I received the news of the Abuja-Kaduna train bombing on the evening of Monday, 28th March 2022 with nostalgia. The fear that suddenly enveloped me came from memories of plying that route two years ago. I could not help but imagine the ordeal of the passengers on board the ill-fated ride. A two-hour thirty-minute ride is still on without an end in sight for the abducted, injured, and dead. Loved ones are set in panic mode and anguish. A nightmare no one can ever wish for or pray to experience. This article gives an account of my personal experience on the Abuja-Kaduna train ride.
Down memory lane, in November 2019 I took the train from Abuja to Kaduna in the company of my colleagues and other men of honour (referring to Nigerian Pharmacists). Some of us had flown in from Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri, and Calabar to catch the train for our onward journey to Kaduna. We were attending the 92nd annual Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) conference. On average, we must have been about 2,000 Pharmacists plying the route throughout the week-long conference.
The train was the safest travel option as there were constant reports of kidnapping on the Abuja-Kaduna-Abuja Road. Notwithstanding, it still did not feel safe. We had paid for VIP seats but were later informed that the coach was filled. It did not matter much as our getting to our destination safely was the topmost priority. We boarded in scores and took up the available economy seats. The coach was impressive- air-conditioned, clean, and comfortable. A variety of food and drinks were available for purchase. One just had to be proud of the progress in Nigeria.
However, as the train made its way to Rigasa station in Kaduna, my mind could not stop wandering. Three things stood out. First, this was the slowest train speed I had ever encountered. Second, I quickly noticed that the rail path was lonely and largely through the bush. Third, the train made frequent stops at intervals (in the middle of no where) which I later understood was to enable slower-moving trains on the single track to get ahead. Nevertheless, aware of the extent of insecurity in Northern Nigeria, the possibility of an attack could not be overlooked. On one of the many stops, some of my colleagues voiced similar concerns. We discussed extensively the need for security surveillance along the bushy train path.
There were a few armed securities on board, probably one per coach. However, it was clear that if push came to shove, they could be easily overwhelmed by bandits. Another passenger informed us that until two weeks ago, armed helicopters were employed to secure the route. Again, this information provided more insight into the vulnerability of the area. Possibly the most shocking revelation was the limited mobile network service along the route, further reinforcing the possibility of an attack. Suddenly, it felt like we were between the devil and the deep blue sea.
We eventually made it through the tortuous journey to Rigasa station and back to Abuja a few days later. Notwithstanding, it was an experience never to be forgotten. It is most disturbing that our thoughts which were at best fictitious at the time have come to fruition in the recent attack. While I pray for the safe recovery and return of passengers to their loved ones, I employ the government to take action to secure our roads, railways and airspace. There is no time to act like NOW!