The growing number of attacks on Nigeria’s rail stations is heightening concerns about a breakdown of the security network in Africa’s biggest economy, BusinessDay has learnt.
The attacks have created fear and anxiety in many Nigerians who may have been eager to try out railway transportation.
Within the space of 10 months, two rail stations (Abuja-Kaduna rail station and Edo sub-station) have suffered major attacks.
On January 7, 2023, a substation of the Nigerian Railway Corporation at Igueben, Edo State, was attacked by gunmen, with several passengers injured while some were kidnapped.
“A train can carry more commuters than road transportation, so it makes sense for terrorists aiming to score high in a mass abduction to target trains,” Confidence MacHarry, a senior security analyst at SBM Intelligence, said.
“But the bigger question is if there were lessons learnt to prevent a repeat”
Last year, on March 28, terrorists with explosives attacked a Kaduna-bound train from Abuja carrying 970 passengers, killing at least eight passengers, with 168 people reported missing afterward.
The Abuja-Kaduna rail was shut down for eight months to enable security operatives to carry out investigations, yet no one has been arrested in connection to the crime.
The Abuja-Kaduna train station, which was generating at least N500 million for the country yearly, has improved Nigeria’s investment potential since it started operations.
It has promoted business, travel, and cargo transport between the two major cities and has boosted economic development along the corridor.
Most recent data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that passenger movement by rail declined by 125.6 percent in the second quarter of 2022, compared to the same period in 2021, an indication of the negative impact of the shutdown.
The revenue generated from passengers also decreased by 76.2 percent, from N2.1 billion in the first quarter of 2022 to N500 million in the second quarter. In 2021, N1.08 billion was generated from passengers in the second quarter.
Similarly, NBS data also showed that the volume of goods/cargo saw a continuous decline from the first quarter of 2019 to 2022. A total of 54,099 tonnes of goods were transported in Q1 2019; 18,484 in Q1 2020, and 10,511 in Q1 2021.
To address the issue of train attacks, the government has adopted some measures by introducing the requirements of a National Identity Number (NIN) and valid phone numbers in the purchase of tickets.
Experts applauded the move but said much more needs to be done, adding that gaps still exist that created loopholes for the recent Edo train attack.
A public affair analyst who did not want to be identified urged the federal government to give states full control of their territories.
“We must allow the states to take control of their future. To do this, we must first provide them with the means to financially protect its territory; otherwise, the virtue of unitarism will quickly become counter-productive and destructive,” he said. “The best form of policy to counter insecurity is intelligence-based.”
“The kind of security required to protect rail infrastructure involves making the surrounding communities and towns where stations and tracks are located, safe,” MacHarry added.
Read also: Edo train attack: Nursing mother, 5 other victims rescued
On short-term solutions to rising attacks, MacHarry recommended “improved surveillance and improvement in intelligence gathering and response to planned attacks before they can happen.”
Famous Jegede, the lead Intelligence analyst at Towntalk Solutions, believes rail stations are attractive to terrorist attacks because such attacks result in large-scale human casualties and property destruction.
He said the recent attack on the Edo train station will further increase the risk profile of other alternative modes of transport in Nigeria.
“Security agencies should employ security technologies along highways, train stations, airports, and ports,” Jegede said.
He recommended the use of technologies by Nigeria’s security agencies to tame the activities of rising insurgent attacks.
“While these technologies exist, security agencies must also act on credible intelligence and respond appropriately,” Jegede said.