Thursday, 8th June 2023

Keeping Abuja-Kaduna rail line, others safe, secure

By Editorial Board
15 December 2022   |   3:22 am
The catastrophic terrorist attack of March 28, 2022 will register in the mind of many as the Abuja-Kaduna Rail services rev to life again, albeit at very low ebb. While lives lost are irreparable, trauma of liberated abductees are far from healing. Ideally, they should form the basis of having in place strategic measures to…

The catastrophic terrorist attack of March 28, 2022 will register in the mind of many as the Abuja-Kaduna Rail services rev to life again, albeit at very low ebb. While lives lost are irreparable, trauma of liberated abductees are far from healing. Ideally, they should form the basis of having in place strategic measures to avert a recurrence on road and rail tracks nationwide.

In modern societies, an incident is just as significant as lessons learnt from the episode and remedial policies or measures deployed to avert a repeat. It is regrettable that dare-devil terrorists derailed the moving train in Katari, Kaduna State, killing scores and abducting 68 passengers in the attack that lasted hours. Equally unfortunate were months of government inertia that left the abductees languishing in captivity and between life and death. Both did not suggest that the authorities have learnt valuable lessons from past incidents. Rather, Nigerians could see a government that is too laid back to rally forces against terrorists and quickly restore confidence in its anti-terrorism campaign.
Tactically and economic-wise, it is important to restore terrorists’ disrupted services as soon as possible – not to be perceived as succumbing to enemies’ aggression and as well mend floundering image of the government. That the Abuja-Kaduna Rail line has been shut for eight months following the dastardly attack has been psychologically damaging. It conveyed a government not hands-on in fighting insurgency and a country not winning the war despite official propaganda. Moreover, the bombed infrastructure is one of the most strategic in mass transportation in the country. With roads unsafe and airfare at cut-throat prices, the rail line has been the major mode of connecting Abuja and the northern part of the country. The rail service, being one of the products of several loan deals between Nigeria and China, is estimated to have lost between N113 million and N6.6 billion during the downtime, with incalculable personal losses to persons and businesses that depend on the train corridor.

The strategic or economic importance of resumed services is, however, not a substitute for safe and secured operations. For emphasis, those factors must be complementary. Earlier efforts by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) to restart operation in May, was for good measures rebuffed by protesting families of victims that were still in captivity. Thankfully, victims have all been released in October. However, the security measure to prevent a recurrence is still as fundamental both to the travelling public and officials of the NRC. The Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, had assured that the rail-line would only resume after all security equipment to guarantee safety had been installed. Already, the ticketing modalities have changed; surveillance cameras deployed, coupled with the heavy presence of policemen in stations along the path.      
Clearly, the government has deployed stop-gap measures that will work in the interim but has no guarantee of long-term results. The most formidable security assurance, not only for Abuja-Kaduna Rail Services but nationwide, is a multipronged approach to improve the general security outlook. Indeed, threats of attacks are not peculiar to rail lines, but also on highways and residential communities. It is, therefore, expected of a more determined authority to launch coordinated attacks against insurgency and end insecurity forthwith. 

While a successful clean sweep of terrorists’ hideouts will not happen overnight, the next strategic intervention is to engage residents in villages and communities on security intelligence sharing that will enable well-equipped security agencies to strike the insurgents first and ward off threats generally. Since rail transport started getting the government’s attention about a decade ago, there have been cases of rail vandals that are either removing accessories or damaging the tracks to derail oncoming passenger trains! Between September and October 2022, no fewer than 30 suspected vandals were arrested. In Katsina where 14 were arrested, the vandals exchanged fire with security agencies. Four of them were caught in Katsina with 100 railway iron sleepers and 60 cut-to-size triangular iron pieces belonging to the NRC. In such circumstances, the Tompolo ad-hoc strategy in securing pipelines in the Niger Delta is not out of place to effectively secure road and rail-lines in the short-run. Villages along the paths of critical infrastructures should be motivated to mobilise their people to monitor happenings around such assets and promptly alert the security agencies. Similarly, it is not in the best interest of all that there are allegations of security agencies conniving with bandits and terrorists to perpetrate nefarious acts. The grave dangers of insiders’ threats are real and must as well be dealt with.  
Beyond just returning to operations, the government and NRC would have to reinforce assurances on safety and security on that axis. It makes no economic sense to restart operations that potential passengers are too perplexed to board due to safety concerns. The NRC management must gain a major foothold on personnel in its fold and services rendered. The more automated the services become the better for efficiency and tackling saboteurs. While all travellers must be scrutinised, it must not be chaotic to frustrate patronage.             
It is most unfortunate that 21st Century Nigeria has sunk into this quagmire where common criminals are holding innocent citizens and critical state infrastructures to ransom. The government must accept responsibility for this situation, do everything to ensure safe travels on rail and roads, and ensure no rehash of the dastardly March 28 terror attack. Insofar the elected officeholders value their tenancy and are not ready to let go, they owe Nigerians that constitutional duty of security. It is a duty expected of a leadership that has a modicum of honour and allegiance to the people. No excuses, please!

In this article