Abuja-Kaduna: Road to hell with good intentions
The Abuja-Kaduna Road makes the news again, and not for positive reasons. It was reported on Sunday that a number of commuters were abducted by gunmen, who left two dead. The terrorists attempted to stop the motorists along the notorious Rijana part of the Abuja-Kaduna highway, but as some of them tried to escape, they sporadically shot at their vehicles. As confirmed by his family, Alhaji Sagir Hamidu, a business tycoon and former governorship aspirant in Zamfara State, was among the people shot dead as they tried to escape.
These developments are important for several reasons, and chiefly for the lack of innovation on the part of the Nigerian government. That highway has been a death trap for the past three years at least, and despite the slew of solutions provided by both government and private sector, the problem has remained. It is not hard to understand why: approaching insecurity requires a whole of state approach with emphasis on sustainability of workable solutions.
One of the first solutions brought about when the situation became a threat to the elites shuttling between Abuja and Kaduna was to send troops to the forests around the road to terminate bandits who have formed an enclave in the Kaduna villages that border.
When that didn’t work, the road was abandoned and the elites took to the railway. The Rigasa train station which stands at the Abuja-Kaduna train route became an attraction for bandits looking to make a statement and quick bucks. Not only were the trains attacked by bandits, commuters were also abducted on alighting . Consequently, helicopters were deployed to “guard” the trains going into Abuja when the bandits graduated from using “stones” to deploying actual bombs on the rail tracks.
Again, that strategy didn’t work, and the genius policy makers decided that a show of force was needed. 300 female soldiers from the army were deployed to the highway in January, because “what a man can do, a woman can do better”. These are not my words. They’re the words of the Kaduna State government who welcomed the deployment with jubilation.
How the army’s amazons have fared in the past eleven months is an open secret: one does not need an analyst to state that there’s absolutely no security presence on that road, and the ones who were there have been overwhelmed by a lot of factors, including poor welfare and the obvious unsustainability of that plan.
In all the solutions proffered so far, a common denominator could be deduced as to understanding how they failed: the plans were simply unsustainable. 300 female soldiers cannot guide the Abuja-Kaduna highway forever. That plan was a PR campaign launched by the army and supported by the Kaduna State government for reasons best known to it. The military is fighting terror on several fronts and is not expected to be everywhere at the same time. The lethargy arising from such stretches is beginning to tell badly on our national security. One can make the same argument against the perceived logic of guiding trains with helicopters. Predictably, after a few trips, the “guarding” stopped and attacks resumed.
The government for far too long has played the long game of kicking the can down the road, hoping that the problem would either go away on its own, or someone would pick it up, or it would not apply to them and their elite friends altogether. Yesterday’s incident disproved all three assumptions on practical terms. The kind of innovation needed to save that road which is beginning to tell heavily economically on Kaduna residents must first be found in the will to deal with the problem strategically.
Sadly, that resolve would not be found anytime soon.