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Rail track vandalism threatens FG’s transport reforms

Officials of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) said the passenger service was scheduled for 2:00pm daily from Itakpe to Warri from the Itakpe substation on…

There are concerns over the rising cases of rail track vandalism across the country, with reported multiple incidents recently.

These include vandalism of the Warri to Itakpe rail line (Kogi area), rail tracks seizure in Kaduna, sections of the eastern rail line (Enugu section) and other cases recorded in the western region.

The Warri-Itakpe rail line was commissioned in 2020, with the freight services starting in mid-April 2021. According to some passengers, the train service on the rail line has eased their transport problems as they can connect from Abuja to Itakpe near Okene in Kogi State and board the train to Warri town in Delta State.

Officials of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) said the passenger service was scheduled for 2:00pm daily from Itakpe to Warri from the Itakpe substation on a test-run basis.

However, threats of vandals attacking the rail line may cut short this logistics intervention by the federal government.

Last week, a viral video showed that vandals sliced several sections of the Itakpe-Warri standard gauge rail line.

The unknown vandals used what appears to be a saw to slice through the rail line to a point where the pieces could be taken, thus exposing passengers on train to danger.

The incident, our correspondent gathered, happened around kilometre 30 in the Adogo area of Kogi State.

Still last week, the police in Kaduna State arrested five vandals suspected to have stolen rail tracks at Dalle village of Jema’a Local Government Area.

The police spokesman, ASP Muhammad Jalige, said two trucks loaded with railway sleepers were recovered from the suspects.

The police also confirmed that another viral video showed that similar vandalism happened around the Enugu axis, where operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) apprehended and paraded some of the rail track vandals.

Still on May 19, the police, in a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report, said they nabbed a man accused of vandalising rail tracks in Enugu State. The suspect, identified as Ejike Okeke from Nkwubor-Nike community, Enugu East Local Government Area, is said to belong to a syndicate “which specialises in vandalising rail tracks in the state.”

One locally made pistol with one live cartridge was recovered from Mr Okeke, who was arrested in May 9 at 11am by a team of operatives of the Enugu Metro area command and members of the vigilante group, according to a statement last Wednesday from the police spokesperson in the state, Daniel Ndukwe.

Ndukwe in the statement, noted that Mr Okeke and others, “who ran on sighting the operatives, were found attempting to vandalise railway tracks at Nkwubor rail-line,” adding that investigation was ongoing to apprehend other gang members.

Vandalism of railway facilities has also become a common occurrence in the Lagos/Western district of the NRC.

Findings indicated that over 100 persons are currently in detention at the railway police command in Lagos over vandalism of the railway tracks.

While security agencies have been tasked to be up and doing in arresting the criminals, experts also advocated deployment of technology, which would alert those in charge any time a track is being vandalised.

Speaking with our correspondent, Akin Akintola, an engineer and former chairman of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Ikeja branch, said the vandalising railway tracks had been a recurring issue. The same thing, he said, was witnessed on some bridges.

He said, “In mitigating this, there are some devices they are supposed to put in place. They have signals. It is like you are flying your airplane. There is a signal that is supposed to be sent. Immediately the plane arrives at the next airport, they would receive signals.

“In the railway, they have signals too, but the big question is: Are the people who are supposed to be in charge actually in charge? We should allow those who are supposed to work to work. There are devices that can be put in place. It is like the pipelines. You don’t need to stand by the pipeline to secure it. There is a device that right from your home you know what is happening on the pipe.

“So they can deploy the same thing on our rail line, and if anybody is tampering with it they would know. There are sensors and all those signals. It is unfortunate that Nigerians just like destroying things.”

Akintola said those who vandalised railway tracks were a bunch of criminals and could not be driven by poverty.

“To remove that is extra work. The nuzzle is not just an ordinary nuzzle. To be able to cut such materials means the person must be an expert. For you to be an expert; is that poverty? They are just a bunch of criminals,’’ he added.

When contacted on these incidents, especially the Warri-Itakpe rail line, the managing director/chief executive officer of the NRC, Fidet Okhiria, an engineer, confirmed the incident to our correspondent but said the train was still being operated as there is an alternative to the vandalised section.

“The incident happened, but we are still in operations because we have an alternative,” he noted.

He also said the NRC would engage communities to guard the transport infrastructure from further acts of vandalism.

The Railway District Manager (RDM) for Lagos, Jerry Oche, an engineer, provided further insight into the menace as he said the act of vandalising rail tracks was a matter of concern.

He disclosed that several kilometres of the tracks were vandalised on the Lagos-Kano corridor. He said the activities were rampant along the Sarkin Power/Birnin Gwari axis between Niger State and Kaduna, adding, “We can’t quantify it.’’

“As we are here seated, some groups of people are removing something. If the train is moving from Lagos to Kano, before it gets there, the probability is that it would be vandalized,’’ he said.

He, however, said the NRC had deployed rail buses to patrol the line. He added that the express train service between Lagos and Kano was being revived to ensure that there are activities on the corridor and send a signal to them.

He said, “I believe that if there is activity on the line, vandalism will reduce.

Two rail buses have been deployed to Ibadan and Minna. What we are doing with them is that the one in Minna is patrolling the line everyday between Zaria and Minna. The one in Ibadan is patrolling between Western district and Lagos district because a lot of activities are here (Lagos). The whole idea is for us to work and make sure that our line is okay.

“The government is doing a new line. The standard gauge is not on the old line. And our attitude to the government thing is that people can go there and steal it and say we don’t need it again. Inspection vehicles for rail operation are continuous,’’ Oche explained.

From Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos) & Chris Agabi & Simon Echewofun Sunday (Abuja)

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