The introduction of prepaid electricity meters in the Junior rates wing of Navy Barracks Kubwa has sparked off outrage as Junior ratings say they bear cost of monthly recharges while the navy pays for other categories of staff in the same barracks. Defence Correspondent, ABDUL LAUYA, went to town to find out how many military barracks in the country have prepaid meters, and who bears the cost of recharge.
Kubwa Navy Barracks in Bwari Local Government Area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is putatively the oldest purely naval accommodation acquired when the Naval Headquarters (NHQ) officially relocated to Abuja in 2001. The expansion in infrsructural facility including Navy Holdings Ltd and Navy Post Housing Ltd necessitated more barracks to accommodate the corresponding manpower needed to man these offices. Hence, more barracks accommodation sprang up in Kuje, Karshi and now Asokoro, near Mogadishu Cantonment.
As is the case with all Military Barracks in the FCT, the Nigerian Navy administers its barracks in Abuja area through the Naval Unit (NUA), the equivalent of Army Headquarters Garrison (AHQ). The NUA apply to NHQ, gets funds and settles PHCN bills in respect of all Navy Barracks, accommodation, Guest Houses, office complexes and other buildings belonging to the Nigerian Navy. It also administers all personnel posted to the FCT including welfare, Sentry duties/ Internal Security deployment and discipline general.
In Nigeria, occupants of Military barracks do not pay electricity bills as Government bear the costs through the services Headquarters. But this appears not to be the case in the popular Navy Barracks Kubwa as some Junior personnel complained that they are made to pay electricity bills through their nose while senior officers who are economically better off are left out. According to their narratives, Navy through the NUA introduced prepaid meters only at the Junior rates Quarters. The implication being that they have to recharge their meters before they enjoy electricity, while the Navy pays for the other category of officers.
The representative of the Junior staff who pleaded anonymity for fear of victimization, told The AUTHORITY that when they complained to NUA, they were asked to submit evidence of payment (recharge) for reimbursement which they did since January. When The AUTHORITY contacted the Base Information Officer, NUA, Lt Cdr Hauwa Mohammed on the matter, she denied knowledge of details of the prepaid meters as according to her, she was just returning from a course, but said she was aware that meters were some time installed in the said barracks but were tampered with by some faceless personnel.
On further investigation, the Commander NUA, Navy Commodore Gbassa, redirected The AUTHORITY to Navy spokesman, as according to him, he is not authorized to speak to the press. He, however did not deny the allegation as he showed this reporter photocopy of the memo he sent to NHQ on the matter.
When contacted, Navy spokesman, Captain Suleiman Dahun, insisted that the Navy does not settle service matters with its personnel on pages of newspapers, as according to him, “the service has laid down procedures for settling grievances”. He said: “it is gross indiscipline for service personnel to run to the press on a matter that is already receiving attention without exhausting internal channels of communication”. On why the prepaid metres were not installed at the officers’ Quarters and other naval barracks in Abuja, Dahun said that it is a project that is being carried out in phases. He was however, silent on why the Navy has not reimbursed the affected personnel up till now.
To ascertain whether the policy on payment of electricity bills in the Armed Forces has changed, this reporter painstakingly visited almost all the military Barracks in Abuja including the Niger Barracks which houses the Service Chiefs and other senior Officers. The checks show that the military still bear the cost of electricity consumption in all its Barracks and other public buildings.
In other barracks visited within the FCT, no prepaid meters were observed including the popular Mogadishu Cantonment (a tri-service accommodation), the Mambila Barracks, the Lungi Barracks, Camp WU Bassey, Air Force Barracks along Airport Road and Navy Barracks Kuje. The only Place where prepaid metres was observed again was Military Pensions Board rented accommodation in Kubwa, where the authorities provide money for central recharge of the meters monthly.
Outside Abuja, Further investigation into tri-service and navy barracks revealed that no prepaid meters in Armed Forces Resettlement Centre, Oshodi, Navy Town Ojo, Armed Force Command and Staff College, Jaji, NDA Kaduna, as well as naval Baracks in Portharcourt, Calabar, Lokoja, Abeokuta, Onitsha, Makurdi, Ibaka etc.
In an interview with cross section of some personnel on the matter, most of them alleged that the introduction of prepaid meters in the Junior rates quarters was a ploy by naval authorities to check what they termed ‘reckless’ use of electricity by the Junior ones, who are often seen as indisciplined and irresponsible.
While prepaid electricity meters help to check arbitrary charges (estimated billing) by PHCN and irresponsible use of electricity generally, the peculiarity of military barracks call for a well-thought out central policy on how to administer prepaid meters in military barracks before it is implemented.