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Interrogating Nigerians’ penchant for destroying public infrastructure

By Onydika Agbedo
05 June 2021   |   4:20 am
Nigeria has huge infrastructure gap. Major infrastructure like roads, electricity, railway, housing, ports, pipelines, schools, hospitals, etc., are grossly insufficient .....

Some BRT buses burnt during the #EndSARS protest in Lagos State, last year

Nigeria has huge infrastructure gap. Major infrastructure like roads, electricity, railway, housing, ports, pipelines, schools, hospitals, etc., are grossly insufficient and this is negatively impacting the country’s economic development.

Over the years, experts have argued that a well-developed infrastructure has the potential to increase productivity, which would ultimately alleviate poverty, enhance job creation, facilitate trade and promote innovation in the economy. However, the fund to achieve this seems not to be within reach, with a leading global rating agency, Moody’s Investors Service, estimating in a recent report that Nigeria needs to spend about $3 trillion over a 30-year period in order to bridge the country’s infrastructure gap.

This is a gargantuan task given the huge demands on government’s dwindling revenue. But having realised that the country’s infrastructure needs are too massive to be addressed through yearly budgetary allocations, both the federal and state governments have initiated other sources of funding like Public-Private Partnership (PPP) and concession arrangements. Some capital projects in the country have been delivered through these arrangements while many others are either currently ongoing or at the stage of negotiation.

But there is a problem. Nigerians have a poor attitude to public infrastructure; they destroy it with or without provocation not minding the fact that they were put in place to address their needs and that money used to execute such projects was taken from the collective purse. Stories of theft and outright vandalisation of public infrastructure such as manholes, pedestrian bridge railings, electricity cables, rail tracks, streetlights, drainage covers, bus terminals, police stations, INEC offices, etc., abound across the country, to the detriment of its economy and well being of the citizenry.

Consider the following scenarios. On Tuesday, September 29, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the 326-kilometre Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line. The project was first awarded in 1987. It was, however, stalled for over 30 years due to paucity of funds.

While inaugurating the project, President Buhari had appealed: “I implore those who work on this line to uphold maintenance and safety culture necessary for long-lasting service in this difficult terrain.

“By the same token, I urge other sectors who will be primary beneficiaries of this transportation backbone, including the iron and steel sector, stakeholders in agricultural and mining sectors on this corridor, as well as the host communities to protect and sustain this infrastructure and maximise the benefits that could be derived from it and which is readily available at their doorsteps. This project will increase the volume of their trade and kick-start and resuscitate the iron and steel complexes.”

At the same ceremony, the President announced that government had also approved to link rail line further from Itakpe to Abuja, “thereby connecting the northern zone of the country and also extending southwards to link the Warri Ports.”

On Friday, April 16, 2021, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, flagged off freight and haulage services on the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri rail line.

Speaking at the ceremony, Amaechi had reassured the audience, nay Nigerians that the standard gauge railway line would create more jobs and promote the ease of doing business in Nigeria.

But on May 13, 2021, a viral video surfaced, which showed that vandals had cut several sections on the Itapke-Warri rail line around KM 30 Adogo, Kogi State.

The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Engr. Fidet Okhiria, had confirmed the incident to newsmen.

In a related development, on May 27, 2021, the Nasarawa State Police Command paraded the Special Adviser on Infrastructure to Governor Abdullahi Sule and 16 others over alleged vandalisation of railway tracks and slippers in Lafia and Keana local councils.

Commissioner of Police, Bola Longe, who paraded the suspects, explained that they (the suspects) had been in the business of buying and selling of railway tracks and slippers from other suspected vandals but luck ran out of them when the Police Command got informed of the criminal act and mobilised for their arrest.

Lately, police stations and the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have become targets of attacks by hoodlums. Records show that between January 2021 and May 2021, no fewer than 20 police stations have been burnt down in the Southeast zone of the country alone while INEC has lost 41 of its offices to arsonists in the last two years. Many law enforcement personnel, especially policemen, also lost their lives in the hands of the hoodlums.

These incidents have left many Nigerians asking what has gone wrong with the society; more so because all the facilities that have been so far destroyed were put in place to serve the people destroying them. In some cases, the communities requested for them and even helped to build them.

