The train was expected to arrive at the Igueben station in Edo State at 5:00pm for an onward movement to Warri, Delta State.
The station was a beehive of activities. Some passengers bought tickets, others were exchanging pleasantries while some were busy with their phones, taking pictures for memories. Others were calling their loved ones to inform them that the train would arrive in 30 minutes as they anxiously waited.
But instead of the whistling sound of the train, bullets rented the air. The passengers scampered for safety but it was too late as their attackers surrounded them and marched them into the bush.
The attack, which took place on January 7, rattled residents of Igueben and neighbouring communities, which had witnessed attacks and abductions in the past but not in this magnitude.
Those who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday said the abductors, who were armed with AK-47 rifles, shot sporadically while they operated. And there was no resistance; hence, the attackers had a field day. In the ensuing commotion, some passengers sustained injuries and bullet wounds.
At the end of the commotion, more than 20 persons, including the station manager, ticket clerk and other members of staff of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) were abducted. Earlier reports put the number of abducted victims at 32.
Since the incident happened last Saturday, the police, army, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Department of State Services and the Edo Security Network, comprising vigilantes and hunters, have been combing bushes to rescue the victims.
While 9 of the victims have either escaped or rescued, at least 11 of them are still in the custody of the abductors.
One of the passengers who escaped the attack told our correspondent that she was yet to recover from the shock. The survivor, who gave her name as Miss Joy, said she was with other passengers at the station when the attackers struck.
“I don’t pray to witness this kind of incident again. I can’t recall anything; it is just like an armed robbery scene. When you are at gunpoint you can’t start recalling everything that happened. The one I remember is what I have told you,” she said.
Joy, who urged the government to put measures in place to secure train stations in the country, also said there was no proof that the attackers were herdsmen as claimed in some reports.
“It is by the grace of God that I escaped from the kidnappers. I can’t explain how I managed to escape from them; it was God. Government should provide security personnel at every train station to ensure the safety of passengers,” she added.
A resident of the area who gave his name as Joseph said security personnel at the station escaped as they also ran for their lives, abandoning the passengers to their fate.
“When the gunmen stormed the station, they ordered taxi drivers and people selling around to lie down. They moved to the arrival hall, rounded the passengers up and asked them to lie down. They selected those they wanted to kidnap and marched them into the bush.
“They came through the eastern axis of the station and went away through the western axis. This shows that they had been mounting surveillance in the area, unknown to the people,” he said, adding that it is believed that the attack was carried out with the support of some of the people in the area.
“We believe there must be internal collaboration from the locals for them to have succeeded. This is because strangers can’t know all the corners of our bush.
“Some of the kidnappers were said to have put on masks to conceal their identities because they knew the people would recognise them; so there is internal collaboration,” Joseph added.
He lamented that the federal government only protected the train but not the station and passengers.
He said, “There is no security at Igueben train station. This is prevalent to all the train stations I have visited, including Agbor, Egbanke and Abraka. The federal government only protects the train. And you have the army, police and the NSCDC protecting the train.”
It was also learnt that the closed-circuit television (CCTV) at the station was not functioning due to non-availability of electricity supply.
‘Kidnappers have not contacted us’
The Edo State deputy governor, Comrade Philip Shaibu, who met with heads of security agencies and community leaders at the Igueben railway station earlier in the week, said the kidnappers had not demanded any ransom.
He vowed that the Godwin Obaseki-led administration would make the state unsafe for kidnappers and other criminal elements.
Shaibu, who called for calm among residents of Igueben Local Government Area, urged members of the public to provide useful information that would help security agencies’ rescue efforts.
“The important point is that more persons have been rescued and the number is reducing. Our target is for everybody to be released. We want to thank security agencies for their efforts at ensuring that all the victims are released. I appreciate the Inspector-General of Police, Chief of Air Staff and the Chief of Army Staff for their efforts at ensuring that those kidnapped are rescued.
“The state government has not been reached for ransom. Edo will be too hot for these people as there will never have any base for them in the state. We have worked hard and will continue to ensure that the state is safe. The pressure is on the kidnappers, and the victims are being freed daily.”
The Commissioner for Orientation and Communication in the state, Chris Nehikhare, said 9 persons had been rescued so far by a combined security team comprising, while 13 were still with the kidnappers.
The government had initially declared that 32 passengers were kidnapped, but three days later, it made a u-turn, saying there were only 20 victims.
Nehikhare also warned that any property found to have been used for kidnapping would be forfeited to the state government.
“Also, if the kidnappers kill any of their captives, the owner of such facility would be charged for murder and prosecuted along with the perpetrators of the crime,” he added.
However, a resident of the area who craved anonymity told our correspondent that some of the victims were not rescued by security agents but were rather abandoned by the kidnappers.
“As the kidnappers moved into the bush, those who could not move at the pace they wanted were disengaged so that they would not disrupt their movement.
“That was how the 74-year-old man, a nursing mother and her one-month-old baby were found. A three-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl were dumped at an abandoned petrol station. Unfortunately, security agents are claiming that they rescued seven victims,” he said.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the state command, Chidi Nwabuzor, said police operatives, in collaboration with other security agencies, were still in the bush working towards rescuing the victims and arresting the perpetrators.
He also hinted that two persons had been arrested in connection with the crime, adding that the command is working hard to ensure that kidnapping is reduced in the state. He noted that there were many of such incidents because the state shares boundaries with the North, East, West and other South South states.
Daily Trust Saturday, however, observed that the attack has not stopped passengers from using the train station.