Journalist sues Abuja DisCo, demands N292m on libel, others

A  journalist, Carl Umegboro, has dragged the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC) before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory demanding aggregately for N292, 465,000:00 (two hundred and ninety two million, four hundred and sixty five thousand naira only) for nuisance, trespass to chattel, infringement of fundamental rights, defamation of his character and special damages.

In the originating summon filed through his counsel, Mr. Sunday Adaji on 29 March with Suit No: HC/FCT/CV/1376/18, the applicant is challenging inter alia the continuous interference of the distribution company to the use and enjoyment of electricity he paid for and entitled to its use and above all, defamation of his character.

In his 39-paragraph affidavit deposed before the court, the plaintiff’s prepaid-metered Abuja residence was disconnected over arrears of adjacent customer on estimation bill in the same premises despite the plaintiff’s advice to AEDC officials to disconnect the defaulting customer directly from the meter-point to prevent disturbing his prepaid-metered apartment. The advice, however, fell on deaf ears as the officials aggressively boasted that nothing would happen if his prepaid metered apartment is disconnected, that at most, it will be reconnected after many days in darkness if at all the petition gets attention.

As AEDC officials recalcitrant disconnected the electricity and in a tyrannical manner carted away the cables with open verbal abuses, the plaintiff immediately lodged a complaint at AEDC district office but nothing was done. All efforts to get the electricity restored proved abortive. The plaintiff who is also a lawyer thereafter petitioned the company’s managing director at its head office alongside Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) with a demand for immediate reconnection and a fractional compensation of a sum of N175, 000 (one hundred and seventy five thousand naira only) to mitigate colossal losses suffered due to the unlawful disconnection of his electricity for five days.

Following the latter demand, AEDC after reconnecting the electricity suddenly twisted the story in her letter to the plaintiff to escape liability for compensation and falsely accused him of conniving with, aiding and abetting a defaulting customer to indulge in illegal connections and electricity theft as the reasons for the disconnection. The plaintiff accordingly demanded substantiation of the allegations or a retraction of the derogatory statement among other reliefs but was unheeded. Thereafter, NERC headquarters queried the DisCo over the act.

To the plaintiff’s greatest shock, NERC in response to his petition acquainted him with AEDC’s response and attached the same derogatory report for his knowledge as reasons AEDC gave for the disconnection to the commission. Following Umegboro’s strong objection, NERC further queried the DisCo to substantiate its allegations but nothing was forthcoming.

The plaintiff further avers that his incarceration was traceable to the effective advocacy of a group, ‘Coalition against corruption in the Power Sector’ (CACITPS) he leads since 2014 which has taken advocacy to all relevant authorities principally for compulsory prepaid metering of customers against estimated ‘crazy’ bills and removal of the separate and cumulative N750-service charge in the bill which he said is verifiable by the group’s advocacy and mobilization materials he uploaded as photos in his Facebook page for public view since June 2014. Umegboro also states that though his group unyieldingly fights the excesses of DisCos especially unjustifiable ‘crazy’ bills, he had verifiably, voluntarily championed fundraising in a large community which donated needed materials worth hundreds of thousands of naira to boost electricity distribution in Eko Zone, Lagos.
Consequently, his lawyer, Mr Adaji is praying the court to order AEDC to pay his client the sum of N100million on defamation of character, N50million each on infringement of the right to dignity of his person, nuisance, and trespass to chattel as well as N42, 465,000 as special damages. The three defendants are the company’s managing director, AEDC and NERC respectively. At the time of filing the report, a date is yet to be fixed for the hearing.