By Egbe Attah
Residents of Otukpo, Benue State have condemned the wanton destruction of railway lines in the area which has not only grinded the passage of trains through the town but also made the resuscitation of railway transport within the region a herculean task.
Speaking with The Voice on the matter, Friday in Otukpo, an elder statesman, Chief Icha Adole, said the destruction of the Easter Rail line running through Otukpo to other parts of the North by vandals in the name searching for scraps is a national tragedy.
According to him, “vandalism of the railway track is a national calamity. The wicked activities of the vandals who are carrying out this unpatriotic act against the land just to make money to satisfy their selfish needs, has spelt doom on the nation.
“Trains are working in other parts of Nigeria but cannot pass through Otukpo or other parts of Benue. If this means of transportation is working here, it would ease the high cost of transportation in this part of the country. A lot of our youths would be engaged by the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) if the system were functional. It would also boost economic activities around the railway stations.
“Additionally, it would serve as an alternative to our deplorable roads which are causing the death of many motorists.”
The veteran teacher, therefore, called on residents of the town, especially, security agents and all men of goodwill to be vigilant and protect the railway line to save the rail transport in this part of the country from going into extinction.
Also lamenting the havoc wreaked on the railway track by the iron scavengers, a senior citizen of the town and public commentator, Chief Stephen Obeya, said he could not understand how a few individuals could rip off an entire nation simply to make money for themselves.
Chief Obeya, recalled, with nostalgia, the good old days when they as kids would run out from their homes on hearing the sound of the train horns to catch a glimpse of the moving train on its passage through Otukpo.
“When we were kids we would run out of our homes to hail the train while passing from Enugu through Otukpo to Makurdi or vice versa. Most of the children today, don’t know train let alone travel by it.”
The octogenarian who suspected that vandalism is carried out in collaboration with some residents of the town called on everyone, especially government and its agencies to work in concert to stop this heinous crime against humanity and the nation.
A man who lives close to the railway line in Otukpo, who spoke on the conditions of anonymity, alleged that the stealing is done with the support of some security men and influential personalities who gain from the trade of the vandals.
According to him, “one fateful night, the thieves came around 9.pm and started their work, I and some of my neighbours came out to challenge them and we were simply ordered to go back to our room and fearing for our lives, we retreated.” He added that the vandals were guarded by armed men, stressing that they came with a trailer and all manners of tools that could facilitate their work.
Also speaking, a railway worker who did not want his name mentioned in print, decried the destructive effects of vandalism on the business of the Nigeria Railway.
He averred that going by what the vandals have done to the railway tracks, the restoration of the Eastern rail transport has a long way to come.
Another man who is a security guard and works in one of the filling stations in the metropolis also condemned the act.
He confided in our correspondent that there was a fateful night, vandals were operating near his workplace and he called on a certain well known personality to alert him of their operation but the person simply told him to mind his business. So he had to maintain his peace by keeping off from them. He maintained that some persons who passed by also saw them but dared not raise a whisper for fear of being killed.
Others who spoke including : Mercy Adi, James Okibe and Grace Arubi, all condemned the heinous act of vandalism on railway facilities
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Benue State Command, Michael Ejelikwu, told our correspondent that the command has been fighting the menace.
“Our men have been fighting the menace. We’ve never relented. In the past we made several arrests in connection to that and if you come to our head office in Makurdi, you’ll see many vehicles, railway slippers and other materials seized from the men of the underworld”, he revealed.
Ejelikwu, decried the activities of the vandals and called on members of the public to always alert his men whenever such activities are going on, stressing that the protection of such national assets is one of the core mandates of the corps.
A day hardly passes without one record of such ugly incidents in the area or elsewhere. Either people are excavating the brimstones on the railway line, stealing the sleepers or tampering with any other facilities of the NRC.