By Samuel Bello
It is not uncommon to find manholes or the opening to an underground utility vault used to house an access point for making connections, inspection, valve adjustments or maintenance on underground public utility and services such as water, sewers, telephone, electricity, storm drains, district heating and gas in the cities.
In Abuja, the capital city, the large number of manholes without covers has become a big threat to human safety as many of their covers that were supposed to prevent anyone or anything from falling in and to keep out unauthorised people and materials are no longer there.
The implication is that the underground drainage system in Abuja is fast becoming a death trap as a result of poor maintenance and total neglect in some cases.
Experts say that it is important for sewer manhole covers to be heavy as sewers can produce methane gas that could push lightweight covers out of the way, letting noxious gases up into the street.
A visit to Asokoro, Maitama, Gwarimpa, Nyanya, Wuse and Garki highlighted the dangers posed by this environmental negligence that has allegedly claimed some lives in recent times.
The worst hit in this instance are Area 1 and Area 2 Garki, where even some homeowners were reported to have fallen into the underground drainage system with nobody around to render help.
Before this period, it was common for manholes to get blocked by toxic materials causing flood or stagnant water, but today a good number of them do not have covers anymore.
Unfortunately, people seem not to bother about issues such as flooding or water contamination until they happen.
Findings indicated that the drainage system could contribute to contamination problems, especially when not properly maintained; subsurface drainage systems can carry nitrate through the drain pipes, channelling it directly into bodies of water such as streams, rivers and lakes.
An underground drainage system is supposed to be a solution for collecting excess water and transporting it via underground pipes to a suitable wastewater disposal area, not entrapping people in a hole that is enclosed and contaminated.
Daily Sun discovered that some of the drainages were left open on purpose so that the overflowing wastewater from the sewers could drain out, leading to a little reduction of overflow in the drainage system.
But why should that be the maintenance ‘scheme’ for any drainage system? Mr. Soji Bamidele, a freelance journalist, said he got trapped on a Friday night recently in one of the manholes at Nyanya.
Unknown to him, he had parked his car beside an exposed manhole in a parking lot: “The manhole was very close to the driver’s side of my car, so on getting down from the car, I stepped into it and got trapped in the hole. I started crying for help and no help came my way for over one hour.”
Bamidele said that he kept crying for help and waving his handkerchief until help came, adding that the time of the day made it worse because people were unable to hear him or even notice his presence.
A taxi driver and resident of Abuja, Mr. Victory Adolor, said that he believed, albeit erroneously, that the manholes were left open intentionally for some sort of ventilation.
He added that he had devised a strategy of avoiding them in the neighbourhoods where they exist by driving on the opposite lane meant for the oncoming vehicles, thereby putting his life at risk.
Adolor appealed to government to take the matter seriously because it was life-threatening not only to people trekking but also those driving: “The government should please fix all these manholes because it is a serious deathtrap for everyone; the drainage system is essential to the society but at the same time it should not be a double problem for us in the process.”