Monday the 28th of March 2022 began as a normal day for many Nigerian families. Among these were several hundred commuters on the Abuja-Kaduna train who had left home with the hope of reaching their destinations, achieving the purpose of their journey, and/or returning home to continue fulfilling their obligations to their families. But for at least 8 of those families, the day ended on a funereal note with many questions begging for answers.
The news that terrorists had attacked the Kaduna-bound train could not have surprised discerning observers. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Declarations by the Minister of Transport Rotimi Amaechi and Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) officials in the aftermath of the latest attack confirmed this. It came some five months after suspected bandits bombed a Kaduna-bound train around the same Dutse area of Kaduna State.
NRC Chairman Ibrahim Alhassan, who visited the scene of the dastardly attack in company with Amaechi, said:
“Two months back, we got information that some people were carrying out cognisance of the tracks…. And the information was passed to the relevant authorities, and I think some things were done…”
Alhassan thinks some things were done. He is not sure. He is the Chairman of NRC. We know that nothing was done because Amaechi told us so when he visited victims of the attack at the Kaduna Military Hospital where he explained the reason for that:
“We knew what the problem would be. We knew we had to have digital security equipment, told the contractor what we needed, we applied for it (shrugs). If we had that equipment, you would see anybody on that track for Christ’s sake. We warned that lives would be lost. Now, lives are lost…. And the cost of that equipment is JUST 3 billion naira. The cost of what we’ve lost is more than 3 billion naira. We’ve lost tracks, we’ve lost locomotives, we’ve lost human beings, and the equipment we needed is JUST 3 billion naira … and the equipment we told them to give us approval to buy, at the time we asked for it the dollar was 400 naira. Now the dollar is 500 naira … when you come with sincerity to government and your colleagues are stopping you, it is annoying.”
There you have it! Amaechi was visibly angry. The minister never forgets to remind people that he is a Christian. But he failed to remember the Biblical injunction in Ecclesiastes 7:9: “Keep your temper under control; it is foolish to harbour a grudge.” His anger was over the refusal of his anonymous colleagues to approve 3 billion naira for him. It did not occur to him that he was indicting his APC government when he accused his “colleagues” of refusing to approve 3 billion naira for him. That anger made him not seek alternative means to secure the tracks. What alternative means? One may ask. The minister himself provided the answer on Tuesday when he told newsmen:
“We are thinking about the possibility of employing natives until we get that equipment. We also need helicopters. Beyond the drones, we need helicopters”.
See? Even now they are still thinking. They never even thought of suspending night trips until security in that axis could be guaranteed. Does the above not paint a picture of the incompetence and wickedness of the agents of the Nigerian government?
The weekend before the attack, terrorists were reported to have stormed the Kaduna International Airport, leaving one person dead. Is it that no one in the intelligence service was intelligent enough to figure out that the rail line, an artery of the airport, might be the next target, or are such signals from the intelligence community treated with levity? We may never know. What we do know for sure is that Amaechi and Alhassan are still in their positions and will be there until another disaster happens. They are untouchables.
The minister reportedly appealed to Nigerians to raise money to treat the victims of the attack during his hospital visit:
” You saw the patients with burns and then the one that has bullet located in her heart. They are bringing an expert tomorrow for that one to see if there will be surgery or not to take out the bullet.
” They said they have only seven (patients) left, and the rest have been discharged. The ministry and I think the federal government are grateful to the Nigerian Army for providing such services. But one thing I have said to the Nigerian people is to liaise with the hospital management and see how much money they can contribute for the treatment of the patients.”
As reported by several news services, the appeal did not go down well with the Nigerian people, who called the minister out, forcing his media handlers into a damage-control mode. The minister tweeted a rebuttal with a video of the encounter. There seems to have been a misreading of his words:
“But one thing I have said to the Nigerian people is to liaise with the hospital management and see how much money they can contribute for the treatment of the patients.”
He was probably assuring the Nigerian people that he would liaise with the hospital management to see how much they could both contribute to treat the patients. Probably.
Even so, if it were the daughter of a top government official who had a bullet lodged in her heart, would they wait for three days before getting an expert “to see if there will be surgery or not to take out the bullet?” Would she stay one night in a Nigerian hospital?
The Abuja-Kaduna train service commenced operations in 2016. In a February 2021 chat with Channels Television’s Seun Okinbaloye on the current affairs programme ‘Sunday Politics’, Amaechi displayed unbridled contempt for the Nigerian people when he arrogantly dismissed Seun’s question on the potential threat of criminal Fulani herders amidst escalating reports of massacres, rapes and kidnappings attributed to the nomadic marauders. The minister’s cavalier response was:
“How does herders crisis affect transportation? You have to ask 200 million Nigerians before asking me.”
Seun battled to make him understand that he was duty-bound to be concerned as a Nigerian, a public officer, and a key member of the incumbent administration. But he retorted even more insouciantly. “Nigeria gave me the responsibility of transportation. I left my wife at home so I will tell her my position when I get home.
The primary responsibility of any responsible government and its operatives is the protection of the lives and property of the citizens. For a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to distance himself from the affairs of security and trivialise the issue without being sanctioned was a sign of things to come. Seun was asking about the criminal activities of a group officially classified as one of the most dangerous terrorist groups in the world. The Abuja-Kaduna train attack just over a year later was by terrorists and not by a band of ministers’ wives led by Amaechi’s spouse, who happens to be an Urban and Regional Planning professional.
