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ABORTED TRIPS: Untold stories of how Nigeria’s failed Abuja-Kaduna rail project put lives at risk

No one would have thought that the Abuja-Kaduna metro rail would be a major disaster for Nigerians when it was opened for business in July 2018. 

Many passengers commuting Abuja-Kaduna or vice versa by road were happy to have an alternative route to escape from the activities of terror groups, locally described as bandits, terrorising the highway.

The terrorists are notorious for kidnapping and killing passengers with their access to large-scale weapons. 

Despite hosting at least 15 military establishments, Kaduna is one of the most terrorised states in Nigeria and terrorists have made traveling by road between the state and Abuja a nightmare. 

The terrorists in 2016 carried out massive kidnapping attacks on commuters including the kidnap of Alfred Nelson, the Sierra Leonean High Commissioner to Nigeria. 

A year later, Sheriff Yazid, son of prominent northern technocrat Abidu Yazid, was killed and his wife kidnapped. The kidnap victim was later released after the payment of a N10 million ransom to the terrorists.  

In 2018, Shedrach Madlion, Managing Director of Kaduna-based Safari 54 Farms, and his son were kidnapped on the same road and their kidnappers got N10 million ransom before releasing them to their loved ones. 

Muhammed Mahmood, Chairman, Board of the Universal Basic Education Commissions (UBEC), and his daughter were also attacked while traveling on the expressway in April 2019. The driver of their Land Cruiser SUV was shot dead and  others kidnapped. 

Months later, seven people were reportedly kidnapped including Musa Rabo, an Area Commander and Assistant Commissioner of Police, who was also abducted by kidnappers along the road. 

Aside from the aforementioned, many other cases were reported and others did not make it to the press. 

Rail transport – a supposed solution for travelers 

Ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 initiated the plan for the revitalisation of Nigeria’s 3,500km rail network which led to signing of an agreement with the China Civil Engineering & Construction Company (CCECC) to build a double-track line from Lagos to Abuja and Kano at the tail end of his administration.  

Few months later, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s administration put the project on hold, arguing that it was “posing challenges to the current administration”. 

In 2009, the Abuja-Kaduna railway project was finalised, and it was to cost $1.457 billion with 60 per cent to be funded with loans from the Exim Bank of China. Authorities however, did not make the contract agreements public and efforts to get the papers proved abortive as authorities in the ministry of transportation refused to respond to enquiries. 

Though the construction was completed in December 2014, President Muhammadu Buhari officially inaugurated the line for commercial services in 2016 and it started operation in July 2018. 

Soon, crowds started thronging the Idu and Kubwa train stations in Abuja, Northcentral Nigeria and the Rigasa station in Kaduna, Northwest region of the country. 

Months later, passengers started experiencing extortion by railway officials, who usually overcharged for tickets. 

Seun Akioye, a journalist who encountered challenges getting tickets for the routes also took to Facebook to narrate his bitter experience in December 2019. 

“Today I left my house at 4:40 am, driving on the road with spirits and demons and witches returning from the covens. I got to IDU by 5:30 a.m. and joined the already long queue. We stood there in the cold; men, women, children, pregnant women, old folks until 6:15 a.m. when ticket sales began. I was about number 20 or so when I got in and asked for a first class.” 

Akioye was told that first class tickets had  finished. While he was protesting, he was advised to go for economy. Even when he agreed to do as advised,  the attendee at the counter was heard saying all tickets had finished. For Akioye to make it for his trip, he had to lobby.

“I was close to tears. Shey na like dis we go  dey dey?,” he wrote on his Facebook page, wondering why it was difficult to book a seat from the comfort of his home. 

To tackle the corruption, the federal government in January 2021 commenced the e-ticketing for train services on the Abuja-Kaduna route in order to put an end to massive racketeering. 

The NRC Managing Director, Fidet Okhria, said the e-ticketing platform will ensure that the database of all passengers boarding the train were captured in case of emergencies and for other purposes.

However, the corruption persists.

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Things fall apart 

In October 2021, suspected terrorists blew up the rail track of the Abuja-Kaduna route with explosives but authorities handled the issue with levity. 

An ex-senator, Shehu Sani, who was one of the passengers on the train, said “we saw them (bandits) from our windows. I think they were watching to see whether our train would slide from the rail track so that they could attack the passengers or abduct some of us. There were gunshots and they were targeted at the driver and his crew. The (bandits’) intention was to separate the head of the train from the rest of the body. In fact, we were lucky it did not hit anyone.”

In his reaction, Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi, who visited the site of the October attack said “what this has done to us will fasten the procurement of the digital security system that we are trying to put in place. 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 terrorists activities, however, reached a milestone on March 28, 2022 when they abducted, injured, and killed people during a deadly attack on a train transporting passengers between Nigeria’s capital, Abuja and Kaduna. 

After months of silence, victims’ relatives called out the government over what they tagged neglect and an information blackout.

Authorities could not also speak on the identity of most of the victims because most of the tickets were bought by middlemen who then resold to passengers and verification of identity was not done before passengers joined the train. 

Even when relatives of the passengers protested, Nigeria’s authorities refused to address them. Minister of state for transportation, Gbemisola Saraki, also watched her rough-handling journalists covering the protest in a bid to protect the administration from “embarrassment”. 

While the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that the primary duty of the government is to ensure “the security and welfare of the people”, Saraki refused to respond to questions asked by journalists on efforts to secure the release of those in the terrorists’ den. 

Soon, many Nigerians returned to the road, risking their lives by taking the Abuja-Kaduna highways to attend to their necessary functions in absence of train operation. 

The train service later resumed operations on Dec. 5, 2022, eight months after the incident and after those kidnapped were freed.

Now, it has derailed 

The Abuja-Kaduna train on Friday derailed, leaving about 148 passengers and 30 crew members on board stranded in a forest in Kogi State.

“The Board and Management of Nigerian Railway Corporation regrets to inform the general public, particularly our passengers of AK3 and KA4 of today 27th January 2023 that the disruption experienced on our Abuja Kaduna Train Service was a result of the derailment of KA4 at Kubwa station. There was no casualty recorded,” NRC’s Director of Operations Niyi Ali said.

“We sincerely apologise to passengers whose planned trips were affected by this incident.” 

Also, the corporation in an update on its mobile application said “the Abuja-Kaduna train services has been suspended due to unforeseen circumstances”

Amid rising insecurity on the road, many Nigerians are expected to travel through Abuja-Kaduna highway. 

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