Manhole covers on major roads in Lagos are being stolen, leaving wide holes that now constitute death traps to motorists and pedestrians alike, writes Bennet Oghifo and Rebecca Ejiforma
There are gory tales of people disappearing without a trace after falling into manholes in the middle of some roads in Lagos. Others are injured after falling into these holes. Motorists have lost their tyres to these holes, some of which have jagged edges caused by unsuccessful attempts by thieves to remove their covers completely.
Some people suspect that open the manholes across Lagos could be responsible for some of the cases of missing persons in the state. Manholes are purpose build ducts used by technicians for maintenance of drainage facilities and for electrical and telecommunication cabling. According to those who clean these ducts, some of them are linked to primary underground drainages that empty into the Lagos Lagoon.
They are covered with heavy circle-shaped lids made of 100 percent iron or close to prevent people from falling in or from tampering with installations inside. These covers are expensive and were originally made by the Nigerian Railways Corporation (NRC) in their furnace/forge at Ebute Metta, Lagos. The furnace and forge are still there, but regrettably manhole covers are no longer produced there. However, it is not certain if the furnace still has fire that is strong enough to produce more manhole covers.
Tales of Victims…
Mr. Mustafa Abiodun, was a victim recently. He was walking to a friend's house at Apapa and fell into one of the manholes. "I didn't see the hole; in fact, I never thought there was a hole there because I have used that route several times. I didn't go down the hole because I fell almost flat but my legs were bruised from my ankles to my knees. I still carry the scars."
According to Mr. Nonso Okoronkwo, a carpet vendor on Ikorodu road, anybody could stumble into it unknowingly even in day time let alone at night. "One may be chatting with friends or in deep thoughts, while walking with the next step becoming deadly. What about when it rains and the place gets flooded, that will just be very dangerous to even adults and more especially children."
Okoronkwo also said that in 2004, when one of his cousins, Uche, was returning from school, he fell into a manhole on Herbert Macaulay road. "His body, from chest to legs, was in the man-hole but because he was quick to hold on the edges of the hole, he would have been history today."
As in most parts of the city, there are two uncovered holes along Herbert Macaulay Road in Yaba, close to Yaba College of Technology and WAEC and in several other places on Ikorodu Road, particularly at Agip bus stop, Fadeyi. People in the area are also worried that besides falling into these holes, hoodlums could use them as hideouts from where they could unleash mayhem.
Who Removes the Covers…
There are all manner of theories on how manhole covers are removed and by whom. Some people describe the disappearance of these covers as baffling. Some suspect those who work in the holes and others said they could be miscreants sent by those who know the worth of these covers. A middle-aged man, who gave his name as Ayo reconstructed how the manhole cover on a road close where he works disappeared without a trace. "On my way to work one morning, I saw some people with reflective jackets opening the manhole and what struck me was that they were technicians about to do some maintenance work that morning, but curiously on my return trip I noticed the hole was open, but the cover was not there anymore. It was at that point that I realised I just witnessed a crime being committed. If I had a phone number of the public works office maybe I would have called to confirm if they were really from the government office."
According to a Photographer and resident of Herbert Macaulay, Yaba, Mr. Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, these man-holes are supposed to be channels that take water on the road to the lagoon not people. He believes that those in charge of looking after those things are responsible for the removal of the metal lids. "They know the value and remember Nigerians cannot be trusted. I know many may be thinking about the thugs, but those set of people do not know the value. Also, a bus driver on Yaba road, who pleaded anonymity, said the Lagos State government attention should be drawn to this dirty game going on. "They say, Eko oni baje o, but there are some, who are bent to spoil it for us.
"They will stop at nothing until they see Lagos look ugly. For instance, the rail bars adorning the bridges are being hacked off daily, thereby, making the bridges look bad. Something ought to be done to halt the activities of these wicked men, of course women are not excluded," he said.
He stated that the manhole covers were cleverly removed and this act caused vehicles to swerve either to the right or left, which almost resulted in accident on daily basis.
He said a bus with passengers once veered into another lane and almost collided with a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) bus. "Take a drive through most roads you will then believe what I'm saying. I do think this is the handiwork of some construction companies and their collaborators in government. I know, because they know the value. They do this so that they would be rewarded the contract to provide covers for the holes. They should be dealt with decisively, no fine!" he stated.
