Nigerian presidential fleet at risk of being impounded - CH-AVIATION
Ten aircraft in the Nigerian Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) are at risk of being impounded by foreign creditors following a budget shortcoming, according to disclosures in the National Assembly by PAF Commander Air Vice Marshal Abubakar Abdullahi during his budget defence presentation last week.
The newspaper Punch reported that Abdullahi had revealed that the PAF was indebted to several service providers for various upgrades carried out on the aircraft to meet airworthiness requirements. However, due to inadequate funding, some upgrades had to be postponed to 2023, putting the airworthiness of the aircraft at risk.
The PAF provides airlift to the Nigerian president, vice-president, their immediate families, and other top government officials.
Addressing the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Abdullahi complained that only NGN1.5 billion naira (USD3.3 million) of the proposed NGN4.5 billion (USD10.1 million) budget was allocated for the maintenance of the aircraft. Abdullahi divulged that the average aircraft age in the fleet was 11 years, with maintenance costs increasing proportionally. The cost of maintenance per aircraft was between USD1.5 million and USD4.5 million, depending on the level of maintenance due.
In addition, the commander revealed that 2023, being an election year, would translate to more missions and requests for spares due to increased usage. He therefore called for an increased budget in 2023, arguing that the NGN8.072 billion (USD18.2 million) allocated for the fleet in the 2023 budget out of the proposed NGN15.5 billion (USD34.9 million) was inadequate.
In the 2022 budget, the PAF proposed NGN19.4 billion (USD43.7 million), but only NGN12.4 billion (USD27.2 million) was appropriated, out of which NGN11.13 billion (USD25 million) (98% of the total approval) had been released as of October 2022.
Abdullahi said: “It is pertinent for this honourable committee to note that the fleet has been grossly underfunded for successive years, which has made it difficult to operate. From the fleet’s records, debts from preceding years are usually carried over into the following budget year, becoming a tradition. Permit me also to state that most of these debts are owed to service providers overseas. Considering that over 85% of the fleet’s expenditure is Forex transactions, the actual budget figure in dollar terms is further diminished. The fleet is currently indebted to some of its service providers due to insufficient funding from budgetary allocations, and the situation makes it bad for planning. As stated earlier, we currently have to have some mandatory upgrades done on our aircraft so as to meet airworthiness requirements.”
He added: “They are projected for refurbishment in their next maintenance due in December 2022 and July 2023, respectively, which will cost USD2.5 million each. Furthermore, the fleet’s personnel and aviation insurance premium for the year 2022, amounting to USD5.1 million, is also due for renewal in February 2023. The fleet may be unable to fund these due to a shortfall in the budget.
“The consequences of underfunding the fleet could have adverse effects on safety operations. It may also lead to our nation being embarrassed in the international community through the seizure of PAF aircraft at foreign airports or maintenance facilities. Moreover, other states may deny PAF aircraft necessary overflight permits for foreign missions.”
The budget allocation for the PAF has increased by 121% in the past eight years. Since 2016, it has received NGN81.8 billion (USD184.4 million). This includes NGN62.47 billion (USD140.8 million) for operations and maintenance, NGN17.29 billion (USD38.9 million) for foreign and local trips, and NGN2.04 billion (USD4.5 million) for other related expenses.
The Presidency has maintained ten aircraft since Muhammadu Buhari took over in May 2015. Although Buhari promised to reduce the size of the fleet as part of his pledge to cut the cost of governance, he has failed to do so at this stage.
The fleet reportedly includes a B737-800, business jets including one Gulfstream Aerospace G550, one G500, two Dassault Aviation Falcon 7Xs, one Hawker Siddeley 4000, and two AW139 and two AW101 Leonardo Helicopters, which have been transferred to the Nigerian Air Force.
Nigeria: Buhari announces plan to spend $575mln on rural roads in Katsina, Oyo, 17 others - NIGERIAN TRIBUNE
The benefitting states are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Gombe, Kogi, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun, Niger, Plateau, and Sokoto
Nigeria - President Muhammadu Buhari has announced plans to spend $575 million on rural roads in 19 states targeted at improving food production, agricultural marketing, and maintenance of rural roads network.
The benefitting states are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Gombe, Kogi, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun, Niger, Plateau, and Sokoto.
Buhari noted that the funds would be jointly financed by the International Development Association (IDA) ($280 million), the French Development Agency ($230 million) while Nigeria will contribute $65 million.
