The unwholesome acts of vandalising rail tracks are beginning to assume an alarming dimension in a manner that ought to be of concern to well-meaning Nigerians. The increasing rate at which rail tracks are sabotaged in different parts of the country is negating government’s efforts to revitalise the sector that went moribund after years of abject neglect. Without doubt, the government is doing its utmost to revamp this cost-effective sector of the nation’s transport system with its numerous projects spread across the country and some extending to the neighbouring Niger Republic.
The statistics of rail track vandalism are startling even as the report of collusion with residents of communities along the rail corridor is worrisome. In Mada station, a sleepy community in Nasarawa State, vandals suspected to be residents of the area loose and cut railway tracks that pass through the area.
The Police, in a report, claimed that the vandals have been identified as mostly youths sponsored by some highly placed politicians, corrupt security operatives and, curiously, some foreigners. Only recently, the Nasarawa State Command of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps intercepted a heavy-duty truck conveying no fewer than 970 railway sleepers.
However, the interception in Nasarawa state is just one out of the many of such theft and vandalism of critical railway infrastructure in different parts of the country including the Port Harcourt-Aba rail lines, and rail tracks in the North-West and North-Central.
In June this year, the ministry of transportation said the nation recorded no fewer than 180 incidences of rail track vandalism representing a preponderance of cases in the Northern and Eastern districts. We recall that also in June, the Police arrested a syndicate that vandalises rail tracks and recovered three truckloads of vandalised tracks.
What the government and its agencies must try to find out is what these stolen rail tracks are used for. The involvement of godfathers who sponsor the pilferers should attract the interest of the govenment.
As should be expected, vandalism of rail tracks has led to the derailment of trains. One of such incidences happened when a train going to Aba derailed after running into a spot where some clips were removed.
Fundamentally, the removal of rail tracks has the tendency to cause the train to derail with deadly consequences including loss of lives, as each train carries no less than 80 passengers.
Undoubtedly, if left unchecked, the incidences of rail track vandalism will greatly undermine government’s attempts to revolutionize the railway transportation.
It is disheartening to note that the destruction of rail tracks and other infrastructure on the rail lines are part of the overall vandalism of critical public infrastructure including offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission-INEC and police stations, in different parts of the country.
Beyond being reprehensible, the trend is more worrisome considering the fact that Nigeria has massive infrastructure deficit due to decades of neglect, population explosion and the absence of maintenance culture. Destruction of public infrastructure elsewhere is perceived as a grave offence deserving of serious punishment. Unfortunately, most Nigerians view public infrastructure as nobody’s property hence they look away when renegades destroy, vandalise or loot such items. Often, public infrastructure become object of destruction in times of crisis.
Well-meaning Nigerians, in our opinion, must see those behind the vandalism of public infrastructure as the real enemies of the nation. Their nefarious activities deprive the nation and the citizens the benefits derivable from their use. Good enough, there are adequate laws to punish those found wanting of perpetrating these acts of sabotage to the nation.
The provision of the Criminal Code titled, “Willful destruction of public property”, states that ‘any person who unlawfully or with intent to destroy or damage any public property removes, defaces or damages any public property shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction.
If the property in question is a building, structure, vehicle or anything whatsoever owned or occupied by the government of the federation, or of a state, local government, a department or statutory corporation of the Government of the Federation or of a State, the punishment is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years without an option of a fine;
If the property in question is a railway line, electric power line, telephone line or a demarcation line on a public highway and the property is damaged or rendered dangerous, impassable or non-functional, the offender is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 21 years without the option of a fine.
Plausible as these provisions are, devoid of full enforcement, they will not bring an end to this condemnable development. This newspaper urges stakeholders in the criminal justice system to ensure that those culpable face the wrath of the law. Even more importantly, the security agencies must guard and protect those critical facilities that are the mainstay of the socioeconomic activities in the country.