The anger, horror and hopelessness that followed the Abuja-Kaduna train attack have not simmered and will not, for months and years to come, because the attack was a further revelation of the many ugly faces of our government and nation. The latest information about the attack is unsettling — only 186, out of the 362 validated passengers on board the ill-fated train, have been confirmed safe. 22 persons are still missing, while eight bodies were recovered, according to the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) managing director, Fidet Okhiria.
The figures do not add up in the least, neither do we expect to be bombarded with inanities of internal wranglings, petty quarrels and blame games from those who manage our affairs. To be honest, we do not care what they do in their All Progressives Congress (APC) or executive closets. We only want to be safe in our small corners, which, sadly, has become an utopian mirage.
By now everyone already knows that there are many governments in Buhari’s government. The centre is either too weak and less in control or non-plussed. When you occupy a position, you carve out your own fiefdom and determine how things should be. Transport Minister Rotimi Amaechi is one of the most powerful men in government (call his fiefdom a government too), but when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo took charge of the Federal Executive Council, he clipped Amaechi’s wings. The indication to this effect was contained in Amaechi’s response to the train attack.
“We knew what the problem would be. We knew we needed to have digital security equipment. We applied for it…And I warned that lives would be lost. Now lives are lost. Eight persons dead, 25 persons in hospital and we don’t know how many persons have been kidnapped. And the cost of that equipment is just three billion naira.
“The cost of what we have lost is more than three billion naira. We have lost tracks; we have lost locomotives and coaches. We have lost human beings. And the cost is just three billion naira…when you come with sincerity to government and your colleagues and people are stopping you, it is annoying”, Amaechi said.
However, he annoyed us further, when it turned out that the minister’s preferred choice for the contract was N84.9 million worth family company, whose board of directors all bear the same surname. Mogjan Nigeria Limited, established in 2019, has as directors Godwin Momoh, Chioma Momoh and George Momoh.
Without antecedent and experience steeped in professionalism and skills set, Amaechi’s arrangement was another revelation in cronyism and nepotism, in contrast with efficiency, know-how and capacity, before another interest (in Vice President Osinbajo) stopped the contract. Citing it as an indication of his helplessness at a time of national mourning over the attack, is akin to politicising death, making a mockery of the destruction of human lives, kidnapping inflicted on innocent individuals and the disparaged psyche of citizens in general.
This is Amaechi, who single-handedly ensured the suspension and eventual sack of the all-powerful former managing director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala; the minister, said to be a cabal in his own right, a member of the inner caucus, a minister close to President Muhammadu Buhari, and has been in this government from inception, should have stopped the train from running if certain equipment were not provided. If he still does not wield enough power, I wonder what power is. All the same, having power does not mean one should cross the line of decency and moderation in all you do as a public servant. Amaechi crossed that line in his insensitive narrative.
This week, Minister Amaechi unveiled his presidential bid, at the most inappropriate time, when we are still mourning the dead, with many still in captivity and yet others unaccounted for. This shows where his heart is, and which, between the pains of the attack and his presidential ambition, is more important to him.
Kaduna State governor Malam Nasir El-Rufai never shies away from hard talk. As the chief mourner in the Kaduna train tragedy, he expressed his frustration, emotion, and possible plan of involving private military contractors (or mercenaries) if the Federal Government’s fighting spirit becomes ineffective; yet at another point, he was reactionary. In the face of the obvious failure of government, with respect to ignoring intelligence on the impending attack, El-Rufai said the terrorists’ hide outs are known but the security people refused to heed or act upon the information: “We have enough intelligence for us to act. The Airforce undertakes enough Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and the DSS has informants all over the place. We know what they are planning. We get the reports. The problem is for the agencies to act. The army should go after their enclaves to wipe them out“, adding that the Airforce should “bomb them since they are now legally identified as terrorists and not just bandits. I’m angry, frustrated and feel totally helpless”.
Notwithstanding their grandstanding, Amaechi and El-Rufai are guilty by association. Their party, the APC has not been able to justify their choice over the ruling party in 2015, with such promises as minimising the level of insecurity in mostly North-East Nigeria. Today, nowhere is safe in Nigeria, not land transportation, and not air nor rail transportation either. Here is Minister Amaechi, who got the approval to do a rail linkage to Niger Republic and to build a Transport University in Katsina. The Buhari government has spent billions of naira (largely loans from China) on the rail sector under Amaechi’s supervision. How did he get those approvals? Governor El-Rufai once headed an APC committee on restructuring, which again was one of the promises of their party. His report is still gathering dusts wherever it is.
It is imperative to mention restructuring, because under the current political arrangement, El-Rufai does not even have the power to establish a solo security outfit without the Federal Government’s consent. And this is in addition to the general lack of coordination between the Federal Government and states. Mercenaryism in Kaduna State cannot and will not function in isolation of its neighbouring states of Katsina, Niger and Zamfara – which are also overwhelmed by insecurity. A lot has been written about the propriety of intelligence sharing, however in the case of the train attack, there was information about its likelihood, so why didn’t the authorities act on it and stop night train travels? So many questions. Unfortunately, those who should provide answers are in denial of their collective guilt. That won’t work. We know better.
In order words, Amaechi and El-Rufai are just playing to the gallery and playing politics with security. Both gentlemen are part of the government. By trying to exonerate themselves, they are being clever by half. And not even a populist approach employed by them can detract from their involvement.