An attack on the Abuja to Kaduna train line could be imminent, Nigeria’s domestic intelligence agency, the Department of State Services (DSS), recently wrote to alert the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC).
A coalition of bandits plan to attack the train and kidnap passengers on board for ransom “any moment from now,” warned R.N. Dopemu, the director of security at the agency’s FCT command.
The letter, dated Aug. 11, 2023, was leaked to the press on Thursday. It raises fears of a repeat of an attack in March 2022 in which at least eight people were killed and 62 kidnapped when terrorists attacked a Kaduna-bound train.
Fortunately, an attack has not occurred in the almost two weeks since the letter was sent. But, beyond the warning, on deeper inspection, the letter raises questions about inter-agency cooperation in Nigeria, and just who has responsibility when it comes to protecting lives and property.
Several members of staff at the NRC have been arrested following the leak, it has been reported.
“In view of the threat inherent and the need to forestall likely breach of security along the AKTS, it is advised that existing security arrangements be scaled up within and along the route,” the letter said.
The DSS then recommends that the state-owned railway company should enact security measures that could help to forestall the crisis. These included organising an air surveillance patrol, track surveillance, military and police checkpoints and patrols, security raid operations in specific areas, establishing a crisis response team, and fostering intelligence sharing among relevant stakeholders.
It added that Police Mobile Force personnel and officers of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) should be deployed -at the instruction of the NRC- to provide escort services.
Special efforts should be made, the letter says, to see these officers should be supported with “walkie-talkie” communication equipment.
A close reading of the letter suggests three things. Firstly, that the intelligence agency was placing much of the burden of organising the security reinforcement of the train service on the railway company, rather than a security agency taking the lead.
Secondly, that officers of the Nigeria Police and the NSCDC do not routinely have communication devices thought of by most international security standards to be essential. The agencies have to be specially instructed to ensure they are provided with them when deploying for operations.
Also, no mention was made in the letter as to where the budget for these improvements would come from, raising the implication -not explicitly stated in the letter, but hanging over the instructions, that it was the responsibility of the NRC to pay for these security improvements out of their budget.
The NRC is not empowered to protect its own infrastructure and passengers. Recently approved budgets for the organisation do not include provisions for security. (It, however, works closely with the NSCDC, which is saddled with the mandate of protecting critical national assets, and the police, which has a Railway Command.) So, a letter asking the corporation to scale up security arrangements seems out of place.
“The letter is interesting in that it indicates there is still a lack of a joined up strategy to protect the railways,” said Chidi Nwaonu, a defence expert and Director of Peccavi Consults.
“There is a troubling lack of preparedness, especially following the ambush and abductions last year. What I would have expected to see was the DSS activating a pre-planned contingency operation that had already been planned for, trained for, rehearsed and resourced.”
According to the National Security Agencies Act that established the DSS, the intelligence agency’s functions include detecting and preventing crimes against Nigeria’s internal security and protecting non-military classified information related to the country’s internal security.
But the absence of smooth cooperation between it and other security agencies has hampered its ability to put intelligence gathered into good use.
This year alone, DSS operatives have clashed with both officials of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In the past, the agency has also had disagreements or misunderstandings involving the Nigeria Police or the Army. In 2022, the police in the southwestern state of Osun arrested officers of the DSS and NSCDC allegedly without giving notice to the sister agencies — worsening already fragile relations between them.
Outside the DSS, other agencies have also had their own conflict, sometimes going as far as exchanging blows and gunfire. In one incident last March, soldiers attacked the police headquarters in Taraba and killed two officers, alleging that police personnel had earlier stabbed one of their own.
All this is in spite of the fact that ₦8.6 million ($11,300) was approved for the police in each of the 2022 and 2023 federal budgets to promote inter-agency cooperation with other defence and security agencies.
Meanwhile, top DSS officials have continued to state their interest in collaborating. The agency has recently engaged in joint security operations in places like Kaduna, Kano, Kogi, and Nasarawa alongside the Nigerian Army and Police.
“We are happy to be giving information to the police and we will continue to do it. We have gone beyond primordial thinking of inter-agency rivalry,” DSS Director in Lagos, S.M. Waziri, said in February ahead of the general elections.
The agency’s spokesperson, Peter Afunanya, also said in May that they would continue to collaborate with their sister agencies “to rid the nation of criminal elements, particularly at this transition period and even beyond”.
Where are the walkie-talkies?
The second problem the DSS letter prominently points at is the shortage of communication devices among law enforcement agents.
“Emphasising the need for walkie-talkies raises several questions, such as how do they normally communicate?” asked Nwaonu.
He observed that the limited range of a walkie-talkie might also be a challenge. Even if the device is available, the officers would not be able to communicate with the base. Nwaonu said, “Preemptive raids and clearance operations are good but also there needs to be the ability to respond to incidents rapidly either by basing forces near trouble spots or having an air component.”
Though the Nigeria Police is a federal agency, it has often relied on donations from private sources and state governments to shore up the funding it gets from the central government. These donations come in the form of patrol vehicles, communications equipment, and other operational materials.
Several studies have concluded that there is a gross inadequacy of patrol vehicles, communication gadgets, arms, batons, and other equipment in the police, even though most officers admit that they are crucial to their work.
After thugs broke into the National Assembly in 2018 and went away with the mace, the police blamed it partly on the lack of functional walkie-talkies, which would have allowed its officers to alert all exit points and prevent the invaders’ escape.
A look through recent federal budgets shows that the government is making efforts to fill this vacuum. In 2022, for example, ₦84.6 million ($110,500) was approved for the police for the acquisition of security devices and ₦787 million ($1 million) for the installation of digital communication equipment. Data publicised by Govspend similarly showed that the NSCDC spent at least ₦137.9 million ($180,300) on the purchase of walkie-talkies between May 2019 and Feb. 2022.
But officers of the Nigeria Police who spoke to us disclosed that there is a deficit. One high-ranking officer told HumAngle that the force headquarters supplies all commands with walkie-talkies, which are often assigned to “very senior” officers and the “senior man” among junior officers on patrol.
“The walkie-talkie is issued to the head of the department (leader of the people on patrol) so that they can communicate with the command,” another officer said. “But most officers buy it; it is not issued. Anybody can buy it individually,” he added. “I myself, I can buy it and go to the command. They will code it for me. If they issue several to a unit, they can give to the people who need it.”
Additional reporting by Adejumo Kabir.
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