The Insecurity bedevilling North-West Nigeria reached a tumultuous turn on March 28th when bandits in collaboration with a suspected Boko Haram splinter cell; Ansaru in collaboration e Abuja-Kaduna Train. The train had above 500 passengers on board and the attack led to the kidnap of hundreds and the killing of at least 8. This attack was not isolated, the railway itself had been attacked previously in October last year when a portion of the rail track was destroyed with explosives and the Kaduna International Airport just weeks ago.

This recent attack was a repetition in a series to destroy public infrastructure and brutalize citizens. It behoves questions as to why the popular saying “Once bitten twice shy” is lost on those saddled with the responsibility of protecting life and property. A repeat of this attack was imminent, yet no systems, processes and structures were put in place to thwart it.

The recent attack raises a lot of questions as regards coordination in government, appropriate security measures, surveillance, and the failure of authorities to act on intelligence and work in consonance. It reflects a troubling breakdown of internal security and the vulnerability of critical infrastructure. Shockingly, the brazen nature of the bandit’s attack which is essentially a challenge to our sovereignty as a nation has not adequately infuriated the Federal and State Governments to do something drastic and long-lasting against them.

The style and nature of the attack reveal that it was a well-planned attack aimed at the maximum achievement of their aim. The bandits utilized an Improvised explosive device (IED) to immobilise the train before indiscriminately shooting at the passengers. These sinister and brazen attacks against commuters and public infrastructure are one too many and must be forestalled at this juncture. The Abuja-Kaduna highway has been an avowed kidnapping hotspot for the better part of 7 years, Federal Government has been unable to put in place stringent security measures to effectively police and secure that road. This condition made the railway a preferable alternative for travellers. An alternative that well is now clearly unsafe.

It is more than embarrassing that Kaduna state which is Nigeria’s centre for military education and security planning due to its numerous elite military establishment and security institutions such as the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Defence Industries Corporation (DICON), Nigerian Army School of Artillery in Kachia, Nigerian Navy School of Armament Technology, State Security Service Training Academy, Police College, the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Nigerian Navy School of Armament Technology and many other military formations is unsafe to access by road, air or train. Against the backdrop of this terrible attack, the million-dollar question is how does one travel in and out of Kaduna safely. Nigeria’s Armed Forces have been carrying out clearance operations and airstrikes to clear bandits out of their camps hidden in forests across several states in the northwest. But the violence has continued. Stemming this tide would take not just the military but other concerned agencies to diligently perform their responsibilities and task.

It became public knowledge through a Daily Trust report after the attack that the Kaduna State Government through its Ministry for Internal Security twice wrote a letter to the National Railway Corporation advising for the 6 pm service of the train station to be stopped but the corporation did not heed. This indicates clear negligence on the path of the railway corporation. Individuals have never been held accountable for such ineffective discharge of their responsibilities and perhaps there’s a correlation between that and sloppy conduct/negligence. This costly negligence should not go unpunished so government agencies understand consequences exist for sloppy conduct.

The vulnerability of the train was exacerbated by a lack of commitment and proactiveness. In reacting to the incident the Minister for Transport, Hon. Rotimi Ameachi said

We knew what the problems will be. We know we needed to have digital security equipment on the corridors. We applied for it. Let me just stop here so I don’t hurt so many people. But I heard the president has given a directive that the procurement must be completed immediately.

“If we had those equipment on the tracks, you will see the entire track. And we warned that lives would be lost. Now, lives were lost. Eight persons dead and 25 persons in the hospital. We don’t know how many people have been kidnapped. And the cost of those equipment is just N3bn. The cost of what we have lost is more than N3bn. We have lost track. We have lost locomotives and coaches. We have lost human beings. And the equipment is just N3bn. To fix the damages will cost more than N3bn. To imagine that we just said give us the approval and not even the money. At the time we asked for it, when you come with sincerity to government and people are stopping you, it is annoying.”

“When you come with sincerity to Government and your colleagues and people are stopping you, it is annoying”.

His comment is indicative of a lack of urgency and harmony in dealing with important issues at the apex level of government. A pertinent issue like security equipment for train coaches deserved speedy treatment and not the dillydallying that caused a lack of surveillance. A seeming lack of a standard operational response or arrangement is evident. It is inconceivable that despite prior attacks the authorities lacked a standard response to repel this attack nearby and swiftly. The previous security arrangement of two policemen per coach was ineffective for a security threat that comprises tens of bandits on motorbikes each armed with an AK-47 assault rifle. There is an urgent need to devise a security strategy that adequately protects passengers and public infrastructure. This security strategy would involve all security and intelligence agencies living up to their responsibilities and being proactive. Account from survivors of the train attack says that the terrorists arrived in a convoy of motorbikes. An interface or established channel of communication between locals within these communities that bandits/terrorists move across and the authorities would supply actionable intelligence for thwarting or swift response to attacks.

According to a report by The Punch, the bandits demand the release of 16 top commanders and sponsors in government custody in exchange for the 100 kidnapped victims. The bandits weeks ago released the Managing Director of the Bank of Agriculture, Alhaji Alwan Hassan ostensibly due to his age and the sanctity of the month of Ramadan. However, a report by Daily Nigerian indicates that the MD paid N100million to secure his release. Ransom payments facilitate the purchase of weapons and other items to equip the terrorists. Tracking ransoms is a component that seems not to exist in Nigeria’s fight against Banditry and this is not for lack of know-how.

An agency of the Federal Government- The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) has as its mission statement “ To safeguard the Nigerian financial system and contribute to the global fight against money laundering, terrorism financing and related crimes through the provision of credible financial intelligence”. It has not achieved its mission regarding this. Why are we unable to track ransom payments? Is it for lack of trying or does the status quo benefit some people in government?

The terrorists also released another video where some of the captives were seen calling on government to come to their rescue. Weeks after the incident there is a pin-drop silence on the path of Government and no form of communication as to the status of the victims. Government ought to have been on top of the situations through its relevant ministries by releasing press statements and briefing the public or at the very least the family of those concerned of the progress and situation of those kidnapped. The absence of communication precipitated a protest by families of those kidnapped.

The shabby way Federal Government handled this situation has for the umpteenth time underscored the insensitivity of this administration in terms of insecurity. This administration has less than one year to the expiration of its 8 year mandate handed to it by the Nigerian people. It must be wary of the legacy it wants to leave. Having campaigned on tackling insecurity, it is disgraceful that 7 years after, Nigerians are paying taxes to bandits to access their farmlands and kidnapping is a daily occurrence.