THE hour was 1 pm on Wednesday, May 15, and power supply at the Radio House, Abuja, had just been cut. Ironically, the entire hallway on the ninth floor echoed with cheers of workers who seemed to be familiar with the power outage.
Five of them, seconds before then, were inside one of the building’s elevators going towards the top floor. Fortunately, just as the power went out, the elevator’s doors had opened to allow one or two exit. Fearing the worst and without a thought, everyone immediately rushed out and opted to use the stairs instead.
“It used to trap people o!” a guard on one of the lower floors told this reporter, referring to the elevator.
“Seriously!” he exclaimed dramatically. “Some may take up to 30 minutes inside. Like yesterday, there was no light. Everybody was following the staircase. Up and down, they were using the staircase till evening time. Kparam-kparam-kparam, come down … kparam-kparam-kparam, go up. No be small thing o.”
The elevator, which the reporter himself used prior to that conversation, is not properly ventilated. It also does not have a backup power source. And so whenever there is an outage and it is in use, the persons inside tend to feel uncomfortable due to excessive heat and lack of fresh air.
There are reports of people who fainted in the past as a result of suffocation and had to be rushed to the hospital. This was especially common during the heat wave of earlier months, one worker said.
Damilola Ojetunde, an Abuja-based journalist who was at the ministry on Thursday afternoon for accreditation, also narrated his difficult experience to The ICIR.
At the ground floor, the elevator’s floor counter indicated that it was on the third floor and descending. About ten persons queued to use the facility.
“All of a sudden, the elevator’s operator ran towards us screaming, ‘Nobody should enter, nobody should enter. It’s not going. It’s not going,” Ojetunde recalled, with a look of frustration.
“I asked him why we were not allowed to enter since the elevator was obviously working. He then replied that there is no light and they want to switch off the generator. Later, I had to go through the stairs to the ninth floor. When I finally got to the office, I had to sit for a good 10 to 15 minutes to catch my breath before I could do anything. I was exhausted.”
It is not unusual for many of the floors on the 12-storey building, including those housing the Federal Ministry of Information, to be without power supply, especially in the past couple of weeks. Even with electricity supplied, light bulbs at the corridors have gone bad, leaving many floors without illumination.
The Radio House is a giant brown structure situated at Herbert Macaulay Way, Area 10, Garki. For many years, it has housed various organisations: Kapital FM on the ground floor, Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN) on the first floor, and Voice of Nigeria on the sixth and seventh floors, while the ministry has offices on all other floors.
There are six elevators originally installed in the building, but only two have worked in a long time. Security posts have been placed directly in front of some of the elevator doors, signalling that they’ve been abandoned for a long period.
The information ministry’s powerhouse, containing huge generators, is another eyesore. The interior has become dusty and full of cobwebs, and the generators which are capable of powering the entire structure are hardly switched on. According to sources, they are only used on days when the power supply is not expected from the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC). And, on those days too, they are only put on between the hours of 9 am and 2 pm, after which “everybody shuts down”. The powerhouse has, however, not been used at all recently.
“If you ask the people in charge of maintenance what the problem is, they will tell you ‘no diesel’,” a source told The ICIR.
“I feel it’s part of the power outage in Abuja that’s affecting everywhere because sometimes I will be in the office and a friend will call me from the secretariat to complain about outage and ask whether we still have light. So it is now becoming a norm. Even government offices don’t have a power supply, and then the substitute for power supply is not well utilised.”
The radio stations in the building, because of the need to constantly broadcast programmes, have independent means of generating power. It was learnt that the FRCN sometimes assists with powering one of the elevators whenever there is an outage to ease the movement of visitors and workers at the ministry.
Minister, Perm. Sec. abandon offices
The information minister, Lai Mohammed, and the permanent secretary, Grace Isu-Gekpe, different sources say, are hardly seen within the premises. Before the present administration, the ministries of information and culture were separate, but President Muhammadu Buhari had them merged.
Edem Duke was Nigeria’s minister for culture and tourism under the previous government and, at the same time, Labaran Maku was information minister.
Consequently, Mohammed inherited two offices, one at the Radio House and the second at the federal secretariat where the ministry for culture and tourism used to be. His absence from his primary place of assignment has led to flippancy in how the infrastructural needs of the ministry are handled.
Isu-Gekpe also only shows up occasionally, especially for management meetings—which are sometimes held at the Press Centre on the ground floor rather than on the eighth floor where the minister’s office and board room are. The centre is meant to serve as a meeting point between government, journalists, and the public, and a venue for press briefings.
As a result of their constant unavailability, the one elevator labelled for the exclusive use of the “Honorable Minister and the Permanent Secretary” has become the most used by all, without discrimination.
Workers discouraged, productivity drops
The frequent loss of power and unreliability of the elevators have hindered the ministry from getting the best out of its workers. For various reasons, including body size and health conditions, some find it difficult to use the stairs.
“It is affecting everything,” one employee said. “Some people cannot even work. There are people who will tell you pointblank they can’t climb the stairs, and it’s not their fault.
“There are some directors I know that once they come and the lifts are not working, they just go back or go to [the ministry of] culture because there will definitely be light there. Key offices like Human Resources Management, Procurement, and the rest have offices there too.”
Some workers, the employee also disclosed, often lounge at the mosque all day, and do not bother entering the main building. There are those who simply take their bags and leave when the power supply is cut.
It is believed that the bulk of the problems will be resolved if the information minister returns to operate from the ministry’s premises.
N655m budgeted for electricity, maintenance in 4 years
Figures from the approved budgets between the 2015 fiscal year and 2018 show that the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture budgeted up to N655 million in four years on electricity and maintenance related expenses at its Abuja headquarters.
Since the present administration came into power, the ministry has budgeted N94 million on electricity charges, N326 million on maintenance services (including maintenance of generators), and N43 million on generator fuel—all overhead (recurrent) expenses. It is believed that recurrent budgeted sums are invariably released by the finance ministry.
Also, as part of its capital expenditures in 2017, the ministry budgeted N68 million on the provision of inverters and solar power. In 2016, it budgeted N100 million on the purchase of new generators, N12 million on electricity-related repairs, and N12 million on the installation of inverters.
On two occasions that The ICIR called Joe Mutah, chief press secretary to the minister for comments, he said he is “on the road” and will return the call when he arrives, but declined to give a specific time.
'Kunle works with The ICIR as an investigative reporter and fact-checker. You can shoot him an email via firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you're feeling particularly generous, follow him on Twitter @KunleBajo.