The efforts of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s regime to boost the nation’s means of transportation through investments in the railways have been blighted by the rather very frequent attacks on these trains by men of the underworld. These marauders have become so brazen that it appears the government whose responsibility it is to secure the people have since abdicated that responsibility.
True, there is no society completely free from crime, but the tragedy of our experience as Nigerians is that it appears that these vandals have been deliberately allowed to operate unhindered. All we hear is one case after another and the noise and hullabaloo they generate and our security operatives and governments would threaten fire and brimstone until there is another case of kidnap or attack.
Meanwhile, for these criminals, it is a game and a very lucrative industry from which they have been cashing out millions of naira at the expense of helpless and defenceless citizens.
The brazenness of these terrorists came to a peak with the attack on March 28, 2022 of an Abuja-Kaduna passenger train in which about 14 persons were killed and 63 officially declared abducted. We cried, we cursed and prayed that never again should such an act be visited on our poor citizens, who only undertook to travel by train because the roads have been taken over by kidnappers and bandits and travelling by air is now the exclusive preserve of the rich.
By March 2023, it will be one year after the unfortunate incident and not a single suspect has been arrested, let alone tried. Yet, this hypocritical federal government wants us to believe that the fight against insecurity is sincere and comprehensive.
While Nigerians wailed, the federal government and those whose responsibility it is to oversee the operations of these trains were engaged in a blame game over who dropped the ball and who should take responsibilities for what is a clear case of executive slip.
While the war raged within the federal government, a window was allowed for these vandals to take control and advantage of the poor relatives of their captives, while those who lost their loved ones worried about burying their dead.
By the time the 23 remaining captives were freed six months after by Boko Haram terrorists, it was estimated that over N6 billion may have been paid to the terrorists to set most of their captives free.
Though the government and its agents denied paying any ransom to the terrorists, reports said victims’ families were made to cough out N100 million each to secure the release of their loved ones.
“The terrorists collected the ransom in naira and US dollars. Only 200 million was collected in naira, the remaining N600 million was paid in the equivalent of US dollars,” one of the victims’ relations told journalists.
Last week, it was reported that no fewer than 31 passengers and staff of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) were abducted by gunmen the previous Saturday at the Igueben train sub-station in Edo State, while several passengers were injured.
The state police command, in a statement, said the kidnappers were herdsmen armed with AK-47. It said some of the passengers sustained bullet wounds, and assured that bush combing and rescue operations had begun to try to rescue the victims.
The federal government, in its own reaction, condemned the kidnapping incident at Tom Ikimi Train Station, Igueben, as despicable and utterly barbaric. The government, through the Ministry of Transportation, stated that efforts were being made to rescue the kidnapped passengers and officials of the train station.
However, the Edo State government last Wednesday, said 20 people were kidnapped contrary to earlier reports of 31 people being kidnapped.
Briefing newsmen on updates from the Igueben incident, the Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, said in Benin City that the latest figure of victims was based on intelligence reports from security operatives from the area.
He said: “From intelligence, we have discovered that the kidnappers are successfully holding just 13 hostages, not 31, as previously thought. This is the intelligence available to us now. They might have taken 20, seven were rescued and the balance is 13 people with them. The operation is still ongoing and we are confident that very soon the ordeal of these innocent citizens will come to an end.”
While the state government gave the figure of kidnapped victims at 20, the kidnappers themselves insisted 31 persons were kidnapped, just as they demanded N20 million ransom for each of the 31 victims, totaling N620 million.
The gunmen also dismissed claims by the government that six victims were rescued, insisting that the 31 victims were intact in their den.
Also last week, the President of the Igueben Area Customary Court, the same community where the kidnapping took place, Mrs. Precious Aigbonoga, was also kidnapped on her way to court.
Similarly, a former member of the Edo State House of Assembly, Festus Edughele, was also kidnapped the same week.
Edughele, who hails from Ubeaja, Esan Southeast Local Government Area, was abducted at Ugo in Orhionmwon council, on his way to the airport.
While insecurity pervades the land, the AK-47-wielding kidnappers are enjoying free reign and making millions of naira from unfortunate Nigerians while the government looks the other way.
These killers in their devil-may-care attitude are enjoying unfettered access to our bushes in the name of open grazing and perpetuating these heinous crimes because they know that the government’s half-hearted, tongue-in-cheek admonitions have only emboldened them to carry out their crime.
President Buhari’s continued promise to secure the nation before exiting on May 29 will not only fail but there will be more crime. Nigerians have suffered like never before because the federal government’s bias towards these killers is no longer a secret.
Are our security operatives so disadvantaged and ill-equipped that they cannot put a stop to these crimes? For how long shall we continue to waste the lives of law-abiding citizens? How many of those who unleashed that vicious attack on the Kaduna-Abuja train have been arrested or are facing prosecutions? With all the millions they reap daily, they are walking freely, spending big and spreading their dragnets to other parts of the nation, yet they remain invisible.
What will be the pride of this government when after May 29, the same rail services they have boasted so much as being one of the legacies of the Buhari administration is left in ruins and abandoned by the people who would rather stay alive than embark on a train ride to death?
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