Prior to the grounding of the rail transport system in some major cities of the country including Maiduguri, the railway was the cheapest and largest means of conveying goods and services in addition to human movements.
The Maiduguri railway terminus used to witness a beehive of activities with top businessmen and women using the system to transport their goods from Maiduguri to other parts of the country and in turn convey goods back from the other parts of the country to the city and thus boosting the economy of Borno State.
Due to Borno’s huge advantage of bordering some African countries such as Niger, Chad and Cameroun, business merchants from as far as the Central African Republic and Sudan utilised the other three bordering countries to import goods from Nigeria to their countries through Borno, with the railway transport services making their business sojourn much easier and less expensive.
But with the grounding of rail transport, the economic fortunes accruing to the state became minimal as citizens continued to wonder when the rail system will bounce back for return of the economic fortunes of the once known “Home of Peace “ through the activities of business merchants who were then thronging the state.
Notwithstanding the decade of Boko Haram insurgency that has ravaged Borno and the further crumbling of its economy, the relative peace currently enveloping its atmosphere is making citizens yearn for the return of such economic boosters as the rail transport system and the visiting merchants.
So, it was not surprising when some residents of the state especially those residing around the Nigerian Railway Corporation terminus, Maiduguri protested over a move by some persons to evacuate some of the NRC facilities such as the train coaches and engines.
Trouble started when the men arrived with truck-loaders and lifted about three train coaches before the residents raised alarm and invited the police who stopped the men from evacuating the property.
The protest which started on Saturday escalated until Sunday morning before the state deputy governor, Umar Usman Kadafur, arrived at the scene and sued for calm, promising that the state would not allow anyone to move the train facilities out of Maiduguri.
Addressing hundreds of the aggrieved residents who thronged the station that Sunday morning with placards bearing different inscriptions such as, “We want our railway coaches back,” “No to evacuation of railway facilities from Maiduguri,” among others, the deputy governor informed the protesters that government under the administration of his principal, Prof Babagana Zulum would not watch and allow any railway facility to be evacuated out of the state, and rather said the government would work assiduously to revive the railway services for effective transportation and development.
“We are here to identify with your concern as law-abiding citizens. We want to assure you that the Borno State government would not allow any of the railway facilities to be moved even for an inch out of Maiduguri station.
“Borno is the only state in the federation that borders three different countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroun, and so, provision of railway services is key to enhance trans-Saharan trade. Therefore, apart from halting the evacuation of these coaches, the Borno State government will ensure that other coaches that were evacuated in one way or the other are returned to Maiduguri,” Kadafur said.
Youth leader, Mallam Abubakar expressed displeasure over the incident, stressing that Borno State which has suffered devastation by over a decade Boko Haram crisis needs government intervention in reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement including revamping of the railway services, and not to embark on evacuation of its facilities.
Though the police acted swiftly by arresting the men who came to evacuate the train coaches and other facilities in the terminus, it turned out that the men were actually sent by the authority of the NRC going by the statement which was issued to the media in the aftermath of the arrest of its men coupled with the story making the rounds that some train coaches were stolen.
Managing director of the NRC, Fidet Okhiria who issued the statement explained that the people moving the coaches were doing so in an official capacity.
He added that the coaches were being moved by officials of the NRC to the corporation’s Running Shed in Jos, Plateau State, to be overhauled and put back into operation.
“The attention of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) has been drawn to news trending on numerous social media platforms purported to have emanated from some media outlets, which claimed that an attempt was made to steal NRC coaches from Maiduguri.
“The NRC management wishes to clarify this erroneous report by stating that the said coaches are officially being moved to the NRC Running Shed in Jos, Plateau State, to be overhauled and put back into operation. NRC is trying to extend Rail Mass Transit nationwide,” he said.
Following the statement issued by the NRC, the Borno State government urged residents to remain calm over the planned evacuation of the railway infrastructure to a running shed in Jos.
A statement by the commissioner for Information and Internal Security, Prof Usman Tar, admonished members of the public to be law-abiding, saying that the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) will deal with this local industrial matter.
Prof Tar said, “On Sunday, October 15, 2023 at about 11am, railway workers were seen holding a protest around the Railway Quarters, Maiduguri over an alleged ‘relocation of railway infrastructure by the state government.’ According to security reports, the protesters were demanding the repair of the infrastructure in Maiduguri instead of relocating them.
“According to a public notice released by the Nigerian Railway Corporation, there should be no cause for alarm over this matter as some coaches are being ‘moved to NRC Running Shed Jos, Plateau State to be overhauled with a view to putting them back to operation. NRC is trying to extend Rail Mass Transit all over the country.
“On this note, the Borno State Ministry of Information and Internal Security wishes to inform the general public that railway infrastructure management is a federal matter, and regular maintenance of railway assets and platforms lies within the purview of the Nigerian Railway Corporation. The NRC is on top of the situation in dealing with the protesting workers and Maiduguri remains calm and peaceful.
“Therefore, members of the public are advised to be law-abiding as the NRC deals with this local industrial matter. The restoration of peace and security remains on course, and all hands must be on deck to ensure that, together, we build Borno back and better.”
However, the state governor, Prof Babagana Zulum who travelled out of the state when the planned evacuation of the railway property occurred, described the move as suspicious, adding that it was done in an unfair manner, noting that the state government was not informed until residents intercepted movement of the coaches.
Zulum remarked that the Borno State government would follow all legal means to ensure that infrastructure meant for the state are not moved to any other place.
The governor stated this when he paid a visit to the railway terminus in Maiduguri.
“About five months ago, some of the rolling stocks were conveyed to other states of the federation without the knowledge of the security operatives and Borno State government.
“This time around, the community raised an alarm when they saw the movement of these rolling stocks from Maiduguri to other parts of the country. When we contacted the management of the Nigerian Railway Corporation, they said the rolling stocks would be moved to Jos for a complete overhaul and be dispatched elsewhere,” the governor said.
Zulum argued that the decision to relocate the rail infrastructures was crudely pursued by NRC.
“On this note, I want to announce that nobody will move out any of the rail infrastructure here in Borno State without recourse to the rule of law. I urge you (members of the community) to remain calm and not to take laws into your hands. I want to, once again, note that these infrastructure will not be moved anywhere, insha’Allah. Borno is one of the states in Nigeria and we have equal rights,” he reiterated.
The governor also noted that with recent developments where the management of railway was removed from the exclusive list of the Federal Government, Borno State would explore means of partnership with the Nigerian Railway Corporation to make proper use of railway facilities in the state.