Abuja-Kaduna railroad passengers as endangered species

At a time the federal government is fighting hard to win the war against insecurity, hoodlums suspected to be kidnappers have resolved to strike on the Abuja-Kaduna railroad attacking travellers. KEHINDE OSASONA in this  report reflects on the recent attacks.

Although the report of bomb explosions along the Abuja-Kaduna train routes was initially denied by officials of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), it is no longer news that a number of Abuja -bound passengers penultimate week were rattled after they got a dose of the nightmares usually experienced by victims of attacks on the Abuja-Kaduna highway in the past.

The incident, said to have occurred in the night, involved a train which was heading to Riggasa train station after taking off from the Idu station in Abuja around 8pm.

Blueprint Weekend gathered that the passengers had barely settled down for the about one and a half hour journey when a loud bang suspected to be caused by an explosion device suddenly shut down the train engine. The bomb planted by suspected terrorists reportedly hit their train, forcing it to derail at a distance meters.

Immediately after the explosion, the train air-conditioning and lights were put off. This was reported followed by a rain of bullets which shattered the driver’s windscreen, just as the police escorts, who were outnumbered, could only provide little resistance.

NRC’s explanations

While confirming the attack, the managing director of the NRC, Engr. Fidet Okhiria, said the explosives damaged the rail tracks somewhere between Dutse and Rijana, in the Kaduna section of the corridor.

“Yes, there was an explosive on our rail track somewhere around Rijana and Dutse last night, and this damaged the tracks. He however confirmed to newsmen that efforts are currently ongoing to ensure that the train services along the Kaduna-Abuja route are fully restored. Okhiria nevertheless denied reports making the rounds that gunshots were aimed at the train driver. According to him, “There was nothing like that; it was only an explosive that went up on the track.”

Also confirming the incident, one of the passengers, a former lawmaker who represented Kaduna South, Senator Shehu Sani, was quoted as saying that the bandits did not only attack, they also planted an explosive that damaged the rail track and shattered the windshield of the train engine. “The train nearly skidded off its track, and then we miraculously escaped,” he said.

Sani said further that they equally opened fire, targeting the driver, and the tank around Dutse and Rijana stations.

No one ever had any premonition that the railway transportation could as well be a target by bandits when the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was flagging off the project, but the unthinkable happened.

While carrying out the commissioning some years back, the President noted that the project would impact on the lives of the Abuja residents as well as Kaduna state.

He said: “I am delighted to be here today to commission the Abuja – Kaduna railway track and flag-off the Abuja-Kaduna train services (Passengers & Freight) on Nigeria’s first ever Standard Gauge Rail track to go into operation. This project was conceived by a previous administration, started by the last government and I am pleased to complete and commission it.

“It is our vision and hopes that those good old days will soon be back with us and indeed in a more prosperous way with the restoration of the rail transport system which today’s occasion symbolises.

“The construction of the Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge rail track commenced in 2009 and happily, sixteen years after, we are on the threshold of presenting to Nigerians a Standard Gauge Railway Train Service that will be safe, fast and reliable.

“I wish to also reassure Nigerians that due attention will be placed on pursuing the 25-Year Strategic Railway Master Plan which is aimed at rehabilitating the existing 3,505km narrow gauge rail line and developing and constructing new standard gauge rail lines across the country.

“As we celebrate the symbolic return of rail service today I wish to reiterate the commitment of this Administration to pursue with greater vigour and determination rehabilitation and construction of other rail lines including the major Lagos-Calabar and Kano-Lagos lines. As we get down to work, I look forward to flagging off many more lines outlined in our transport policy programme.”

While sharing his experience, a commuter, Shuaib Gidado, told this reporter that despite the unfortunate incident, he would still stick to the railway means of transportation.

According to him, the railway transportation, especially the new Abuja-Kaduna route, remains one of the best things that have happened to commuters plying the Abuja-Kaduna road and who now see it as their best alternative.

“Considering nasty experiences on the Kaduna road where people again lost their lives recently, I still think it’s the best and I will still ply it. Insecurity, explosion though becoming something else especially the explosion incident of last month, I hope something would be done to allay commuters fears,” Gidado said.

Likewise, another commuter who plies the Abuja-Kaduna road on a regular basis, Engr. Olabiyi Teniola, expressed concerns over the attacks and urged the government to ensure passengers’ safety on the route. He also called the various security agencies to scale up their surveillance to stem the scourge.

“We no longer feel safe. These bandits are becoming more daring. We can only hope and pray that the authorities would be proactive and checkmate activities of these people before they overrun Abuja.

“Is it that Nigerians are now at the mercy of these blood-thirsty gunmen? It is high time our government took the bull by the horns so that what happened some years back when bombers invaded Abuja will not repeat itself,” Teniola said.

FG’s assurances 

 But allaying commuters fears after the incident, the federal government pledged its readiness to do the needful in order to protect the citizens.

The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, gave the assurance during his visit to the site. According to him, the federal government was going to procure digital security system for regular monitoring of railway corridors to avert another incident track bombing.

He added that the government would in next to no time approve the installation of a digital security system to address future challenges of breach of security.

 “What is significant is that the work was done by Nigerians in record time and by tomorrow (Saturday), we expect to run the first train. 

“Apart from this (Wednesday explosion), there has not been any security challenge before now. 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.

“I may not be happy that the security breach took place but what we have been able to show is that we actually have the capacity to fix our rail. The essence of this is that by the time we leave, we should start getting people who can construct our railways. What they (local engineers) have shown is that if they can fix this, they should be able to construct some kilometres of rail. But we have to test them gradually,” he said.

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