Fresh facts in the aftermath of last Monday’s fatal attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train service have shed more light on the failure of officials at different levels to forestall the planned onslaught, which was seen coming months ahead.
Official correspondences and security reports seen by our reporter reveal how the plot was uncovered following intelligence intercepts leading to the issuance of alerts to different responsible agencies.
Senior security officials are blaming officials of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) for refusing to abide by the advice to restrict train movements to daytime hours.
The latest details corroborate the Daily Trust exclusive story published last Thursday, which indicated that the bombing of the passenger train came after repeated warnings by the intelligence service about the movement of bandits with a mission to attack the train service and other facilities.
The attack on the train, which had on board over 300 passengers was the most devastating coming after at least three previous less successful attempts on the service.
At least nine corpses were recovered from the scene of the attack on Tuesday while some 26 others sustained injuries. A yet-to-be-determined number of passengers were also abducted by the kidnappers.
Two strands of the security warnings focus on directives for military formations in the area to respond to the threat and for the NRC to suspend night trips along the route. The Nigeria Police, which is in charge of internal security has a command responsible for the railways and usually deploys armed policemen on the train to ensure security.
But like many states bedeviled by ongoing security challenges, Kaduna State has detachments from the military under different tags taking over security duties in the state.
However, documents seen by Daily Trust and information from informed sources show that three different advisories and a similar warning at least two meetings for the suspension of the evening train shuttle were not heeded by the railway management.
Also, military formations in the area failed to take action to scuttle the impending attack.
Military high commands had issued a clear directive for troops to clear criminals’ hideouts and other enclaves that could be used ahead of the attack.
Long in coming
In the aftermath of a near-fatal attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train on October 20, last year, which led to the derailing of the train and suspension of the service, the security situation was appraised leading to the issuance of an advisory for the NRC to suspend the evening shuttle.
In a letter dated November 2, 2022, addressed to the manager of the Rigasa Station of the Nigerian Railway, the Kaduna State government drew attention to a “Thorough review of train operations” conducted.
“Following this review and an assessment of the general security situation, the Kaduna State government hereby advises that trains operate during the daytime only. All arrivals after dark, to Kaduna or Abuja, should be avoided completely,” the letter reads in part.
The government advisory further emphasised the “Urgent rescheduling of train services and the cancellation of all train services, which arrive at their destinations later than 6pm”.
The idea, according to a senior security officer, was to deny the criminals the opportunity of hiding under the cover of the night to plant explosive devices or deploy their men.
With the train shuttles continued in spite of the security advisory, the state government wrote another letter to the railway reminding the management of the threat to the evening service.
“Current developments indicate that the concerns over threats to train services, which prompted this advisory continue to exist,” the follow up letter signed by Kaduna’s Commissioner for Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan states. The second letter was dated January 27, 2022.
Daily Trust gathered that just before the second letter on the request to suspend the evening train shuttle, there was an intelligence report from the Defence Headquarters, which succinctly points to a plan to launch simultaneous attacks on the train service and other critical facilities.
The military signal revealed that bandits had conducted an “Assessment mission on the Abuja-Kaduna railway corridor with a view to launching attacks on trains” and the railway infrastructure.
The intelligence indicated that the bandits were “Mobilising members and finalising plans for the attacks”.
Following the intelligence from the Defence Headquarters and a meeting of the Kaduna State Security Council, Daily Trust learnt that a meeting was convoked at the headquarters of the Army’s 1 Division in Kaduna with all stakeholders to review the situation.
The meeting held on February 9, agreed to suspend the 6pm train service pending improvement of the situation.
“I remember the commissioner of security was even threatening to address the press after the meeting to tell the world the recommendation of the services since the railway authorities were unwilling to comply with all the advisories. Some of us advised against that to avoid causing panic,” a source who was part of the meeting said in confidence.
Twenty five days before the attack, an intelligence report dated March 3, 2022, titled “Plans to Simultaneously Attack Rigasa Train Station, Other Critical Infrastructure and Security Forces” also drew attention to the impending attack.
“Intercepts and human intelligence sources around Kaduna-Niger interstate boundaries, have confirmed plans by terrorists to attack the Rigasa Train Station, and other critical infrastructure, simultaneously,” it reads in part.
“The intelligence also revealed plans to attack security force units, especially on the Kaduna-Abuja Road general area, imminently.
