North-South Railway Tracks Looted By Vandals In Benue
Even as the federal government continues to expend billions of Naira in efforts to resuscitate the railway system, a vital backbone to the nation’s economy, such efforts continue to be sabotaged by deliberate activities of some gangs in Benue State..
Long years of neglect of the rail system as well as poverty among Nigerians have exposed the rail system in the country to widespread vandalism by thieves and desperate scavengers.
In Makurdi, the Benue State capital for instance, THE WHISTLER investigations have discovered an almost total destruction of the rail line, a development which has currently cut off the rail link between the northern and southern parts of the country.
The long stretch of railway tracks heading eastwards from Makurdi towards Otukpo and Enugu have been forcefully uprooted from their moorings and carted away by a well-organized syndicate which operations appear to traverse Benue State.
A visit by THE WHISTLER to the area discovered that the destruction begins at a settlement called Kighir village located beside the rail line on the outskirts of Makurdi where more than 15 kilometres of rail tracks have been removed and carted away. Similar stretches of the vandalization continue further down as one heads towards Otukpo.
Investigations discovered that the vandalism is carried out mostly by youths of the area who sell the heavy metal to merchants who readily buy from them. It was discovered that the merchants who come from the northern and southern parts of the country have agents who buy the rail lines from the youths.
Pockets of youths were observed sitting on the rail line in the day time and pretending to be whiling away their time, but are actually carrying on a well-orchestrated multi million naira operation.
While appearing to be merely chatting with one another, these youth pour lubricating chemicals on the thick bolts and noughts that firmly hold the rails to their moorings. Through the day, the usually fierce Makurdi sun and the corrosive effects of the lubricating substances combine to loosen the bolts and noughts.
The youths return later at night, well-armed with screw drivers and other implements to loosen the naughts and cart off both the iron cross beams, the rail tracks as well as the thick wooden moorings.
They neatly stack these in barely hidden places and wait for buyers who arrive with heavy duty vehicle. Loading is usually done between midnight and three o’clock in the morning and the heavily laden vehicles then depart the settlement and Makurdi for destinations in other states.
It is a carefully protected business which sustains a large part of the impoverished peasant Benue population living in villages along the Makurdi-Otukpo railway line. THE WHISTLER reporter was prevented from taking any shots by his guide, as according to him, it could provoke the locals to attack them.
The reporter observed tens of removed rail tracks carefully stacked beside round huts in at least two places, obviously awaiting the arrival of buyers.
Some residents confided in the reporter that the business thrives because of the ‘huge’ profits, collusion of some unscrupulous security personnel..
The reporter was told that one police officer resident in the area had once attempted to stop one of these midnight operations by confronting the thieves and shooting in the air to scare them off. A week later, his house was razed to the ground. The traditional ruler of the area, a taciturn elderly gentleman who was obviously scared to speak on the development, simply referred the reporter to police authorities.
“I have nothing to say on this matter,” he told the reporter. “You can go and talk to the police at the Railway Police Station. The railway is not under our authority,” he said.
Officers at the Railway Station Police post said they were not competent to speak on the matter and rather directed the reporter to the PPRO of the Benue State Command who was unavoidably absent when this reporter visited.
The reporter however observed hundreds of railway tracks, thousands of sleepers as well as gascylinders stacked in several places in the Railway station grounds including in buses and commercial tricycles.
Some personnel who spoke on conditions of anonymity disclosed that the goods were seized during operations from several persons operating along the Makurdi – Otukpo axis. They said several of such persons were being prosecuted in courts across the State.
In addition, residents of some communities along the railway line were forced to punch large holes directly under the railway line which runs through MaKurdi . This is due to the federal government’s abandonment of a strategic drainage canal it started in the Benue State capital some years ago.
The canal was supposed to cut right across the federal highway leading to Naka, Aliade and further to Otukpo and the Eastern part of Nigeria. But it was abandoned in a village called Ghana, located just beside and before the railway line leading to Naka.