Kidnappers, vandals threaten $4.12 billion railway infrastructure

• Edo Govt Visits Family Of Late Police Rescuer • Abductions Scaring Passengers
Away, Says Akerele • Nigeria Needs Minimum Security Checklist For Rail Operations
— Opeifa • ‘NRC Should Be Unbundled To Encourage Private Sector Driven Solutions’

With last Saturday’s kidnap of 20 train passengers at the Tom Ikimi/Ekehen Station in Igueben, Edo State and several cases of vandalism of rail infrastructure across the country lately, Nigerians are beginning to express worries over the $4.12 billion so far spent by the current administration on the modernisation of the nation’s railway system.
A breakdown of the investment shows that $2.5 billion was invested in the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge, Abuja-Kaduna rail line gulped $1.5 billion while the rehabilitation of the Warri-Itakpe standard gauge cost about $121million.

The Guardian learnt that the $4.12 billion is exclusive of the loan collected from China by the Federal Government for the purchase of the rolling stock, that is the locomotives and the coaches.

More than 70 per cent of the investment in the railway system was borrowed from the China Exim Bank, with the intention to repay the loans with proceeds from the investment. Amid the challenges bedeviling the sector, Nigerians are expressing fears over the ability of the country to abide by the terms of the loan.

President Muhammadu Buhari had said the current administration was vigorously pursuing the implementation of a 25-year Strategic Railway Master Plan.

He said the government would focus on coastal rail, like Lagos-Calabar with branches to Benin, Agbor and Onitsha; Port Harcourt-Maiduguri standard gauge rail line with branches to Owerri, Awka, Abakaliki, Yola and Damaturu; and Kano-Kazure, Daura, Kastina, Jibya to link to Maradi in Niger Republic as part of regional railway inter-connectivity of the ECOWAS sub-region.
Former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, had pursued the attainment of these plans with so much vigour unfortunately, lack of funds and outcry by Nigerians that borrowings from China could undermine Nigeria’s sovereignty slowed down the projects.

Nevertheless, recent developments in the sector have shown that even the projects so far delivered by the government are being threatened with more Nigerians becoming weary of patronising the train services over rising cases of terrorist attacks and vandalism amid poor security arrangement.

On March 28, 2022, a passenger train on the Abuja-Kaduna railway with over 400 persons on board derailed when a bomb exploded on the tracks. This led to the death of about nine persons, kidnapping of 62 passengers while many others sustained bullet wounds. Many of the victims, who spent eight months in the kidnappers’ den, and their loved ones, are yet to recover from the shock.

Following the incident, the Nigerian Railway Service (NRC) suspended service on the corridor, which impacted negatively on its revenue. Checks by The Guardian showed that the corporation lost about N6.6 billion in revenue due to the eight-month suspension of service on the corridor.

Findings also showed that the rate of vandalism of railway tracks across the country is appalling. Last year, the narrow gauge train service of Lagos-Kano derailed about two times due to vandalism of the tracks. Currently, service on the corridor is suspended.

The Railway Police Command arrested 13 suspected vandals in May and June 2022. Between July and August, the command further arrested no fewer than 15 suspects for crimes bordering on theft, vandalism of the NRC infrastructure.
Minister of State for Transportation, Prince Adegoroye, had during a visit to Igueben station said the government would take proactive measures to forestall further attack on train station in the country and ensure safety of passengers and facilities. He hinted that one of such steps would be the establishment of a collaborative initiative between the NRC and the host communities to ensure that security is beefed up at the railway stations.

While soliciting the cooperation of the host communities in this regard, he maintained that it was in their best interest to ensure that Federal Government’s investments and personnel in their domains are protected. 

Speaking with The Guardian, the Country Director, Policy House International, Taiwo Akerele, said the railway system in Nigeria was still under modernisation and requires a lot of work on key major components, including connectivity, staff capacity, ticketing management, security of travellers and infrastructure.

He stated that the national railways master plan should not just focus on infrastructure and contracts but also on key areas such as transportation of passengers from the rail station to other parts of the city. 

Akerele said: “What we presently have is private sector driven train transportation that is not organised or is mass transit in nature. This has to be incorporated properly into the design.

“In addition to this, the hard lessons from the Kaduna and Edo breaches and abduction should not be allowed to repeat itself as it will significantly affect passenger appetite for patronage and thereby defeating the purpose of the investment in the first place.”

