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Destruction of public assets and facilities will henceforth be treated as a terrorist act, the government has said.
Such infractions will attract dire sanctions, including a possible death sentence, the government added.
This position was made public on Monday at a Town Hall meeting – the 19th by the Federal Government – in Abuja. Its theme was Protection of Public Infrastructure.
Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed, was joined at the meeting by Works and Housing Minister Babatunde Fashola, Transport Minister Chibuike Amaechi, Federal Capital Territory Minister Mohammed Bello and Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika.
The Information minister listed the assets being wantonly destroyed as including police stations and equipment; burning of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices and facilities; removing of rail tracks, bridge railing and aviation infrastructure.
The minister promised firm actions against people involved in the “alarming” activities which threaten national security.
Mohammed said: “Today’s town hall meeting is both urgent and important because it touches on an issue that is at the very core of economic growth and national development, which is public infrastructure.
“When public infrastructure is being targeted for destruction by some unpatriotic Nigerians, it calls for great concern and immediate action, hence our decision to organise this town hall meeting”
The minister lamented that despite government efforts in providing new infrastructure, in addition to reconstructing and rehabilitating existing ones, the efforts are being thwarted by some unpatriotic citizens.
“Thereby depriving the greater citizenry – for whose benefits these projects and services are provided – from enjoying them”.
“Railway tracks are being subjected to destruction, bridge railings are being removed, manhole covers are being pilfered, street lights and other power infrastructure, oil pipelines, telecoms facilities, and critical aviation infrastructure are being damaged or stolen. Apart from endangering the lives of fellow innocent citizens, such unpatriotic acts take a toll on the government’s limited revenue, as it seeks to replace, rehabilitate or totally reconstruct such destroyed infrastructure.
“On another level is the incessant attacks on critical public facilities such as police stations and INEC offices. As a matter of fact, the destruction of public infrastructure and facilities is not just vandalism, it is a form of terrorism.
“Removal of rail tracks can cause train derailment, with deadly consequences. Tampering with aviation infrastructure endangers the lives of air passengers.
“Attacks on police stations have left many police personnel dead. These are all acts of terror.”
Bello said the laws were there to deal with offenders but they need to be enforced.
The minister said ‘criminality grows in a modular form” and as such needs to be dealt with on time.
Bello said over 400 manhole covers had been destroyed in the FCT, thereby creating room for erosion and flood.
Fashola said twin sanctions will be enforced against anyone caught destroying or vandalising public assets.
The sanctions will be payment for the repairs of the damaged facility and thereafter, prosecution of the suspect.
Fashola said the combined cost of repairs of some damaged and vandalised bridges amounted to over N3 billion. He mentioned Otedola, Kara and Toyota/Airport Road bridges in Lagos and Tamburawa in Kano as some that a larger chunk of the N3 billion went into.
He said: “No nation grows beyond the capacity of its infrastructure. Then, for every single one that we have, we must optimise it.
“Some bridges across the country have suffered some form of damage or the other. For example, the Otedola Bridge in Lagos; there was damage to the bridge elements by fire caused by petrol-laden tankers. Another is the Kara Bridge in Lagos damaged by petrol tankers.
”Also, Tamburawa bridge in Kano, damaged by illegal mining activities that exposed all of the parts sustaining the weight of the bridge.
“In all of this, the government has had to respond. The first one, the cost of the repair was N203 million. The second one was N605 million-plus. The Tamburawa bridge cost N1.8 billion to repair; a bridge we had already built.
Fashola also warned those breaching federal right of way while erecting structures and creating bumps on highways to note that they are engaging in illegality.
He said: “The right of way of our federal highways is 45.75m from the centre line on both sides. If you are in the centre of any federal highway, if you look to your left, 45.75m to the left is our land and the same thing to the right. Therefore, if you are building in any place near there, you are actually trespassing on our land.
“Some other people are building and painting their own speed bumps on highways. This is not only illegal and criminal on conviction, it is also a danger to other road users because this is not a municipal road where you can put speed bumps, it is a federal highway.
”We want to evict all trucks, vehicles from under the bridges. It is our decision and it is the right thing to do because all of these are unlawful.”
Death penalty likely for railway vandals
Minister of Transportation Chibuike Amaechi said yesterday at the Town Hall Meeting that rail track vandalism is a capital offense and its consequences should be treated as such.
“I am not quantifying the material cost; what I am quantifying is the lives that will be lost.
“Imagine that a driver of a rail track is driving and suddenly bumps into a track that has been severed what happens? It will derail.
“Each coach in Nigeria carries about 85 passengers; sometimes we carry 14 coaches, sometimes 20.
“So imagine you are carrying a train of 14 or 20 coaches with 85 passengers in each coach, if it derails, can you quantify how many passengers that would have died in the course of one man thinking he is making money.
“So, it is not about the cost but the lives that would have been lost because of few interests.
“Some people have recommended that since these people are killing people, if accident happens people will die, so we should go back to the National Assembly and pass a law that does not only criminalise the action but consequences should be death,” he said.
Amaechi commended residents along the Lagos-Ibadan rail track as no incident of vanderlism had been recorded along the route.
“Lagos and the Western District recorded one, North Western 31, Northern District 10, North Eastern 43, Eastern 36 and North Central 50 incidents of vanderlism.
“Abuja-Kaduna has 13, Warri-Itakpe 2 and Lagos-Ibadan nill.”