So, what is the motivating factor? Why would the same people vandalise or set the facility on fire? Why do Nigerians not take ownership of projects cited in their communities? What impact does such behaviour have on the developmental efforts of a country? What steps could be taken to dissuade people from engaging in such criminal acts?

The following reports, which capture the situation in Plateau, Cross River, Imo and Delta states, and the views of experts like psychologists and sociologists, provide the answers to the above posers.

Jos Residents At Risk Over Vandalisation Of Gadan Sogai, Gadan Bako Bridges
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

IN Plateau State, it is painfully obvious that the present generation does not want to leave any legacy of public infrastructure built during the colonial era for the next generation. At the top of the list of such infrastructure being destroyed by hoodlums are the Gadan Sogai bridge, Gadan Bako bridge and Jos Main Market.

Investigations revealed that hoodlums went under the two bridges in the late hours of the night and forcefully removed the rails that supported pillars. The criminal act has forced both bridges to crack, thereby constituting danger to the users.

The two bridges, located in Jos North local council, which link the central part of the capital city to the four wards in the council area, are now on the verge of collapse. As part of measures to ensure the safety of the users, the state ministry of works has restricted heavy trucks from plying them.

The Jos Main Market, which was one of the best markets in West Africa, was burnt down by hoodlums in the early 2000s. Since then, the iron rods, the railings and aluminums sheets have been totally vandalised. The development has resulted in high influx of hawkers into the capital city, even as the state government continues to lose huge revenue it ought to get from the market.

The Guardian learnt that the introduction of recycling of iron scraps into the country motivates hoodlums to go about vandalising public buildings and other infrastructure. It was also discovered that a kilo of iron scrap in the state goes for N150. Thus, a heavier iron weighs more kilos and earns the vandal more money.

To a sociologist, Dr. Micah Solomon, hoodlums were pushed into vandalising public infrastructure by the high unemployment rate in the country and lack of enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

“Another issue is poverty, insecurity and the inability of the government to manage and supervise public facilities. Government at all levels should provide security to man public facilities. Also, there should be synergy between the government and community leaders to protect the facilities,” he said.

‘Vandals Frustrating Government’s Efforts To Properly Light Up Calabar’
From Agosi Todo, Calabar
WHAT is common in Cross River State is theft or vandalism of streetlights and transformer cables especially in Calabar, the state capital. Findings showed that when transformer cables are stolen, residents are made to contribute money to replace them before power can be restored to such communities.

Speaking with The Guardian, the Special Adviser to Governor Ben Ayade on Media and Publicity, Mr. Christian Ita, said the state government has instituted a task force against vandalism of streetlights.

He also revealed that security has been put in place to secure the Jonathan Bypass in Calabar Municipal location government, which he noted, was the worse hit. 

Ita said: “All we have in Cross River is theft of armoured cables. That one has nothing to do with the ongoing security challenges across the Southeast and South-south. What they do is that they steal our armoured cables; that is why the streetlights are not all over the place.

“For example, the whole of Goodluck Jonathan Bypass, they stole the armoured cables. We replaced them and they stole them again and these things cost a lot of money. So, that is one problem that is frustrating the efforts of government to ensure that everywhere is light up in Calabar.

“There was a time Governor Ayade had to set up a task force against vandalism of streetlight cables, and government has revved up security along that Goodluck Jonathan Bypass. There was also advocacy campaigns to dissuade people from such actions and encourage patriotic citizens to report such persons to law enforcement agents,” he explained.

A sociologist in the Department of Social Work, University of Calabar, Dr. Mike Ushie, attributed theft or outright destruction of public infrastructure to loss of confidence in government.

The Associate Professor, who spoke with The Guardian in Calabar, said people no longer respect the norms and values that guide conducts and behaviours because they believe that their leaders have failed them.  

According to him, acts of vandalism were the results of frustration due to unemployment. He added that government policies that should have helped the citizens were not being properly channeled.

He explained: “Basically, we all belong to a society and the society is supposed to have what we call social order and that social order is something that everybody must look up to. We have set of norms and values guiding the conduct and behaviour of the people in a society. At the same time, the society has expectations from people; the people have expectations from those who lead them; that is the government.

“A lot of things are pushing people to such act and one of them is frustration. When you look at the economy, check the exchange rate to a dollar. Even if someone plants pumpkins behind his or her backyard, if he/she wants to sell the pumpkins, he/she will mention dollar because it has affected everything in our society. So, frustration has made life difficult for people.

