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How Poor Maintenance, Unsafe Practices Send Electricity Consumers To Early Graves

The poor maintenance of critical electrical equipment by service providers and low level of safety practice among consumers have led to avoidable deaths and injuries, writes GODFREY GEORGE

She ran as fast as her legs could carry her. She was barefoot and only nine years old. Running towards the small market by the end of Macauley Road, Bonny Island, she screamed in deep pain.

A tiny joke about whose hands could stay longer in a bucket of boiling water has left her in deep pain.

A few hours earlier, the young lady, Derigbelagha, now in her early 20s, was in the kitchen, with her elder brother, eating some rice and beans and chatting about how school had gone. She had just enrolled at a secondary school and was visibly excited that she passed the entrance examination.

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As the conversation went on, their mother asked that her elder brother use the water heater to boil a small bucket of water.

“Put it atop the fridge,” she had instructed.

The boy, who was around 12 years old, did as he was told.

They both continued eating and talking when the heater began to hiss, giving signs that the water was getting ready.

Deri asked that she use her hands to check whether it was hot enough to turn it off, but her brother said no.

“I insisted by telling him that we should play a game of who can put their hands in the water for longer. I put the tip of my right finger and I got an electric shock. It gave me the morale to put it on again.

“My brother, I remember, kept on warning me, but being a stubborn child then, I decided to do what I felt was right.

“The shock I got was so heavy that it pushed me to the wall. The hot water fell and poured on my entire arm. My brother ran away at first but went back to turn off the switch. I ran that day like a mad person,” she recalled.

“It was a woman who knew my mum who saw me running and pursued me, held me down, and administered first aid on me. The pain was unimaginable.

“That incident made me stay home for almost nine months. I was treating the burns. I even had to undergo a surgery. To date, my right fingers are not complete and it looks disfigured,” she added.

Her brother, God’swill, speaking on the matter, said even when the hot water poured on Deri, she was still shaking from the shock.

“I don’t know the voltage in that water heater, but that was the last day we ever used it in our house. My parents, to date, do not use that electrical appliance. It is deadly when not managed, especially around kids,” he said.

Death in Maitama

Deri was lucky to survive, but Meshack Agaba, a 16-year-old pupil, was not. Tragedy struck Government Science Secondary School in the Maitama area of the Federal Capital Territory on Wednesday, March 6, when the teenager died of electrocution inside the school premises.

The deceased pupil was said to be on his way to fetch water from a tap when he unknowingly stepped on an electric cable that had fallen off an electric pole inside the school compound.

A parent who did not want to be named said, “The electric pole and the cable had been lying in the area before the incident. The school’s management didn’t do anything about it.

“However, Agaba was trying to fetch water last Wednesday morning because they (pupils) normally wake up at 5 am to fetch water. The boy is in the same hostel as my child.

“The place was slippery, and as he was trying to regain balance, he mistakenly stepped on the conductor, and he was electrocuted instantly. I’m surprised that even after the incident, that pole has not been fixed by the school; the only thing the management did was post the picture of the boy on a wall with the ‘Gone too soon’ inscription.”

The concerned parent had also lamented that despite the incident, the school had been trying to change the narrative after the involvement of the police, claiming that the boy had wanted to scale the fence when the cable fell on him.

“They didn’t say the thing that led to the boy’s death; they pretended as if it were just a normal thing. Nothing was said about the incident. Since the incident happened, the Parent-Teacher Association’s social media platform has been locked. Parents are not allowed to speak about the incident on that platform,” the source said.

“The school is one of the top secondary schools in the FCT. The police even came to pick up the principal. The management lied, saying that the boy was trying to scale the fence when the cable fell on him.

“How can someone who was only wearing a towel attempt to scale the fence at that time of the day? I also learnt from my child that when they were rushing him to the hospital, the school’s security was asking for their exit card. The boy died as a result of the delay. The school did not want to take responsibility for what happened,” the source added.

When Saturday PUNCH contacted the Vice-Principal (Administration) of the school, Mrs Suzie Dogo, she insisted that our correspondent visit the scene of the incident before she could comment on the matter.

She also denied that the management claimed that the deceased was trying to scale the fence.

Also, the Federal Capital Territory Police Public Relations Officer, Josephine Adeh, confirmed the incident, adding that the police had begun an investigation into the incident.

