Nigeria: Government ignored warnings that put 400 lives at risk in Kaduna train attack

By Akin Irede
Posted on Wednesday, 30 March 2022 14:57

Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Faruk Yahaya, leading other security personnel, during their visit to the scene of the train attack on the Abuja-Kaduna Railway at Rijana Kagarko LGA, in Kaduna, 29 March. (Photo: NAN, rights reserved)

Boko Haram fighters displaced by bombardment of their Sambisa Forest enclave, have been drifting towards Kaduna State, site of Monday's train attack. The Africa Report has now learnt that the tragedy could have been averted had the Nigerian government not ignored several warnings, including a security report.

The nearly 10 million residents of Kaduna State are trapped. Commuters fear roads crawling with bandits and kidnappers. A recent attack on the airport a few days ago killed on airport official. Commercial airlines like the largest operator, Air Peace, and Azman have suspended flights to and from Kaduna.

The safest mode of transportation was rail but operations have also now been shut down following the attack on a passenger train conveying not less than 400 passengers and train workers from Abuja to Kaduna on Monday 28 March forcing the railway corporation to suspend all operations in Kaduna.

At least eight persons were killed while over 28 are currently hospitalised and several others abducted by young terrorists. Among the dead: a young female medical doctor, two leaders of the organised labour and government officials while several others remain unaccounted for.

Kaduna, the most ethnically and religiously diverse state in the country, has been under the indirect rule of bandits who last year alone murdered 1, 192 people and abducted 3, 348 mostly schoolchildren, forcing the state government to impose a curfew in several communities and shutdown telecommunications base stations for weeks on end. Ironically, the state has the largest number of military institutions and formations in the country

Carnage foretold

Although the northeast states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa were the epicentre of activities of Boko Haram for about a decade, things began to change a few years ago following a division in the camp of the Boko Haram terrorist network. The Nigerian government was able to exploit this situation by offering amnesty to those who laid down their arms while some sophisticated weapons including the Super Tucano aircraft procured from the United States government helped to flush out Boko Haram and its breakaway faction, the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP).

With the constant bombardment of the terrorists’ enclaves – especially Sambisa forest – many of them began to flee westwards. A leaked security memo dated 9 September 2021 stated that Boko Haram terrorists were fleeing from Sambisa forest to Rijana, a railway community in the Chikun local government area of Kaduna State.

In the memo marked NSCDC/NHQ/INT&INVST/323/2021 and signed by the Acting Deputy Commandant-General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Intelligence and Investigation, B.O Bassey, NSCDC officers were asked to be on the alert.

The NSCDC is a paramilitary organisation saddled with the responsibility of protecting critical government infrastructure like oil pipelines, railways and government buildings.

It has been uncovered, plans by senior Boko Haram fighter, Ibrahim (FNU) alongside his foot soldiers relocating from Sambisa Forest in Borno State to Rijana Forest in Chikun local government area of Kaduna State with a view to joining their counterpart under the leadership of one Adamu Yunusu (aka Saddiqu).

According to the document entitled Re: Update on Relocation of Boko Haram Terrorist (BHTs) to Rijana General Area in Kaduna State, the terrorists are planning to team up with one Adamu Yunusu aka Saddiqu and his supporters, the NSCDC was warned of the presence of daredevil terrorists.

The memo read in part: “Sequel to a memo dated September 2, 2021 received from the Ministry of Interior on the above subject matter, upon an intelligence report from the Office of the Director-General, Department of State Services, National Headquarters, Abuja, dated August 20, 2021 with reference no S.314/31/B/2915.

“It has been uncovered, plans by senior Boko Haram fighter, Ibrahim (FNU) alongside his foot soldiers relocating from Sambisa Forest in Borno State to Rijana Forest in Chikun local government area of Kaduna State with a view to joining their counterpart under the leadership of one Adamu Yunusu (aka Saddiqu). In light of the above, you are hereby directed to step up surveillance and intelligence gathering on the aforementioned areas and environs.”

First train attack

Barely five weeks after the warning, there was a terrorist attack around the Rijana train station located in the same community where the terrorists were reported to have fled to. An improvised explosive device had been strategically placed on the rail but there were no casualties as the impact wasn’t strong enough. Operations were simply halted for a few hours while the track was repaired.

Reacting to the October attack at the time, the NSCDC spokesman, Olusola Odumosu, said the agency needed more men and better technology to forestall a recurrence.

Odumosu stated: “Even if you lined up the entire NSCDC personnel, it would still not be enough to protect the tracks. It is not only railways that are critical, we also have pipelines, power lines, communication lines and others that we are protecting.”

“The task is enormous and that is why we are clamouring for more personnel so that we can do our job more effectively. Apart from that, we are employing technology so that where we cannot provide physical security, we can deploy drones but you know it doesn’t come cheap. We deploy technology for most critical infrastructure but we cannot boast enough technological capacity, so we still need more,” he added.”

