By Dakuku Peterside
Each passing day, terrorists and bandits are getting bolder and more strategic in their attacks in Nigeria. Nigerians are so used to the terror that it takes a terrorist’s act of great intensity and maximum impact to get our attention. Recent events mark a watershed in terrorists’ activities in Nigeria. Terrorists invaded Kaduna International Airport and killed a security guard attached to the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA; an attack by scores of armed terrorists, who invaded an Abuja community, Gurara, bordering Niger State and the FCT; and a terror attack on Abuja- Kaduna train, which left at least eight passengers dead, 41 injured and scores kidnapped.
These few weeks have witnessed these gruesome attacks that have deflowered our collective sense of security and peace. Attacking our critical transport infrastructure will affect our economy and people’s movement and alter our way of life if we do not stem the tide now.
Persistent attacks on trains and rail infrastructure are only symptomatic of a nation in distress. These attacks have been increasing in frequency and intensity, and citizens’ lives and rail assets are in peril. Less than six months apart, we witnessed two attacks on trains and rail infrastructure. Last October, bandits operating on Kaduna- Abuja axis destroyed a portion of the rail track with explosives. Last Monday’s attack on a train by suspected bandits or terrorists left a sour taste in our mouths.
We can no longer afford to play the ostrich; instead, it is time we admit the urgent need for sober reflection and step up our determination as a people to confront terrorism in all its ramifications. It is self-evident that the Kaduna- Abuja train bombing has brought a few issues to the fore. These issues need urgent attention by all stakeholders to make a meaningful difference in the fight against bandits and terrorists targeting our gateways and transport systems.
Although new to Nigeria, terrorists have always targeted trains to inflict panic on the people. Madrid, London, and Mumbai are big cities that have witnessed ugly incidents of train attacks with devastating impacts. They have risen above those incidents and created a security system that has stopped further attacks in their cities. What can we learn from them?
The first issue we must acknowledge is that trains and airlines are new targets for bandits and terrorists. Interestingly, they are focussing on Kaduna state for their operations. Kaduna is the microcosm of Nigeria. It is a melting pot for Nigeria’s ethnic and religious diversity and has historical significance. Its nearness and link with Abuja give it access to the seat of power in Nigeria. Little wonder, in recent times, Kaduna – Abuja express road is the epicenter of terrorist and bandits’ activities in Nigeria. The train travel was succour to many residents and visitors to Kaduna as it offers the safest route to enter and leave Kaduna.
This terrorist attack on the train has tainted the only safe route to Kaduna for many people. Many people wonder what next to travel with if terrorists, bandits, and kidnappers attack the roads, trains, and airports. This is the strategic nature of these attacks to inflict much panic and alter people’s lives, even if momentarily.
Like what people living in the big cities of London, Madrid, and Mumbai, who were affected by the train bombing, did, Nigerians should not allow terrorist to achieve their aim of disrupting our way of life. We should not be deterred from using trains and other forms of transportation to send a clear message to terrorists that we are united in defiance of their reign of terror. This is only possible when the government proactively puts in place, systems, structures, and processes that will militate against terrorists’ activities in the trains.
The second issue is the need for a general concern for public safety. It behooves us to work collectively and collaboratively to ensure public safety. Security is not just the job of security officers; everyone should be involved. I do not believe in the conspiracy theory making rounds. It claims that security has become big business, and security personnel and their cronies are feeding fat on the proceeds of money meant for our collective safety.
However, I believe that our security systems have not done enough work in convincing and mobilising all of us to be security savvy and engage in security surveillance and intelligence. People must be asked to report anything they feel is a security concern to the appropriate authorities. The slogan should be “if you suspect it, report it”. This intelligence-gathering helps the security officers to prevent such dastardly attacks. These terrorists are not spirits; they are humans and engage in various activities within communities. If everyone is vigilant and ready to play a role in the security ecosystem of our trains and railways, we will succeed in checkmating these ugly terror incidents on our rails.
The third issue evident in this attack is the importance of data. When the incident happened, it was difficult to ascertain the actual number of passengers that boarded the train. Some media reported that about 970 people were on board the train when the incident happened. However, I must note that the train capacity was far less than that and the number of tickets sold was also less than the number of people on the train. The implication is that the data or personal information of most people on the train was not captured. It becomes challenging to know precisely how many people were rescued, kidnapped, or killed in this ugly incident. There was insufficient data to plan for an adequate rescue mission, and the challenge of data is real in our country.
The fourth issue is our emergency response. In cases of emergency, time is of great essence, and it means life and death. We need to evaluate how long it took security officers to get to the scene of the incident. What about the medical emergency regime, is it fit for purpose? How many lives were saved because of the medical emergency response process in place? This is a germane issue that requires greater attention now. The proactiveness of an emergency regime ensures a more significant percentage of survival and lesser serious health complications for the victims.
The fifth issue is the government’s overall proactiveness to the train. Was the government response swift and adequate? The Minister of Transportation and the Governor of Kaduna state quickly went to the scene of the incident and condoled with the victims of this dastardly act. The minister made some remarks about how all Nigerians must work together to improve the security situation in the country. It also came to light that the minister of transportation initiated preemptive action against this anticipated terrorist action by taking a proposal to the federal executive council. The finer points and details of cabinet debate do not concern a public preoccupied with basic safety and security. It was unfortunate that this issue did not get the priority attention it deserved at the cabinet-level.
The last issue is the porous borders, especially in Northern Nigeria. Many victims claim that the terrorists were not Nigerians but foreigners. They must have crossed into Nigeria through the various porous borders in many parts of the North. It does not help too that we have too many
illegal immigrants who may have access to light weapons and explosives that are all over the place in these areas due to the security crisis there. It is time Nigeria took it seriously to enforce substantial border restrictions and monitor extensively the illegal immigration crisis the country is facing. It should also work hard to stop the proliferation of weapons all over the country.
A critical look at the issues above reveals that we need to do a lot to curb this menace of terrorism, especially by protecting critical transport infrastructures like trains, railways, and airports. It is crucial to have well-qualified and better equipped armed guards on every railway couch. Based on the incident, the few policemen in some of the coaches gallantly engaged the terrorists in a gun battle and at least repelled them for a while before help arrived. Imagine what would have happened if they were not there at all.
The use of technology to drive security in the trains and railway stations is essential. Last Wednesday, Nigeria’s transport minister, Chibuike Amaechi, said that the train services would resume “with aerial security from the Airforce” when the damaged rail track is fixed. This promise will help reassure passengers of adequate protection on the train. The collaboration with the Airforce is essential because repelling such terror incidents require multi-agency and multi-sectoral engagement at all levels to ensure the safety of passengers. I am in no doubt that if this had been in place before now, this attack would not have been successful.
I will add that there is a need for electronic surveillance of the entire route to avoid terrorists hiding in some areas to perpetrate their evil acts without detection. This surveillance system will help detect the terrorists far earlier before they attack. It will also help the security team to respond in time and save lives. Globally, security is dependent on actionable intelligence driven by technology.
Everything considered Freedom of movement is a constitutional right. The state must guarantee Freedom of movement, and it is a serious responsibility. Failure to protect lives and property by the state means that it has failed in its duty in the social contract with its people. I will assume this will be the last attack on trains because all must work to ensure it never happens again. If it happens once or twice, as it did this time around, it can be discounted, but it is not discountable when it happens a third time. People in authority must bear the responsibility and be accountable for all preventable terror incidents to the government and people of Nigeria.