Only two weeks ago, he was in the company of friends hanging out in front of his house at Yaunde area of Tumfre, Gombe. Then four members of the staff of Jos Electricity Distribution Company (JEDC) came to mend the high tension cable (HTC) dangling closer to the low tension cable (LTC). In the process, the HTC became intertwined with the LTC.
Observing the situation, 38 years old Andrew Abu Yaro had warned that what the JEDC officials had done would kill somebody in the area. His words turned prophetic about one week later as the technical error turned into a tragedy that consumed four lives, including Yaro’s.
On April 27, one week after Andrew warned of imminent danger, a huge power surge had resulted in the supply of high voltage to the homes of residents in the area. Then came a whirlwind that caused the HTC to further intertwine with the LTC, causing the 11 KVA transformer on the street to go up in flames. Yaro did not live to tell the story of his earlier warning of imminent disaster. He died alongside three others while attempting to switch off his refrigerator to save it from the high voltage supplied to his home around 3 am.
Yaro was said to have been knocked to the floor as soon as he touched the switch box. A powerful white flame brightened the room and hit him in the head. His body dried up immediately and life was sniffed out of him within seconds.
Yusuf, Yaro’s elder brother and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), who was contacted on the phone, said by the time he got to Andrew’s home, he found him lying on the floor “like dry crayfish”.
Fighting back tears as he spoke, Yusuf said: “My brother’s death was caused by the carelessness of JEDC men and I will not keep silent until justice is done”, he said.
Another brother of Andrew, Yunana, who was also caught in the incident, was however lucky to live and tell the story.
Walking up to our correspondent with his left foot and hand wrapped in bandage, he said: “Around 3 am in the morning, I heard a neighbour in my compound shouting, ‘fire, fire, help, help!’
“When I got there, I saw his electrical fuse in flames and I went there to switch it off.
“After that, I realised that a similar thing had happened in my brother, Andrew Yaro’s house.
“When I got there, I broke the door and entered and I saw him lying dead.
“Although I was about one or two metres away from him, I could not help him because I noticed that something like a blast of furnace was hitting his head from the refrigerator.
“As a result, the entire house was so bright.
“I then ran out to remove the electrical fuse on the wall. While I was doing that, I suffered electrical shock which gave me the injuries you are seeing on my hand and feet.”
The situation was even more pathetic in the home of Patrick Okeke, who was not at home when the incident occurred. His wife, Christiana, and daughter, Ifunanya, were both electrocuted while also trying to save their refrigerator from the power surge.
Christiana was said to have been woken up by the strange noise from the electrical appliances in her home and immediately rushed to switch off the refrigerator but was electrocuted in the process. Her daughter, who woke up shouting Mummy, Mummy, rushed to the scene, touched her and was also electrocuted.
Okeke, whose house was three poles away from Yaro’s, said he was not at home when the incident occurred.
Narrating how he lost his wife and daughter in one night, he said: “On Tuesday, I spoke with my wife because I was at home in Onitsha for one of our friends’ burial. I told her I would come back on Wednesday. I called her again in the night before I went to bed and we spoke.
“Then around 3 am on Wednesday, one of my brothers called me from Gombe, saying that there was electric shock in my house and that my wife and daughter were electrocuted.
“I was shocked and couldn’t sleep again. I had to hire a driver from Onitsha to take me to Gombe.
“All along, I thought I was dreaming. But when I got here, it was terrible. I saw my wife burnt like a goat and my daughter was like that too. Immediately, I lost control of myself and started crying,” he said.
The home of Pastor Solomon Ayanwale located directly opposite the Okeke’s also went up in flames. All the electrical appliances in the house and all the cables were burnt.
Both Ayanwale and his wife, Elizabeth, suffered serious injuries. Pastor Ayanwale, who was later rushed to the hospital, suffered a deep cut in his tongue which turned black from electric shock while his wife’s arm was also burnt.
Like the other victims, the couple also suffered electrocution while trying to save their electrical appliances from the sudden power surge.
Mrs Ayanwale said: “We were sleeping around 3am while one of my daughters was watching a film in the living room. Suddenly, she saw the electrical switch board going up in flames.
“She came to our window and started shouting fire, fire. That was how the two of us rushed out.
“When we came out, we saw that all our electrical appliances were on fire. Daddy then quickly ran to the change over box.
“As soon as he touched it, the box exploded. Then he ran to his car and brought out fire extinguisher to put out the fire.
“As he rushed into the sitting room, he fell down. Then my daughter shouted Mummy, let us go out of the house.
“But the gate was locked and the key was on the refrigerator, so I rushed to take the key.
“As soon as my hand touched the refrigerator, it knocked me down. Then I started shouting.
“As the current ran through my body, I was shaking furiously. I later managed to get up when I heard my daughter shouting Mummy, get up please; let us go out.