“At the same time, government policies that would have helped the people, such as Social Insurance, Conditional Cash Transfer and all of that don’t get down to the people that should benefit. People who don’t need them always hijack them and so the common man does not see anything to live for in the society.

“That is why some people throw stones at government’s vehicles. They feel that those are the people depriving them of what should have come to them.

“Secondly, when somebody is hungry, you cannot control the person. Basically, where injustice becomes a norm in the society, rebellion becomes a duty. So people begin to ask: What do I stand to gain? What is my business? And such thing is a problem. When there is apathy, people can do anything to frustrate the government and the only way they can show you they are not happy is to destroy.”

Ushie said the society needed attitudinal and behavioural reorientation to tackle the problem, urging governments at all level to take the first step by correcting their wrongs. He noted that this could be achieved by involving the people in governance.

“Government should take the first step because this came as a result of government’s negligence. By the time they begin to engage them, they will begin to see themselves as stakeholders. Make them part of what you are doing; let them have a sense of belonging. If that can be done, they will begin to have attitudinal and behavioural change towards public property. That is what we need to do. If not, it will continue like this,” he added.

In Imo, Even Primary Healthcare Centres, Schools Are Vandalised
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

IN Imo State, criminally minded persons have been on the prowl, destroying many public facilities without hesitation. Major infrastructure destroyed by such criminal elements in recent times include police stations. The Imo State Police Command headquarters was not even spared, as the hoodlums set ablaze no fewer than 50 vehicles parked in the premises in the early hours of April 5, 2021. At the Nigerian Correctional Service Custodial Centre, Owerri, hoodlums also set free 1,844 inmates on the same date.

The burning of eight Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices in the state was also disheartening. In Njaba, the High Court and the Magistrate’s Court were partly burnt by yet-to-be identified hoodlums. Also, to the primary health care centre in the area was vandalised while the police station undergoing renovation was also attacked.

But the attempt made by the criminal elements to torch the police station in Ohaji/Egbema saw them meeting their waterloo.

Aside from the aforementioned facilities, many bus terminals built by the present administration of Governor Hope Uzodimma have been vandalised. That is also the case with manholes, streetlights and aluminum glass windows of some public schools.

Many people who spoke with The Guardian blamed the development on poverty, anger and criminal plot destabilise the peace in the state.

The Special Adviser to Uzodimma on Public Safety, Ugochukwu Nzekwe, said the government was worried about the destruction of public infrastructure in the state, adding that the government was working very hard to curb the menace.

“We are working with the Fire Service, traders association and other stakeholders to organise a workshop on how to safeguard public property,” Nzekwe said.

More Psychologists, Sociologists Express Divergent Views On Causes, Solutions
By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia

TO a psychologist, Dr. Raphael James, Nigerians who vandalise public infrastructure and blame their actions on hunger are causing themselves more harm without knowing it.

James, who explained that there were a thousand and one things people could do to earn a living without destroying government’s property, said only those without conscience could go and destroy things that belong to the public.

He said: “First of all I would say it is an act of stupidity. I don’t see hunger as a reason. There are a thousand and one things people can do to earn money without destroying what they believe is government property. It boils down to the fact that we, from leaders to followers, don’t have a maintenance culture. We don’t have that culture and it rubs on all of us.

“I saw photographs of the guys who were cutting the newly installed rails. I wondered if any of them thought that their family members could be affected by it, perhaps by being on a train that uses that rail line and then there is an accident.

“For me, I would say that it is only those that are stupid and without conscience that would go and destroy things that belong to the government. In the real sense of it, government is you and I. If there is any psychology behind it, it is the psychology of stupidity. You are not doing anybody but yourself.”

He noted that the action of vandals slows the developmental pace of the country, adding: “It is a case of one step forward and two steps backwards. If somebody had goods like tomatoes that needed to be transported using the rail line, the goods were stranded and perished. And that is because somebody just woke up and took the rails thinking he would make money out of it. At times, I actually wonder if they think of the risk of being caught.

“But we have a very poor judicial system where somebody charged to court could lobby his way out. Otherwise, someone who is caught cutting rail lines should be charged for attempted mass manslaughter or genocide. It should be a serious crime and the culprits must not go scot-free.”

