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Theft of manhole covers in Abuja undermining environmental safety

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FCDA Raises Alarm Over Rampant Vandalisation Of Infrastructures In FCT
• Residents Recount Ordeals

The increasing rate at which road furniture and sundry facilities in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are stolen has become a source of worry, not only to the government but also to residents, who are directly impacted by the absence of such facilities.

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Currently, a number of roads in the FCT have been rid of facilities like lampstands, manhole and water chamber covers, culvert steel rails, gully pots, and telecommunication ducts.

This menace, which is happening at an unprecedented rate, contributes immensely to the country running foul of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No 17, which mandates countries to focus attention on building communities that can take care of themselves, with the right resources that translates to good housing, transport, infrastructure and social care for the citizens by the year 2030.

However, despite being one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, Abuja is continually facing serious infrastructure challenge as hoodlums and vandals, daily, steal and damage infrastructure worth billions of naira. These vandalised utilities are later sold at giving away prices to scrap dealers.

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The nefarious activities of these thieves and vandals have rendered several facilities non-functional, thereby negating efforts of the authorities to keep the city tidy and fit for human habitation.

Some roads where these manhole covers have been totally vandalised or destroyed are Bannex Plaza-Jahi Road by NAF Center, near NEXT Cash and Carry, the Federal Secretariat-Airport Road, by News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) building, Federal Secretariat-Garki Road beside the FCTA Secretariat 11, Ministry of Finance-FCTA Road, Julius Berger Junction-Jabi Life Camp Road, Wuse-Wuse11-Hilton Hotel Road, Goodluck Jonathan Expressway just to mention a few.

Only recently, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration raised the alarm over the increasing rate of vandalisation and theft of transformers, electricity cables, bridge railings and manhole covers, which it claimed, is worsening infrastructure deficit in the territory.

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The Executive Secretary of the FCDA, Umar Gambo Jibrin who raised the alarm in Abuja, at the public unveiling of the citizen’s engagement platform, maintained that manhole and gully pot covers, as well as telecommunication ducts, were also targeted by miscreants and scavengers.

According to Jibrin, the FCT administration is encountering situations where carwash operators illegally tap into treated water lines for their activities, while also causing damage to roads with the substances/chemicals they use in their trade.

The secretary maintained that findings by the FCT indicate that over 25, 000 covers comprising foul and stormwater chamber covers, gully pots and telecommunication ducts have either been stolen or vandalised in recent times.

Urging residents to support the administration and not engage in illegal and unauthorised developments around the city, he disclosed that the Minister of the FCT, Mallam Mohammad Musa Bello, has directed the FCDA to begin the process of replacing stolen and vandalised manhole and gully pot covers in the territory, adding that an audit is already ongoing to that effect.

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Jibrin further disclosed that the FCT administration was seriously considering among other solutions, the deployment of ICT to monitor and police available infrastructure in the city against the activities of miscreants and vandals.

He added: “The Coronavirus pandemic has challenged us all to begin to think outside the box and the deployment of ICT is one of such alternatives. For instance, we can see that education is now about ICT skills as many schools and organisations currently perform various tasks through the use of ICT. The FCDA will not be left behind in this.”

On his part, the Permanent Secretary of FCT, Olusade Adesola, said it has become imperative for the FCT administration to create an innovative, broad and engaging platform for interaction and feedback between the people, and the government as the world is fast evolving and the quest for real-time and verifiable information keeps increasing.

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Some residents who spoke to The Guardian lamented the government’s inability to maintain infrastructure already put in place in the nation’s capital, just as they stressed that the opened manholes posed serious danger to unsuspecting members of the public.

They also blamed the country’s worsening unemployment crisis, especially among youths as one of the factors responsible for these thefts.

Mrs. Nneka Obiora, a businesswoman at Wuse International Market, Abuja, recalled how she, on December 14, 2020, ran into an open manhole along Federal Secretariat-Airport Road, by Bolingo Hotel.

She said: “I was on a high speed without knowing that several manholes along that road were open. I ran into one of them. After that, the next thing was when I found myself on admission at the Garki General Hospital. I later found out that my front windscreen had been shattered, and my face was replete with a splatter of blood. But thank God, I never sustained any internal injuries.”

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Alhaji Maiyaki Sule’s son suffered a fractured leg after unknowingly stumbling into an open manhole along Adetokumbo Ademola Crescent. “I rushed him to the National Hospital where he was successfully treated but not without a huge sum.”

Also commenting, the Director, Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB), Braimoh Osilama, told The Guardian that the rampant vandalisation forced the administration to ban scavengers from FCT roads, stressing that in the last three years, it has become difficult for them to be seen on the streets of Abuja.

Osilama, an engineer, further explained that the FCT authorities had to set up a committee to take inventory, and audit all vandalised manholes and other infrastructural facilities with a view to computing the cost of replacement.

He said at different times, security operatives, including the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and the Nigeria Police have arrested some of these vandals, but this has not deterred them, adding that it is not possible for the government to station security personnel at every manhole due to its cost implications.

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Osilama, who added that the pillage has had a negative impact on the government, the economy, and the people, stressed that because of the incessant theft, “sands are washing into the sewer lines; dirt borne by rainwater are also sent to the sewer lines, and we go out from time to time to remove them. At times, people suffer major fractures when they fall into the open manholes, just as cars ram into them causing injuries and deaths. Above all, it costs huge sums to replace the stolen covers.”

He appealed to FCT residents to report miscreants and vandals to security officials, as well as the AEPB for arrests and prosecution.

On his part, the Director, Facilities Maintenance Management, FCT administration, Omoniyi Olaloye, said the administration started responding to missing manholes across the city in 2014.

According to him, that was the first time the administration carried out a massive response in terms of producing manhole covers to replace the stolen ones. He said unfortunately, the manhole covers, gully covers are made with cast iron, which are very attractive to vandals.

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Olaloye, who said that the vandals sell these looted metals to scrap dealers, noted that the FCTA decided to produce their replacement with other materials that are less attractive to the scavengers.

“The cast iron covers are what the FCDA used initially not knowing that vandals would take interest in them. Over the years, we have done our own research and discovered that it is the cast iron materials that vandals are always going for because they can easily be melted and used for other purposes. That was why we changed to other materials that are difficult to be melted. We are presently conducting a survey together with the engineering department to find out the total number of covers that we need to replace across the city.’’

He lamented the socio-economic implication of the stealing of manhole covers saying, “monies have been invested to provide this infrastructure and now the government is not getting value for the funds spent. This is unfortunate.”

He assured that the administration was collaborating with security agencies to arrest and bring culprits to book, even as he advised residents to take ownership and ensure proper care of government infrastructure.

However, an FCT resident and town planner, Waziri Adamu, informed The Guardian that some FCTA officials were to blame because “these so-called vandals do not even have an idea of the cost of these materials. So, when they steal them, some government officials buy these metals from them, melt them and use them for other purposes. I do implore the government to be vigilant, and very soon they would discover that government officials are also involved in the theft.”

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