‘Night Operation, Chinese Connection’: How A Rail Vandalism Operation Thrived In Nasarawa
Halima Gayam, Lafia and Solomon Elusoji, Lagos
In February, youths in Mada station community in Nasarawa state began to loosen and cut railway tracks that connect the area to the rest of the country.
Although the Mada station tracks, about 130km away from Abuja, had not been in use for about five years, the infrastructure was still good enough for the vandals.
By June, most of the route’s six tracks laid bare, except for its ballast.
The portions left untouched were only those protected by the wheels of an abandoned coach.
Even the culvert under the tracks were dug and the water pipes vandalised.
“We were not happy about it,” a resident of the community Mikailu Abdullahi, told Channels Television. “We did our best to stop them, but we couldn’t.”
Some community members reported the vandalisation to the police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), but they were told there weren’t enough arms to enforce arrests, according to a staff of the Nigeria Railway Corporation in Mada station who pleaded anonymity.
“The youths came in numbers at night to vandalise the tracks,” the staff said. “In one of the incidents, six armed men came here to arrest a trailer loaded with railway materials. But they couldn’t make the arrest because the youths refused.”
Another railway staff suggested that the youths were motivated by a sense of entitlement.
“The youths are claiming that the tracks are their father’s and they have to chop (eat),” he said. “They are also claiming they are indigenes of the area, so nobody can stop them to do whatever they want to do.
“We did our best (to stop them). When we reported to the nearest police station and civil defence, they said there are no arms and mobility. So this is how the vandalism continued.”
In May, the police stepped in and have now arrested 35 of the vandals, including two Chinese nationals, local politicians, police and NSCDC officials, and a railway official.
The youths, according to the police, were in cahoots with several top politicians, corrupt police officers and NSCDC staff, and Chinese nationals.
After welders perform the loosening and cutting, the tracks and sleepers are piled and arranged in lorries, before they are ferried to a steel company run by a Chinese suspect, Marra Thai.
Mr Thai is said to be the main collector of the vandalised tracks.
According to the Nasarawa Commissioner of Police, Bola Longe, the tracks are compressed and dissolved “and then later on they will mass produce new ones and use it for us.”
“We don’t know whether it is legal or not,” Mr Thai, whose steel company is based in Abuja, said when asked why he received vandalised tracks. “And we asked somebody to confirm it, and they said there was no problem. That’s why we collected it.”
But the police said Mr Thai’s lawyer offered a N600,000 bribe when the police caught up with his client.
Anietie Eyoh, the officer who heads the anti-vandalism template created by the police, rejected the bribe. One lorry driver implicated in the vandalism operation also offered Officer Eyoh N150,000.
The monies were displayed when the suspects were paraded this month.
“We have resolved, with unbending determination, that whosoever comes into our radar, no matter who, will be seen, and the person will be arrested and treated in accordance with the provision of the law,” Mr Longe, the police chief, said.
‘An act of terrorism’
The vandalisation of rail tracks is a recurring headache in Nigeria. While the Federal Government has prioritised the revitalisation of the country’s railway network, vandals appear to have upped their activities.
This month, the police announced that it had cracked down on a criminal syndicate engaged in vandalising rail tracks across the North-West and North-Central.
The operation was uncovered after the police raided a warehouse in Gboko, Benue state.
Inside the warehouse, the police discovered different vandalised rail equipment, stolen rail installation racks, weld-shear, rail puller, other rail accessories and consumables.
But many of the syndicate members are still at large.
The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, has described such vandalisation as acts of terrorism.
“Removal of rail tracks can cause train derailment, with deadly consequences,” he said at a town hall meeting recently.
While promising to prosecute anyone suspected of vandalising public property, the Minister has also pleaded with Nigerians to take ownership of the assets, as they “must be protected for the benefit of all.”