On the solution to the problem, James said: “If you provide enough food for people, those who have that psychology of stupidity would still go ahead to do those things. People are actually doing it to cause harm to others. Left for me, the government should create very strict penalties for destruction of government property. You should pay handsomely for it. So, my advice to people destroying government property is that they should sit down and imagine watching people destroying their own properties the same way.”

A sociologist, Nnamdi Ohuoba, however believes that destroying public infrastructure was a means of expression of frustration by the masses.

“The government is not delivering as expected by the masses. The cost of living has skyrocketed, the N30, 000 minimum wage can no longer carry Nigeria. Inflation has riddled the money. It can no longer support families; you have to pay house rents, school fees and feed. They feel the government does not cater for them and so they feel pushed to the wall. When this happens, the person has no other choice than to react and the only way they can put out their frustration is to destroy and loot government infrastructure.

“But this is not the right way to reach out to the government. It is jungle justice because we are back to square one, especially with the burning down of police stations. Now, policemen have nowhere to stay and carry out their duties especially in the southeastern part of the country. Police have no vehicles to attend to operations. We are only giving room for insecurity to thrive,” he submitted.

Ohuoba emphasised that these destructions have a negative impact on the country, noting that funds raised from taxes and other government revenue sources would be used to replace them.

On the way forward, he said the solution must come from the head, adding: “The head in this sense is the government. When President Joe Biden was inaugurated, even with all the hitches he inherited from the Trump administration, he didn’t let it get at him. He said he is the President of all Americans and will treat equally those that voted for him and those who did not.

“But here in Nigeria, our President Buhari said there is no way he can treat equally those who gave him 95 per cent of their votes and those who gave him five per cent. This led to marginalisation because he is favouring a particular region and you can see that not much destruction is coming from those areas. But he has marginalised the South-south and Southeast so much. So, the government has to be a government of Nigeria and not of the North.

“This is definitely not moving us forward. We therefore need awareness programmes through which the masses can be better educated on how best to channel their frustration and anger to the government. The government also has to bring policies that would usher in hope. There should be subsidy in many areas of the people’s lives. People should be a bit at ease and not frustrated,” he added.

Destruction Of Public Property Is Wrong, Uncivil — Jayeoba

Dr. Jayeoba Folusho Ilesanmi, a psychologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Industrial Relations and Human Resources Management, Lagos State University (LASU), spoke with DANIEL ANAZIA on the implications of the poor attitude of Nigerians to public infrastructure.

What do you think is the driving force behind acts of vandalism that are prevalent in our society, looking at the level of damage witnessed during the #EndSARS protest and the upsurge in burning of police stations and INEC offices lately, especially in the Southeast zone?

Attitude is disposition or tendency to think, feel or behave in a particular way. With regards to poor attitude towards public property by a segment of the society, one can reason that this may have derived from historical disconnect (mentally or rationally and emotionally) of the people from government. It may be traced to colonialism and the failed attempt of indigenous leadership to groom the minds of citizens towards core principles of patriotism towards the country.
It may also not be unconnected with leadership attitudes towards public utilities, use of public funds and property. When government officials, without regard to extant rules, appropriate things – money, property, posts, etc belonging to the government to themselves without consequences, this creates outrage in the larger society.
There are three possible reactions – looking forward to having the opportunity to join the plunder; breaking out in violence and destruction out of frustration for lack of access; not caring for government property in their charge. All these are manifested in the Nigerian society and it’s been there all along. It’s not a recent phenomenon. So, linking up these irresponsible behaviours with #EndSARS protest is only tracing a trajectory.
On another level, ranging from students, workers and public protests, you could find elements of violence and destruction if handling by law enforcement agencies become provocative. Particularly #EndSARS, one can begin to ask questions as to who the perpetrators of violence were. Were those recorded attacks on police posts and property carried out by genuine protesters or sponsored fifth columnists seeking to redirect attention from the real issues behind the protest? There’s also the angle of street urchins who saw opportunities to loot and steal.
However, whichever way one views destruction of public property, it is wrong, uncivil and a waste of scarce public resources. Time, efforts and new (more expensive) resources will have to be committed at rebuilding the destroyed or damaged facility as the case may be.

In this way, one will query the veracity of the assertion, in local parlance that ‘the king’s palace often comes out better after a fire disaster’. The new look will cost the society so much, especially if the fire is deliberately kindled.
It’s okay to say that burning police stations or physically harming officers of the law, under any guise or level of provocation, is not necessary. It will only aggravate problems by expanding injuries, injustices and callous damage to public utilities.

