Nigerians mourn victims of deadly access reef

DAKAR, Senegal — Hundreds of passengers on a train, many regular commuters, traveling north from Nigeria’s capital Abuja to the thriving city of Kaduna were just minutes from their final destination on Monday night when they felt a bump and the train arrived Stop.

Next thing they knew, gunmen were riddled with bullets in the cars and rushed on board to evict the passengers. On a first-class bus, Regina Ngorngor, a 46-year-old librarian, said she was hiding under her seat and covering herself with luggage when she heard the first shots. The gunmen later shouted, “Everybody get out or we’ll shoot you,” but she remained hidden.

Hours later, she said, she was rescued by the Nigerian military, unharmed, but her body was covered in blood and dead passengers lying nearby. At least eight people were killed and 26 injured in the attack, and an unknown number are still missing – their relatives fear they were kidnapped.

The attack has rocked Nigeria because the rail line was seen as a safe alternative to the busy highway north of the capital, where armed groups have been robbing, kidnapping and ransoming drivers for years.

“Now people are scared of using the road or the train and they’re just fed up with that insecurity,” said Yusuf Felix, a 30-year-old communications specialist at a civil society organization who donated blood at a Kaduna hospital on Tuesday. where some of the victims were treated.

The incident has deepened the government’s deep sense of insecurity and resentment in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, where gunmen in the northwest have escalated their attacks – kidnapping schoolchildren, killing villagers and kidnapping civilians for ransom.

Although no group claimed responsibility for the attack on the train, a growing number of armed groups are now roaming the region. What began as vigilante groups formed to defend pastoralists and farmers against each other has morphed into banditry, with individuals employing more sophisticated weapons and more violent methods, analysts say.

Some have taken on an Islamist guise or claimed affiliation with Islamist groups: Three passengers on Monday’s train said in interviews that the attackers shouted “Allahu akbar,” a phrase in Muslim prayer adopted by terrorists.

Monday’s attack was the second on the Abuja-Kaduna line in months, and it came just days after gunmen killed a security guard in an attack on the airport in the city of Kaduna.

The popular two-and-a-half-hour regional train route has at least one armed guard on each carriage, and plainclothes officers also patrol the train, according to Kabir Adamu, a safety expert who conducted a safety assessment on the route.

“A criminal agenda has emerged and over time the intensity of the attacks has increased,” said Mr Adamu, managing director of Beacon Consulting Limited, an Abuja-based security and intelligence firm. “The Nigerian state is in no position to hold accountable those responsible for keeping the population safe.”

The escalating violence in the country’s north is a major setback for President Muhammadu Buhari, who was elected in 2015 and promised security would be one of his top priorities, said Nnamdi Obasi, a Lagos resident Senior Advisor for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group.

“At the time of his election, there was some hope that Buhari, a Northern ex-military man, would be well placed to deal with the uncertainty,” Mr Obasi said. “It was a huge disappointment.”

Mr Buhari on Tuesday denounced the attack on the train as a “callous attack” and said that “no one should be allowed to ransom the country”.

On Tuesday, Nigerians blamed the 79-year-old president for his inability to stem the tide of violence. Many also criticized him on social media for allegedly planning to attend a soccer match between Nigeria’s national team and Ghana’s in Abuja while families mourn or care for survivors. But an intelligence memo published in local news media on Wednesday suggested Mr Buhari stayed away from the stadium after the country’s security services warned him of a possible bomb attack.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation said more than 360 passengers were on board when Monday’s attack took place, but several local news reports said there were nearly 1,000.

The victims included Chinelo Megafu Nwando, a dentist returning from Abuja after collecting her visa to travel abroad; Abdul Isa Kofar-Mata, the director of Nigeria’s leading technical education organization; and Farida Sule Muhammed, a 29-year-old banker.

“I’m on the train,” wrote Ms. Nwando on Twitter shortly before 10 p.m., “I was shot, please pray for me.”

Another passenger, Maimunnat Ibrahim, 29, said she was sleeping when she felt the bump in the track and the train stopped. She heard gunshots and gunmen smashing windows. As they stormed the first-class car next to her, Ms. Ibrahim noticed that she was bleeding: she had been shot in the thigh.

Ms Ibrahim said in a telephone interview on Wednesday from a hospital where she was still being treated that several passengers on her bus died either from gunfire or from a stampede as they stormed off the train.

Many families were still looking for loved ones who were missing on Wednesday.

“I haven’t heard from her and her phone isn’t connecting,” Peter Aboi said of his 28-year-old twin sister Peace, who returned to Kaduna. Her cousin, who was traveling with Peace, is also missing.

In a statement confirming the death of Ms Nwando, the dentist, a Nigerian Medical Association official said the rampant insecurity was a tragedy that was driving educated professionals to leave the country.

“Needless bloodshed and senseless loss of life is fast becoming a recurring decimal in our country,” said Aniekeme Uwah, the representative, “exacerbating the alarming effects of brain drain, which in many cases can be attributed to the deteriorating security situation in the country are country.”

A saxophone and tennis player, Ms Nwando, was known for her enthusiasm and non-judgmental attitude towards others, according to Chimeze Ibe, 31, a friend and former classmate.

“She loved life, she just enjoyed being herself,” Mr Ibe said.

Train services stopped as of Wednesday, blocking countless residents who depended on the route and didn’t want to use the even more dangerous highway.

In a telephone interview from her home in Kaduna, Ms Ngorngor, the librarian who hid on the train for two hours, was still in shock. “The kidnappers said there were more to come,” she said. “They said they were just getting started.”

Elian Peltier reported from Dakar, Senegal, and Ben Ezeamalu from Lagos, Nigeria. Ismail Alfa contributed to coverage from Maiduguri, Nigeria. Nigerians mourn victims of deadly access reef

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