Friday, June 9, 2023

Copper wires, oil from our vandalised transformers used by Kano jewellers, akara sellers: Jos DisCo

A gallon of transformer oil is said to sell for over N300,000, while a kilogram of copper sells for around N4,000, making the racketeering very lucrative.

• May 13, 2023
Transformer thieves
A composite of arrested vandals and gallons of transformer oil.

Residents of Jos in Plateau State have decried the high rate of theft of distribution transformer oil and cables in different neighbourhoods of the city.

Speaking to Peoples Gazette, residents from some of the affected areas said they were displeased with the tampering of their transformers by vandals, an action which has left many of them in darkness for weeks, and in some cases months.

Some of the affected areas are Mining quarters in Rantya, Fwavwei, Fwagwul, Kwang, Shaaka, Lamingo and Millionaire’s quarters, among others.

An affected resident, Eddy Gyang, told The Gazette that “It came as a rude shock because we heard of how it affected other areas. Just when we were already making plans of securing ours, the thieves came in and stole oil from our transformer.”

Vandalised transformer in Mining quarters, Rantya, Jos.
A vandalised transformer in Mining quarters, Rantya, Jos. [Photo credit: Eddy Gyang]

He added that “The damage has been done and we are making arrangements to see how the transformer can be fixed.”

He went further to say that this has eaten into his finances as he’s now forced to buy fuel for his generator to salvage food and power other appliances in his home.

A vividly angry-looking Mr Gyang further said; “We now have to look for alternative methods to heat water, DSTV subscription is wasting. We have to buy fuel to do all of this and it costs a lot of money.”

Another Jos resident, Christiana Makut, who described Nigeria as an “endless crime scene”, said they have been in darkness for almost three weeks.

“What can I say? It’s been almost three weeks. My folks went to JEDC office today, and their management said they’re trying to fix it. Possibly, by the end of the week.

“We keep saying it must be their current or former staff because it’s too coordinated,” she said, charging the company to find a way to protect its investments.

The staff of the Jos Electricity Distribution (JED) Plc, who are familiar with the issue, confirmed to The Gazette that they’ve also received reports of vandalism from the other franchise states, which include Bauchi, Gombe, Benue and Plateau.

Musa Abdullahi, the Chief Security Officer of JED Plc, who also confirmed the report, said most of their over 8,000 transformers were located in vulnerable areas across the different franchise areas.

“We have over 8,000 across the franchise areas and situated in various vulnerable communities. Vulnerable in the sense that most of the DTs (distribution transformers) are not caged, they are not covered, (and) they are not fenced. They are without illumination. That makes them vulnerable to attacks,” he said.

Transformer oil for food, cables for jewellery

The CSO went ahead to make shocking revelations about why the rate of theft and vandalism on their facilities has become more rampant in recent years.

Mr Abdullahi said there’s a worldwide increase in the demand for copper, noting that copper wires from transformers are the primary raw material for jewellers and went ahead to finger Kano State as a juicy market for the rackets.

Copper and other items vandalised from transformers
Copper and other items vandalised from transformers [Photo credit: JED Plc]

“The soft target happens to be our DTs. Most of these people that deal in jewellery find the copper wires from our DTs as their raw materials,” he said, adding that “The demand for copper wire is on the increase worldwide and they find our installations more accessible.”

More shocking was his revelation that some people use the oil from the transformers as a mixture for automotive gas oil, also known as diesel, and for cooking.

Mr Abdullahi said that during investigations, it was discovered that transformer oils were mixed with diesel to reduce the consumption rate of diesel for articulated vehicles.

Gallons of stolen transformer oil
Gallons of stolen transformer oil [Photo credit: JED Plc]

Damning the health risk attached to using transformer oil for cooking, Mr Abdullahi said, “Secondly, we also realised that in some areas, they consume it. They cook with it as vegetable oil. It doesn’t consume. They use it in frying akara because it doesn’t consume the oil and the oil remains the way it is.”

He further stated that because the business was lucrative, the vandals overlooked the consequences and dangers attached to it.

“A gallon of transformer oil sells for over N300,000, while a kilogram of copper sells around N4,000,” Mr Abdullahi added.

Minor punishment for a grievous offence

Confirming to The Gazette that arrests have been made in the past and even recently, Mr Abdullahi blamed Nigeria’s ‘weak laws’ for incentivising this crime.

“We’ve made some arrests, even last Saturday, we arrested one in Azare (Bauchi state). He came in from Gombe to Azare to vandalise a DT. Upper week, in Shendam and Mangu (Plateau state), we made some arrests. But the problem we have is prosecution,” he said.

