The N267m generated monthly from the Abuja-Kaduna railway is now under threat following the decision of the Nigeria Railway Corporation to suspend operations following a bomb set off my bandits along the corridor, The PUNCH has learnt.
The Goodluck Jonathan administration had obtained a $500m loan for the construction of the project out of which $150m had already been repaid, according to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
However, part of the plan of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was to use funds generated from the project to offset the loan.
The PUNCH learnt that the Kaduna-Abuja railway is currently the largest revenue generating route in the country as it attracts over N267m monthly.
The Managing Director, NRC, Fred Okhiria, had revealed in July that the Abuja-Kaduna route generated an average of N265m monthly, Lagos-Ibadan, N17 million monthly, while Warri-Itakpe generated N45m.
Okhiria explained that with the introduction of an additional Diesel Multiple Unit, the corporation had increased the number of train trips between Abuja and Kaduna from eight to 10 per day just as the trips on that route had been increased from four to six for Wednesdays.
There were also plans to increase the number of goods and passengers conveyed along that but the NRC has halted operations along the Abuja-Kaduna railway corridor due to an explosion along the Rijana and Dutse end of the track in Kaduna State on Wednesday.
This comes a month after a leaked memo from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps stated that the Department of State Services had revealed that Boko Haram terrorists are fleeing from Sambisa forest to Rijana Forest in the Chikun local government area of Kaduna State.
A former Senator from Kaduna State, Shehu Sani, said on his verified Twitter handle that bandits attacked a train on the Abuja-Kaduna route on Wednesday.
Sani said “Yesterday (Wednesday) terrorists attacked the Kaduna-Abuja railway with an explosive and opened fire on the train, targeting the engine driver and the tank. This (Thursday) morning, I was onboard when our train ran over another explosive damaging rail.”
The NRC boss, Okhiria, who confirmed the blast to The PUNCH, said on Thursday that services on the route had to be halted in order to carry out thorough investigations on the matter. He, however, promised that services would be restored soon.
He said, “There was an explosion but until the team that is investigating the matter comes with its report we cannot confirm whether it is a bomb or not. But there was a blast.
“Operations have been stopped for today in order to do proper inspection and we hope that before the end of the day we would have done the needful.”
Okhiria, however, refuted claims of gunshots aimed at the train driver and the tank of the train.
Before Okhiria’s reaction to the matter, the Abuja/Kaduna Train Service Station Manager, Paschal Nnorli, had also confirmed that there was an attack on the train, but could not tell if it was with an explosive.
A security source said they were battling to contain elements of Boko Haram and ISWAP fleeing Sambisa Forest to settle at the Rijana Forest in Kagarko Local Government of the state which is close to Abuja.
The source said “Security operatives in the state have in the past 72 hours been struggling to prevent attack on the train by terrorists suspected to be members of the ISWAP and Boko Haram groups.
“ISWAP and Boko Haram members have entered Kaduna, but the security agencies have been struggling to prevent them from setting up their camp in any part of the state.
“Tuesday till Wednesday morning, we could not sleep because we were struggling to dislodge the terrorists who were trying to bomb a bridge used by the Kaduna-Abuja train.”
Yes, there was an attack, but right now I cannot confirm if it was an explosive or bomb attack as people are saying,” he said.
But the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps told The PUNCH that it lacked the manpower and technology to effectively protect the tracks.
The NSCDC, which is saddled with the responsibility of protecting critical government infrastructure, said it didn’t have sufficient manpower and technology to protect the rail tracks and other national assets across the country.
The civil defence also accused communities hosting the infrastructure of conniving with criminal elements to vandalise the national assets in their domains.
Reacting to the Wednesday bomb attack on the Abuja-Kaduna rail on Thursday, the NSCDC spokesman, Olusola Odumosu, said the agency did not get a fresh memo on the Wednesday attack.
Odumosu stated, “There was no memo from my office that says there would be an attack on the train. Most of the arrests we made recently were of people stealing rail sleepers.
“Based on the nature of those assets, you know railways crisscrossed the country; and if you look at the entire stretch, even if you lined up the entire NSCDC personnel, it would still not be enough (to protect the rail tracks). It is not only railways that are critical, we also have pipelines, power lines communication lines and others that we are protecting.”
“The task is enormous and that is why we are clamouring for more personnel so that we can do our job more effectively. Apart from that, we are employing technology so that where we cannot provide physical security, we can deploy drones but you know it doesn’t come cheap. We deploy technology for most critical infrastructure but we cannot boast enough technological capacity, so we still need more,” he added.
The corps lamented the refusal of the host communities to give information to security agencies, accusing them of compromise.
Providing additional information on what happened on Wednesday, the NRC stated that the explosion which occurred on the Abuja-Kaduna rail track blasted the fuel tank of the locomotive that was involved.
Meanwhile, it was observed that scores of passengers were stranded on Thursday at the Rigasa Train Station, in Kaduna State following the alleged bandits suspected to be terrorists attacked on the railway.
Meanwhile, when The PUNCH visited the Rigasa Train Station in Igabi LGA of the state, it was observed that sale of tickets had been halted.
Passengers who arrived the train station on Thursday morning to board the 10:35am train to Abuja were stranded as the 7am train that was supposed to arrive Kaduna by 9am and return passengers to Abuja by 10.35am, could not make it to Kaduna
Scores of the passengers were spotted returning to their various homes with their luggage while those with urgent needs to visit had to go through the road.
When contacted to confirm for any possible arrest in connection to the attack, the Kaduna Police Public Relations Officer, ASP Mohammad Jalige, referred our correspondent to the police spokesman in charge of the railway, Christopher Umukoro, who was said to have been transferred to Port Harcourt
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