The shutting down of essential social services by government as its newest approach of responding to bandits’ threats and attacks is a defeatist, cowardly and dangerous trend of dealing with any aspect of Nigeria’s challenges of insecurity. This is even as the country, using every admissible means at its disposal, has the constitutional responsibility of preserving the rights of citizens to safe freedom of movement. Governance failure to secure Nigerians has, for over a decade, exposed citizens to violent attacks and kidnappings in their homes, on the highways, on their farms, and now on the train networks.
Following heightened insecurity in recent weeks, the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) has again suspended train services on more routes for fear of terrorist attacks. Speaking on the matter, the Managing Director of the NRC, Fidet Okhiria, said the Lagos-Kano train services, which had resumed only two years ago, were suspended due to the high level of insecurity along the rail corridor in the north-western district of the corporation, which includes Niger and Kaduna states; the main routes of the train heading to Kano from Lagos.
The supply chains of major commodities would, similarly, remain disrupted for as long as the train services on the Lagos-Kano route remain suspended. This disruption in the transportation of food crops including beans, yams, corn, groundnut, livestock/hides and skin from the northern part of the country to the southwest and the freight of finished products from the latter to the former has its own negative consequences on the economy. Transportation of goods by road is always more expensive given the skyrocketing price of diesel, not to talk of all the risks associated with it. The cost of transportation by railway still remains the cheapest and safer.
It would be recalled that train services on the Abuja-Kaduna route have since been suspended by the corporation after bandits attacked the train, killed nine passengers and abducted 61 others on March 28, 2022. The NRC boss, however, denied reports that train services on the Warri-Itakpe route have been suspended; clarifying that it is the train’s stoppage at Ajaokuta station that was suspended owing to serious security concerns. Okhiria explained that this decision was sequel to the sporadic shootings last Monday, August 1, 2022 while passengers were on their way out of the station.
In spite of this clarification by Okhiria, the decision to prevent trains from stopping at Ajaokuta, nonetheless, has serious implications for the country’s economy. The Ajaokuta station is the most critical of all the rail stations along the Itakpe-Warri route because of its strategic utility. the original concept of the Warri-Itape railway was to convey cargo from Ajaokuta Steel Company in Kogi to Aladja Steel in Delta. The haulage of raw materials for the steel company in Ajaokuta requires train services.
Furthermore, train services will facilitate the freight of finished products from the industrial zone of Ajaokuta to the southern part of the country. This freight is only cheaper and more convenient by train, not by road or air. The suspension, therefore, of train services at the Ajaokuta station has serious economic implications for the country’s economy. The export market, which depends on train services to receive finished goods, will also suffer.
More significantly, too, is the fact that the suspension of train services on any rail route is as good as halting the revenue that is expected to accrue to government from that sector. The Abuja-Kaduna train, which is mainly passenger service, generates N3.6 billion annually for the government, or a revenue loss of N300 million monthly.
The daily survival of hundreds of households as petty traders and technicians whose businesses are sustained only by the regular train services at the various train stations would also be shut down at any time train services are suspended on any rail route. Besides, the negative economic consequences that arise from the suspension of train services on the Abuja-Kaduna rail route are equally applicable to all other rail routes where such services have been suspended across the country.
The idea of shutting down train services is nothing more than chasing shadows. Government should rather work to make railways safer. Indeed, the shut down approach is not a solution to the threats, but represents a psychological victory to criminals. Only recently were all schools and institutions within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) directed to shut down. This followed the abduction of a family from Sheda village, which shares boundary with the Federal Government College, Kwali. The more government continues to shut down schools, recreation centres and every other presumed soft target, there shall soon be no place left to shut down in Nigeria.
We call on the NRC to collaborate with all security agencies to deal with all criminals who threaten the railways and make them functional alternatives to the country’s unsafe and failed roads. The task of safeguarding the lives and property of citizens every time, everywhere, including in the rail sub-sector, must remain a priority to the government.