A couple of weeks ago, Mallam Ado had an urgent meeting to attend to in Kaduna, but he was in Abuja at the time. So, he quickly booked a train ticket online so as to meet up with the meeting. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, he missed the train. Nevertheless, he needed to be in Kaduna that day and in due time for the meeting, time was ticking fast.
Despite the various reports of attacks and kidnappings on the Abuja-Kaduna road axis, Mallam Ado decided to brave the odds and commute by road. He had wanted to drive all the way but was advised against it. So, he went to one of the popular parks in Abuja, hoped in a car and joined a few other commuters for the 210-kilometer journey to Kaduna.
As soon as the car he was travelling in got to the major highway, some of the chit-chatty passengers suddenly became silent as an eerie silence took over. From the silence, Mallam Ado could tell that everyone in the car had become tense. This, of course, wasn’t unconnected to the dangers of being attacked, kidnapped, or worse, killed on the now infamous road.
The road which used to be quite busy with vehicles of different shapes and sizes had become almost empty. They didn’t get to see other vehicles for a stretch of miles. Mallam Ado also noticed that when they got to particular spots, the driver increased speed. When he asked why, he was told that such spots are notoriously known for attacks by kidnappers and bandits.
Throughout the journey, Mallam Ado didn’t remember seeing anyone fall asleep as their hearts were literally in their mouths. He was positive that the majority of the people in the vehicle said silent prayers and whenever their vehicle swerved to avoid a pothole, his heart literally sank. It was not until they got closer to Kaduna and began passing densely populated areas that the veil of silence that covered their vehicle was lifted. When they finally got to their destination, they all literally waved their hands to the heavens in thanks-giving.
Thus, the journey was filled with trepidation, apprehension and anxiety. It was mentally exhausting and so when the news of the recent attack on the Kaduna-Abuja train began making the rounds, Mallam Ado couldn’t help but feel that the majority of Nigerians would now be subjected to such experiences. No doubt the train service had helped commuters avoid the anxiety-filled roads and assured of safety. But the train attack has left many thinking otherwise. Also, the attack has further buttressed the audacity and cruelty of these criminals terrorising Nigerians.
It was reported that suspected “bandits” destroyed a portion of the Abuja-Kaduna rail track with explosives, forcing a disruption of train services on the route. According to the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), the explosives damaged the rail track at a spot between Dutse and Rijana, an area that had recorded numerous bandits’ attacks along the Kaduna Abuja highway.
As a result, there was a suspension of rail services by the NRC over the attack along the Kaduna-Abuja route. Perhaps this was the aim of the “bandits” all along. It was estimated that the country will lose about N19-million daily due to the service suspension. At this juncture, one verily concurs with those that have opined that it is better to lose a huge amount of money than to lose human lives. Money lost can be recovered, but a life lost can never be recovered.
However, with the multitudes of commuters opting to travel by rail, adequate security of the rail tracks as well as within the train needs to be provided. Experiences of high-profile terrorist attacks on rail systems in the not-too-distant past in Mumbai, London and Madrid should teach us a lesson and warning that our burgeoning public rail transportation system is a vulnerable target for terrorists or bandits or whichever name one wishes to call them.
Due to the security challenge the nation is facing right now, particularly the Abuja-Kaduna road, on any given day the Abuja-Kaduna train route often has thousands of commuters. Thus, the abundance of passengers, combined with the need for easy access, makes securing railway passengers a daunting task. While absolute security may not be achieved, adequate security measures should be in place that will secure the lives of passengers.
In many climes around the world, rail companies are taking measured precautions to help prevent attacks in an attempt to balance security and accessibility. These include random searches of passengers and baggage, increased presence of security officers and bomb-sniffing dogs, increased video surveillance, removal or hardening of trash cans so they cannot hide bombs, and encouraging passengers to report suspicious activity.
Also, many rail companies have sought to bolster their ability to react to emergencies in order to minimise the impact of an attack. This includes emergency planning, hiring and training emergency personnel, as well as purchasing emergency equipment such as radio. By mitigating the potential impact of a terrorist attack, rail companies could discourage some terrorists from targeting them.
Now, in Nigeria, how many of these security measures have been adopted since rail transportation was reactivated? Also, many people have suggested air transport as the alternative. However, the question remains: how many people can afford flight tickets?
Mallam Ado’s experience so far has been that, when he gets to the rail station, it is business as usual. One buys their ticket and just walks to their coach to board the train. There is minimal form of luggage or body search and there are few security personnel around. Perhaps there are plain clothes security personnel but there are surely no sniffer dogs around that have been trained to detect explosives or even drugs.
Nigeria needs to begin to take a critical look at the security architecture around our rail transportation system and equip the sector with adequate security measures. Adopting technology such as a digital security system that includes functioning CCTV cameras and drone surveillance systems is surely a good way to start. A digital security system would enable authorities to identify and possibly eliminate an attempt on the rail track.
Regular patrols of security personnel along the track could also be adopted. Training and retraining of security personnel on how to detect possible attackers like what is obtainable in airports of Western countries. The use of scanners and random searches of passenger baggage and luggage should also be conducted periodically by security personnel. Intelligence gathering and network is also vital towards securing travelers using rail transport.
No doubt, the Kaduna-Abuja road has become dangerous and a nightmare to motorists and passengers compelling them to look for an alternative safe route. Many travelers have opted to patronize train transport. So, until at least the Kaduna-Abuja road is certified completely safe to commute, the government must do everything in its power to ensure that the rail system of transportation is safe. Otherwise, Nigerians such as myself, yourself and Mallam Ado will consistently be subjected to anxiety from the peril of the train track.