The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, has said anyone caught vandalising railway facilities in the country should be charged with manslaughter.
He said this on Friday during the ministerial media briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The minister lamented the frequent theft of railway clips which cost the country huge sums in dollars to replace.
He maintained that imposing strict penalties would curb railway vandalism, an act he described as “deadly” and capable of causing derailment and killing passengers.
In late June, the police arraigned some suspected railway vandals at the Federal High Court sitting in Lafia, Nasarawa State.
The vandals were charged with conspiracy, economic sabotage, and terrorism while the lawyer of Chinese national was charged with aiding, facilitating, and abetment of terrorism for offering a bribe to the police to aid the escape of his client.
Speaking on the impact of railway vandalism, Amaechi said, “That’s why I say to Nigerians that if I were to be a lawmaker, I’d be recommending manslaughter charges against those who engage in the vandalisation of rail tracks.
“The reason is that it takes about 800 metres for a locomotive to stop. As it’s running now, it is running with speed.
“The moment it wants to stop, the driver will apply the brakes here and it will take 800 metres to stop.
“So, how will the driver know that you have removed or vandalised a track 800 meters away? He will not know until it gets to the track.
“So, when it gets to the track, what happens? He applies the brakes, but he needs 800 metres to stop. So, once it gets to that track that has been vandalised, he will derail. Once it derails, some people may die.
“Each coach takes 85 persons. And we are talking about 14 to 20 coaches. You can imagine the number of people that will die as a result of that derailment.
“This is just because one selfish Nigerian is trying to steal tracks to make money. I think, like other countries, I’m not saying they should be killed because there’s poverty. But I’m saying they should be charged with mass manslaughter because people will die.
“But again, they will tell you that manslaughter means that somebody died. If anybody dies, they should be charged with manslaughter. If nobody dies, they should be charged with stealing. That’s my view.”
The minister explained that vandals had expanded their reach from stealing on the narrow gauge from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, to the Lagos-Kano route.
He said “I say that because when they were stealing the narrow gauge, the one from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri, I wasn’t worried. Whether we like it or not, we will replace it. That is the contract.
“But they move from stealing narrow gauge from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri to stealing narrow gauge from Lagos to Kano.
“We are looking for a possible company under a Public-Private Partnership agreement that will take over that. If they take over, we will remove the old track and replace it with new ones.
“But when they now move to Itakpe-Warri, which is now standard gauge, brand new tracks, then it becomes very dangerous.
“A poor man from Warri who is going to Itakpe by 6 o’clock train does not know that his train will derail because somebody has cut off the track. That is dangerous.
“And I think that the solution is exactly what the government is doing now about insecurity.”
He called for stricter regulations and enforcement of existing laws to curb deadly cases of theft on the tracks saying “You see, I have always said that if you enforce the law, Nigerians will obey.
“Now, you are feeling a bit of security. Now, you can drive around and feel a bit more secure than before. It is because the government has said that this joke has to stop.
“The joke has started to stop. Is it not? That is what Nigerians like to hear. That is the way I governed Rivers State. When the person knows that there is a law and as an elected governor, I will enforce the law.
“So, if the law means to shoot my brother, I will shoot him. That is what the law says. Since you see the security agencies enforcing the law, everyone is now behaving well.
if we enforce the law on the vandalisation of tracks, it will stop. And I have asked the Managing Director of Nigeria Railway Corporation about their police. He said they were enough. I will meet the Inspector General of Police to give us enough men and materials so that we can use them to police the tracks.
“Having moved from narrow gauge to standard gauge, it has become a national security issue because it’s a daily movement, involving three, four, five, six trips a day.”
Amaechi decried the huge cost incurred in replacing stolen rail facilities, calling it enormous.
He laments, “The only one I have decided on are those stealing the clips. Like Kaduna-Abuja, over 6,000 to 10,000 clips have been stolen and have to be replaced daily so that we don’t have a situation where the train derails.
“These clips are not made in Nigeria. They are bought overseas. So, we buy them in dollars.
“Part of the solution is something called anti-theft clips. But they are more expensive. It is three times more expensive than the current one. But it’s better.
“We are now replacing them with anti-theft clips in Lagos-Ibadan. All other constructions will now be anti-theft. With anti-theft, you can’t open it. You can’t remove it.
“But we need to now go back to Abuja-Kaduna and change them to anti-theft clips. I don’t know why we have not made that decision earlier because we have changed up to 10,000 to 15,000 clips in six years.
“I think the law should deal with those who break it. The law should not be quiet. I don’t know what the law says. But a Chinese company arrested for buying those tracks got away with over N200,000 fine.
“The law should give us much more than that. We got a Chinese company in Jos buying those from them. A few months later, we arrested a Chinese man in Nasarawa. That is the issue of vandals.”