“Our daddy took the gate key and wanted to open it, but the electrical current also flung him and he lay on the floor.
“His tongue cut so they had to stitch it in the hospital.”
Mrs. Priscilla Adum had just finished conducting her night prayer and was about to lay on her bed to rest when she noticed a strange sound coming from the fan.
“So I jumped up and rushed to switch off the fan. But before I reached the wall, I heard a sound of something exploding.
“I switched the fan off and rushed to the living room only to find that the power stabilizer and deep freezer were burning.
“As I stretched forth my hand to switch off the refrigerator, I was thrown away and I hit my head on the ground and my hand was burnt.”
The day after the incident, 20 years old Sunday, an apprentice to Eze Jonas, was also electrocuted while trying to switch off the generator when electricity was suddenly restored.
Eze’s house located in the same neighbourhood was thrown into mourning with Eze weeping uncontrollably as mourners thronged the house.
The loss of Sunday was a huge shock to him because the deceased had just returned home to switch on the generator.
Residents protest, demand justice
The news of the four people electrocuted in Tumfre spread like wild fire, forcing Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya to pay a condolence visit to the bereaved families and donating N1.5 million to them.
Governor Yahaya called on JEDC to immediately correct the electrical anomalies and restore electricity. He also called on the state’s Emergency Management Agency to also look into the damages caused and offer assistance to the victims.
A week after the incident, residents of Yaunde gathered in the streets to protest what they described as injustice in the operation of JEDC. The placards carrying protesters demanded justice for Andrew Abu Yaro and others, saying their death was caused by ineptitude on the part of JEDC.
Counsel to the late Yaro, Barrister Rabiu Ayuba, who spoke with journalists on the protest, said a letter had already been written to JEDC demanding correction of the errors in the electrical connections in the area.
“This is a public interest agitation for negligent action of JEDC in that a high voltage line, as you can see up there, was intertwined to a low voltage line by the action of JEDC in which high voltage electricity was supplied to Andrew Abu Yaro’s house, which led to his electrocution.
“So, this agitation is calling on the company to come and remedy the kind of connection that they have done here so that tomorrow, another person will not die,” said Ayuba.
According to him, the death of Yaro by electrocution is a crime caused by negligence on the part of JEDC.
“It is the duty of government to investigate that aspect of the crime and prosecute whosoever is culpable.
“But for the family and residents of Yaunde, they have the right to press a civil action against the company for compensation and for them to come and remedy the damage that they have done in this community,” he said.
He added that if the demands of the Yaro family and the residents of Yaunde were not met within the specified time, they would file a legal action against the company in a competent court of law.
JEDC Regional Manager Auwalu Jada, in his reaction to the incident, regretted the tragedy in the area, describing it as unfortunate.
Jada said because the matter on ground involved the loss of human lives, JEDC had been very careful in handling it, especially because emotion was so high.
“We are also human beings and we know what it means when lives are involved in a matter like this.
Jada said: “It is just very unfortunate and we console the families of those who lost their lives as a result of this incident.
“I have gone there to commiserate with the family. I wanted to go immediately we heard about it but security reports from DSS warned me against it.
“But when I learnt that Governor Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya was visiting the victims’ families on that day, I quickly grabbed the opportunity to join his entourage and visit the families.”
He confirmed the receipt of a letter from the lawyer of one of the victims but said it was such a complex incident that involves two other federal government agencies on electricity control.
“Therefore, it will take time before we can get all the parties involves in Abuja who have to carry out investigations on it and submit reports before we can decide on what to do,” he said.
Jada noted that over 85 per cent of electrical connections in Tumfre area of Gombe needs to be completely overhauled and corrected because most of them violated electricity regulations.
He said: “If we really want to go by standard, I think 85 per cent of the wiring in Tumfre should be replaced.
“First, the LT poles they are using are not the ones recommended, but people mount pressure because of the economic situation in the country, begging and sometimes crying, giving all sorts of excuses like being pensioners, and so on.
“Some of them do not even mind sleeping at your doorstep just because they want you to connect their houses to electricity.
“Many times, out of sympathy, we are compelled to assist them.”
He said the company had requested for some poles because the available poles would not be enough to replace all the bad ones.
He lamented, however, that his main source of concern was that the residents had not observed the right of way.
“People put structures under the lines. In some of the houses, the pole is right inside their premises, and at the end of the day, if anything happens, they will put the blame on JEDC.
“Everybody knows that there’s provision for the right of way; that is five metres right and five metres left away from the pole. But they are not obeying it.
“I decided not to say something like this before because of the loss of lives involved. I am a human being too and I know it can happen to anyone.
“But the fact remains that we must obey standard instructions based on regulations.
“So I want the public to know that we are setting machinery in motion.
“Henceforth, anybody who cannot maintain the standard, we are not going to connect such to electricity, because one person’s life is as important as any other life in the state and the country,” he said.