The three-hour Abuja to Kaduna route is a key cross-regional pathway, ferrying goods and people, by road, for different purposes to many states in the Northeast and Northwest. However, it has been bedevilled, for years, by the issue of insecurity. Attacks by bandits and unknown gunmen hampered and continue to hamper free movement between these two locations. Although the highway has not been totally abandoned by travellers, the alternative, train services, which commenced operations in 2018, brought a measure of relief to those who journeyed the route. Now, however, this alternative is affected by the same evil that plagued the highway.
On March 28, 2022, the Kaduna bound train from Abuja was attacked by bandits and about 970 passengers were on board. According to a statement by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, at least eight persons were killed and 168 abducted. At present, none of the abductees has been found or released to their families. Prior to this, in October 2021, bandits had blown up the railway making service impossible.
All of these speak to the security issues which travellers have had to deal with when commuting to and fro Abuja and Kaduna, and to other states, especially, those in the North West.
Following the federal government’s announcement on May 16th, 2022, ordering the reopening of Abuja-Kaduna train services, an action was filed against the federal government by Femi Falana, SAN, constitutional and human rights lawyer. The action seeks to halt the resumption of the train services pending the provision of adequate security for commuters that intend to move across both regions (in terms of geo-political zones) by train.
He argues that the government has the duty to protect the lives of citizens and that every person living in Nigeria is entitled to the security of his right to life as guaranteed by the Constitution.
In the court processes filed, the applicant declared that the brutal killing of unarmed passengers by the armed bandits is unconstitutional and violates the fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution, of passengers who were killed.
The government on its part claims that the reopening of the rail route does not mean an abdication of its duty to secure the release of those who have been abducted. In a statement signed by the NRC spokesperson, Yakubu Mahmood, he said that the federal government will ensure the safe rescue of these abducted persons and see that they are reunited with their families.
Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of the government. Section 15 (3) (a) states that there should be adequate facilities and encouragement of free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the Federation. Also, section 16 (1) (d) is to the effect that the government is to protect the right of every citizen involved in economic activities. In the same vein, section 33 of the Constitution still provides for the right to life of every person. This is a fundamental and inalienable duty of the government to the nation and the right of every citizen.
In a similar vein, section 16 of the Constitution provides for the economic objectives of the state, and one of the several provisions authorises the government to operate, participate, and manage sectors of the economy. The Abuja-Kaduna train service operated by the federal government is a source of revenue and a key component of the transportation sector. According to a report by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, the Abuja-Kaduna train service generates about Three Hundred Million naira monthly. This amount contributes its quota to the development of the economy. Therefore, a total shutdown of the activities of the train service may not be feasible, and perhaps even undesirable, given the current state of affairs.
However, section 16 (1) (b) states that the state shall control the economy in such a manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen. This means that the issue of revenue generation, as important as it is, has not been divorced from the issue of welfare and security of the citizens, under the constitution. In its obligation of generating revenues, it must not forget its primary purpose of ensuring the welfare of its people as the revenue generated is also for the welfare of the people.
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The Balancing Act
Although the reopening of the train station to allow for the operations of trains moving from Kaduna to Abuja and back after an attack by bandits must be called to question, a total shutdown of the train services may not be the remedy to cure the ills of insecurity across the route.
To shut down the whole train service system that transports goods and people from Abuja to Kaduna and vice versa will not only hamper the movement of services, and execution of businesses but will affect the revenues of the government.
The issue here is not that the government has no right to generate revenue with the reopening of the train services; it is that the government must first, consider its primary purpose of protecting the lives of its citizens before it can successfully and adequately generate money for the economy.
On announcing the resumption of the train services, the government has stated that its agencies are involved in negotiations with the abductors for the release of the persons. But again, there has been little or no traction in this regard, and previous experiences have left the citizenry with little faith for a positive outcome, and the fear for the safety of their lives and property remains.
Furthermore, considering that the Terrorism (Prohibition) Act 2013 is being amended to outlaw the payment of ransom to abductors and terrorists for the release of any person who has been wrongfully confined or abducted, a move that is aimed at reducing the spate of kidnapping and terrorism in Nigeria, even less faith remains.
A better approach by the government will be to ensure that effective measures to combat insecurity are put in place. Strategic security measures should be taken and competent officials deployed to the route. This should involve both the military and paramilitary bodies.
There should be adequate funding for security agencies to carry out their work effectively. Security personnel should be well-tooled with modern fighting and security gadgets. This would make them carry out their duty of policing the country more efficiently.
Security agencies should work hand-in-hand to ensure that persons who carry out these illegal acts are brought to book. Security agencies should share and synchronise intelligence.
Other alternative means of moving across Abuja and Kaduna should be provided. For instance, airlines that can provide daily and affordable flights should be utilized by travellers. Until 2020 when an airline launched an Abuja-Kaduna air shuttle, making direct flights between Abuja and Kaduna state possible, there were no direct flights from Abuja to Kaduna and back. Due to the fairly short distance between the two locations, less than three hours by road, no major airlines took passengers who wished to take the route directly. More of such air shuttles are needed to allow commuters to use these alternatives.
Also, considering the fact that flight trips may be quite expensive, the government can partner with airlines to allow for a subsidized rate of commuting between these two states.
It is necessary to prioritize the protection of citizens. When the people who should utilize the services lose trust in these services because of the insecurity, it would be impossible to generate any revenue from their activities. Thus, the necessary adjustments must be made to obtain the best of both worlds.