Residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are worried that manhole on the roads of the city portend great dangers to them and would want the government to fix them.
Imagine walking home one evening on one of the roads in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and suddenly you stepped onto a part of the road and it caved in. You likely feel a hard bump on your head. You may fall into the water. You may fall on the jagged hard earth. The experience could be the end of your existence on earth, especially if no one else witnessed such an incident.
At best, you could end up having serious injuries as a result of an unexpected fall into a depth of about 10 feet. As noted earlier, most of them are filled with water and one could easily drown.
The above scenario is one that is likely to happen as open manholes litter the country’s capital, Abuja. An obvious question would be why a city like Abuja is filled with such holes, just waiting to gobble up an unsuspecting pedestrian.
In 2019, a story of a young woman, Adewura Bello, who had gone missing in Lagos, trended on the internet. The 26-year-old accountant was missing for days. It was believed she had fallen into an open manhole and it was not until days later that her body was discovered.
The development had outraged many who blamed the incident on the negligence and insensitivity of the government that should not have allowed such holes to exist.
There were the usual sympathies and promises from the government, assuring that something would be done. However, as is common with such issues, the matter fizzled, but the problem festered.
In Abuja, residents have continued to wonder why such danger and eyesore dot a city that is the capital of a supposed giant of Africa. A common reason has always been that the covers of these manholes are always stolen by vandals. The impression is that the covers go as soon as they are replaced. These vandalised manhole covers are said to be sold to scrap dealers at cheap rates. The problem has been perennial.
This reason does not seem tenable to many residents, who wonder why a proper method cannot be adopted to secure the manhole covers, especially given how dangerous they are. For them, the authorities do not have their interests at heart and would not do anything unless it serves their interests.
In some places, attempts are made to warn pedestrians of this veiled danger by putting items like tyres and tree branches around the holes. The eyesore it creates, residents believe, is unbecoming of a city like Abuja.
In a recent report by the Sunday Guardian, the Federal Capital Development Agency had raised the alarm over rampant vandalism of various public infrastructure in the FCT.
The Executive Secretary of the FCDA, Umar Gambo Jibrin, who raised the alarm in Abuja said manholes and gully pot covers, as well as telecommunication ducts were targeted by miscreants and scavengers.
According to Jibrin, the FCT administration faces situations where car wash operators illegally tap into treated water lines for their activities, while also causing damage to roads with the substances and chemicals they use in their trade.
He had said 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.
He urged 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, had directed the FCDA to begin the process of replacing stolen and vandalised manhole and gully pot covers in the territory, adding that an audit to that effect is already ongoing.
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.
The Director, Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) Braimoh Osilama, according to the report, said the rampant vandalism forced the administration to ban scavengers from FCT roads.
Osilama said the FCT authorities had to set up a committee to take inventory, and audit all vandalised manhole and other infrastructural facilities with a view to computing the cost for replacement.
He said at various times, security operatives, including Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, and the Nigeria Police have arrested some of the vandals, but this has not deterred others.
He said it was not possible for the government to station security personnel at every point where there is a manhole due to its cost implications.
Osilama said this development has had a negative impact on the government, the economy, and the people.
“Sands are washed into the sewer lines. Dirt borne by rainwater is 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 manhole, just as cars ram into them; causing injuries and deaths. Above all, it costs huge sums to replace the stolen covers,” he said.
He appealed to FCT residents to report miscreants and vandals to security officials, as well as the AEPB for arrests and prosecution.
The Director, Facilities Maintenance Management, FCT administration, Omoniyi Olaloye said the administration began to respond to the issue of missing manhole covers 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, and gully covers are made with cast iron, which are very attractive to vandals.
Olaloye, who said the vandals sell these stolen 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 currently conducting a survey in collaboration with the Engineering Department to find out the total number of covers that we need to replace across the city,’’ he had said.
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 justice.
He called on residents to take ownership and ensure proper care of the infrastructure provided for them by the government.
Piqued by the situation, the House of Representatives recently mandated its Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to carry out a comprehensive investigation on the deteriorating state of public infrastructure in Abuja.
The resolution followed a motion by Yusuf Ayo Tajudeen on the deteriorating state of public infrastructure in Abuja.
The lawmakers were concerned that despite yearly budgetary allocations to the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) for the maintenance, rehabilitation and upgrade of infrastructure, “the FCTA and relevant agencies have serially exhibited gross inefficiency, outright ineptitude and apparent non-commitment to their responsibilities.”
The House noted that Abuja, which is recognised by various local and international peer review organisations as the most modern, top quality and pace-setting events and conference hub of Africa, is now experiencing an all-time low in terms of infrastructure and environmental development.
It also noted that in and around the country’s capital, infrastructure decay in roads improperly channelled drainage systems, uncleared debris, damaged and blocked manhole, ineffective street lights and non-functional traffic lights are common features.
The lawmakers were concerned that the growing infrastructural decay within the city, if left unchecked, may lead to vagaries of health, social and security challenges among the residents and visitors who come in large numbers daily and regularly.
They were also concerned that the present dilapidated conditions of public infrastructure in the city centre has the potential of slowing down meaningful investment and development in the city.
For residents of the city, a permanent solution to the problem cannot come quick enough.
“We have heard what the government is saying about the vandalism of the infrastructure. We also appreciate that they are making efforts to address this problem. But I want to say that for the particular problem of missing manhole, the government must deal with it.
“Imagine all these holes on sidewalks all over the city. Anybody can just fall inside any of them. If a pedestrian is not very observant, especially at night when even most of the city lights are not working, he or she could just fall inside one of these things. I don’t even want to think about it.
“The government should fix this problem right now and adopt measures to ensure they no longer go missing. We cannot be having such holes that portend such danger across the city,” a resident Emeka Nwankwo said.