Reacting to Monday’s attack on a Kaduna-bound passenger train by suspected bandits, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), in a terse statement, which made no reference to the attack, said it was suspending operation on the route.
The terse statement posted on Twitter on Tuesday morning stated that it was suspending services on the route due to “unforeseen circumstances”.
Several security breaches around Kaduna axis and the inability of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to curb criminality along the corridor showed that NRC’s claim cannot be further from the truth.
Apart from the incident last October when suspected bandits blew up the rail track with explosives, other relatively recent incidents along the corridor were warning that it was only a matter of time before the passengers on the Abuja-Kaduna route were attacked but the government failed to do nearly enough to provide protection.
The first attack
During the incident of last October, which has now proven to be the criminal’s dress rehearsal of Monday’s dastardly attack that has left at least eight persons dead and several others injured or abducted, explosives were used to damage the rail track as the Kaduna-bound train approached Rijana.
The impact of the explosion, which almost derailed the locomotive, left the windshield of the train shattered.
Although nobody was injured in that attack, an ex-senator, Shehu Sani, who was one of the passengers on the train, said as the driver tried to manoeuvre the damaged section of the track, the attacker fired upon the train. He added that he saw persons he described as bandits watching the helpless train as it rode past the damaged section of the rail.
“We saw them (bandits) from our windows. I think they were watching to see whether our train would slide from the rail track so that they could attack the passengers or abduct some of us,” he told the Voice of America (VOA) Hausa.
“There were gunshots and they were targeted at the driver and his crew. The (bandits’) intention was to separate the head of the train from the rest of the body. “In fact, we were lucky it did not hit anyone,” Mr Sani added.
After the attack last October, the government promised to improve security along the route.
“Apart from this, there has not been any security challenge before now,” the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said after he visited the site of the October attack. “What this has done to us will fasten the procurement of the digital security system that we are trying to put in place. We took it to the cabinet two weeks ago, and it was returned. We will take it again to ensure we get approval so we can install it.
“The essence of the security system is to enable us to know if there is an impact on the censor. We will try to get the police involved before we install the security system.”
Five months after, the minister said the security system he proposed has not been procured.
“Again, I call all agencies that need to give approvals for the surveillance equipment and sensors for the effective monitoring of the rail tracks to do so quickly, to forestall attacks like this,” he said in a statement posted on Twitter after he visited the site of Monday’s attack.
In another statement posted on its verified Facebook page, the minister repeated the call for the process of the procurement of the surveillance system to be hastened, adding that lives could have been saved if the system had been in place.
Attack on the airport
While the Buhari government drags its feet about improving security around the corridor, the outlawed groups swarming around the axis became more daring.
Last Saturday, gunmen attacked the Kaduna Airport killing one person. According to the airport manager, Amina Salami, the gunmen breached the perimeter fence of the airport at about 1 pm and shot a security guard who was patrolling the area at the time.
Soldiers at the airport quickly responded to the attack and repelled the gunmen.
“The sound of gunshots attracted the attention of armed security operatives who arrived at the scene and were able to repel the bandits from gaining access into the main airport complex,” she added.
As more people avoided the Abuja – Kaduna Expressway, which was a haven for kidnappers, and opted to travel by air or on the train to and from Abuja, it became clear that the bandits, who are being starved of potential abductees will try to attack travellers using airport and train commuters but no significant security measure was known to have been taken to ensure the safety of these travellers.
This is more startling if one considers the heavy concentration of military installations in Kaduna State.
According to SBM Intelligence, a geopolitical research consulting firm, there are at least 15 military installations around Kaduna State.
Asked why the government has been unable to clear the area of non-state actors who relentlessly terrorise residents and travellers, the Lead Partner of SBM, Cheta Nwanze, said it is due to a combination of several factors. He, however, added that it ultimately boils down to a lack of political will from the government to go after the perpetrators.
“No one, asides from the government, has an idea, and I doubt that even they have one. Last year, they sent in a team of 300 female soldiers to guard the road and withdrew the troops after a month,” Mr Nwanze said. Keeping that route safe requires the hard work of keeping the forest areas around it free from terrorists. It also means keeping the villages in Birnin Gwari, Chikun and Igabi safe.
“It also requires significant investment in human intelligence. Finally, it requires the political will to go after the financiers of the perpetrators. These guys collect huge sums and pay them into accounts. The government hasn’t shown any sustained interest in doing any of these, thus giving terrorists a lot of legroom to operate.”
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