September 27, 2021

Scrap metal trade poses fresh challenge for Nigeria’s troubled Plateau State

A street in Jos, Nigeria

Jos, June 2, 2021: Nigerian Officials say unregulated scrap metal trade has increased car theft, vandalization and related crimes in the central State of Plateau, posing fresh threats to citizen safety.

“Car jacking or theft, as well as vandalism have increased in recent years in Jos, due to the boom in this [scrap] business,” Chairman of the Plateau State Internal Revenue Service (PIRS), Mr. Dashe Arlat said, Friday.

Car thieves and vandals, Mr. Arlat said often find quick selling point in scrap metal markets, usually escaping investigation.

“Most stolen cars or metals are sold to scrap metal dealers and before law enforcements could trace them, they would have been dismantled beyond recognition,” Arlat told our Correspondent.

Arlat fears that not regulating the business could have “serious social implications.”

“Many of our bridges have been vandalized by scrap metal stockers, causing the bridge to wear out or possibly collapse. This is a serious threat to life,” Arlat said.

Two major bridges in Jos, the capital of Plateau State, are among “many” bridges affected by this crime, Mr. Dayyabu Garga, the Plateau State Commissioner of Urban Development and Physical Planning told our Correspondent.

“The Gadan Tsoho bridge that links Terminus and Bauchi Road area, and another one – the Gadan Bako bridge that links Nasarawa and Angwan Rukuba have both been tempered with. The pillars of the bridge have been damaged by vandals. Virtually all the metal rods have been removed and this is worrisome. We have had to build barricades on the bridge to limit the sizes of vehicles that use it for now while we look for ways to rebuild the damaged parts,” Garga told our Correspondent in a telephone interview.

Several bridges under construction across the State have also been vandalized, causing “huge losses” to state, Commissioner of Works, Mr. Pam Botmang said.

“Once a bridge collapses and it’s not immediately rebuilt, or a contractor leaves a bridge construction site prematurely, the facilities for the construction could be stolen and that is a huge setback to the State,” Botmang said in a telephone interview.

Global challenge

Inquiries sent to Police and other law enforcement authorities were not responded to. Civil authorities could also not provide specific data on the rate of scrap metal theft in Plateau State. However, throughout the industrialized world, Security expert, Brandon R. Kooi says, stealing valuable metal has become a serious concern for the police, businesses, public utilities, railroad companies, and the community at large.

Collaborative efforts to combat metal theft have occurred for several decades, Brandon said in an article on the website of US. based Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. However, reports of dramatic increases in scrap metal theft, Brandon says are occurring throughout the world.

In 2018, Kansas City Public Radio, KCUR 89.3FM reported a spike in auto theft in Missouri due to a boom in scrap metal trade.

The metal recycling industry in the UK is estimated at £5bn annually. In USA, metal recycling, according to a 2017 Sun newspaper report, contributed 76.9 metric tonnes of metal valued at $14.2 billion or 58 per cent of metal supply in the US.

The estimated annual per capita consumption of steel in Nigeria has increased from 5kg in 1968 to 130kg in 2012, The Sun reports. This increase has also hiked the value of scrap metal, causing a rise in metal theft.

Will a law solve the problem?

In 2011, a BBC report estimated that one copper cable theft from a railway line could cause a total of 108 trains to be delayed, which translates to 17 hours worth of hold-ups for thousands of passengers and damage put at over £80,000. That is a huge loss to warrant a law as being contemplated by Officials in the Nigerian State of Plateau.

Mr. Arlat, the revenue Official of Plateau State says the proposed regulation will ensure scrap metal sellers produce evidence of ownership before selling a metal scrap. But enforcement of such laws in a weak economy like Nigeria has always been difficult.

Even in developed economies like the UK, the Scrap Metal Dealer Act 2013, was, according to the BBC, supposed to make it harder for thieves to sell stolen components, by requiring dealers to be licensed and preventing them paying cash for scrap.

But after an initial peak in 2014, the number of convictions in the category that includes scrap metal dealing has fallen sharply, BBC reports.

Trade association, the British Metals Recycling Association, has been quoted by the BBC as saying stretched resources mean the police are unlikely to prosecute scrap dealers operating illegally and are more likely to encourage them to apply for licences retrospectively.