A railway expert, Mr. Olawale Rasheed, re-echoed his view on the need to overhaul the entire railway system by reviewing the NRC Act that makes the corporation both the regulator and the operator at the same time.

He stressed that making the NRC the regulator and allowing the private sector to come in and invest is one of the ways to address the myriad of challenges bedeviling the sector.
“How do you explain that the NRC is both the operator and regulator. If there must be any meaningful progress, the Federal Government must as a matter of urgency unbundle the sector.”

On his part, the Executive Director, Centre for Sustainable Mobility and Access Development (CenSMAD), Dr. Kayode Opeifa, urged the government to set up a technical committee to review the implementation of the Rail Modernisation Master Plan and the ‘Nigerian Rail Transportation System’ to achieve Nigeria’s set goals.

His words: “What makes the railway transportation system is not just the rail tracks and the rolling stock. They include the governance structure, safety and security systems, passenger and freight services administration, statutes and legal framework/environment, ticketing systems, data and information management systems and signaling systems as well as the associated policies guiding them.

“Safety is a central issue that challenges decision-making during the planning and implementation of the modern-day railway systems, especially with the advent of High Speed Rail (HSR) and as such appropriate systems should be in place to ensure safe performance during operations.

“Let it be established that terrorist attacks on transportation assets are not new or limited to Nigeria as the sector meets all the requirements of terrorist soft targets. Examples abound worldwide.

“We need to establish a national minimum security checklist for rail operations in Nigeria and be proactive to provide security systems based on modern technology taking advantage of innovations and artificial intelligence.”

Opeifa observed that since an attack on one implies injuries to others, there must be a regular safety review committee of top-level stakeholders with the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
“Beyond regular safety audits, we need to carry out regular security audits of all rail infrastructure and systems to assure the passenger/freight, government, investors and relevant stakeholders of safety and also encourage sharing of information between security operatives.

“We need to deepen on lesson learnt from the last twin terrorist attacks on the AKTS rail line to prevent the next one. While deploying technology, we need serious engagement with host communities along rail infrastructure installation as part of our intelligence gathering system for a more secured corridor.

“In conclusion, we must adopt a holistic general system where safety and security are approached as the minimum standard of operation of the rail transportation sector just as we have done with the air transportation sector,” Opeifa added.

A former Director of Department of State Services (DSS), Dennis Amachree, had in the aftermath of the Kaduna train attack urged the
NRC to buckle up, saying they should have understood that half measures would not take the problem away.

“The company needs to put an enduring security system in place. Also, they have to look at their schedule. There is need to avoid night journeys, especially at this time when insecurity reigns.

“The government should heavily invest in technology. There are aerial surveillance systems with predator drones that can keep the railways and passengers safe. We are still reacting to these attacks rather than being proactive.

“Government needs to take the initiative by putting all counter-measures in place before going for the terrorists. Enough should be enough at this time,” he charged.

Meanwhile, the Edo State government yesterday commiserated with the family of DSP Michael Adams who lost his life during the rescue operation of some of the victims of the Igueben kidnap incident.
Briefing newsmen in the state on the latest development on the Igueben kidnap incident, the Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, said the Deputy Governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu, some top government officials and security officers paid a condolence visit to the family of the late Adams and expressed sadness over the incident.

Shaibu, who led the visit to condole with the family, said: “All the heads of security agencies are here. We are grieving. He left a family behind and we have to come and commiserate with them and also join them in this dark moment. The loss is not for the family alone but for all of us because when we lose gallant men like this, then it’s a major problem for us because we need a lot of these gallant officers alive to tackle insecurity.”

The deputy governor added: “It’s very unfortunate that we lost him but what is key is that he was a gallant officer that went on a successful mission. Fortunately, the mission was successful and they were able to rescue the victims alive.

“Spending over five days in the bush and rescuing victims alive is not something that is common. Such an officer obviously deserves a posthumous medal.”

The Edo State Commissioner of Police, CP Mohammed Adamu Dankwara, said Adams did not die in a shoot-out as had been rumoured.

“They went for an operation and along the line he felt that he was not feeling too well after the rescue of the magistrate and other victims. He was not shot,” he said.

Responding on behalf of the family, the elder brother of the deceased, Ebi Naingba expressed appreciation to the state government and other security chiefs and pleaded on behalf of the family that the state steps in for the upkeep and education of the children left behind by the late Adams.

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