A public demonstration, staged by a record crowd of over 1,000 people from a single rural community, has rocked a stronghold of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in the Upper East region over the lack of electricity.
The development seen Tuesday at Bolga-Sherigu, a suburb of the regional capital, was expected, with some agitated leaders of the community having hinted Starr News at the weekend about it.
It would be recalled that Starr News reported early Tuesday that households and bars in about 20 neighbourhoods within that community had resorted to clay pots to cool drinks due to the nonexistence of electric power residents say is as old as the entire community itself.
The frustrated leaders had spoken about their intention to convene a news conference to register their protests. But what was scheduled to be a session between a circle of community leaders and the press turned out to be an open demonstration led by a multitude some stunned observers say can only be described as a “festival crowd”.
The rally, branded with a tireless wave of placards in the air, was peaceful; but the protest noise, heard several metres away from its source, mirrored the depth of frustrations the agitators had lived with for decades as they chanted ceaselessly and in unison: “No electricity, no vote! No electricity, no vote!” The louder the crowd yelled, the more the number swelled at a scene dotted with beautifully spaced wild trees but without a single electricity pole standing on the green, vast land.
“The most prioritised need of the community is light. We have been demanding for light since NDC took over [power] in 2009. And to date, not even a pole can be found here. The reasons we are demanding for light is there has been rampant stealing during the night. Because of lack of light, people sneak into our forests at night and deforest [them]. We are very disappointed in the NDC government under the leadership of His Excellency John Dramani Mahama. Since 1992, Sherigu has been voting for NDC. NDC wins majority of votes in Sherigu community, but there is absolutely nothing in the community which can be pointed at as a [legacy] left by the NDC government.
“We are re-echoing this into the ears of the leadership of the NDC in Bolga Central and His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama that if we don’t see light in Sherigu before December, their stronghold in Bolga Central Constituency will vote massively against the NDC and His Excellency John Dramani Mahama,” spokesperson to the agitators, Anthony Asakisango, announced in front of the crowd at Nyorkokor, one of the 13 polling stations in the community all of which the NDC has continued to control since 1992.
Schoolchildren cross river for night studies
With the absence of electricity in those areas, there is very little schoolwork children can do on their own when they return home after school hours.
A number of determined children, residents say, are compelled to stride at waist-level across a river that runs between Sherigu and Sumbrungu, a close community in the regional capital, in search of any public facility like a classroom or a social centre that has light so they can have private night studies. Such adventures, according to them, are more frequent during examination periods when some students would want to sacrifice more of the resources at their disposal for good results.
“They do cross the river to go and study at Sumbrungu because there is no light here. At times, the water is at their waist level. But at the same time also, majority of our children take that risk through the river to go and view television at Sumbrungu because our area has never had light before. They come back late, at the time we the parents are sleeping. All this because there is no light in our area,” Jacob Akansise, a parent in the community, told Starr News.
Elizabeth Aniah, a student in the community, told newsmen during the demonstration: “Some of us are day students. Whenever we come from school, we always find it difficult to read. We are also going to write the same exams with other schools [located] where there are lights. We are the future leaders. Without reading, how, then, do we go about it? We are appealing to them to bring us light.”
Midwives abandon quarters amid insecurity
Like a wild fire marauding everything found in its way, the lack of electricity is eating deep into the overall wellbeing of the community.
Besides the agonising effects the lack of power has inflicted on education, trade and security in the area, it also has become a significant threat to health service delivery. This is because midwives reportedly have abandoned residential quarters built for them by government. The structures are not supplied with power and, for the midwives, staying any night in such structures could leave them at the mercy of violent criminals one day.
“Community Health Officers posted to any area are supposed to sleep in the structures provided. But looking at our CHPS (Community-based Health Planning System) compound, the quarters, where it is located, it is far from the houses and there is no light. If there is an attack, a sudden attack, at midnight, where do you hide? So, nobody stays here,” a nurse at one of the health facilities in the community, who did not want her name mentioned, told Starr News.
Meanwhile, the Upper East Regional Minister, Albert Abongo, has given an assurance that the areas will have their request granted. He told Starr News: “They will get electricity. We are working on it.”