The increasing cases of violent crimes like kidnapping and armed robbery on the Kaduna-Abuja high way has forced many passengers, who formerly plied the route by road to embrace the Abuja-Kaduna trains. Tension is, however, at fever pitch over the allegation that politicians and other influential members of the society, most of who reside in Abuja, have hijacked the trains. TOPE SUNDAY and ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU report.
This is not the best of time for For Kaduna residents, who ply their trade in Abuja, and residents of Abuja, who also transact businesses in Kaduna state. Reason, they are target of kidnappers and armed robbers who terrorise passengers on the route.
Unarguably, in Nigeria today, Abuja-Kaduna road is one of the unsaved routes and passengers’ safety cannot be guaranteed, courtesy of the kidnappers that are unpleasing terror on once a peaceful and safest road in Nigeria.
Countless souls have been lost on the road, not as a result of road traffic accident but due to kidnapping. Also, scores had been kidnapped and huge ransoms were paid to secure their release and safety.
Recently, seven persons, including three final-year law students of the Ahmadu Bello University, were kidnapped along Abuja-Kaduna, about 40 kilometres away from Abuja. Though, the student-victims were released later, a huge ransom was reportedly paid to secure their release.
Also, two week earlier before the ABU students’ kidnap, no fewer than eighteen persons were kidnapped around the state.
Similarly, in August, a Kaduna Living Faith Church Pastor, Jeremiah Omilewa, was killed by the kidnappers along Kaduna-Abuja highway while returning from Abuja with his wife and his son.
While this heinous act is carried out by the blood-sucking kidnappers, politicians are not also spared. The latest victim was a Kaduna lawmaker Hon. Ibrahim Dabo, who was kidnapped last Friday.
The lawmaker, who represents Zaria constituency in the Kaduna State House of Assembly, was kidnapped while returning to Kaduna from Zaria after visiting his constituents on the ill-fated day but freed hours later after ransom was reportedly paid.
A shocking revelation, however, emerged from the Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) over the havoc the kidnappers had wrecked.
In a recent interview, the state’s CAN Chairman, Reverend Joseph Hayab, lamented that kidnapping and other criminal acts have been turned into a business venture.
Hayab said the church had paid out N300 million as ransom for 500 Christians who have been kidnapped in the state in the past two years, saying that the activities of the kidnappers in the state have also forced churches to close down.
“We are still computing, but at the last count, we realised that the church has coughed out over N300 million as ransom to kidnappers’’, the CAN state chairman said.
Politicians, top officials’ love for trains
The ugly security situation on the road has, however, forced some politicians from the Abuja and Kaduna axis to embrace train, which for now, perceived as being safer.
This development was not envisaged when President Muhammadu Buhari commissioned and flagged off the Abuja-Kaduna train service in July 2016.
According to him, the train service was commissioned for both passenger and freight. “This is Nigeria’s first ever Standard Gauge train service. I am glad that this service has become very useful to commuters and has since become the preferred mode of transport for the journey between Abuja and Kaduna,” Buhari said.
But three years down the line, prominent Nigerians, including senators, serving senior military officers and other politicians have been forced to take trains to Kaduna for fear of being abducted by the notorious kidnappers operating along the Kaduna-Abuja Expressway.
Despite the launch of Operation Puff Adder on the route by the Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Adamu, Blueprint Weekend learnt that senior police and military officers are also among the notable Nigerians that are reportedly patronising the trains since security deteriorated on the Kaduna highway.
Anxiety, tension mount
As killings and kidnapping continue on Abuja- Kaduna highway, the attention of travellers had since last Monday shifted to the rail as the last and only means of transportation to the country’s capital. Surprisingly, all class of society use the train for the safety of their lives.
The Abuja – Kaduna railway operates four times daily, 7am, 10am, 2pm and 6pm, except on Wednesdays when it operates twice between 7am and 6pm from both ends.
Those, who use the train on daily basis, include but not limited to governors, security personnel like, police, soldiers, Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC). Others include politicians, academicians, students and business operators.