The Jos tragedy

On October 14, 2023, residents of the Gada Biu community in Jos, Plateau State, were thrown into mourning when at least six people lost their lives after they were electrocuted when a transformer belonging to the Jos Electricity Distribution Company exploded in the Jos North Local Government Area of the state.

The sister of two of the victims, Mrs Mary Asibi-Gonsum, said one of them, identified as Abraham David, left behind an unemployed wife and three children.

In an interview with Saturday PUNCH, she said, “I lost my elder sister, Naomi David, who was an employee of the Plateau State Government; she left behind a daughter. I also lost my younger brother, Abraham David, who was a teacher at Government Secondary School, Kabong, within the community.

“He was married with three kids. His first child is eight years old; the second is four and the third is just four months old and his wife is a full-time housewife, though a graduate. Abraham was the seventh child of my mother, who is alive.

“I travelled and was called in the early hours of that Saturday, at about 3:15 am, and informed about the unfortunate incident. I was told that there was a high-tension wire which snapped and then fell on the low-tension cable which supplied the houses in the area with abnormal current.

“I was told that along the line, people were alerted and everyone started switching off their electrical appliances in their homes. So, Naomi who was in her home also woke up and went to wake others up to put off all their appliances which they did.

“Abraham’s kitchen was outside the main building, so he noticed that the deep freezer in the kitchen was on. So, he opened the kitchen, and unlocked the burglary proof; usually, they don’t close the inner door for ventilation. So, he was able to see that the deep freezer was on and was making a very funny sound.

“So, he opened the door and went in to switch off the deep freezer. Unknown to him, the high current from the fallen high-tension wire had already spread to the deep freezer and that’s how he was stuck to the deep freezer. He started shouting as he tried to free himself. It was his scream that jolted everyone.”

She added that Naomi, his 60-year-old elder sister, got electrocuted when she tried to rescue him.

“She just rushed to help out and got electrocuted. So, that was what I was told, and at that time, his elder brother who works with an electricity company was contacted and when he came, he tried to disconnect them from the current but he couldn’t, despite the measures he applied; he used hand gloves and then his boots but the current was so much that he felt an electric shock through his gloves and the wood the tried to use to disconnect my siblings.

“He had no choice but to just leave everything. That was how they all stood with arms folded and hands on their heads as my brother and sister screamed to death.

Seven electrocuted in Benue

Similarly, on February 24, 2022, seven persons were reportedly killed in the Wadata area of Makurdi, Benue State, following a power surge.

Twenty-three-year-old Vivian Nkemba lost two siblings – her elder sister, Joy, and brother, Victor Nkemba – to the incident.

“Joy was 30 years old. She was the breadwinner of the family because we lost our father about six years ago. Victor was 23 years old. Joy was a hairdresser while Victor was an apprentice tailor,” she said.

Narrating how the incident occurred, Vivian said, “The tragic incident happened about a few minutes before 8 am. There was a blackout throughout the night.

“Me and my five siblings were in the house with our mother and her three grandchildren. My mum was standing close to the fridge. We were chatting and playing in the room when, suddenly, we saw electric sparks under the fridge and my mum, who was close to the fridge, suddenly fell.

“My brother immediately stepped forward to disconnect the fridge from the electric socket but he got electrocuted. I shouted and rushed out of the room to call for help; by the time I ran back inside I saw my sister also on the floor.

“I discovered that the whole floor felt like it was electrified. I still don’t know how my other siblings and the grandchildren escaped it. It was a gory experience. Our mother sustained serious injuries to her body. The hospital said her hand might be amputated.”

Lagos apprentice welder

A welding apprentice, Daniel Omoniyi, in March 2023, died of electrocution at his boss’ workshop in the Mile 12 area of Lagos State. Saturday PUNCH gathered that after Omoniyi was electrocuted around 7 pm that Wednesday evening, his colleagues, who were bent on rescuing him, rushed him to a nearby hospital for prompt treatment.

He, however, died on the way to the hospital.

Omoniyi’s mother, who had been bereaved by the tragic events that led to the death of her 16-year-old son, reported the incident at the police station in Mile 12 on Thursday.

Contacted, the state Police Public Relations Officer, SP Benjamin Hundeyin, said the Omoniyi was confirmed dead in the hospital where he was rushed to while his remains were deposited at the Lagos Mainland Hospital mortuary for further investigation.

