Says Security personnel must have exhausted bullets after long shoot-out
The managing director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, NRC, Fidet Okhiria, has given more insight into Monday night’s bloody attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train, in which eight passengers were killed, and 43 others injured. Okhiria, an engineer, who spoke Wednesday on TVC’s all ladies breakfast show, Your View, disclosed that there were 18 uniformed policemen on the train, and others in mufti, who could have been over-powered by the dare-devil bandits. He also suggested that they must have run out of ammunition. The NRC boss further disclosed that all passengers on board the ill-fated train were insured. He said efforts were being made to account for every passenger on the train with the establishment of call centres to reach out to the passengers and their families through the manifest.
Asked about measures put in place on the trains to ensure passengers’ security, Okhiria said “On this particular train, we had 18 armed uniformed policemen, apart from those not in uniform. They repelled immediately when they attacked. But it must have been they overpowered them”. According to him, “We are talking to them. They said they were moving when they heard a blast and they got derailed and there was no movement. They started shooting at the train; they (the police) also tried to repel them. They fought for a very long time before I think their bullets got exhausted. That’s what happened”.
Okhiria who could not confirm how many were kidnapped, said “What we are doing is we have set up phone call centres for those that their people boarded the train. However, we have gone beyond that. We are now calling, based on the record we have on our manifest, calling them on the various numbers. Most of the people we have called said they are safe, and few of them said they bought for their siblings, and some said they are at home and they are safe; some said they have not heard from them. So, we are noting them so that we can know how many people that we have not had contact with. A team is working on that from NRC”.
With eight passengers dead, over 40 injured, and several others yet unaccounted for, Okhiria disclosed that every train passenger is insured. “Anybody that has boarded is covered with insurance. But we don’t want to be talking about insurance; we want to deliver our passengers safely”, he posited.
The NRC helmsman who said he had been to the site, stated that “we know what has happened there. We know how many coaches that have been affected; we know how many tracks have been affected, and we know how much it will take us to recover that. . . As per the rolling stock, we have 12 coaches. They derailed; they were no longer on the track, and one locomotive no longer on the track. Nine coaches were on that train and those nine derailed completely following the blast; they removed some of the clips. But our men are trying to take the necessary materials there so that we can recover those coaches. They are recoverable and they can be put to use; some of them immediately”.
Debunking the report of yet another attack on a train station at Gidan along the Abuja-Kaduna train track, Okhiria said “There was no attack at the station or on the train. We had three ministers on that train and a lot of other people. The train had been used to visit the site; we rode on the train. What we learnt was that within the town, there was some attack and a roadblock. I didn’t see it. The bandits had blocked the road, and as a result, our station staff called us; I was there. They called their supervisor and I was with the supervisor and he just asked them, look for a place to hide. But at the time our train got to the station, they came out and gave us the signal and the right authority to move ahead into Abuja. But for attacking the station, there was nothing like that; I can confirm that”.
In a similar vein, Okhiria denied recent reports that one of its trains on the Lagos-Ibadan route ran out of diesel in the middle of nowhere, insisting that the train only had a technical problem. He said “I have been explaining that. We had a technical issue not diesel finishing in the train. But due to the knowledge of those that were there, the driver said the diesel finished because the metre was not giving the correct reading. Our people acted swiftly; and it was not in the bush. It was at Papalanto; we have a station at Papalanto and that was where the major work was done. We are responsible for what happened; there was a technical hitch and it’s not limited to Nigeria”. He was however quick to add that in spite of the present situation with diesel, “we are meeting up with ensuring we get enough diesel on our train”, stressing that “Diesel is not supposed to finish at any time on a journey”.
Visibly distraught about the latest tragic attack, Okhiria disclosed that after the last incident in October last year, “the Air Force has also been taking it as a responsibility to use helicopter to monitor the tracks and sometimes, when they notice something, they send us those confidential information. That is the way we operate. However, this one beats everybody. This is not the first time they have been trying to do something, but they were caught in the act and they were dispersed; nobody knew of that.
“We are trying to work on our own digital communication which would enhance security and safety. If you go to Ebute-Meta, the building is there now. The monitoring system is being set up and that one will come into use within the next few months on the Lagos-Ibadan route. There is an improvement on bomb blast on Abuja-Kaduna which we are extending very soon. Apart from that, there is a special procurement process that is on, and we’re just waiting to get an approval. Sooner than later, it will be approved so that after deploying them, we can see the movement of the train even on our phone or in my office. And we have dedicated staff for that operational control centre where they monitor the trains. That is where we are heading to.
“On the tracks, we are saying we should have drones; we should have satellite imaging so that if there is a breach, or something like unauthorised persons on the track, they will be noticed and that one will give us information. Either an alarm is raised, or the system that will be linked to security agencies, and they will take action immediately”.
The chief executive officer of the NRC added that the management used to get security reports from time to time about certain movements, “and the military would move in and ensure that it doesn’t happen. But we don’t put it in the public”.