Follow the Furnace…
These manhole covers could be melted and converted into various products such as iron pots, among others. Besides the Nigeria Railways, another place with powerful furnace and forge that went cold because of neglect is the Federal Ministry of Works at its Ijora-Olopa workshop. Regardless, there are all manner of furnace and forges in the city with others located on the city's fringes. Those who show concern at the rate of disappearance of manhole covers in Lagos believe strongly that there is a close connection between owners of furnaces and forges and dealers in manhole covers.
"Find the furnace and you will find the man-hole covers," said Abimbola Omolade a tinker in Bariga. "We have small fire for the pots we make but the big ones are those that can melt something as strong as man-hole covers. They are the same people who can melt rails on bridges. If the government is really keen on finding the man-holes and stopping this problem, let them visit all the owners of furnaces/forges in the state."
Lagos' on Manhole Theft…
Governor Babatunde Fashola has quietly appealed to those who steal these covers to stop such acts, but they have so far not heeded the call. The Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency (LASIMRA) blames those they described as "social miscreants" and that in the process they expose "underground telecom cables to risk of theft and damage. LASIMRA strongly frowns against such act, and has warned those involved to desist from such action or face the wrath of the law."
LASIMRA expressed concern that cables such as fibre optic cable and copper cables owned by Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), NITEL and other telecom operators laid underground are being stolen along with the manhole covers. The agency said the theft of underground cables was on the increase as a result of exposures of the cables by those who steal manhole covers. The removal of manhole covers is also creating undue hardship for motorists and pedestrians, warning buyers and end users of these manhole covers to stop, adding that security agencies would track both the thieves and their patrons.
The government advised those who witness manhole cover theft to report to Lagos State Ministry of Works, LASIMRA or the Public Works Corporation for immediate action.
Some people have taken the initiative to cover some of the manholes with motor tyres, dropping long sticks into them to draw attention, other people simply wielded iron bars across them to seal these holes permanently.
Sometime back, the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) designed a concrete-based cover that they placed on the manholes but did not cover all the open manholes in the city. FERMA protested the dumping of waste into the open holes, which drain storm water to the Lagoon.
Also, the Lagos State Government said it replaced manhole covers at eight points along Ikorodu Road, particularly at Jibowu area, 43 along Eko Bridge, and eight along Simpson Junction (Lagos Island).
Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media, Hakeem Bello listed other major roads as, Lagos Island Central Business District, Bourdillon/Alexander and Gerald Road, Ikoyi; Funsho Williams Avenue, and Eric Moore Road, Surulere; network of roads in Apapa Central Business District, and Murtala Muhammed Road, Yaba.
How Many Rural Women Would Continue to Die?
On Thursday November 24, 2011, Mrs. Uloma Egbuchulam Anyanechi, died on the theatre table of the Federal Medical Centre, Umuahia, Abia State. She had given birth to a healthy baby girl through normal delivery in the labour room of the hospital on November 23. About an hour later bleeding erupted, but the medical team could not stop it even after a delayed blood transfusion. She was later taken back to the theatre for surgery but never came out alive. The husband is devastated, while her parents are still asking questions.
The case of Mrs. Anyanechi is one of the isolated cases that make it to the public domain as many women die through birth complications without any traceable record. According to available statistics, every minute, a woman in the developing world, Nigeria inclusive, dies from treatable complications of pregnancy or childbirth. Every minute, a family is devastated. The lives of surviving children are put at risk and communities suffer. And for every woman who dies, as many as 20 are seriously harmed by fistula or other injuries of childbearing.
Governments and various organisations have devised strategies for preventing maternal mortality including family planning to reduce unintended pregnancies, providing skilled care at births, timely emergency obstetric care for all women who develop complications. Organisations like UNFPA also advocates at many levels for the right of mothers to give birth safely. The Fund further spearheads the global campaign to end fistula, a collaborative initiative to prevent this devastating injury of childbirth and to restore the health and dignity of those who are living with its consequences. It would be recalled that the critical importance of reproductive health to achieving international development goals was affirmed at the highest level at the 2005 World Summit. Reproductive Health, according to the experts is also a human right, yet poor reproductive health conditions are the leading cause of deaths and illnesses in women of childbearing age in Nigeria, while millions of couples lack the ability to plan their families or space their children. It is believed that investments in reproductive health save and improve lives, slow the spread of HIV and encourage gender equality. These benefits extend from the individual to the family and from the family to the society.