Previously, in a November 2020 edition of the same programme, ‘Sunday Politics’, Amaechi had assured the nation that the Abuja-Kaduna rail route was safe. He said then:
“The federal government is responsible enough to ensure that lives and property on the trains are protected, and we have done that successfully… Tell your listeners (sic) that we will do everything possible as a federal government that is responsible to its citizens to ensure that we run efficiently and ensure that lives are not attacked.”
Are you thinking what I am thinking? That responsible federal government could not ensure that 3 billion naira was approved to secure the lives of its citizens.
A few days after the train tragedy, the President of Niger Republic Mohammed Bazoum landed in Abuja to express his appreciation to President Buhari for approving the 1.96 billion dollars Kano-Katsina-Maradi railway project.
The Kano–Dutse–Katsina–Maradi 284 kilometres rail project connecting Kano in Nigeria to Maradi in Niger Republic was approved by the Federal Executive Council in September 2020. 1.96 billion dollars is over 1 trillion naira today. Yet, 3 billion naira could not be approved to secure the route from the nation’s capital to the heartbeat of Northern Nigeria.
You’re probably wondering about the strategic importance of the Kano-Maradi rail line. When President Buhari was asked about it, he said, inter alia:
“Just as we have Yorubas in Benin Republic, we have Fulanis, Kanuris and others in Niger.
Moreso, I have first cousins and relatives in Niger, I shouldn’t just cut them off.
“Niger has discovered oil, we want them to transport their products through Nigeria instead of Benin by building rail and good roads (to Maradi).”
Experts quickly pointed out that Niger Republic has never been Nigeria’s biggest trading partner in the ECOWAS region. Ghana was Nigeria’s biggest export destination in the third quarter of 2019. In the second quarter of 2020, Togo featured in Nigeria’s top three export destinations, with Nigerian goods worth over 50 billion naira shipped from Nigeria to the country. Togo featured among Indonesia, Singapore and Portugal in the top four, according to the Foreign Trade Statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) for the second quarter of 2020.
Responding to the president’s reference to his first cousins in Niger Republic, social media influencer Dapo Fidale dubbed it “family planning”. He told businessday.ng :
“The President, who has since been under a huge suspicion of striving to unite all Fulani under one umbrella with Nigeria as hub, may be planning to build rail network within the West African sub-region for his people to fasten their migration to the proposed modern headquarters (Nigeria) and to form a centre of Fulani civilisation expected to take over Nigeria and West Africa, the same objective that Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA) has openly declared, though with violence as a weapon.”
Meanwhile, the oga at the top, from his cosy corner on the Rock, has given marching orders, according to the APC Spokesperson Felix Morka’s response to the PDP’s accusation of the governing party of ineptitude. Morka said:
“While the PDP digs deep in the mud trying to find electoral gold, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a swift response to this tragic event, met with Security Chiefs and directed the immediate conclusion of all processes for implementation of the integrated Security Surveillance and Monitoring System (ISSM) solution for Abuja-Kaduna Rail Line as well as the extension of the ISSM solution to cover the Lagos – Ibadan Rail Line.
“The President further directed the rescue of all kidnapped passengers and ordered a manhunt for the perpetrators of these acts of terror. The management of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) was also directed to speedily repair the damaged lines and restore services without delay.”
These marching orders do not inspire much hope, considering what happened to similar marching orders in the past concerning Boko Haram and kidnapped schoolgirls. By the way, where are they going to get close to 10 billion naira now, according to the transport minister’s estimation, to “speedily repair the damaged lines and restore services without delay”? The more you look, the less you see, or vice versa.
Many feel that this was another missed opportunity for President Buhari to demonstrate some empathy by personally visiting the victims of the attack, to show solidarity with the families of the dead, and give assurance to the living outside the pages of press statements. That has not happened. Those anxious to see their president in flesh and blood should exercise a little patience. Electioneering will soon kick off, and ‘Mr President’ will be on the campaign trail to show solidarity with his party and assure the people that a continuation of the change that swept through the country in 2015 is in their best interest, despite the excruciating poverty, dismal power supply, numbing insecurity, morbid sommersault of the naira, unprecedented disunity, and colossal corruption in the land.
But people like music megastar Innocent Idibia aka 2Face will not be convinced. They are not likely to join in the ‘Sai Baba’ chorus. For them, this is the moment of truth. They are likely to remind the people of the memorable lines in 2Baba’s hit song, ‘E Be Like Say‘:
“E be like say you want to tell me another story again o
E be like say you want to act another movie again o
E be like say you want to code another coding again o …
E be like say they want to do another deceiving again o…!
All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us.
All they really want to do is just to get in touch with big bucks
Because they think that the money gives them the power.
But the power is nothing if your people can’t afford quality education.
The power is nothing if your people keep dying of disease and starvation.
The power is nothing if your people have no peace.
The power is nothing if your people cannot live in unity….”
Another year has come
And now you want my vote once more…
I dedicate this one to all of the shady politicians
Wey go promise and fail and make the people live in hard condition
Why don’t you change your ways, change your ways now?
Make the people live the way they’re supposed to live…
Enjoy the music: 2FACE E BE LIKE SAY
From Random Thoughts: A Collection of Essays and Poems by Tony Ekata
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