On October 20, 2021, Nigeria witnessed the most serious and successful attack by bandits/terrorists on its railway system. The Abuja-Kaduna rail line was bombed with a portion of the track blown off and damage to a train windshield, causing a stoppage of train services for two days.
Account of the incident, especially from the passengers, said that the bandits planted a bomb that damaged the rail track and shattered the windshield of the train. They also reportedly opened fire, targeting the driver and the train tank. But the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), countered the report, saying that the bomb attack only damaged the rail tracks, but that there were no gunshots.
According to the Managing Director of NRC, Engr. Fidet Okhiria, “There was nothing like that; it was only an explosive that went up on the track.” He blamed “hoodlums” for the attack, calling it an act of vandalism.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, also made light of the incident. While announcing the repair of the damaged rail track, he said, “What is significant is that the repair was done by our Nigerian engineers and completed in record time.” His point of interest appeared to be the repair of the rail track by “Nigerian engineers” and the restoration of train services.
Even though the prompt repair of the rail track the same day is commendable, it should not be seen as a feat, because the damaged portion is something a trained and competent welder can repair in few hours. The prompt repair of the track and restoration of train services after two days cannot, therefore, be used to shroud the more important issue, bordering on the implications of the attack and the consequences of not forestalling future attacks.
As a matter of fact, the Abuja-Kaduna railway attack has brought to the fore the insecurity of the nation’s railway system. It has proved that non-state actors wielding guns and destructive weapons can actually destroy the nation’s railway system. Specifically, the attack has shattered every sense of security users of the Abuja-Kaduna train service had as a way of escaping from the bandits and kidnappers who had taken over Abuja-Kaduna highway and seem to have defied all security strategies. It is has also destroyed every hope some Nigerians are beginning to have that the days of the Islamic States of West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Ansaru terror groups are numbered.
What makes the Abuja-Kaduna railway attack more grievous is that, like other serious terrorist/bandits attacks and security breaches in the country in the last few years, there was an intelligence report that shows that government and relevant authorities had prior knowledge of the attack. The Intelligence report said the attack was carried out by Boko Haram and bandits in a joint operation that confirmed their collaboration in the North-West. Eons, an Intelligence organization, reported sighting the classified messages between a notorious bandit, Baffa, and his ally, Bala. It said on October 19, 2021, a document titled “PLANNED ATTACK ON TRAIN AROUND RIJANA, KADUNA STATE” was sent to relevant government agencies. Unfortunately, in spite of this intelligence report, the bandits/terrorists successfully carried out the attack.
Moreover, there were previous reports of attempts by bandits to violate security on Abuja-Kaduna train service. Security operatives have also revealed that they had intercepted and neutralized terrorists attempting to blow up bridges and rail tracks around the Kaduna axis of the rail line, in order to kill the people on the train.
In addition, earlier this month, Niger State Governor, Sani Bello, raised the alarm about infiltration into many communities in the state by Boko Haram, whose stock in trade includes bomb attacks on government facilities. Unfortunately, despite these intelligence heads-up, security operatives did not take adequate steps to curtail the attacks on the NRC track and train on October 20.
As a matter of necessity, the Federal Government should take the attack on the Abuja-Kaduna very serious. It should not allow a recurrence of the attack on the rail line or any rail line in the country. Everything must be done to checkmate these bandits and terrorists, and not allow them to destroy the railway system, especially when it is remembered that terrorists and extremists all over the world, including the Islamic State of Iraq and (greater) Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), two groups associated with Boko Haram and ISWAP, exhorted their followers around the world to derail trains.
As part of their modus operandi, terrorists usually combine derailment of train with assault attack on passengers. For instance, on August 10, 2001, UNITA rebels in Angola, in a single train derailment and attack, killed 259 people while 412 persons were declared missing. Train derailments and attack on passengers have been witnessed in other countries such as Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Algeria, Mozambique, and India.
Nigerian security agencies and the NRC should, therefore, not treat Abuja-Kaduna rail attack with levity. The Abuja-Kaduna rail project has been the showpiece of this government. A staggering $874 million was spent on it, about $500 million of which was borrowed from China’s Exim Bank.
The Buhari administration has made railway rehabilitation a priority, borrowing profusely to accomplish the task. It should not allow bandits/terrorists to destroy the rail infrastructure it has built and intend to bequeath to posterity. Since it was opened in 2015, the Abuja-Kaduna rail line passenger traffic has been very impressive, and allowing attacks on the rail route would destroy the confidence on the train service, with consequent loss of revenue needed to repay the loan from China. Apart from loss of revenue from patronage, the NRC would be spending much in repairing or replacing damaged tracks and train coaches. All these will definitely make the repayment of loans used to construct these railway lines difficult.
The revamping of the nation’s railway system has rekindled hope that containers, bulk and liquid cargoes being transported from the seaports to far-flung parts of the country by road will some day be moved around the country on train. Already, the movement of cargoes from Apapa Port to the north by rail has resumed, and is expected to gather momentum in no distant time. Attacks on the rail lines will certainly dim this hope
Above all, the sheer number of casualties and toll on lives usually witnessed in successful train derailment and attacks should be something the government should not allow the nation to experience. Everything, therefore, must be done to nip this new face of terrorism in the bud, including declaring bandits terrorists, now that intelligence reports have shown that they collaborate in their trainings and operations.
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