Thursday 28th March 2022 will remain a nightmare for a long while for victims of the Kaduna-Abuja rail trip. They had left Abuja at about 6 pm hoping to arrive Kaduna in the next two hours. But, they never did. Several passengers were killed in the attack by criminals, many were injured.
Breezy News publisher spoke to one of the survivors, who is a lecturer and civil servant, and a regular traveller on that route. We have to protect his identity for safety reasons:
It was one of the most horrifying experiences I have ever had. It was like a scripted movie, what you watch on Hollywood or Nollywood.
It all started as a peaceful journey. My particular preference for a 6 pm train is that it always eased my movement and how I’m able to meet up with my appointments because I work in Abuja and I have some other things to do in Kaduna. When I’m done with my activities in Abuja, specifically on Mondays, I take the 6 pm train to Kaduna because at that point it is not safe to use the road. But the train is quite safe and I get to Kaduna around 8:00, 8:30 pm. Then first thing on Tuesday morning, I’m up and going about my activities in Kaduna on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I’m done with Kaduna and I take the 6 pm ride back to Abuja.
Monday’s attack started about 7:58 pm, which means we were closer to Kaduna than we were from Abuja. I was sitting at SP 0013. My original couch was SP 0009 but the train was not too filled up. So I decided to stay at SP 0013. My phone battery was down, I therefore put on my laptop. I was watching a movie while my phone was charging to get myself busy before I alighted the train.
At 7:58 pm or thereabouts, I heard, out of nowhere, series of explosions. I thought it was inside the train. But when it happened, I knew that we were under attack.
There were about five or six serious explosions that really shook the train, and made it look as if it was going to fall. Some parts obviously derailed. I wasn’t outside, so I won’t know exactly about that. But the train was seriously attacked. Series explosions; serious explosions and then the whole coach was filled with smoke and smell of gunpowder. Immediately, I knew we were under attack. And in my mind, I said, “is this how it will all end?’ “Or, is this how I will go”?
Immediately, I put my laptop, wallet, ring, wrist watch, secondary phone after putting it off; anything that could identify me inside my bag and locked it just in case they came in and took me away. After the explosion, the train remained in motion and moved a bit farther from where the explosions happened. And then a guy came in; I don’t know if they were military or police. He sounded as someone who had experience on such operations. He urged everybody to lie down. Then the train stopped. Then I heard the sound of the engine again. Obviously, the driver was trying to move on from the attack. But then engine stopped.
Someone said to me later that at that time the criminals had accessed to driver and perhaps shot him, but I can’t confirm that. But I know that at some point, the train stopped, and all the lights in the coaches went off. All of us were on the floor, everyone making hush sounds and trying to make calls. But we kept urging ourselves to keep our phones away, and the lights on our phones to be put off so that they don’t draw any attention.
Once the train stopped, I started hearing gun shots, serious gunfire. At that point, I though it was the security that were inside the train that were exchanging gunfire or scaring the criminals away. Something now told me that it’s not possible that our security, without any knowledge of what was out there, would shoot sporadically and waste ammunition. I then found out that immediately the train stopped, the criminals started shooting. The shooting became louder as the minutes went by until it came into the train itself.
At that point, there was gunfire on the train. And these were bullets that were penetrating into the train, shattering the glasses. There was a lot of noise, commotion in the coaches. At that point, I knew it was a serious matter.
I laid down under the seat. Because I’m a bit tall, I could not conceal myself there, everywhere was suffocating. I knew that if the criminals came into our coach, I would not be able to move. I decided to come out and stay in-between the couches. I saw other persons lying out as well. After a while, the shooting stopped. It resumed shortly afterwards. I saw people running from other coaches into our coach. The message was clear: that the criminals had gained access into one of the coaches, particularly the SP0017, which is like a coach or two from ours. And at that point, pandemonium broke; everyone was scampering.
I left my seat, trying to make access to the next coach. I thought, “I don’t know what’s going on in the next coach. The one in front of me, I know what is happening. Let me watch and see”.