President Buhari who stated this at the launch of the Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project on Tuesday in Abuja noted that his administration would continue to change the narrative of the economy through the diversification of different initiatives.
Represented by Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, Buhari said: “The project is consistent with Nigeria’s vision 2020 priorities. The proposed interventions will support Pillar 3 of the vision’s strategic framework.
“The project, with a total outlay of US$575 million, will be jointly financed by the International Development Association (IDA), the French Development Agency, and the Government (participating states).
“The contribution from the IDA is US$280 million, the contribution from AFD is US$230 million (Euro 200 million equivalent) and the contribution from the government is US$65 million respectively.”
He added: “Over the cause of this administration, we have midwife several reforms centered projects in partnership with various developmental partners notably the World Bank, the Price Development Agency, the African Development Bank, and a host of others.
“We have made all efforts to ensure that all projects align with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan of this administration.
“This plan set out in the first instance, to restore macroeconomic in the short-term and to undertake several reforms in infrastructure investment to diversify the economy and set it on the path of sustained inclusive growth over the long term.
“Indeed, the multi-sectoral approach of RAAMP makes it a microcosm of the ERGP. I commend the World Bank and other development agencies.
“It is my administration plan to ensure that every state benefits from this laudable project.
“It is also pertinent to state here that this administration remains committed to changing the narrative of the economy through diversification of initiatives like this one.”
The World Bank Country Director, Shubham Chaudhuri in his address, advised the Federal Government to channel subsidy funds into agriculture and infrastructure.
He expressed worry if Nigeria would be able to sustain the fund’s investment in subsidy in the nearest future.
Chaudhuri said the World Bank would continue to always support Nigeria. He, however, revealed that the board approved over $9.2 billion so far which “seems to be the largest for any country in the world but for me is almost a footnote relative to the kind of financing Nigeria needs”, he noted.
“We are very happy to be supporting Nigeria, the Federal Government as well as the States on this.
“Second point is scale; you have to scale up, we can have it achieved anywhere as Nigeria did like 230,000 kilometers of rural or secondary roads because Nigeria offers over 87 percent as far as we can tell, which we can get 30,000 kilometers of roads that are passable but the remaining 170,000 are not.
“So if you think of tackling that problem and scale you think of the issue of affordability. We are interested in providing financing not just for RAAMP but so many other developments needs all over Nigeria in the last two and half years.
“The board has approved over $9.2 billion and seems to be the largest for any country in the world but for me is almost a footnote relative to the kind of financing Nigeria needs.
“The vision to achieve a national programme in this case rural roads and connectivity, which is basically affordable as well as a real partnership, our financing is a little bit of a contribution.
“The federal government comes in with their contribution. The scale of financing that is needed would be achieved. We will also be happy to contribute as much as we can for this and other priorities.
“For the states and federal governments to be able to provide such financing there have to be some choices that are made and one of the biggest choices Nigeria needs to make is whether Nigeria can continue to put N5 trillion to its PMS subsidies every year or N6 trillion probably next year. What could be done with this N6 trillion both at your state and local government levels?”, he added.
The Bayelsa state Governor Duoye Diri while speaking with journalists, commended the World Bank and the AFD for the support given the recent floods that have destroyed their roads and washed away many bridges.
He said the state will continue to support RAAMP as it is one of the means to develop rural agriculture communities.
Eurostar Security Strikes Threaten to Disrupt Christmas Travel -
(Bloomberg) -- The wave of strikes set to hit Britain’s rail network worsened after two unions announced a series of new dates in the run up to Christmas.
Eurostar International Ltd. security staff will strike for four days next month in a dispute over pay, threatening to disrupt thousands of journeys between the UK and continental Europe.
The walkouts by members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers will take place on Dec. 16, 18, 22 and 23, the labor group said in a statement Wednesday. Around 100 security staff employed by facilities management firm Mitie Group Plc are expected to participate, it said.
Later, another union announced strikes on the UK’s popular West Coast line, run by FirstGroup Plc-controlled Avanti, on Dec. 13, 14, 16 and 17, as well as C2C services between London and Essex on Dec. 17. The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association also said members will not cover for other workers from Dec. 13, affecting multiple train companies and track owner Network Rail Ltd.
The RMT had already announced strikes on the same dates -- Dec. 13, 14, 16 and 17 -- affecting Network Rail and 14 train operators across the UK.
“A meaningful offer could and should have been made by now which would have settled this dispute,” said TSSA Organizing Director Luke Chester. “Until that happens our members will not back down.”
