The Nigeria Railway Corporation has suspended the Lagos-Kano and Ajaokuta train services due to fear of terrorist attacks.
Multiple sources in the Ministry of Transportation and the NRC confided in one of our correspondents that the train services would not resume until the security along the Lagos-Kano route and the Ajaokuta train station was guaranteed.
It was also learnt that the NRC suspended services at the Ajaokuta station along Warri-Itakpe route because of the attack on some passengers by gunmen on Monday.
It was gathered that the Lagos-Kano train services were suspended because of the high level of insecurity in Niger and Kaduna states, which are the routes of the train heading to Kano from Lagos.
The NRC Managing Director, Fidet Okhiria, confirmed the suspension of the train services at the Ajaokuta station and the Lagos-Kano route to The PUNCH on Tuesday.
Speaking on the services along the Warri-Itakpe route, he stated, “We have not stopped (services), rather what we said was that we are not going to be stopping at the Ajaokuta station.
“This is because yesterday (Monday), while passengers were leaving the station with their private cars and buses, they had people shooting at them. So we said we will not stop there again for passengers.
“The train is still running, but for now we will not be stopping at Ajaokuta because they have some concerns there. We heard that they removed their traditional ruler in that location and the local government chairman there.”
According to him, apart from the Abuja-Kaduna route, the corporation had also suspended services on the Lagos-Kano route because of security concerns.
Asked if there was any other train service that was not operating aside from the Abuja-Kaduna service, the NRC boss said, “No, apart from the Lagos to Kano (train service) because the Kaduna route is affected by the activities of bandits; and it (Lagos-Kano route) was stopped because we have to pass through Minna and Kaduna when heading to Kano. So we have to stop it for now.”
The Federal Government had on August 13, 2021, resumed the operations of the Lagos-Kano train service.
The Regional District Manager, Northern District of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, Mr. Ismail Adebiyi, disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria on August 8.
In March, this year, the corporation denied reports that it had suspended the Lagos-Kano train service after a derailment in Jebba, Kwara State in February.
Okhiria, however, stated that the Federal Government had improved the security on the trains, adding that more men from the police and civil defence were being deployed to protect the facilities.
“We have asked them to intensify security by giving us more policemen and civil defence officers,” he stated.
According to him, the Lagos-Ibadan train service was still running, adding that other services aside from the Abuja-Kaduna and Lagos-Kano services were also operating.
After the bombing of the Abuja-Kaduna train, the government had adopted some measures to boost security on the train services.
In April, the NRC announced that beginning from May this year, it would start linking the profiles of its train passengers with their National Identification Numbers.
Also in April, the government directed the corporation to handover tickets and passengers’ identification to Secure ID, the company in charge of the e-ticketing platform for Abuja-Kaduna rail service.
NRC allays fears
Okhiria assured that efforts were still ongoing to ensure that the trains were adequately secured, as he noted that the NRC was collaborating with the security agencies on this.
Also speaking on the shooting at the Ajaokuta train station, the Commissioner of Police, Railway Command, Yetunde Alonge explained that the incident happened after the passengers had left the vicinity of the station.
On what was being done to make train travel safer, she said, ‘’The command is collaborating with the host command so that they can give us support in places too remote by extending their patrol to enable us to meet at a point to synergise and ensure the security of those places are intact.
“Also, there have been a series of meetings with the police, the NRC and the Minister of Transportation. This will involve all the security agencies within the country so that by the time we come up with a communique, the train services will resume.
“It is not only the police that are involved, but definitely, the police are putting everything in top gear. We have conventional police deployed in that corridor.’’
Some train passengers on Tuesday criticized the lax security at the Ajaokuta train station, saying the government should deploy more operatives in the area.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a passenger said, ‘’It is true that the security situation in and around Ajaokuta is terrible. A security officer told me that bandits opened fire on two vehicles. The vehicles were destroyed and some passengers suffered bullet wounds. The Station Superintendent of Ajaokuta was involved in the incident.
