’
Oyo State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Honourable Deji Akande, comments on the indiscriminate erecting of buildings around power lines in the state, promising that his ministry would soon commence demolition of the structures. Excerpts:
WHAT do you see to the attitude of property owners erecting their structures very close to power lines and other sensitive areas in Ibadan?
I think the problem was caused by past governments in the state that were not particularly concerned about the planning of the town, and if you want to enforce laws you have to give it human face so that people would not think they are being punished. It is true that many houses are built close to rivers, power lines while petrol stations are also cited indiscriminately within the metropolis; we are aware of this and would soon commence enforcement of laws though we are going to give the enforcement human face. By and large, the problem wouldn’t have been there if the past governments in the state had paid adequate attention to urban and physical planning of the state capital.
How soon are you going to start enforcing the laws?
We started at a time, by next week we are going to start going round to demolish structures found to be in wrong locations.
What should be the standard setback for houses and other structures?
It depends on the area. The proper thing to do is that when anybody wants to build, they send their papers to us, while our people would go back there to look at the area and instruct them appropriately, and we always advise people not to go to touts to obtain their approval; they should rather come to the ministry. We have a very good government in place now, and within the shortest possible time you would get your approval.
What is the danger involved in having one’s house close to power lines?
The radiation it releases is not good for human health. Besides, if any of the poles should fall, it could lead to something serious.
Most of the property owners claimed to have approvals obtained from government, yet their structures are in wrong locations.
People lie a lot. A lot of them carry fake approval and think it is genuine. Except we see it, it would be difficult to determine whether it is fake or genuine.
‘Electric cables can spark at anytime’
Mr Tokunbo Peters, the Principal Manager, Public Affairs, Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC), also speaks on the prescribed setbacks between structures and electric installations. Excerpts:
COULD you tell us more about setbacks?
On the issue of setback, clearance must be given with regard to our power lines before constructing structures. We have four categories of power lines: low tension lines (.415KV lines); high tension lines (11KV and 33KV) and 132 KV lines. Half of our .415 lines are on the same poles with 11KV lines. The prescribed distance between the installation and a structure is 5.6 metres, which is 20 feet. The reason for this is that if an accident occurs, the wires would not affect the structure, which is why the prescribed setback is 20 feet on both sides. Aside .415, 11KV and 33KV lines, we also have 132 KV lines, they carry a higher voltage and mostly on towers. The prescribed setback is always 30 feet. The biggest one is 330KV lines with the prescribed setback of 25 metres, on both sides, and it is expected that there shouldn’t be any form of structures on both sides of the towers. In fact, roads are not supposed to be near them. However, this does not apply to 11KV and 33KV.
…but there are many structures around those towers, have you noticed them too?
Yes, we have. In fact, on countless occasions, we have written to government and agencies concerned in our areas of operation drawing their attention to violation of setbacks by developers. Ours is to report, we don’t have constitutional powers to enforce. However, we always embark on enlightenment campaign telling our people why they should not build under power lines. Besides, there should be no markets or motor parks near the place and must not be used as playground. Because of our harsh climate, the wires could spark, they need not be hit by a vehicle before they spark. The harsh weather we have in this part of the world is enough to make them spark. That is why we don’t encourage using underneath of these installations as markets, playground and all that.