The festive season is one of the busiest periods for Eurostar, whose express trains via the Channel Tunnel link London with destinations including Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, as well as Alpine ski resorts, the Mediterranean and the French outpost of Disneyland.
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said in the statement that a pay offer below the level of inflation was made to security personnel who receive as little as £10.66 ($12.80) per hour but are “essential to the running of Eurostar.”
The rail operator said that the workers concerned operate X-ray machines and conduct preliminary exit checks in the UK, though passport control booths are staffed by French border officials.
“If there is an impact on our services we will let our customers know,” a Eurostar spokeswoman said, adding that the company is aware of ongoing negotiations between Mitie and the union.
The security staff strike dates overlap with the national RMT walkouts that are already likely to impact Eurostar, which is controlled by French state railway SNCF.
In a rare positive development amid Britain’s multitude of transport disputes, three days of strikes involving 2,000 Metroline bus drivers in north and west London that had been due to begin Thursday were called off following an improved pay offer from the Singapore-owned firm.
The Unite union said that the proposed deal emerged following talks brokered by the state-backed Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and will be put to a ballot of members. Separate action by drivers at Abellio in south and west London will go ahead as planned.
--With assistance from Christopher Jasper.
(Updates with Metroline strike suspension from 12th paragraph)
Fresh UK rail strikes announced in run-up to Christmas - YAHOO FINANCE
Further train strikes have been announced by rail staff, stoking fears of severe travel disruption for millions of passengers over the festive period as the transport system is struck by widescale industrial action.
It comes as RMT announced that security staff working for Eurostar will strike for four days in the run-up to Christmas, action the union said would “severely affect” services and travel plans.
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) said that staff in operational, station, and onboard roles will take action at beleaguered train operator Avanti West Coast on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December.
Further industrial action is scheduled for 17 December at c2c which serves a number of stations between east London and south Essex.
Action short of a strike, which means TSSA members will only carry out contractually required duties, will take place in the run-up to Christmas across a dozen train operating companies and Network Rail.
Meanwhile, disruption is expected in the capital on Thursday as thousands of bus drivers strike in London for seven days in December.
TSSA’s fresh action comes as rail passengers face further disruption with a flurry of industrial action on the rail network in December.
TSSA organising director, Luke Chester, said: “We have decided to push ahead with further industrial action because it’s vital that the train companies and the government understand that our demands are not going away.
“Our union has spent the past three weeks in talks, and though some progress has been made, it remains the case that ministers are just not willing to open up space for a negotiated settlement.”
Network Rail and the Department for Transport have been approached for comment.
More than 1,000 contracting cleaning staff working for the likes of Churchill, Atalian Servest and Mitie could strike in the dispute over pay, conditions and pensions, say RMT.
RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch met the transport secretary, Mark Harper, for the first time last week for talks, but there was no breakthrough in the long-running dispute.
Border Force staff have also voted for industrial action, raising the prospect of lengthy queues at airports and ports all over the country as people visit friends and family over the festive period.
The Guardian revealed earlier this week that soldiers standing in for Border Force members of the PCS union will wear their uniforms while checking passports.
And security staff working for Eurostar will walk out on 16, 18, 22 and 23 of December in a dispute over pay.
More than 100 staff, employed by facilities management company Mitie, are expected to take part in the industrial action.
RMT general secretary, Mick Lynch, said: “Eurostar security staff are essential to the running of Eurostar, and it is disgraceful they are not being paid a decent wage.
“They work long unsocial hours and a multimillion-pound company like Mitie can easily afford to pay them decently for the essential work they do.”
A Eurostar spokesperson said: “We are aware that negotiations between Mitie and the unions are ongoing. If there is any impact on services we will update customers as soon as possible.”
A spokesperson for Mitie said: “We’re disappointed that RMT has made the decision to undertake industrial action, given we have already offered a significant pay increase and pay negotiations are ongoing. We remain open to continuing these discussions.
“In addition, we recently announced a £10m winter support package, designed to help the lowest paid colleagues across Mitie with the rising cost of living.
“As always, our priority is to ensure that exceptional services are delivered as normal so that passengers are able to continue their journeys with minimal disruption.”
Elsewhere in the economy, NHS workers, such as nurses, paramedics and 999 call handlers, have also backed stoppages in a ballot.
Holiday travellers bypass agents for cheap tickets - BUSINESSDAY
International airlines are seeing full flights to Nigeria but travel agents are not being patronised as passengers book their return tickets from other countries as a result of high fares in Nigeria.
