We are familiar with vandals who break pipelines in order to scoop refined petrol to sell in the black market. It is a lucrative business for criminals but one at a huge cost to the national economy. Now there is a new entrant into the under world of crime – the one who cuts up iron rail sleepers or the rail track vandal.
The Police Command in Kaduna State on Saturday said it had arrested five suspected rail track vandals and recovered two trucks loaded with locomotive rail track sleepers. Command spokesman, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Mohammed Jalige, who announced the arrests and seizures in a statement, said the command, on May 13, acting on “reliable information”, arrested five persons in Dalle village in Jema’a Local Government Area of Kaduna state. According to him, the suspects were undergoing interrogation and effort was being intensified to identify all those involved in the destruction of “the critical national infrastructure”.
Jalige made a clarification on the video and pictures of a vandalised rail track circulating on social media platforms which was said to be the Abuja–Kaduna rail track. “The Command wishes to clarify and allay the fear of all train users that the said video and pictures have nothing to do with Abuja–Kaduna rail track, as train services are ongoing.” He said the video and the pictures in circulation emanated from Enugu State where the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) apprehended and paraded some rail track vandals.
Another recent viral video clip showed some persons using saw-like objects to cut the Itakpe-Warri railway line in pieces. It links Warri in Delta State to Ajaokuta in Kogi State. Bolts and knots had been removed, showing the vandals’ intention to steal the iron rails. It was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari in September 2020. In April, Rotimi Amaechi, minister of transportation, also flagged off freight and haulage services on the rail line.
Fidet Okhiria, managing director/ chief executive officer of Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), confirmed the development to journalists. He said the incident occurred at KM 30, Adogo, a Kogi state section of the rail. The vandalization happened few days after the NRC announced the arrests of two persons suspected of vandalising sleepers on the Kaduna-Zaria railline.
Haruna Sabo, the NRC northern district engineer, who made the announcement, said those arrested were members of a syndicate that specialised in removing rail clips that hold sleepers and rail tracks together. “The removal of the bolt and knot, rails clips on the track was one of the reasons for the recent derailment of trains in Kaduna,” Sabo said.
The immediate consequence of this “new crime’ is the real danger of train derailment such as the one that Sabo mentioned. The vandals operate in dead night and by next morning it is too late to warn off railway managers. The human toll of derailment is always heavy, not to talk of damaged trucks.
The long term effect is the setback vandalism causes in our rail infrastructure development. This is critical national infrastructure being upgraded to expand socioeconomic activity. Vandalism certainly will slow it down.
It is for those reasons that we suggest that something be done fast to nip this new crime in the bud. Security of the rail network, we understand, is the main responsibility of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). Let it be seen to up to the task. If it needs help from sisterly services, let it say so.
Who are the criminals? Engr. Okhiria recently said the vandals arrested in Makurdi, Benue State, were Chinese, people who were part of the Chinese team that built the raillines. This makes it clear that these things are insider jobs. But they couldn’t do it without help from NRC staff. They and their Nigerian collaborators should be fished out, prosecuted and punished.
What more, the NRC and security should enlist the assistance of communities through which the rail lines run. Their knowledge of the locales will help in no small way.