Abuja-Kaduna train attacks: Less blaming, more accountability

Abuja-Kaduna train attacks: Less blaming, more accountability

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The other day, a relative called me from a bank exasperated that she was unable to claim a remittance. The bankers couldn’t locate it in their system after repeatedly entering the pertinent codes. “Others are collecting theirs. The problem is from there,” the relative told me in a tone that was restrained but unmistakably assigned blame.

I was puzzled. Remittances through the service I used usually go through in matters of minutes, a few hours at most. Occasionally, there is a hiccup that causes a longer delay. But never had someone gone back the next day and still not be able to claim a remittance.

Before turning to the time-consuming chore of tracking it online or calling the remittance service, I thought of a possible problem at that end. “Have you been receiving the latest verification code from the remittance service?” I asked. “No,” she replied. “My phone is not receiving texts.”Thank goodness, the service sends the codes to both the remitter and receiver. So, I forwarded it to her by WhatsApp. Mystery solved. She claimed the money.

In a subsequent conversation, I asked her why she was so quick to blame “over there” for the hiccup knowing what she knew about the process and her phone. “Sorry-o,” she said. “I was just frustrated.”

With that phrase, she also captured Nigerians’ mood toward the government’s inability to rein in banditry and jihadi violence. Correspondingly, this little personal palaver makes the case for a subtle shift in Nigerians’ mood. Rather than the narrative of blame, Nigeria will be better served by a narrative of accountability. Blame is generalised and is often borne of frustration. Accountability, on the other hand, calls for precision in tracking down and solving problems.

In this regard, the recent spate of train attacks and other mayhem might have a silver-lining. It has resulted in a crack in Nigeria’s fortress presidency. An evidently incensed Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi told the press on Tuesday that if his security recommendations had been accepted, the train attacks wouldn’t have happened. He had requested for digital security and crime prevention equipment for the trains and had been turned down, he said.

“(If) we had those equipment, you will see nobody on that track. And I warned that lives will be lost. Now, lives are lost. Eight persons dead, 25 persons in the hospital,” he said. “We don’t know how many persons have been kidnapped. And the cost of that equipment is just N3 billion. The cost of what we’ve lost is more than N3 billion.”

This sounds like blaming, of course, but it isn’t by the distinction here. It is more about accountability, as it pinpoints a dereliction of duty. Though Amaechi didn’t specify who was derelict, he came quite close. “When you come with sincerity to government and your colleagues and people are stopping you, it is annoying,” Amaechi said. He probably meant more than annoying. Infuriating, maybe?

Given that the Abuja-Kaduna corridor is notorious for banditry and kidnappings, it is to be expected that a train service there would be targeted. So, why would Amaechi’s “colleagues and people” not see the danger he foresaw?

In any case, the bandits were “kind” enough to preview the train attacks by breaching the security at the Kaduna Airport. That’s quite audacious given that airports are some of the most heavily guarded areas in the country. Was it beyond the military to anticipate that another high-profile and much more vulnerable transportation system — the Abuja to Kaduna railway — would be next? Was it possible to do more to secure the route, perhaps through drone monitoring? One can only ask.

Lt.-Gen. Faruk Yahaya, the then newly appointed Chief of Army Staff, had said that the greatest challenge facing the military in dealing with bandits and jihadists was logistics. One has to wonder how much improvement there has been since then. Or like Amaechi, is he too being obstructed by “colleagues and people”? In any case, it seems like more than logistics, there’s great need for intelligence gathering and anticipation. The logistical aspects of military operations are much enhanced with better intelligence gathering and anticipation of attacks.

The bandits are using modern electronics to coordinate their attacks. After all the Federal Government initiatives to have phones registered for easy tracking, can the security agencies do a better job of monitoring and intercepting their messages? Moreover, it has been established that the bandits are sponsored by respectable people who still live free. If the exploitability of the law enables their continued freedom, is enough being done to monitor and detect their nefarious activities?

In any case, along the lines of shifting from blame to accountability, Nigerians may have to re-orient their thinking about banditry and jihadist violence. What is going on is essentially a civil war between Nigerians and those who want to see Nigeria on its knees.

The jihadists say they want to turn Nigeria into an Islamist country. But the pattern of their bloodshed doesn’t even seem purposive at all, certainly not beyond the sadistic pleasure of killing for its own sake. How else can one explain their shooting of Dr Chinelo Megafu Nwando, a dentist and recent graduate of the University of Port Harcourt? But then it makes sense. The well-educated young woman represents everything they hate about Nigeria.

After every incident like this, there is the tendency to vent on the government and security apparatus. To a great extent, it is justified. Aside from the issues already summed up, parochial policies and past pronouncements undermined public confidence. And so did past subversion within and performance by the military.

Still, there’s reason to believe that the resilience of the jihadist/bandits go beyond these issues. It will be helpful to see them the same way Ukrainians see Russian invaders. That is that the responsibility for repelling them is a collective one. It is not that Nigerian civilians need to carry arms and go searching for bandits. It is that there’s the need for solidarity, the need for everyone to ask what he/she can do to help.

Can the people do more to detect and report suspicious activities, for example? Can bankers be more vigilant in detecting and reporting suspicious transactions? Can border guards and immigration officials be more vigilant to stop the importation of arms? Can people in rural areas do a better job of detecting and reporting the unusual noise that must be made by the jihadists’ transportation of choice: motorcycles? Can the government do a better job of equipping them to do this?

The war being waged against Nigeria by jihadists and bandits has been going on now for quite some time. And from all indications, it will go on a lot longer. If they are ever to be defeated, there has to be resilience, solidarity and collective accountability.

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