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    Friday, June 7, 2019

    Vandalizing Public Infrastructure, A Threat To Development

    Despite the inadequacy of public infrastructure in Nigeria, the available facilities are consistently vandalised by criminals who, in most cases, leave death traps at their wake, VICTOR OKEKE writes.

    It could be anybody’s nightmare: You are on full-speed driving the thoroughfare when all of a sudden, you momentarily defy the laws of physics and fall into an open manhole. From a sprained ankle to a wrongful death case, falling into any of these holes is no laughing matter.

    This brings to mind the recent unfortunate case of Adewura Bello, a lady found dead in a canal in Lagos. According to reports, the 26-year-old accounting graduate of the University Of Lagos (UNILAG) suddenly went missing on May 15, after she boarded a bus from Ikeja to Egbeda, where she lived, at the close of work. After being missing for a few days, her body was found in an open canal.
    Some people have attributed her death to negligence on the path of relevant authorities who didn’t do the needful to ensure that all manholes in the area were properly covered. “An unnecessary death due to an open manhole which was left open but fully covered with water. She and the bike man missed it due to bad visibility. She wasn’t aware,” one of the residents in the area said.

    Apart from the failure of government in this regard, another angle to this problem is that vandals masquerading as scavengers take advantage of the lax security situation in the country to target not just these manhole covers but other infrastructure like railway tracks, bridges, electricity cables and many such metal public property.
    These hoodlums are sawing off rails and bars from where they are supposed to be and exposing users to danger. Even railway tracks in locations such as Zik’s Avenue and Holy Ghost Cathedral in Enugu are not left out. As it is now, these tracks could occasion a train crash any time soon because the bolts and other metals used to support the tracks to the ground have been stolen in bits, and what’s left cannot hold much.

    The Nigerian Railway Police Command in Enugu had in September last year, arrested 14 persons in connection with such vandalism and theft. Mr Henry Njoku, the Area Commander-in-charge of the Eastern District Police Area Command, said, at the time, that the suspects included two policemen, who were aiding and shielding the suspects. The vandals were caught stealing heavy irons of brake system control, wagon parts, wagon wheels, clips of rail slippers and rail slippers. Other items they stole include armoured railway doors, sheets of zinc and rail cables.

    The police command at the time said that it had recorded a lot of vandalism within Isiagu-Izuakoli-Mbaeke-Umuhia sections and Emene-Ogui-Ogbete sections of the Eastern Corridors.
    According to NRC’s Regional District Manager (East), Ola Adeeyinwo, the activities of the vandals denies the people in that part of the country, the opportunity of enjoying affordable and traffic-jam free train services. The manager said that due to the nefarious activities, the rail tracks from Aba-to-Port Harcourt was the only line now functioning.
    “We have recorded a lot of vandalism within Isiagu-Uzuakoli-Mbaeke-Umuhia sections and Emene-Ogui-Ogbete sections of the Eastern Corridors.
    “In some places, a whole rail track line, which includes the rail slippers, clips, bolts and long iron bars are completely removed by the vandals,’’ he said.

    Indeed, from Lagos to Abuja, and from Port Harcourt to Enugu, there is an upsurge in vandalism of critical public infrastructure linked to high demand for scrap metal. The crime, besides costing the economy billions of Naira in lost business and cost of replacement, also exacerbates insecurity as scrap metal collectors engage in a countrywide plunder, burglary and other crimes to feed the growing demand.
    Railway tracks, manhole covers, copper wires, electricity transformers and cables and road safety infrastructure are the most affected by these vandals.
    Metal smelters, steel mills and exporters have largely been blamed for fueling vandalism by providing a ready market especially for copper wires and bridge guard rails.