In April 2020, a popular Nigerian video vixen, Love Divine, popularly known as PictureKodak, lost her life from an electrocution while shooting a music video.

Sources claimed that Kodak got electrocuted around 9 pm while charging and operating her phone.

Our correspondent learnt that the victim was on set in the house of a video director, Clarence Peters, in the Omole Phase 1 area of Lagos State, when the incident happened.

However, mixed reactions and controversy greeted the news of her death on social media, with many criticising Peters for lack of safety measures. While some urged the relevant authorities to investigate the circumstances of her death, others believed that she died of a natural cause.

One of Picturekodak’s colleagues, Otunba Bolaji, who claimed to stay very close to Clarence Peter’s house, had stated that though he heard when the incident happened but never knew who the victim was.

 “I stay close to Clarence Peters’ house, so I heard about the death shortly after it happened on Wednesday night. Earlier on Thursday, I had heard a rumour that a lady slumped and died. I didn’t know she was the one being referred to.

“When I got to know that she was the one, I felt very sad because I realised that I wouldn’t see her again. I don’t work with Peters, so I don’t know the nature of their relationship, or what she was doing in his house. I met her when an artiste, Junior Boy, shot a music video and we were both in it.”

Startling statistics

In its report for the second quarter of 2019, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission lamented that no fewer than three persons were electrocuted every week.

In the last quarter of 2018, there were 136,393 complaints from customers about the negligence of the electricity distribution companies (DisCos) but by the first quarter of 2019, the complaints had jumped to 151,938.

While the figures have continued to rise, experts expressed concern that the regulatory authorities have not been able to provide any solution.

In December 2018, six inmates serving various prison terms at Ikoyi Correctional Centre, Lagos, died of electrocution following an electricity surge that led to an explosion of cables. Several inmates were also injured.

Although the then Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, visited the centre in the aftermath and made some promises, no action has been taken since then.

A safety expert, Miracle Morgan, commenting on the matter, said, “That such a tragedy continues to recur raises serious questions about how the authorities in the power sector take the issue of safety.

“There is hardly a week without a case of electrocution, mostly due to negligence on several levels. The incidence of death by electrocution has indeed become so rampant that the electricity power authorities ought to come up with a sustainable solution to remedy the problem.

“That would necessitate putting in place a structure for rapid response.”

He added that it was necessary to point out that the many cases of electrocution resulted from a lackadaisical attitude of the electricity company workers who often ignored early warnings and appeals from residents about faulty wires in their neighbourhoods.

He further stressed that the authorities must show that there is a premium on human lives.

“From available records, the time lag between when a fault is reported and when it is fixed goes up to one month. There are also times when there would be no response from the authorities thus leaving residents with no other choice but self-help with all the attendant risks.

“In several places across the country, there are many old and broken down wooden and concrete electricity poles, some with naked wires dangling overhead. It only takes serious rainfall or heavy wind to blow off some of the poles.

“In such a situation, inhabitants of the affected areas live in constant fear of instant death. That is why we reiterate our call on the authorities in the power sector to develop a habit of quick response to complaints about fallen electricity poles and exposed live wires,” he added.

Why electrocution effects humans badly

 An electrical engineer, Sokari Brown, defining electrocution, noted that it occurs when an individual is exposed to a lethal amount of electric shock, which can have devastating effects on the human body.

He added that the severity of the injuries depended on various factors, including the voltage of the electrical current, the duration of exposure, and the pathway the current takes through the body.

According to him, an electric shock disrupts the normal functioning of the nervous system, causing immediate muscle contractions known as tetany.

“These involuntary muscle movements can lead to the victim being unable to let go of the source of the electric shock. The sudden contraction of muscles can also cause the victim to be thrown away from the source of electricity, resulting in traumatic injuries from falls or collisions.

“In severe cases, the electrical current can cause cardiac arrest by interfering with the heart’s normal rhythm. This can lead to immediate loss of consciousness and death if not treated promptly,” he added.

Also speaking, a first aider and member of an international community of first aiders in Switzerland, Mrs Fatima Ahmed, said electric current generates heat as it passes through the body, leading to thermal burns at the entry and exit points of the electrical current.

She said, “The severity of burns depends on the voltage and duration of exposure. High-voltage electric shocks can cause deep tissue burns, charring of the skin, and damage to internal organs.

