Untold story of train terror attack

Untold story of train terror attack

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• Why security escort couldn’t save us – Victims • Bandits demanding millions on abducted passengers –Families

One of the survivors of the Kaduna train attack has revealed why the escort-security men on board the ill-fated train could not save the passengers from their attackers.

The 52-year-old man’s revelation followed the information by the Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Mr Freeborn Okhira, that 18 armed security personnel drawn from the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), and Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSDC) were on board the Abuja-Kaduna train attacked on Monday, March 28 by heavily armed bandits.

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How we were attacked

Figures showed that while eight passengers lost their lives, about 40 were injured, some of them seriously, out of about 400 said to be on board the train. But an account by the survivor, who refused to disclose his identity for fear and traumatic experience he passed through, showed that the attack recorded such casualties for a number of reasons.

One, the train fell into a valley when it derailed following the explosion that wrecked its track. Secondly, everywhere was dark, making visibility difficult for the security men on board the train. Three, like Okhira stated, the operatives were not only outnumbered but also outgunned when they ran out of ammunition. Four, the terrorists were at an advantage in that they operated from a higher ground and a familiar terrain quite unknown to the security men.

The attackers, he explained, planned the attack close to a valley which gave then advantage over the armed security men on board the train. This is why they were able to pin the passengers down for more than one hour.

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“I had never had this kind of experience before for the 52 years I’ve lived on earth,” he told Saturday Sun. “We were approaching Kaduna. About 25 minutes to Rigasa, at 7:43pm, there was a loud explosion. The train began to wobble. Then all of a sudden, it stopped and within two seconds, there were shootings here and there.

“The security agents inside the coaches were trying to repel the attackers. But their efforts had no serious impact because the place was sloppy. It was like they were up and we were in a ditch; that gave them an advantage over us. That was how we were held for about more than one hour. And then of course, the bandits were entering the coaches randomly because there was no light. We later got to know that they focused more on the two business coaches. They entered my coach and a lady in front of me was shot. She was crying but we couldn’t help because we were all confused and didn’t know what to do. Then, another lady was shot dead.

“Some were trying to run but bullets hit them. Then around 9:35 pm, there was a grave silence and it was then it dawned on us that the bandits had killed, maimed and kidnapped some people Around 10 pm, military men came, about 500 of them. There was no MTN network but there were 9mobile and Airtel, which helped people to send text messsages.”

Saturday Sun learnt that it was during this period that Dr Chinelo Megafu Nwando the dentist working with St Gerald Catholic Hospital, Kakuri, Kaduna, and one of the eight who lost their lives in the attack, sent her last Twitter message via her handle @nelo_x : “I’m on the train. I have been shot. Please pray for me.”

The survivor further recalled: “The military then asked us to file out of the train. But there was no strength left in us because we were lying on top of one another. The military men then supported us to walk out of the place because it was a valley. We did that for about one hour 30 minutes until a senior person among them addressed us and asked us to trek to the main road which took us about 30 minutes. When we got to the main road, they brought buses around 2:30 am and we started filing in beginning with the children, women and then men. They took us to the military hospital from where my family came to pick me around 6 am.”

Influx of relatives and sympathizers

The hospitals where some of the injured were rushed to by military personnel are constantly besieged by anxious relatives, sympathisers and curious members of the public. They include St Gerard’s Catholic Hospital where the late Chinelo practised before she met her untimely death, and the 44 Army Referral Hospital, both in Kaduna.

The influx of sympathizers, family members and well-wishers to VIPs wards of 44 Army Hospital is unprecedented, the reporter gathered. A medical staff of the hospital was overheard saying: “More than 100 visitors come to these wards every morning and evening to greet their friends and family members on admission after the incident.” One of the reasons it is so, it was gathered, is because one of the wards allegedly houses a former governor of one of the Northern states.

Nurses and security guards at the entrance of the door leading to the VIPs wards have a hectic time controlling the crowd. “This is about 6p.m and very soon we will start dressing the wounds,” one of the nurses said. “We don’t want to see any visitor while we are doing that. But we are having problem stopping them.”

Some visitors were seen discussing in groups within the hospital premises. Others were seen discussing how to raise money to buy some medications for their loved ones, victims of the incident hospitalised there. Some relatives who trooped to the hospitals were in search of their loved ones with whom they had lost contact since after the incident.

But one of the things that Saturday Sun found intriguing was the general atmosphere of fear of the unknown that seemed to pervade everywhere. It prompted many of the survivors to refuse to disclose their identities. Another survivor who like the first refused to give his name also narrated his experience. He said: “Immediately I heard gunshots from the opposite direction, I ran and hid in one of the toilets of the train. While there, I heard passengers wailing and shouting. I heard the footsteps of the bandits as they moved from one coach to another, killing and abducting passengers. I was panicking in the toilet. I only came out when soldiers arrived for rescue.”

More survivors’ tales

A third survivor recalled: “Immediately, the train halted, we were all flung about like pieces of property because of the jarring way it stopped. From what I observed, the attackers were expecting the train to derail. But when it stopped before their calculated spot, we started hearing gunshots from all around us. One of the flying bullets hit a lady who was sitting in front of me at her waist. She was just saying: ‘Help, I’m dying.’ The military men came and took her away. I cannot tell whether she survived or not.