One of our correspondents who was at the Rigasa Train Station as early as 5:30 am last Friday gathered that it was tug of war to get a ticket, as the first-class coaches and most of the seats in the second class were allegedly reserved for members of the ‘high class’.
Blueprint Weekend checks also indicated that as early as 5am the premises of Ragasa Train station was already filled with prospective travellers, who planned to join the 7am train to Abuja.
At exactly 6am when some passengers had already queue for over an hour, the staff of the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) Rigasa commenced the sale of tickets.
However, after selling about 20 tickets, announcement came through the public address system “Good morning, this is to inform you all that the tickets for Kaduna to Abuja has finished. The only available tickets are for those who want to stand. If interested please come forward with your 1,300 naira. Thank you”.
This announcement was received with mixed feelings by passengers, who had queued for two hours. One of the passengers Aminu Muhammed lamented that those who are supposed to fix and secure roads are those reserving the train tickets for themselves, their families and love ones.
He said: “This is unfortunate and it is unfair that our leaders who are supposed to protect us and make things easy for Nigerians are the same people making it difficult. Most of us have been here since 5am; the management only sold tickets to a few and announced that all the tickets have been sold. Sold to who? Sold to the people who our police protect, who use our money to buy bulletproof cars, politicians that were elected to solve the insecurity and infrastructural problems”.
Another passenger, Mary Emmanuel told our correspondent that: “They sold the ticket for highest bidders and told us to queue. I have been here since 5am, I was number 45 on the queue. They sold to just a few and announced that they have sold all; they are not fair to us.”
When asked of her next line of action, she said: “ What choice do I have than to wait for 10 am train. This is my life we are talking about. This train ticket is like my ticket of life back to Abuja.
Our correspondent observed that by 8am more passengers arrived and queued up for the 10 am train ticket.
Again, the staff of the NRC commenced the sale of tickets by 9am and sold for 25 minutes before an unidentified voice again announced: “Good morning, this is to inform you all that the ticket for Kaduna to Abuja has finished, the only available tickets are for those who want to stand. If interested please come forward by 10:15am with your N1,300 . Thank you.”
This medium can reliably report that this development did not go well with many passengers and almost resulted into a stampede as many struggled to buy a ticket and stand for 2 hours to Abuja.
Also, others started agitating for a revolt against the management of the station. A few also began to seek alternative means of getting tickets.
Blueprint Weekend’s investigation further revealed that some staff of the NRC are involved in illegal sale of tickets to those who are willing to pay more than N2,500 for first and N1,300 for second class or standing.
The investigation also revealed that some non- staff members of NRC are also selling ticket to anyone who is willing to pay more.
Passengers await new coaches
The Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi since April 2019 disclosed that the federal government had ordered two additional coaches to be added to the existing ones to ease the movement of persons and goods from Abuja to Kaduna.
Four months after, nothing has changed as the number of people who required the train service keeps increasing due to the fear of kidnapping.
All efforts to speak with staff of the NRC management, Rigasa station, proofed abortive as they declined speaking to our correspondent.
Train facility collapsing
Despite the high patronage the trains on the Abuja-Kaduna route have recorded facility have started to deteriorate, the investigation by the Blueprint Weekend can reveal.
One of our correspondents, who monitored the situation at the both Idu state in Abuja and Rigasa station in Kaduna, respectively, for two days, observed that the Air Conditioners in the trains are no are no longer working.
As a result of this development, passengers most times open their windows in the train and this makes the journey a noisy one. Also, toilets in most of the coaches are not taken care for.
“Out of the two stations, Abuja- Idu station seems to be in good shape, as there is enough space for cars to park, for passengers to seat while waiting to board. But in Kubwa- Abuja station, most passengers stand while waiting and the rest rooms are most times without water and consequently left dirty. While in Rigasa station the situation is similar to that of Idu.”
NRC keeps mum
However, when contacted on phone, after a prior a message was sent to him, the Manager, Abuja-Kaduna, Train Service, Mr Pascal Nnorli declined comment.
He asked our correspondent to write officially before he would react on the allegations of ticket hoarding levelled against some staff of the corporation.