As vandals target armoured cables in most parts of the Niger Delta, causing frequent power outages that last for weeks and months, the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHED) has made good its threat to take the war to energy thieves and those who vandalise its sensitive facilities.
Vandalism has of late thrown half of Port Harcourt into darkness for months with places such as Elelenwo, Woji, Diobu, etc, crying due to long periods of darkness.
PHED, however, said it has pressed for the prosecution, conviction and sentencing of those so far caught in the act, including a 35-year-old man described by lawyers as an only son. The convict was accused of attacking armoured cables and transformers. He was sentenced to prison on Thursday, March 25, 2021, by a Port Harcourt magistrate, Chinwe Msirim.
The court heard how on November 8, 2020, the convict, Etim Offiong, ceaselessly attacked armoured cables and a transformer at the Old GRA at the intersection between Mbiama and Ernest Ikoli Street, a sensitive facility belonging to the PHED.
The prosecutor, Chike Okoro, who secured conviction of Offiong, described how the ‘only son’ worked hard to vandalise the armoured cable and transformer. He told the magistrate how a good citizen caught the man in the act of vandalising the four core armoured cables of PHED’s 500kva transformer at Mbiama by Ernest Ikoli Street and raised alarm which attracted other citizens who apprehended the convict.
It was stated that the ‘only son’ was taken to the GRA Police Station and later transferred to the Rivers State Criminal Investigations Division (State CID) from where the case went to court.
A case of stealing and conspiracy was initially slammed on the then accused who had pleaded not guilty. Offiong however pleaded guilty on March 18, 2021, when the case was amended to one count charge of causing breach of peace by vandalising armoured cable and transformer.
During a plea for mercy, counsel to the then defendant, E. N. Ogbobuna, asked the court to show kindness because, according to her, Offiong was a first-offender whom she said had suffered for his offence by spending time in custody.
“He is ready to learn, ready to change and has indeed repented. He is an only son and only child. He is ready to behave well. Please caution and discharge him, or at worst, give him minimum sentencing,” Ogbobuna said.
The prosecution did not object to the plea. In her sentencing, the magistrate remarked that the act was pure sabotage of a sensitive public facility. She threw Offiong into jail for one year which would, however, start counting from the day he first appeared in court.
Reacting, PHED described the successful sentencing as victory for the fight against energy theft and vandalism.
“It is an opportunity to set example and show the public how seriously the company viewed vandalism. PHED is ready to go to any length to take the fight to the vandals,” Chioma Aninwe, acting manager, public affairs, told court reporters.
She commended the good citizen who raised alarm, saying, “Citizens should emulate him and realise that public property is for everybody.”