Airlines have since blocked low ticket inventories, leaving high ticket inventories to be sold in naira only while the low ticket inventories on most airlines’ websites can be bought with only dollar cards. This is in a bid to prevent more of their funds from being trapped in Nigeria.
The situation has seen Christmas travellers bypass local travel agents to book their return tickets from other travel agents outside Nigeria, using their dollar cards.
Most airlines operating the Lagos-London route and Lagos-USA route and Lagos-Paris route are now fully booked for the festive season.
For available airlines, a return ticket from Lagos to London costs an average of N1.5 million as at Wednesday as against N800,000 last Christmas.
A return ticket from the United States to Lagos costs an average of N2.3 million as against N1.2 million last year.
“A lot of people are still travelling back for Christmas but sadly, the tickets are not being issued by us. We are not selling tickets, yet flights are fully booked for Christmas. We are really losing out this period,” Susan Akporiaye, president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), told BusinessDay.
Akporiaye said that in the past, parents would contact her to book tickets for their children coming back to Nigeria from the US, Paris, Poland and UK for the festive season.
She said that is no longer happening because she cannot issue tickets originating from outside Nigeria and if she has to do this, she will have to partner travel agents outside Nigeria, making the tickets more expensive for the customers.
“If we must issue tickets emanating outside Nigeria, we have to work with travel agents outside Nigeria. We also have to add our charges to these tickets. Travel agents outside Nigeria charge in dollars and pounds; so, we have to get the naira equivalent of the foreign currencies charged. This would make the tickets very expensive because of the naira-dollar exchange rates,” she said.
In the last nine months, foreign airlines have been finding it difficult to access their funds from tickets sold in the country as a result of foreign exchange scarcity and have resorted to buying dollars from the black market for as high as N700 to a dollar, compared the Central Bank of Nigeria’s rate of N429/$1.
The trapped funds have since February grown from $100 million to over $464 million in July, according to the International Air Transport Association, making it very difficult for airlines to operate seamlessly.
While the central bank has been able to release part of the funds, airlines have since deployed measures to mitigate effects of the trapped funds, such as selling higher ticket inventories and restricting local travel agents from selling tickets emanating from other countries.
Bankole Bernard, managing director/founder of Finchglow Travels and former NANTA president, said: “People are travelling back to Nigeria, even though our sales are not showing the volume, it is cheaper for people to buy tickets outside Nigeria than buying from Nigeria because the naira exchange rate is very high. The airlines are opening cheaper ticket inventories outside Nigeria but closed these inventories in Nigeria.
“If you enter the aircraft coming into Nigeria, they are still full. People are coming home and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority is losing five percent on every ticket that is not bought from Nigeria. If we are losing five percent and the plane is full, it means Nigeria is like a dumping ground,”
He said a return flight from Lagos to London cost over N1 million, adding that even though airlines have opened up more inventories, ticket prices are still high and airlines do not want to add to their funds already tied down.
Nigeria’s fuel crisis worsens as shortages spread nationwide - THE EAST AFRICAN
Nigeria, the world’s 6th oil producer that is dependent on importation of petroleum products, has thrown motorists and households into confusion as petrol, diesel and kerosene disappeared from filling stations for months
Abuja - The scarcity of petroleum products which hit Nigeria in July has worsened, spreading across the 36 states as Nigerians cling to the hope of the $18 billion Dangote Refinery which is expected to begin production by end of December.
Nigeria, the world’s 6th oil producer that is dependent on importation of petroleum products, has thrown motorists and households into confusion as petrol, diesel and kerosene disappeared from filling stations for months.
The situation heightened late November as Dangote refinery started hydro-testing in readiness for the commencement of production seven years into construction.
The 650,000 barrel per day capacity petrochemical industry located in Lekki free zone in Lagos may provide the needed relief alongside the two state-owned moribund refineries in Warri and Port Harcourt currently undergoing rehabilitation.
While awaiting the commencement of fuel production by the refineries, the Nigerian government has continued to import products which are hardly enough for all consumers across the country.
Pumps dry"The pumps are dry, most filling stations are shut,’’ Mr Alade Joseph, a petroleum unionist said on Wednesday in Abuja as scarcity takes its toll on residents, including those in the seat of government, Abuja, where a fuel black market thrives.
In the past weeks, long queues returned to filling stations in many cities but the lines are no longer there because products are not available.
In Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria, boys are seen displaying petrol in jerrycans on roadsides while major fuel stations are empty.
