From Okwe Obi, Adanna Nnamani and Esther Akwete, Abuja
In developed climes, manholes are access points for the inspection and repair of public infrastructure. Not so in Abuja, a supposedly planned city. They are death traps.
From Area 1, 11, Asokoro to Maitama and Wuse, sad stories of uncovered highway manholes damaging human limbs and vehicles are not in short supply. In fact, it is a regular, tortuous sight.
Motorists and commuters have repeatedly appealed to relevant authorities at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to deal with this man-made horror. The pleas seemed to have fallen on deaf ears as more manholes are being opened as if it is a new order.
Earlier in the year, the House of Representatives ordered the Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA) to immediately cover all opened manholes in Abuja. It is obvious that the implementing authorities are defiant.
Also, the request by the House that the police should maintain constant security surveillance on highways to prevent the theft of manhole covers has not yielded any fruit.
Before this development, a human rights activist, Femi Falana, in 2017, filed a suit against the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) after he fell into an open manhole in Maitama that had no warning sign and sustained injuries. He argued that it was the responsibility of the FCDA to ensure that the roads within the Federal Capital Territory were safe for users.
Aside from damaging vehicles and hurting commuters, petty thieves now take advantage of “unclad” manholes to steal steel pipes, wires and other facilities meant to boost infrastructure development in the FCT.
To worsen the situation, indolent highway sweepers now use uncovered manholes as dumpsters where they empty the garbage swept off the road into, thus clogging them and heightening the risks of flooding and stagnant water.
In clear resort to self-help, various parts of the FCT, in an effort to prevent accidents, now place old tires and logs of wood in the open holes to forewarn pedestrians and motorists.
Recounting his horrible experience after slumping into one of the manholes in Abuja, a civil servant, Paul Yaro said: “I lost my phone to one of those holes. During the fuel crises few months ago, I was in a long queue at one of the filling stations around Wuse 2 adjacent Banex.
“I stepped out of my car to soak in some fresh air while waiting for the queue to get to my turn.
“I received a call. In trying to remove the phone from my pocket it fell off and slipped into the manhole just by my rear tyre. That was how I lost that phone. It was a painful experience.”
Muhammad Sani, a bolt driver, said: “ I have not really had an experience with the manholes. But I have a friend who once accidentally drove into it and his tyre and rear shock absorber got damaged. It was a terrible experience for him. The thing is that they all had covers but people steal them at night and sell them to those scrap metal dealers and recyclers.
“What the government should do is to have a partnership with the recyclers who buy those things from the scavengers to ensure that they reject anything that looks like government property or better still, collect them and keep them to return to government officials. They need to be made to know that buying such stolen items only encourage those people to keep stealing and vandalising government properties.”
Dan-fulani Usman, a trader, said: “I know someone that broke his leg at Jabi. The irons used to cover the man holes are at every police station, any police station you go you will surely see about 10 the police seized from ‘babanbola’ (scrap metal dealers). They remove the manhole covers and sell them.
“They have done the ones made of cement but they break, the Federal Government needs to do something about it. Even the potholes on the road that cause accident and traffic, it’s young boys that get sand to fill them themselves most times. I know someone that wanted to receive a call and did not see the hole and accidentally stepped inside and broke his leg. It’s a horrible development.”
A commuter, Esther Nnanna, said: “I have come across many accidents regarding these manholes. I am disappointed that in a city like Abuja, the so-called the heart of Nigeria, we are not supposed to expose manholes.”
A visibly angry commercial driver, Idowu Opeyemi, recounted: “It was not funny. It costs nothing to close those manholes after work. I lost a front tyre to it. In a situation like this, who do you report to?
“We need help. We can’t continue to lose lives and money because of the negligence of some people. People must take responsibility for their actions.”
A 50-year-old trader, Janet Michael, said she mistakenly fell into a manhole around the Federal Secretariat, Abuja. After alighting from a cab, she did not know there was an opened manhole and before she could say jack, she was inside the hole:
“I was so embarrassed when it happened to me. It took the intervention of passersby to pull me out. I got bruises on my right leg and a scratch on my face.
“I had to cancel my activities for that day. It is even bad that street sweepers heap dirts inside it. You won’t even know because it looks filled.”
Senior Special Assistant to the Minister of FCT on Monitoring, Mr. Attah Ikharo, said it was not within his purview to comment on the issue.
Similarly, media aide to the minister, Sani Abubakar, told Daily Sun that he was not in a position to address the issue: “Kindly speak to the Director of Facility Maintenance.”
Nonetheless, other sources said the matter was being gradually addressed considering the safety implications of having unconvered manholes on highways.