BusinessDay

Kaduna train attack: Governance failure, the bane of travel safety in Nigeria

President Buhari’s government is culpable in the fatal terrorist attack on a Kaduna-bound passenger train from Abuja on March 28. This culpability resulted from governance failure, which manifested in many ways. The first manifestation was the false sense of security that Buhari’s ministers gave Nigerians, which lulled them into believing that travelling by rail was safe when it was not.

Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transport, was once asked if enough people would use the passenger trains being built by the Buhari government. In response, Amaechi predicted large passenger numbers on the railway routes. Explaining why, he said that heightened insecurity on the road, characterised by incessant kidnappings and killings, would force Nigerians to turn to the trains.

For a start, that statement indicted his own government; it was an admission that the Buhari administration had abandoned responsibility for ensuring security on Nigerian roads. Basically, Amaechi was saying to Nigerians: “The government can’t protect you on the roads. For your own safety, you had better use the trains.” Utterly irresponsible.

To be sure, nowhere in the world is travelling by road, rail or air absolutely safe. But acute governance failure utterly compounds the problem in Nigeria. Ignore spin-doctors like Lai Mohammed, the truth, supported by international indicators, is that Nigeria has one of the worst and most ineffectual governments in the world

But the statement also created expectations about the safety of rail travel in Nigeria; it implied that while travelling by road is not safe, travelling by rail is. Indeed, Lai Mohammed, minister of information, made that point more explicitly in a recent statement. On March 28, he said: “We are proud that Nigerians can travel by rail in total comfort and safety.” But that was a reckless utterance that created false expectations, raised false hopes!

Just a few hours after Lai Mohammed made that statement on March 28, terrorists attacked a Kaduna-bound passenger train from Abuja. They blew off the train’s electrical system and derailed it with explosives, and then opened fire on the trapped passengers. The dastardly attack left eight people dead and more than 26 injured, with over 167 passengers abducted. Among the dead was Dr Chinelo Megafu, a young dental surgeon, whose promising future was cut short prematurely!

So, yes, it’s true that insecurity on the roads, with passengers incessantly abducted for ransom or killed, forced Nigerians to use the trains. But, no, it’s not true that travelling by rail offers Nigerians “total comfort and safety.” In fact, abandoning road for rail now seems like, as the saying goes, jumping from frying pan to fire!

Of course, as we know, the March 28 Kaduna-bound train attack was not an isolated incident. Just six months ago, in October last year, there was a near-fatal attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train that derailed it. Remember, too, that there have been several other train derailments. And who can forget the embarrassing case of a Lagos-Ibadan train that stopped abruptly on March 10 after “running out of diesel”? The train’s passengers were left stranded, looking forlorn, in a remote location, potentially exposed to armed bandits and kidnappers. So, neither road nor rail offers normal travel safety and security in Nigeria.

Nor, indeed, is travelling by air. For instance, two days before the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, bandits raided Kaduna International Airport, during which two personnel of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) were killed, and several other workers were abducted. With the daredevilry of the terrorists, and the evil-mindedness of their political sponsors and financiers, who can rule out aircraft hijackings and hostage-taking in Nigeria?

To be sure, nowhere in the world is travelling by road, rail or air absolutely safe. But acute governance failure utterly compounds the problem in Nigeria. Ignore spin-doctors like Lai Mohammed, the truth, supported by international indicators, is that Nigeria has one of the worst and most ineffectual governments in the world – a government that can’t secure the lives and property of its citizens, a government that can’t provide basic services, a government that, put bluntly, can’t get anything done beyond borrowing and spending money and awarding contracts for white elephants projects.

Some say Nigerians should be grateful to President Buhari for building road, rail and air transport infrastructures. But what’s the usefulness of the infrastructures when they are like dens of death, when they are not fit for purpose? Think about it: the roads and highways are ungoverned spaces; the trains are easily derailable by bandits; and the airports are unsafe.

Recently, some newspapers reported that the newly commissioned terminal of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport is so badly designed, so structurally defective, that it’s not operable or viable, and that key changes, costing several millions of dollars, must be made to the terminal and its surroundings before it could be usable. You wouldn’t expect any serious country to find itself in that shameful pickle, would you?

But the truth is that Nigeria is like a Fourth World country, a rudimentary country, whose government is mediocre and dysfunctional, but which pretends it can have and run advanced transport systems.

For instance, in a bid to secure a “legacy” of “infrastructure revolution”, President Buhari is building road, rail and air transport infrastructures with massive Chinese loans and manpower. But his government lacks the sophistication to ensure the projects are delivered to optimal standards, and the competence to run, maintain and secure the transport infrastructures.

Read also: Kaduna train attack: Terrorists threaten to kill abducted passengers after release of BOA director

Take a basic example. How can a country that cannot run an efficient ticketing system operate a sophisticated transport service? The sales of train tickets in Nigeria are dogged by fraud, with ticket racketing syndicates. Touts buy tickets and resell them at exorbitant prices. How can a country with such rudimentary problems guarantee travel safety?

Recently, just a few days before the Abuja-Kaduna train attack, the World Bank Blogs published an article entitled “Successful infrastructure projects require efficient governance”. Ian Hawkesworth, the author of the article, argued, based on case studies, that “weak governance is the main impediment to efficient, effective and sustainable infrastructure services.” Looking at Nigeria, can anyone disagree with that empirical fact?

I mean, running a railway system and airports requires first-class intelligence and safeguarding to protect passengers and staff. But where is the targeted and actionable intelligence in Nigeria or the willingness to act on available intelligence? Where is the aerial technology to protect rail and air travellers? And why is no one ever held responsible when something like the Abuja-Kaduna train attack happens?

Recently, France sacked the head of its military intelligence, General Eric Vidaud, for failing to predict the Russian invasion of Ukraine, whereas his American and British counterparts did. But in Nigeria, heads are not rolling for poor intelligence and failure to heed intelligence on the Abuja-Kaduna train attack. Yet, accountability is the lifeblood of good governance.

What about safeguarding? If you travel on any London train, the first message you will hear is: “For your safety and security, CCTV cameras are operating on this train.” The whole train stations are secured with aerial gadgets, not mention the presence of transport police.

By contrast, Nigeria’s transport minister, Amaechi, said his “colleagues” rejected his request for approval to buy “digital security equipment”, which would have exposed anyone planning criminal activities on the tracks. With a tinge of self-justification, Amaechi said: “I warned that lives would be lost, now lives are lost.” He added poignantly: “When you come with sincerity to government and your colleagues and people are stopping you, it is annoying.” That’s a sad commentary on how government works in Nigeria.

But who were the “colleagues” that refused approval for the purchase of the aerial equipment? And where was President Buhari, who has the ultimate authority to bang heads together? Why did he not ensure the right thing was done? After all, the buck stops with him. It’s governance failure at its worst!

Let’s face it, Nigeria has an utterly incompetent and dysfunctional government where rot starts from the top. With such government, travelling by road, rail or air can’t be safe. Sad!

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