The few stations that opened to customers are selling petrol, kerosene and diesel at 250 percent above the regulated price of N175 per litre.
Commercial motorists have increased prices beyond the reach of many workers and resident who now have to trek to their destinations."I live in Air Port road, and I work at the city centre but I have to trek a distance of about 12 kilometres to and from city centre every day,” said Mr Wole Adeniran, a civil servant.
The situation is the same in Kogi state, North Central Nigeria, where products disappeared from pumps since the middle of November, causing tension.
OverwhelmedA civil servant, Mr Hassan Ahmed, said the NNPC station, a government petrol station, has been overwhelmed."I had been in the queue for over seven hours and could not get fuel. I resorted to [go to the] black market,” he said.“I must tell you that the ordinary Nigerians are suffering and we cannot continue like this. The situation should urgently be addressed to alleviate the suffering,” he added.
In South West Ekiti state, most filling stations were shut while the few having petrol have hiked the price.“The government is watching them sell the petrol far, far above regulated price and many residents cannot afford it,” said Mrs Afolabi Roland.
Worried about the situation, Governor Biodun Oyebanji of Ekiti State has set up a task force to look into the fuel scarcity.
Roadside sellersIn South East Enugu state, residents have been patronising roadside sellers for months.
As the suffering continues, the government and fuel marketers have offered different g explanations for the situation.
The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) explained that the scarcity is due to ongoing “road infrastructure projects” around Apapa and access road challenges in some parts of depots in Lagos.
The national operations controller of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), Mr Mike Osatuyi, attributed the scarcity to unsteady supply in the past few weeks.“The marketers will only sell what they buy. If the price of petrol increases, we add our transportation cost and other charges to the selling price,” Mr Osatuyi said.
In a desperate effort to stop importation of petroleum products, boost production and stop subsidy, President Muhammadu Buhari has witnessed the signing of an agreement with Daewoo Group of South Korea to revamp the Kaduna refinery.
The Kaduna refinery, like others in Warri and Port Harcourt, had not been operational for decades.
Daewoo, which is currently rehabilitating the Warri refinery, is expected to deliver fuel before the first half of 2023.
$20,000 dropped in street and returned in Switzerland - AFP
When an elderly man suddenly realised that he was missing more than $20,000 in cash just withdrawn from a Swiss bank, he assumed he had been robbed.
Instead, a couple found the wad of notes, stuffed into an envelope and dropped it in the street, and went to his home to return the cash in full, police said Thursday.
Officers said the man, who is mute, went to the bank in the small town of Martigny in southern Switzerland and withdrew 20,000 Swiss francs ($21,260).
When he got home, he realised that his envelope was missing.
Assuming that he must have been pickpocketed on the way home, he went to the police to report the money stolen.
It turned out, however, that he was not the victim of foul play, but had simply dropped the envelope as he got into his car, parked outside the bank.
A couple found the envelope, which in addition to the wad of notes contained a withdrawal slip that included the man’s address.
They went to his home to return the cash in full.
The man was so grateful, he gave the couple 500 francs, police said, hailing a “lovely story of citizen honesty.”
Qatar to Resume Flights to Taif, Saudi Arabia - THISDAY
Qatar Airways has announced that it would resume services to Taif starting January 3, 2023 with three weekly flights, which is the airlines’ sixth destination in Saudi Arabia.
The resumption of services will enable passengers flying from and to Taif to benefit from the airline’s extensive international network to across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas via the World’s Best Airport, Hamad International Airport.
Qatar Airways flight QR1206, will depart from Hamad International Airport at 07:40, arriving at 10:10 at Taif International Airport. Qatar Airways flight QR1207, will depart from Taif International Airport at 11:10, and arrive at Hamad International Airport at 13:20.
Qatar Airways is currently operating two daily flights from Riyadh, four daily flights from Jeddah, two daily flights from Medina, five daily flights from Dammam, and a daily flight from Qassim.
Qatar Airways recently announced that Privilege Club has officially adopted Avios as its reward currency, opening up a world of new opportunities for members travelling across the airline’s extensive network. This partnership offers a combination of benefits, including a wide range of greater guaranteed award seats and competitive prices on Qatar Airways flights, in addition to experiencing the World’s Best Airline and enjoying the World’s Best Airport, Hamad International Airport (HIA).
Qatar Airways currently flies to more than 150 destinations worldwide, connecting through its Doha hub, Hamad International Airport, voted by Skytrax as the ‘World’s Best Airport’.