The Jos DisCo CSO blamed the judiciary for not charging criminals with harsh penalties for this type of crime.

“The judiciary has not been helpful to us because the penalty is always meagre. They said it is not captured in the high court rule, or something like that, but it is in the miscellaneous offence act which gives room for all these charges of maybe N30,000 or one-month imprisonment. So there’s no deterrent to stay away from such crime,” he added.

Three transformer vandals arrested and made to hold stolen items as evidence.
Some of the vandals were arrested and made to display stolen items. [Photo credit: JED Plc]

He also cited the case of a 400-level university student who was electrocuted while trying to vandalise a transformer in Jos. Though he survived, Mr Abdullahi said that the student’s hand was amputated as a result.

He encouraged neighbourhoods in the Jos metropolis and those in the company’s other franchise states to be more security conscious in protecting assets of JED Plc.

Mr Abdullahi said they’ve been able to make most of the aforementioned arrests with the help of community police and vigilantes in affected areas.

Ex-aggrieved staff fingered as suspects

Residents of Jos have accused staff and former staff of JED Plc of being part of an organised crime syndicate vandalising the transformers for profit.

Asked about reports of aggrieved former staff being responsible for the vandalism, Mr Abdullahi said, “The company has the sole responsibility to hire and fire at will.

“For some time now, after the privatisation, the investors tried to hire consultants that supply us with manpower as supporting staff like the installers of meters. They get to know more about our networks.

Prepaid meters
Prepaid meters used to illustrate the story

“So even after they are done with their services, the bad eggs among them remain in the system and extort with connivance with some bad eggs within the system,” he added.

He admitted that the activities of these unscrupulous elements have constrained revenue generation within the company.

“Our business is to distribute energy and collect cash for the energy consumed. So you can only pay for energy consumed.

“For example, if we have a million naira for a DT and that DT is vandalised for like a week and we couldn’t fix and put it back into the circuit, 50% of that revenue is gone. So imagine 10 DTs are vandalised. If you times that by 10, it’s almost 5 million naira,” Mr Abdullahi said.

He noted that JED Plc was experiencing an “average of 10 DTs per month”.

Affected communities asked to protect assets

Mr Abdullahi revealed that JED Plc had partnered with various communities across its franchise states, praising some for taking ownership of the company facilities within their areas and helping to protect them from the activities of vandals.

He blamed other communities for being hostile and denying JED Plc staff entry into their communities to help resolve some of the transformer-related issues.

He said that the company was serious about finding a solution to the vandalisation of its assets and planned to support local vigilantes with gadgets such as solar floodlights and torches to use in the protection of its transformers.

Floodlight provided by JED to help illuminate a transformer.
Floodlight provided by JED to help illuminate a transformer.

“Since the coming of the new managing director, he has deliberately toured the entire states and has spoken to critical stakeholders with the view to taking ownership of these assets. If we don’t do that, we are going to have problems,” he said.

The company CSO reiterated the need for residents of the affected areas in Jos to assist JED Plc in protecting the transformers from vandals, saying that residents of communities in their other franchise areas were already doing so and had made some arrests.

“Other communities have taken advantage of what I am telling you. I think a few days or weeks ago, some persons were arrested in Gombe State by community vigilantes or local police; they were charged to court and they are being prosecuted.

“In some communities in Benue State like Alede, it happened a few months ago, where the community also realised that unscrupulous elements were vandalising the transformers and they got them arrested and some of them are being prosecuted,” Mr Abdullahi said.

The CSO said some of those arrested as part of the crime syndicate are minors.

Some of the arrested suspects include minors.
Some of the arrested suspects include minors. [Photo credit: JED Plc]

JED Plc corporate communications head, Adakole Elijah, also charged Jos residents to “take ownership” of the company’s assets, adding that they were the ultimate losers if they didn’t.

Police admit arrests, vow prosecution of vandals

When reached for comments, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Plateau, Alfred Alabo, told The Gazette that there have been reports of transformer vandalism. However, he admitted that most of the complaints were done at the divisional levels.

“Most of the complaints go to the divisional police offices and it is not everything that they bring to my knowledge as PRO. Any issue concerning transformers or whatever, our DPOs are dealing with them. And it is properly being taken care of,” he said.

Some arrested vandals.
Some arrested vandals [Photo credit: JED Plc.

“We have heard of all kinds of theft to which we have made recoveries of some properties. We have attended to some. We are investigating a lot including transformer theft.

“Of course, those issues are being reported and investigations are ongoing to make sure that we get those properties recovered and possibly arrest the culprits,” he added.

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