Threats to Rijana Station

In addition, a memo from the Office of the National Security dated May 16, 2019 with reference number NSA/INT/335/S and signed by the Director of Internal Security, Ahmed Abba, stated that there were constant threats around Rijana Station and there was a need to increase the number of policemen in that area.

The document obtained by The Africa Report read in part, “It is pertinent to note that the persistent threat by hoodlums to attack the rail system especially around Rijana is still potent. Hence, criminal elements could waylay unsuspecting passengers especially top government functionaries and other VIPs who have obviously resorted to patronage of the train services in the wake of the recent upsurge in the incidence of kidnapping and armed banditry along the Abuja-Kaduna highway.

“In view therefore, the NSA directs that the Ministry (of Transportation) should, as a matter of urgent security concerns, review security arrangements and upgrade facilities, especially at the train stations.”

The essence of the security system is to enable us to know if there is an impact on the censor. We will try to get the police involved before we install the security system.

The minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who inspected the damage done to the railway, specifically stated that there was an urgent need to procure the needed technology like censors and drones to prevent a second attack. He said he had presented a memo before the federal cabinet but it was turned down. He promised to present it again.

“What this (attack) has done to us will speed up the procurement of the digital security system that we are trying to put in place. We took it to the cabinet two weeks ago, and it was returned. We will take it again to ensure we get approval so we can install it.

“The essence of the security system is to enable us to know if there is an impact on the censor. We will try to get the police involved before we install the security system,” he said.

Terrorists strike again

But the Nigerian government did nothing to protect the railway despite increasing terrorist attacks in Kaduna. The Africa Report learnt that the only form of protection was the deployment of a few policemen inside the coaches. However, the government failed to procure any technology that could help prevent a terrorist attack. Inevitably, the terrorists succeeded in this fresh attack.

On many occasions, terrorists tried to use cattle to force the trains to stop but the cows were crushed. The use of explosive devices started last year. This time around people were kidnapped and many were killed and injured. I believe if we had learnt from the past, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this position.

Former Kaduna State Senator, Shehu Sani, who travelled frequently on the affected train, said the terrorists continued to devise means to stop the train and sometimes led cows to the tracks with the aim of forcing the train to a halt, but the cows were usually crushed. He said the government continued to ignore the warnings and failed to procure sensors along the tracks.

“I was not surprised that the train was attacked in the very sense that in October last year, at the same spot, the same time, and the same train was attacked by the same terrorists who used the improvised explosive device and since that time, we need to ask ourselves what did differently to forestall this fresh attack? Nothing was done,” said Sani who is a former terrorist negotiator.

“On many occasions, terrorists tried to use cattle to force the trains to stop but the cows were crushed. The use of explosive devices started last year. This time around people were kidnapped and many were killed and injured. I believe if we had learnt from the past, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this position,” he added.

Reacting to the second attack, Amaechi sat his warnings fell on deaf ears as his requests for railway technology were hampered by bureaucratic red tape.

The transport minister says the equipment would cost about N3bn ($7.2m).

“We knew what the problem would be. We knew we needed to have digital security equipment. We applied for it because if we had the equipment, you would see nobody on that track. And I warned that lives will be lost. Now, lives are lost.”

“Eight persons dead, 25 persons in the hospital… We don’t know how many people have been kidnapped. And the cost of that equipment is just N3bn… We’ve lost tracks; we’ve lost locomotives and coaches. We’ve lost human beings.” Amaechi says.

The Abuja-Kaduna route, which is the most lucrative in the country, came at a cost of $500m through a Chinese loan out of which $150m had already been repaid but these attacks leading to the halting of operations would not only frustrate Nigeria’s inability to repay the loan but could also affect future deals, say government sources.

Buhari approves procurement

President Muhammadu Buhari finally gave the approval for the procurement of the surveillance equipment and drones after the rail attack, a move the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is now describing as “medicine after death” while he has also given the military marching orders to flush out terrorists from Kaduna and rescue the victims.

It remains to be seen how the Nigerian military will be able to flush out the terrorists as it has yet to deploy its Super Tucano aircraft in the troubled northwest despite legally declaring bandits as terrorists in line with Nigerian law.

“The continued silence and obvious helplessness of the Buhari Presidency on these deadly attacks on our nation’s key transportation sectors raises apprehensions of possible complicity at the very top level of the APC regime,” says PDP Spokesman, Debo Ologunagba.

For human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, terror attacks such as these will continue until the government stops protecting their sponsors and prosecutes them accordingly.

The President’s Spokesman, Garba Shehu, as well as the army Spokesman, Brigadier General Nwachukwu Onyema, did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

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