“The NRC has concessioned the park at Ajaokuta and Itakpe to a private company. The company should take bold measures to provide security or a sense of security to train users. The temporary suspension of activities at Ajaokuta is a welcome development. What happened at Ajaokuta also happened at Agbor. Security personnel now escort passenger vehicles from Agbor train station to the main town.”
Another passenger, who spoke to one of our correspondents, on Tuesday confirmed that he received the NRC’s message through a WhatsApp platform.
According to the passenger, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the message reads, “Reports from the Ajaokuta axis are sketchy concerning the activities of bandits, kidnappers and herdsmen around the motorable areas. Please endeavour to always use the Itakpe axis of the train station for now. Thanks.”
Another passenger, who confided in one of our correspondents, said, “Report reaching me today (Monday) is that bandits killed six vigilantes today at Ajaokuta. Please the NRC should put a temporary ban on Ajaokuta train station immediately. Safety should be our key word.”
A concerned passenger and eyewitness, who does not want to be mentioned, said, “Good evening Sir. It is true that the security situation in and around Ajaokuta is terrible.”
When contacted, a staff member of the NRC in Itakpe station refused to give details of what happened but confirmed that there were security breaches at the Ajaokuta station.
He said, “Oga, you’re in this country. You know how terrorists operate. We don’t want to feed our passengers with too much information that we don’t know about and doesn’t concern us.
“Our train moves but we don’t stop at Ajaokuta for now, that’s the only thing you can hear from me. The train moves from Itakpe now; from Itakpe, we don’t have issues. But we don’t stop at Ajaokuta till further notice. When the coast is clear for us to stop there, we will let people know.”
When contacted, the Coordinator of Warri-Itakpe Train Service, Abdulganiyu Sanni, said that train activities in Ajaokuta station would resume if the local government could provide security and ensure security for passengers.
“What we understood is that the vehicles that were conveying passengers to their various places, one of the vehicles was ambushed and terrorists shot at the vehicle and the passengers came down from the vehicle and ran into the bush. I am not aware that anyone was taken or died. The vehicle conveying them has only six or five persons.
“One of the passengers called and said that everyone escaped. What we as railway can do is to protect our passengers. We have advised them to use the adjacent stations on Itogbe or Itakpe because we cannot provide security.”
The Kogi State Police Commissioner, Edward Egbuk, told The PUNCH that “There was security meeting today at Government House today. I cannot discuss our strategies on tackling security challenges in the state but robust intelligence led operations will commence soon please.”
Addressing journalists at the Idu train station in Abuja on Tuesday, the new Minister of Transportation, Mu’azu Sambo, made it clear that the Abuja-Kaduna train service would not resume operations until those kidnapped from the train are reunited with their families.
He stated that the government was sensitive to the plights of the families of those abducted during the incident.
When asked when the train service would resume, he said, “It is very important to get those Nigerians that have been kidnapped reunited with their families, otherwise, it will appear the government is not sensitive.
“Whereas, the government is not only sensitive but is doing everything it can to make sure that those who have been affected by this abduction are reunited with their families. I think it is an important step to do, first and foremost.
“Secondly, you must put in place adequate security and infrastructural measures to protect and prevent all forms of threats that are possible and leave what you cannot do to God. But everything humanly possible must be put in place to ensure that the recurrence of this act is automatically eliminated forever.”
Sambo added, “Technology can make that possible and we are trying to deploy the best technology available anywhere in the world that has served very well in other jurisdictions which we believe can also serve us very well in Nigeria.”
The minister said the government was in the process of procuring sensors, adding that it would ensure that it puts in place every infrastructure that would safeguard lives and properties.
Sambo denied claims that the government had not visited the families of NRC employees kidnapped during the March incident.
In a related development, five abducted passengers of the Abuja-Kaduna train have been released, including a victim who was accidentally shot while in captivity, Mukhtar Shuaibu.
Tukur Mamu, the Publisher of Kaduna-based Desert Herald and Media Consultant to controversial Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, who withdrew as one of the negotiators, confirmed the release of the five hostages on Tuesday.
The victims include a medical doctor from Usman Dan Fodio University Teaching Hospital, Prof. Mustapha Imam, Akibu Lawal, Abubakar Rufai, Mukthar Shuaibu and Sidi Sharif.