“The soldiers later brought buses and moved all of us to 44NARHK from where we found our way home. It was a terrible experience. Many people who have not had a live experience of thundering gunshots before that night were seriously traumatised. I pray that the Federal Government wakes up from its slumber and do the needful. The truth is that these criminals appear to be more coordinated, resolute and determined in bringing the government to its knees and they are moving closer to Abuja.”
The survivor that first spoke to us, added: “We need government to do something tangible about this issue of security. There should be security not just for the airport, railway or roads but everywhere. We should feel safe in our land.”

But some of the survivors hospitalised at Saint Gerard Catholic Hospital were courageous enough to give their names as they shared their experiences with Saturday Sun. One of them, Maimuna Ibrahim narrated her experience thus: “All of a sudden at about 8 pm we started hearing shootings from outside. We all lay down inside the train. The bandits gained access into the train by forcing the door open and they continued to shoot indiscriminately. I did not know that they shot at my right thigh while I was lying down. It was when soldiers came for rescue that they saw that I was bleeding and rushed me to the hospital.”

Fatima Shaibu, who had bruises all over her body said: “The bandits rushed into the train twice and abducted passengers and took them into the bush. I saw them, they put veils on their faces. They were young men of about 18 years. They were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and they spoke in foreign language. They did not speak English; they did not speak Fulani, and they did not speak Hausa.”

For Chinelo, St Gerard’s in mourning

The Medical Director of St. Gerard Catholic Hospital revealed that 11 of the survivors were later referred to Army Referral Hospital because of their complicated cases. He said that two of the ones left in the care of the hospital, unfortunately, lost the battle for survival. One of them incidentally was Dr Chinelo, 26-year-old trained dentist from Onitsha, Anambra State, who the authorities took special interest in, because she was one of their staff. When our reporters visited St Gerard’s, they found the management and staff in mourning mood. They all wore long faces while they performed their duties.

Chinelo who had her secondary education at Queens College, Lagos before graduating with a degree in Dentistry at the University of Port-Harcourt, Rivers State during the 2015/2016 academic session, did her one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps at the Kaduna State Dental Centre and worked with St Gerard’s for some years, after completion of her youth service. She worked under the supervision of Rev. Sister Beatrice Danladi, before resigning recently to take up employment overseas. She had concluded plans to relocate abroad before the sad incident took place.

A public statement by the Nigerian Medical Association read: “The NMA President, Prof. Innocent A O Ujah and indeed all Medical and Dental Practitioners under the auspices of NMA are deeply saddened by the tragic, horrific and preventable death of one of our members, Dr Chinelo Megafu Nwando.

“As an association, we vehemently decry the worsening insecurity in the country which has made all of us and Nigerians as a whole vulnerable to violent attacks by hoodlums, bandits, kidnappers and terrorists who are currently having a field day causing us deep sorrows and severe pains. The untimely death of the young, promising doctor while striving to earn a honest living is one death too many.”

In his own statement, Anambra State Governor, Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo commiserated with the family of the young dentist and the Nigerian Medical Association over her unfortunate death in the hand of bandits. He described the circumstances leading to her death as painful but avoidable.

A staff of the hospital who spoke to Saturday Sun on her death but refused to give her name because she is not authorized to speak on the issue, said: “She did her NYSC service in Kaduna. But when the management saw that she was very good on the job, they decided to give her a job. But last month she resigned because she said her parents said she should come to Canada to join them. So she travelled to Abuja to process her travelling documents. It was when she was coming back by train that she was killed. She was very young and hardworking. She was to leave Nigeria for Canada this weekend.”

Chief Medical Director, St Gerard’s Catholic Hospital, Dr Shurkuk Cletus Bako, expressed shock over the sudden death of the lady he described as “one of the finest young staff of the facility” before her resignation about a month ago. He confirmed that she was planning to travel out of the country for further studies and to gain more work experience.

“She is yet to be buried because we are still discussing with her family concerning the day she will be buried. We still have her corpse here at the facility. Until her death, she was living in our quarters. In fact, her personal belongings are still here. I think it is now that her friends are trying to bring them out.”

Fate of the abducted

But that pain extends to both owners of the dead and the living. Relatives of those abducted, whose number is yet to be ascertained, are doing everything within their power to see them released alive by their abductors. But the amount being quoted by them as their ransom is scary.

An 89-year old woman who was kidnapped along with his daughter are said to be languishing in the bandits’ den. A family source said the abductors had placed a N70 million ransom on the woman and her daughter.

“My worry is that the woman is aged and in bad health condition,” a family source said. “The entire family members are praying for her safe release. The ransom demanded is too high, but if God helps, we will be able to secure their freedom.”

A Kaduna-based POS operator who gave her name as Juliet told Saturday Sun that her brother was among those kidnapped from the train. She said that as at Thursday, the kidnappers had called to request N15 million as ransom.

She said her brother, 40, was travelling to Kaduna from Abuja where he had gone for medical check-up and treatment before he was kidnapped. “The kidnappers called today (Thursday) using my brother’s phone. We have been running around since but we have not been able to raise even one-tenth of the money. My brother’s situation is worrisome because he is sick and he is on medication. He needs prayers and we call on everybody to help us pray for his safe release.”

Meanwhile, volunteers have continued to besiege 44 Army Referral Hospital to donate blood to the hospitalised victims. One of them, Suleiman said: “I saw a crowd of young men and women troop into the hospital, ready, and willing to donate blood. The most amazing part of it is that no one cares to know who the receiver is. Region, tribe, religion and political differences were put aside as everyone was out there to save lives. It gives me joy and hope that Nigeria is going to be strong despite the security challenges. We shall come out stronger and victorious.”

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