What is the effect/impact of the acts on the society in terms of development?
The effect of such behaviours on society is multifaceted. One, it portrays us as uncivil and incapable of embracing civilised and legal approaches at conflict resolution. It diminishes public/international perception of our country as a peaceful nation when such behaviours continue to hit headline news.
Aside from the cost of rebuilding, some psychological wounds are hard to heal, especially where such rampaging behaviours lead to loss of lives and means of livelihood of innocent bystanders. Other collateral damages are better imagined.
No nations develop through phases of building, destruction and rebuilding. It’s much better and cheaper to progressively build society and infrastructure. It’s antithetical to destroy what is already built.

What should be done to dissuade Nigerians from this act?
The solution is invariably always in the cause of the problem. There’s a foundry for the problems leading to protests. Without fire, there are no smokes.

First of all, government and public official should be in their best conscience and consciousness when in office. Their actions and inactions send feedback to society either to incite or appease them.

Two, attitudinal restructuring is important and this can be done more by leadership by example than any programme of national orientation.
Politics of bitterness will always lead to recruitment of hands from the streets to wreak havoc on opponents. This is a main foundry for crises that can be corrected through equity, justice and fairness in allotting political posts and patronage.
State policing will curb the recklessness of street urchins who are often involved in wreaking havoc on public property. They will be more conscious of their activities knowing that the police have better knowledge of their activities.

Finally, public utilities should be planned to forestall possibilities of vandalisation. It may be tough to conceive, but it is possible to build a police station that is difficult to overrun and destroy. Face-tracking technologies have been gainfully used to apprehend criminals after occurrence of crimes. If a criminal knows that the chance of escape is slim, he/she will think twice before going for an action.

What is your advice to Nigerians who engage in acts of vandalism, and to the government?
To those who are engaged or who are so enraged as to engage in vandalisation of public property, it’s your society you are joining to destroy. You can do better stuff for yourself and society. Why are you available for low-level engagements? Work on yourself.
To the government, mass education is the solution. When you keep children away from school in their formative years, chances are high that they will grow into miscreants and become havocs for the society. Leadership by example is key. If as leaders you are transforming your society and there’s equity, fairness and justice, striving will be limited and manageable.

Delta Residents Blame Unemployment For Rise In Destruction Of Public Infrastructure
From Monday Osayande, Asaba

TO stop the vandalisation of public infrastructure across the country, the Federal Government has to take deliberate steps to mop up youths from the streets and engage them in sustainable jobs.

This was the view of Mr. Olisa Ifenjika, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, while speaking on why some Nigerians vandalise public infrastructure.

Ifenjika identified unemployment as one of the reasons hoodlums commit arson and destroy critical infrastructure across the country.

He said: “The motives behind burning of police stations, courts and other government facilities are not known. But by and large, one fundamental thing that is wrong is unemployment. So, many people are on the streets doing nothing, yet the Federal Government has not done anything deliberate to mop up unemployed youths from the streets. The Delta State government has been doing that through some programmes. The five thousand naira the Federal Government gives to people as grant occasionally is not the solution.” 

The CPS insisted that the youths must be engaged, either in technical or vocational training to avoid “the idle mind is the devil’s workshop” syndrome.

According to him, if hoodlums destroying government’s properties were engaged, such crimes would have been minimised.

Ifenjika urged the Federal Government to listen to the agitations across the country with a view to tackling the problems causing them.

He advised those who engage in criminal activities to desist from it, saying illegitimate businesses don’t pay in anyway.

Also speaking on the issue, a public affairs analyst, Mr. Ambrose Imohed, said some people commit arson to draw the attention of the government to their plights as well as to get equal treatment with other sections of the country.

Imohed urged the Federal government to include traditional institutions in the day-to-day running of government, noting that as the custodian of the people’s social cultural heritage, they understand the geography of their areas and would help to fish out criminals from their hideout for arrest and prosecution.

He appealed to the Federal Government to fortify the security agencies and train the police to be civil in the discharge of their duties.

He noted that the destruction of public infrastructure discourages the government from further investing in projects that benefit the people, adding: “If government’s property are burnt, it will be difficult to address other sectors because it will definitely affect the economy of the state, which spent billions of naira on the burnt projects.”