All of a sudden, I saw that the door of my coach, SP 0013 was opened. I was shocked. I told the guy behind me that we should try and close it. But before I could say anything, he had already closed the middle door, leaving me in between the two coaches with the door open. I was confused and didn’t know what to do. I took a risk to peep outside, and saw the criminals outside; some put on white loin clothing and spoke in Hausa urging people to come out. Women and children started crying. There was a lot of madness as they brought passengers down and took them away.
At that point, I forcefully opened the middle door that was locked. I went in, and told the passengers that the door was opened. They said I shouldn’t go back, but I tried stubbornly and went to close the door so that at least we had two closed doors. Before they could access one, we would at least have the chance of knowing what to do.
We sat down in the coach hearing all the gunfire and everything. The guy that was close to me said he was shot. I said if you were shot, you shouldn’t be talking. He urged me to touch a part of his chest and I felt the metal inside of him. I had to encourage him to relax. I said, hopefully help was on the way. Everybody made phone calls trying to get through to their loved ones and people who could help. The message was that help was on the way coming. We should just be calm and stay put and not draw attention to ourselves.
We were all in panic, everywhere was stuffy because a lot of people came into our coach. It was such a horrifying experience. Then we peeped and saw flashlights coming from the opposite direction. We felt the criminals had come again. But looking closely, we saw men in Nigerian military camouflage with bullet proof vests and rifles. And they encouraged us. They told us they had come to help us, that everything was calm. They said they had surrounded the whole place and we could now move to the other coaches that had been secured. That would be approximately an hour 30 minutes after the whole thing started.
At that point, we felt a bit relaxed, the military were around. That was when we saw the damage; passengers that were shot being carried to one of the coaches to be attended to by those who had medical knowledge. We also saw passengers who were shot dead. We saw the lifeless body of a lady being taken out. And there was blood all over the place, the aisle and all.
I saw a woman also complaining of her husband who was injured on the leg. When the criminals dragged him, he couldn’t move. And when they saw that he was a liability, they shot him dead. The criminals even argued among themselves saying: “Why would you kill him? Don’t you know we could make money from him? You’ve shot him already. Let’s get more people”. So, they got more passengers and took them away. There were series of scary gunshots; not your normal rifle gunshots. There were bullet holes on the train. The glasses were shattered from bullets penetrating. Some passengers hid themselves in the toilets. But the bullets got through and injured some of them. The whole experience was so horrifying.
After we had settled down in the coaches, the rescuers took passengers who needed attention; they took the dead bodies to a couch besides us. We were all urged to come out. Everywhere was safe. This happened between Rijana and Katari, not too from Kaduna.
The attack was well planned because the train stopped in between two hills where chances of escape was very difficult. The criminals had a strategy and knew what they were doing. We came down, climbed the hill, went to an open place and sat down on the floor. The military were around us telling us everything was fine. The General Officer Commanding 1 Division came himself to address us. He told us that we should hold on a while so that they could determine the safest way to move us out as the criminals might still be somewhere close by. He told us not to worry, that they were in control of the situation and would be bringing in buses to convey us. He said the buses might not be able to make it into the forest, which means that the victims would have to trek down to the rescue point.
About an hour or so, the buses came. We trekked for about 15 minutes to where the buses were. They took women, children and the injured first, while the rest of us waited for the second batch of buses. So many buses came in the second batch, and we all filed into the buses and heaved a sigh of relief.
We were taken from that point to 44 Army Reference Hospital where the injured were told to make their way to the emergency department to be attended to. Those who were not injured were told to have their seats and relax at the reception. Loved ones had gathered at the hospital to pick us up.
At the reception, a woman asked me if I saw her husband on the train. She came to pick him. I couldn’t tell her he had been shot dead!
I had spoken to my brother and he was outside waiting for me and my friend with whom I shared the same train. We met in the forest. Everyone was happy to see their loved ones. We got home about 4:30 am on Tuesday.