EDITORIAL | Wednesday 16 November 2022
LAST week, the Federal Government indicated that train services on the Abuja-Kaduna rail line will resume this month. The Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, who made this declaration while giving his ministry’s scorecard in Abuja, claimed that adequate security had been put in place to ensure the safety of passengers. The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) had suspended operations along the route after terrorists attacked a moving passenger train in Kaduna on March 28, 2022, killing eight passengers and abducting scores of others. At the time, the government had indicated its intention to keep the Abuja-Kaduna rail lines shut until the victims were rescued. The victims were later released in batches, the last set being released after the arrest of the hostage negotiator, Tukur Mamu, by the Department of State Services (DSS) on terror-related charges. According to the Managing Director of the NRC, Mr. Fidet Okhiria, the corporation lost the sum of N531 million to the inactivity on the route between March and August this year.
It is gratifying that nearly eight months after the kidnapping incident that rocked the Abuja-Kaduna route, rail services are set to resume on the route. In resuming activities on the route, apparently for reasons that border on revenue, the government says that adequate preparations are in place to safeguard lives. However, given that it made a similar promise when operations began on the route initially, Nigerians may be forgiven for taking the declaration with a pinch of salt. Ordinarily, the plan to resume the Abuja-Kaduna train services after the agonies of the kidnapping saga that affected so many lives and set the country on edge gives the impression that the government will not succumb to the activities of kidnappers or allow them to have the final say on the use of rail transport. But it has to be remembered that the kidnappers kept their victims for more than eight months with the government not being in any position to do anything worthwhile about the horrific incident. Where then is the assurance that the government is able now to guarantee safety and security on the services and prevent a recurrence of the kidnapping?
To be sure, the continuing kidnapping of citizens on major roads and highways does not give any indication that the government has put concrete arrangements in place to foreclose citizens’ exposure to danger. And that is really disturbing. It is a fact that since its inception in 2015, the current administration has treated the country to a litany of failed promises, particularly in the area of security. It has purveyed falsehood and peddled false hopes while felons made life a nightmare for millions of people. Outlaws scoffing at the powers of the Nigerian State have tormented law-abiding citizens to no end. Kidnapping on the highways and even at homesteads is routine. Ransoms are demanded and collected in millions of naira, often without any guarantee of the victims’ release. As a matter of fact, there have been reports of terrorists asking the families of victims already murdered after gruesome torture in their (terrorists’) custody to pay hefty ransoms if they hope to collect their (the victims’) bodies for burial. At no time in Nigeria’s democratic history has Nigerians had to contend with such horrendous and heart-wrenching cruelty by outlaws without any response by the state security apparatus. Thus, we can only hope that the government means to be taken seriously this time.
Apparently, the government cannot afford to endanger the lives of travellers plying the Abuja-Kaduna train route or indeed any other route again. Not quite long ago, there was an attack similar to the Abuja-Kaduna incident on the Lagos-Ibadan route. Some criminals had tampered with the rails, ostensibly to launch attacks. Besides, during the last kidnapping incident, there was controversy over proper documentation of travellers. We hope that as train services resume, such lapses would have been addressed. The NRC must clean up its act. The government and the NRC must ensure that Nigerians are not unwittingly made easy targets of kidnappers again just because they are patronising government train services.
Certainly must come as a relief to commuters for whom the Abuja-Kaduna train service had become like a lifeline prior to the AK9 incident in March.
Two things stand out in this report.
The reported losses look understated and goes to show that the NRC does not understand its business. N531m is perhaps just the losses from the fare box but it’s fixed and personel costs have been running. These easily add a probable N1.5bn to the bottom line. In any case, pre covid trends were suggestive of revenues of about N300m per month which translates into an opportunity cost of about N2.4bn and overall, about N4bn in losses to date.
Then there is the absence of definitive information on the protective systems deployed. This is key in building confidence. While security issues may require some discretion, the greatest ally to have are the public. Government operating in a silo will not give confidence that much has changed. People will no doubt use the facility due to a lack of better choices but the government owes them much more. Trains being escorted by gunships look scary and may convey a sense of seige. Infrastructure needs to have shared ownership to be protected. Security is everyone’s business we keep hearing afterall. The FG must engage with the communities along the right of way so that they can take ownership of what is essentially a public asset. That way they can become another line of defence rather than be complicit with the bandits.