“Electrical burns can be deceptive, as they may initially appear minor on the skin surface but can cause extensive damage to underlying tissues, nerves, and blood vessels.”

She also said an electric shock could lead to internal injuries and damage internal organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain, even without visible external burns.

“The electrical current disrupts cellular functions and can lead to tissue necrosis, haemorrhage, and organ failure.

“Injuries to the respiratory system can occur if the victim’s chest muscles contract forcefully, causing respiratory arrest or damage to the airways,” she added.

Ahmed also noted electric shock could cause neurological damage by disrupting the normal transmission of nerve impulses. She said victims might experience seizures, loss of consciousness, confusion, memory loss, or temporary paralysis depending on the extent of the injury.

“Long-term neurological complications, such as neuropathy, chronic pain, and cognitive deficits, may occur in survivors of severe electrocution incidents,” she added.

Friend and foe

Although the advent of electricity has made society more developed, it has its disadvantages. If left controlled, like many other good innovations, it can turn messy.

According to Morgan, many electrical accidents normally occur due to inadequate knowledge of electrical gadgets, information, ignorance on the part of the consumers and operators, and improper and non-existent earthing systems.

He said a properly designed earthing system was of utmost importance in ensuring safety in homes and work sites because most of the devastating effects produced by faults in a system included loss of power, annihilation of equipment, and injuries to operating personnel, each of which could be considerably reduced by proper earthing of the electrical system.

“Many other erudite medical scholars have researched deeply and discovered that electrically conductive contact of the human body with the surface of the grounding or earthing system of an electrical gadget or equipment produces intriguing effects on physiology and health.

“A properly designed earthing system therefore is defined as a safety valve for leakage current and should have a low electrical resistance to earth, high corrosion resistance, and continuous high current carrying capacity.”

Amongst the causes are system protection equipment failures, absence of protection devices in some cases, poor and aging transmission lines, aging distribution networks, and pitiable response to complaints of damaged facilities and lines by operators and managers of the transmission company and distribution companies.

Others, according to experts, are non-compliance to safety rules and guidelines, non-enforcement of safety standards by regulatory agencies, unrelenting existence of inferior materials, schemes, and distribution systems, and the unwillingness of the DisCos to improve on obsolete assets inherited.

Safety measures

Electrocution poses a significant risk to families in Nigeria where electrical infrastructure may be outdated or improperly maintained.

To prevent electrocution and respond effectively if an incident occurs, experts advise families to implement comprehensive safety measures and be aware of appropriate first aid procedures.

A Rivers State-based safety expert, Terry Promise, said regular inspections of electrical wiring, outlets, switches, and appliances to identify signs of wear, damage, or malfunction must be conducted.

He said, “Replace or repair faulty equipment promptly. Hire qualified electricians to install or repair electrical systems in your home. Ensure that all installations comply with national safety standards and regulations.

“Install ground fault circuit interrupters in bathrooms, kitchens, outdoor areas, and other moisture-prone locations to prevent electric shock in the event of a ground fault.

“Cover electrical outlets with safety caps or outlet covers to prevent young children from inserting objects into sockets. Keep electrical cords out of reach and teach children about electrical safety.”

“Do not overload electrical circuits by connecting too many appliances or devices to a single outlet. Use power strips with built-in surge protection and avoid daisy-chaining extension cords.

“Keep electrical appliances away from water sources, such as sinks, bathtubs, and swimming pools. Never operate electrical devices with wet hands or in wet conditions.

“Exercise caution when using electrical equipment outdoors, especially during wet or stormy weather. Use weatherproof covers for outdoor outlets and extension cords,” he added.

Further speaking, Promise said if someone got electrocuted, the scene should be assessed for potential hazards before approaching the victim.

He said, “Ensure that the area is safe from electrical hazards, such as exposed wires or live circuits. Immediately call emergency services (911 or 112 in Nigeria) for medical assistance.

“Provide detailed information about the location, nature of the incident, and the victim’s condition. If safe to do so, turn off the electrical power source or unplug the appliance causing the electrocution using a dry, non-conductive object, such as a wooden stick or rubber glove.

“If the victim is unresponsive and not breathing, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation immediately. Avoid touching the victim with bare hands if they are still in contact with the electrical source to prevent further injury.

“Use non-conductive materials, such as a dry towel or blanket, to safely remove the victim from the source of electricity.”

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