“The security forces targeted for attack are mainly troops deployed at Rijana in Kachia LGA and personnel carrying out aggressive fighting patrols on the Kaduna-Abuja highway, spanning Chikun, Kachia and Kagarko LGAs of Kaduna State.”
The report recommended that “The management of the Rigasa Train Station should be persuaded by the Kaduna State government to suspend operations, which extend into night time and promptly upgrade the immediate security structure of the terminal”.
Findings by Daily Trust indicate that those who were in positions to act did not take the warnings seriously as the railway service refused to act on the multiple warnings.
It was also unlikely, sources say, if the directive from the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Leo Irabor, for sweeping operations to counter the planned attack was duly complied with.
In the January signal from the Defence Headquarters, the CDS directed the leadership of Operation Thunder Strike (OPTS) and Operation Whirl Punch (OPWP) to “Urgently emplace measures to thwart the planned attacks along the railway corridors”. The two commands are active military operations operating between Kaduna and Niger States.
Specifically, the military high commands directed the two theatre commands to “Piquet vulnerable points along the railway corridor as well as identify and destroy all suspected bandits’ bases along the axis”.
In the March 3 intelligence briefing, it was reported that “Virtually all the villages at the far end of Rigasa Train Station – covering about 40 to 50 kilometers radius – and other villages around Buruku general area in Chikun LGA have been deserted.
“It is the same situation in Kabrasha general area of Chikun LGA (linking with Kusaso areas of Niger State) and in Kabula Hills of Mangoro area, which shares contiguous boundaries with Kachia LGA of Kaduna State.”
This situation, according to senior security sources, made the general area under the “full control” of the bandits and also presented an opportunity for a more vigorous military operation.
While there are doubts in some quarters if the security forces had taken adequate steps to thwart the attack, as directed, a security source in Kaduna said clearance operations had always been carried out saying the bandits who carried out the train attack moved there for the purpose. He said the spot where the attack happened was also, specially selected as it would be hard to reach for any rescue mission.
Also, a senior military officer had told Daily Trust that security agents had been on alert following reports from intercepted communication pointing to the possible attack but added that it was impossible to deploy troops permanently without specific knowledge of when the attackers will deploy. “They will get tired and demoralized,” he said.
“The early arrival of the troops on that day was because there was some level of alertness in view of the information at hand. It could have been worse”.
He said the many areas in Kaduna, especially around Rijana and Kasarami are infested with regrouping Boko Haram elements, accusing residents of not providing helpful information to aid the work of security agents.
Speaking to Daily Trust last week, the Managing Director of the NRC, Engr. Fidet Okhiria, admitted that the NRC was written to stop the evening train, denying receiving any latest warning.
“They wrote to us that they suspected that they wanted to attack the train but that was in December/January. But we looked at it and said if there is something like that, they should find a solution to it and stopping the train is not the solution.
“And we don’t run night train. The last train leaves in the evening. We believe if we stop the running of trains, it means the terrorists have won.”
Poor response to intelligence worrisome – Expert
A security and intelligence expert, Umar Yakubu, bemoaned poor response to intelligence, describing it as worrisome an inimical to success in the fight against insecurity.
Yakubu, who heads a think tank, Counter Fraud Center, said “no war can be won without credible intelligence. The intelligence agencies seem to be gathering a lot of actionable intelligence but the issue of poor response is worrisome.”
“Strategic units need to be well positioned to effectively act on credible intelligence. The governor (of Kaduna state) and Daily Trust had reported that information was relayed to concerned authorities about the attack but somehow, maybe due to bureaucracy, action was not taken. The Joint Intelligence Board needs to create a more efficient layer where tactical operations can be swiftly executed without delay.”
Yakubu advised on deployment of technology to more effectively secure the rail line.
“The Kaduna – Abuja route is about 200 kilometres. There are so many ungoverned spaces that law enforcement would find difficult to reach. Luckily, most of the terrorists move within the bush using motorcycles. The most efficient way is to utilise unmanned aerial vehicles to easily spot them and neutralise any threat. It is cheaper, more efficient and effective and also minimises collateral damage.
“The same technology is need across all hot spots. We should not be endangering the lives of troops by making them patrol dangerous areas when you can get intelligence in a more efficient manner.”