10th April, 2013
A victim of electrocution holds the Power Holding Company of Nigeria responsible
On Saturday, 23 February, Uchechukwu Ewurum, 12, a pupil of Government State School, Oroworukwo, Port Harcourt, left his home at 8 Ojoto Street, Mile Two Diobu, to visit his relations at 1 Ojoto Street. He accidentally touched a sagged cable from a broken high tension electric pole of Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN. He was electrocuted.
Consequently, doctors at Rehoboth Private Hospital, D/Line, Port Harcourt, amputated his right arm to save his life, as sustained severe burns.
When this magazine visited the spot on the on Monday 11 March, the cables on the broken high tension pole were dangerously dangling, close to 1 Ojoto Street and four other houses in the area. The low tension cables are also dropping and posing serious threats to the lives of residents.
Mr. Michael Ezebuonye, a resident, lamented that some concerned citizens of the area had consistently drawn the attention of the PHCN authorities whose Diobu Business District office is within the neighbourhood to the broken high tension pole. But they claimed the company did not act.
Mr. Emmanuel N.Okpala, a Port Harcourt-based legal practitioner, on behalf of Mr. Peter Ewurum, father of the victim, has served a one-month notice, threatening to institute legal action against PHCN for its negligence. Acting on the instruction of father of the victim, Okpala said the boy had suffered incalculable damage as a result.
After what happened to Uchechukwu, the reaction of PHCN authorities was to dispatch some technicians to the spot. They came to the affected high tension pole and argued over inadequate materials to replace the broken pole!
In the light of the above, father of the victim, through his counsel, is demanding N800 million as specific and general damages for loss of body parts.
He said further: “The above amount does not include the medical bills that are ongoing right now to save the life of the victim, because doctors have not given the final bill for the treatment of the boy”.
Okpala warned that by the letter, PHCN is given one month pre-action notice from the date of the receipt of the notice. The lawyer threatened that if the amount was not paid through his chambers to his client within one week, legal action would be instituted against PHCN.
However, Mr. Benedict Nwaorehu, the Business Manger, Diobu Business Unit of PHCN, claimed that the company was not aware of any “broken cross arm” of the high tension cables in area. He explained that the organisation had a process of gathering information about faults. Residents of an area where there are faults or the company staff could report to the fault unit of PHCN.
He explained that not until Okpala submitted the pre-action notice PHCN did not know of any fault. He wondered why it took a whole month for the matter to be reported through the lawyer.
Nwaorehu further stated that on the receipt of the notice, he invited the counsel who came to his office in company of the victim’s father for a meeting. During the meeting, “I pointedly told them that the so-called accident didn’t happen in the area claimed in the letter because Ojoto is just a stone-throw to our office. A case as serious as electrocution and the associated burns that have led to the amputation of the boy’s right hand as claimed could have happened elsewhere. I suspect a cooked-up story”.
According to him, if there was an incident of electrocution, even if the parents of the boy didn’t alert his office, concerned residents of area would have rushed to the office to alert immediately the incident happened.
The PHCN boss also said that on an inspection of the area where the incident allegedly occurred, he discovered that about four buildings were dangerously close to the high tension. According to him, they were among those marked for demolition by the state government after scores of persons were electrocuted in 2009, in an area called ‘Slaughter’ in Trans-Amadi when a high tension cable snapped and fell on residents and passers-by after it rained.
The PHCN boss said he might visit the boy on his sick bed as a human being and as a father. In other words, he said he would not be representing PHCN as if it was involved or admitting negligence or guilt.
He confided that he was going to write a memo to Governor Chibuike Amaechi that all buildings built on the PHCN Right-Of-Way should be removed.
He explained that property developers and members of the public must give 5.5 meters or 20 feet on both sides for 11/33KV lines. For 132 KV line, a clearance of 12.5 meters or 30 feet must be left on both sides. Similarly, for 330 KV, a clearance of 50 meters must be observed.
Ewerun explained that the incident happened when his son leaned on the handrail on the balcony of their house to beckon on the mother downstairs. Unknown to him, the iron rails were in contact with the dangling high tension cable.
Some residents of the area feigned ignorance of the incident, explaining that most buildings in the area were business premises.