In furtherance to saving women from dying from treatable complications of pregnancy or childbirth Population Action International (PAI) along with partners and Friends of the Global Fund Africa and Family Care International (FCI), have since begun a twoâ€year project, The Integration Partnership (TIP), to increase Nigeria's demand for reproductive health (RH)/HIV integration—including provision of RH supplies—and maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH)/AIDS, malaria and TB (ATM) integration.
PAI and its partners are working to increase the priority and resources dedicated to RH/HIV integration and MNCH/ATM integration within influential global institutions. The integration partnership has three objectives. One is to increase priority of RH/HIV and MNCH/ATM integration within the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GF) and its supporting technical agencies in policy, program implementation, and funding allocation decisions. This approach seeks to secure support and favourable decisions from the Global Fund Secretariat, board, relevant committees and such multilateral agencies as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Others are to increase priority of RH/HIV integration within the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Global Health Initiative (GHI) policy, programme implementation, and funding allocation decisions. This approach leverages emerging US policy support for integrated programming, as expressed in the multiâ€billion dollar Global Health Initiative (GHI). Since PEPFAR will be incorporated within the GHI, it appears likely that longâ€standing barriers to integration within PEPFAR could be lifted, opening the way for new integration initiatives. This objective seeks to secure Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC) allocation of funds to support integration, clear supportive guidance, and increase integrated programming in annual country operation plans for 2012.
The synergy is also to accelerate demand and promote civil society involvement and informed decisionâ€making about RH/HIV and MNCH/ATM integration strategies. This approach builds on PAI's countryâ€level relationships and prior efforts. With the arrangement, PAI will engage six countries; facilitating technical assistance and the participation of civil society in country coordinating mechanisms (CCMs) in ways that effectively promote integrated programming in Global Fund proposals (Round 11).
In addition, PAI are working with implementers in these countries to communicate vital onâ€theâ€ground perspectives to those making US programme implementation decisions affecting RH/HIV integration. This objective seeks to further increase integrated programming requests in Global Fund proposals and to strategically inform key US policy decisions. The project will occur in six focus countries in sub Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia. The focus countries have been selected based on the potential population impact of RH/HIV and MNCH/ATM integrated programming, political will at the national level for RH/HIV and MNCH/ATM integration, prior history of funding from the Global Fund and US bilateral support as well as the country potential to be selected as a GHIâ€Plus country. PAI will work, in collaboration with FCI, to integrate MNCH and ATM within the Global Fund in Burkina Faso, Tanzania, and Zambia.
For Nigeria, the RH/HIV integration would involve the establishment of Development Research and Projects Centre (DRPC) as well as leveraging the services of the Planned Parenthood Federation Nigeria (PPFN) and Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN).
Experts say in doing these, the implementers should take into recognition the high fertility rate of Nigerian women. According to the first National Family Planning Conference in Abuja, in 2010, the fertility level in Nigeria is quite high (total fertility rate; TFR is 5.7) which implies that an average Nigerian woman will bear approximately six children in her lifetime (NDHS 2008). The 2006 census (142 million) gave an annual population growth rate figure of 3.2 per cent. At this growth rate it would take only 22 years for the population of Nigeria to double. More than two-fifths of the population is currently under the age of 15 years.
In Nigeria, the 2008 NDHS found that only 10 per cent of married women of reproductive age use contraceptives. This is lower than the current sub-Saharan Africa average of 17 per cent. Further analysis of the Total Contraceptive Prevalence rate (CPR) indicates wide state variations, ranging from 0.3 in Jigawa to 41.6 in Lagos State, as well as zonal variations ranging from 2.7 in the North West to 28.5 in the South West.
A closer look at rural/urban dimensions and age groups at the national level showed the largest urban/rural differences in CPR for the 25â€39 age range. A review of urban/rural locations on CPR also illustrated differences by zone, with the most pronounced in South West Zone with 34 per cent in urban and 17 per cent in the rural area. State wide analysis also reveals large variations for urban and rural locations.