The invasion of the Nigerian Railway Corporation’s sub-station in Igueben, Edo State, by outlaws who injured many people and kidnapped about 31 passengers and staff on Saturday, January 7, 2023, was not just another case of criminality, but a national embarrassment. The affront on the NRC occurred about 10 months after the March 2022 attack and kidnapping of about 60 people on a Kaduna-Abuja-bound train. Some witnesses of the Igueben saga claimed there was a scandalous absence of security operatives at the sub-station, an indication that the NRC failed to implement lessons learnt from the deadly and mortifying railway security breach last year.
The incident in Igueben occurred while Nigerians were still lamenting the death of Selimota Idowu, a principal accountant with the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Abuja, at a railway crossing in Chikakore axis of Kubwa, a satellite town in Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on December 15, 2022. That tragedy exposed the failure of the NRC to put in place appropriate safeguards at its trains’ interface with communities. Initially assumed to be suicide, Selimota was crushed to death by a train when her car developed a mechanical fault and got stuck at the Chikakore railway crossing.
Apart from the attacks on the Kaduna-Abuja train, Igueben sub-station, and train accident in the Abuja community in December, the NRC has recorded several tragedies on its tracks, especially the Lagos-Kano bound trains, which led to the deaths of several people since 2016 when train services resumed in Nigeria.
The series of accidents and attacks provide evidence that, in terms of security and safety, the NRC has failed Nigerians. All over the world, rail transport is one of the most cherished, safest and cheapest modes of transportation. Rail transport is embraced by travellers, not only because of its cost-effectiveness, but also because of its relative safety, environmental friendliness, reliability, and accessibility. But with the spate of accidents and insecurity on our rail tracks and facilities, Nigerians may soon become very wary of travelling by train, at a time when government has channelled huge sums of money into reviving the sector.
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The NRC may dismiss accidents on its tracks, but they are preventable. If the railway authorities had put in place necessary infrastructure, in line with railway best practices, accidents would be reduced to almost nil. It is expected that wherever there are railway tracks, there must be barricades that prevent people from crossing, or some railway staff who supervise such crossings, especially when a train approaches the community from where residents cross its tracks. In the past, vehicular and human movements were halted where roads intersected with rail tracks, some 10 to 15 minutes before trains arrived.
It seems all such measures have been ditched by the current NRC, thereby exposing the people to accidents. As raised by members of the community, overhead bridges must be constructed to ensure safe passage for residents of communities where rail tracks intersect with other routes used by the people. This should be done, not only in Abuja, but also in every part of Nigeria where rail tracks intersect roads and communities.
Furthermore, we call on Nigerians who reside in communities where there are rail tracks to exercise caution and obey safety rules put in place by the railway authorities, including the use of overhead bridges. Doing so will prevent unnecessary deaths, like that which claimed the life of Selimota Idowu.
On the part of the NRC, the authorities must activate public enlightenment on train culture in Nigeria. All too often, Nigerians tend to take matters of their own safety and the safety of others for granted, as demonstrated every day on Nigerian roads, leading to avoidable accidents. Moreover, it has been over 30 years since train services were interrupted by the collapse of the sector.
Many Nigerians are ignorant of how to conduct themselves at train stations and railroad crossings. Therefore, a re-orientation of the people about what to do and what not to do on rail tracks and railway stations has become very imperative. It is even necessary to inform the public of the legal implications of violating railway laws. Apart from conducting public enlightenment, rail drivers and crew must also be retrained on the importance of safety and security for themselves, passengers, and the communities near train stations and tracks.
The management of the NRC must return to the drawing board on issues of security and safety of their rail tracks and facilities. Security measures in line with the realities of the challenges in the country should be put in place.
It is unthinkable that a railway station or sub-station exists in Nigeria, like the one in Igueben, Edo State, without adequate security arrangements. Measures must be put in place to secure railway facilities, and renew the confidence of Nigerians in the railway sector.