Fuel queues grow longer after FG sufficiency claim - PUNCH
The queues for Premium Motor Spirit, popularly called petrol, grew longer on Thursday after the Federal Government’s claims that there was enough PMS in Nigeria that would last for 34 days.
On Wednesday, the government broke its several weeks of silence on the lingering fuel scarcity nationwide, as it claimed that it had enough product to keep the country wet for over a month.
Despite its claims, the queues for petrol at filling stations in Abuja, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger and other states grew longer on Thursday, as thousands of motorists thronged the few outlets that dispensed the commodity.
At the Conoil and Total fillings stations directly opposite the headquarters of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited in Abuja, hundreds of motorists formed long queues as they struggled to buy petrol.
“I read in the papers that there is enough petrol that will last for more than 30 days, but, surprisingly, we are still seeing queues because many filling stations are not selling. So where are the products, please?” a motorist, who simply gave his name as Daniel, stated.
The government had, through its Nigeria Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority, said on Wednesday that it had no plan to increase the pump price of petrol, describing comments on PMS price and its availability as speculations.
It had also stated that there was enough PMS that would last for more than a month, and urged petrol users to shun panic buying.
The NMDPRA had said, “This advisory addresses speculations on the price and availability of Premium Motor Spirit. The authority wishes to inform the general public that the Federal Government has no intention of increasing the price of PMS during this period.
“The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited has imported PMS with current stock levels sufficient for 34 days.
“Consequently, marketers and the general public are advised to avoid panic buying, diversion of products, and hoarding. In keeping with the authority’s responsibilities as outlined in the Petroleum Industry Act, the authority assures the public that it would continue to monitor the supply and distribution of all petroleum products nationwide especially during this holiday season.”
When contacted, the President, Petroleum Retail Outlet Owners Association of Nigeria, Billy Gillis-Harry, told our correspondent that the fuel supply situation had yet to stabilise.
He, however, noted that marketers were intensifying efforts to clear the queues, noting that the government, through NNPC, should ensure that there was adequate provision of PMS to dealers nationwide.
“I keep saying that what we need to deal with now is the issue of availability. We are intensifying efforts to clear the queues, but the major thing is for the product to be available,” Gillis-Harry stated.
Nigeria train resumes operations eight months after major attack - AL JAZEERA
The Kaduna train attack was one of several major incidents this year underscoring the challenge facing Nigeria’s overstretched security forces.
A train service linking Nigeria’s capital Abuja with the northern city of Kaduna has resumed operations eight months after it was suspended following one of the country’s most high-profile abduction incidents.
On March 28, gunmen with explosives blew up the tracks and assaulted the train travelling between Abuja and Kaduna. They opened fire, killing eight people, wounding 26, and taking over 100 passengers hostage.
The hostages were released in batches following negotiations with their captors, who were believed to have collected huge ransoms from their families.
Reporters from AFP news agency and the local Punch newspaper who were at the railway station in Abuja on Monday said the train departed the nation’s capital around 10am (09:00 GMT) for the two-hour journey to Kaduna.
Passengers were few – only occupying one-third of the train’s capacity – but excited that the service was back after eight months.
“I was just waiting for the commencement of this train service again, so I was so happy to be here today,” passenger Ganiyat Adesina, a 50-year-old university professor, told AFP.
She had arrived early at the station to beat the gridlock on the road.
“Just like 30 minutes after my arrival, we saw a team of military men with two armoured tanks and other vehicles – about five of them parading all these places,” she added.
“This is what I’m actually expecting the federal government to do.”
She said moving between Abuja and Kaduna had been “very stressful for people and for myself, I have to even stop going to Kaduna for the last eight months”.
Police said they had deployed personnel and equipment to protect the passengers and secure the tracks.
The Nigerian Railway Corporation – operators of the train – had planned to restart the Abuja-Kaduna service much earlier, but the families of the hostages insisted on their release first.
They were also concerned about the safety of passengers on the route.
The Abuja highway has been repeatedly attacked by gunmen who kidnap passengers, forcing travellers to opt for the train.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who steps down after a February election, sees the development of the railway as key to his infrastructure programmes.
The Kaduna train attack was one of several major incidents this year underscoring the challenge facing Nigeria’s overstretched security forces.
The military is battling a conflict perpetuated by Boko Haram and its offshoots in the northeast, armed bandits in the northwest, and separatist tensions in the country’s southeast.
The security challenge is a major issue for Buhari’s successor before the presidential ballot.