    According to Ola Bayo of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Federal Polytechnic Offa, Kwara State, the removal of the bolts, nuts and metal bars by vandals in Lambata, a town between Minna and Suleja, of the two towers hosting 132kv transmission lines supplying electricity to Abuja and Suleja, led to the collapse of the towers, throwing the area into five-day blackout some years ago.
    In December 2002, towers 114 and 117 along Benin-Ikeja West 330kv line 1, was vandalised and 217 and 220 conductors and insulators carted away. And this greatly reduced power supply to Lagos and Benin, for several days. In February 2005, vandals carted away 600 metres of aluminum cables from the network of PHCN installations in Abuja, valued at over N11, 000,000.

    To do justice to the issue of vandalism in the country, Bayo, had in a study on ‘Infrastructural Vandalism in Nigerian Cities,’ revealed that vandalising PHCN installations constitutes a serious drain on the country’s resources. For example, between 1990 and 2003, Nigeria lost over N20 billion to vandalism.
    Telecommunication installations are not spared of this nefarious act. A leading telecommunication firm (MTN) “loses an average of two giant electricity-generating sets per week, besides the vandalising of its base stations and other facilities,” Bayo said.
    No wonder then, the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) banned the activities of scavengers from the Abuja city centre while restricting them to the official dump sites in the city.

    Authorities in Abuja said many public utilities have been targets of vandalism and robbery activities that carry the footprints of ‘Baban Bola,’ operatives adding that the scavengers have been involved in many criminal activities from petty stealing to armed robbery, vandalism of public utilities and other forms of crime and criminality.
    This becomes more imperative since infrastructural facilities are part of the urban system’s artifacts that make living more conducive. Once a particular facility is damaged it automatically exerts spiraling effects throughout the urban system. For instance, a damaged PHCN Cable ultimately brings socio-economic activities in the affected areas to a halt. This could trigger social unrests leading to vandalism of other infrastructural facilities.

    Thus all hands must be on deck to combat the menace. Vandalism constitutes a serious drain on government limited resources, it destabilises socio economic activities and has strong debilitating effects on the livability, serviceability and manageability of the city.
    To this end, state and the municipal governments need to encourage the police to intensify the patrol of every nook and cranny harboring critical infrastructure especially at nights. This can be done by assisting them with adequate patrol vehicles and other necessary materials.

    Illumination is every serious vandal’s biggest enemy. These men work under the cover of darkness because they do not want to be seen. So Keeping areas were these valuable cables and so on are kept or laid well lit would make it completely difficult for these vandals to commit their acts of vandalism without being seen. In their world, bright lights are only useful after they have done their deed and left enough damage behind. Proper lighting is the most natural and most important step in preventing vandalism.

    In this light, the provision of street lights in both major and minor streets will go a long way in reducing the menace of vandalism in places where these infrastructures are located since most vandals operate at night.
    Again, while they may be ineffective against professional criminals, surveillance cameras can be effective against amateur criminals who commit acts of vandalism. In fact, the presence of cameras is a deterrent in itself. In cases where they do not prevent the crime, cameras can provide information that can assist police in their investigation.

    Governments at all levels should also coordinate all relevant stakeholders in safeguarding the infrastructural facilities spread across the country. The traditional chiefs of communities, community vigilante services, the police, the private providers of infrastructural facilities, and other relevant urban actors should be brought together for the purpose of achieving joint efforts at securing the nation’s infrastructure.
    Communities should own up these infrastructures when located within their area and protect them against vandals like one will protect a private property. 

    There is the need for the community to organise effective neighbourhood watch otherwise known as vigilante groups in those areas that are lacking this, with a view to properly policing the area and protecting the infrastructural facilities in the communities.
    There is the need to embark on serious sensitisation for the masses on the need to be security conscious. The media and civil society organisations should be involved in this exercise. The people should be made to realise the imperativeness of reporting any suspicious movement or activities around the facility and within their neighborhood to the appropriate authorities.

    The government should intensify efforts at creating job opportunities for youths too. Boredom is the fuel that drives the engine that propels vandalism. Eliminate the fuel and the engine will not start. Supporting programmes that provide young people with safe alternative to criminal mischief provides the dual benefit of preventing vandalism and making a positive impression on the life of a young person.  Young people who are busy doing things that bring them income and fulfillment have no time to commit crime.
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