Nigerian security forces are searching for more than 30 train passengers who were kidnapped by gunmen over the weekend after attacking a train station in the southern state of Edo.
Passengers were waiting to board a night train when gunmen began shooting, causing injuries. It is the first such attack in southern Nigeria and raises security concerns ahead of February elections.
The Edo state police said in a statement on Sunday that officers along with the army, local vigilantes and hunters are searching the nearby forests for the victims. Authorities say 32 people were kidnapped in Saturday’s attack, but one escaped.
State Information Commissioner Chris Osa Nehikhore told local newspapers that a suspect has been arrested and is assisting police in the search operation.
Police said shepherds armed with AK-47 rifles opened fire at the Igueben train substation as passengers waited to board an overnight train on Saturday. Several people were injured and railway officials have shut down all traffic at the station for the time being.
The attack comes just a month after the resumption of train services from Abuja to the northern city of Kaduna. The train service had been closed since March last year, when gunmen attacked a train and took more than 60 hostages.
All those hostages have since been released.
Security analyst Chidi Omoje says a repeat of the train attack shows authorities have not learned from past experience.
“It’s actually embarrassing because one would have expected that after the Kaduna incident, these guys would sit down and make sure there was a rail facility,” Omoje said. “Don’t forget that we are trying to revitalize our rail system in this country and now you see these kinds of attacks on it. People will naturally be afraid to even go near any train these days.”
Nigeria has been fighting Islamist militants in the northeast for more than 12 years. But in more recent years the violence has spread to other regions of the country.
Security analyst Senator Iroegbu says authorities have not taken a blanket approach to addressing security issues.
“Most of the time, the response to these security issues is done in a haphazard way, like in silos, if it’s happening in Kaduna, some neighboring states feel they are safe. It shows a government that is not prepared,” Iroegbu said. .
According to Nigeria Security Tracker, more than 9,000 people were killed and 4,600 kidnapped across the country last year.