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NAIRA SWAP: COURT RESTRAINS BUHARI, CBN ON FEB 10 DEADLINE

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Worried Customers waiting to get cash in front of a bank along Iju-Ishaga Road, Lagos…yesterday PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

• Three APC governors sue FG over naira scarcity

• Obaseki backs cashless policy

• Protesters accuse banks of hoarding, selling naira notes to politicians for vote buying

• 14 political parties threaten to boycott elections if naira redesign, cash withdrawal policies are cancelled

• NACCIMA: CBN should have introduced N5,000 note not redesign naira

With three days left to the expiration of the February 10 deadline, a Federal Capital Territory (FCT), High Court, has compelled the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and 27 commercial banks to go ahead with the full implementation of the naira redesign policy, restraining President Muhammadu Buhari from further extending the deadline.

In a motion by four political parties, namely Action Alliance (AA), Action Peoples Party (APP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM) and National Rescue Movement (NRM), the court, presided over by Justice Eleojo Enenche, also granted an order directing the CEOs of the 27 commercial banks and their alter egos to show cause why they should not be arrested and prosecuted for the economic and financial sabotage of the country by their illegal hoarding, withholding, not paying or disbursing the new N200, N500 and N1000 banknotes despite supply of such notes by CBN.

Delivering a ruling, yesterday, in a suit marked FCT/HC/CV/2234/2023, the court restrained CBN from extending the deadline on the use of old naira notes pending the determination of the suit. The order will be for an initial period of seven days until the motion of notice is heard on February 14.

“An order of interim injunction is hereby made restraining the defendants, whether by themselves, staff, agents, officers, interfacing banks or whosoever not to suspend, stop, extend, vary or interfere with the extant termination date of use of the old N200, N500 and N1,000 bank notes, being February 10, 2023, pending the hearing and determination of motion on notice,” the court held.

The judge also made an order of interim injunction “directing and mandating the defendants whether by themselves, staff, agents, officers, interfacing banks or whosoever described to comply with, implement and give effect to the currency redesign and restructuring of the old N200, N500 and N1,000 bank notes on or before the last day of February 10, pending the hearing and determination of motion on notice.”

The court further directed bank heads, chief executive officers, managing directors and/or alter egos “to forthwith show cause as to why they shall not be arrested and prosecuted for the economic and financial sabotage of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by their illegal act of hoarding, withholding, nor paying or disbursing the new N200, N500 and N1000 bank note, being the legal tender of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to their respective customers, despite supplies of such currency note by the second and third defendants, thereby leading to the present scarcity of currency notes in circulation.”

The order of the court has rendered futile all behind-the-scene efforts, especially by governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to force the hand of the President to reverse the naira swap policy or at least further extend its deadline.

EARLIER, yesterday, three APC governors sued the Federal Government over the naira redesign policy. Governors Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Yahaya Bello (Kogi) and Bello Matawalle (Zamfara) dragged the Federal Government before the Supreme Court.

The states are seeking a declaration that the Demonetisation Policy of the Federation being currently carried out by CBN under the directive of President Buhari is not in compliance with the extant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), CBN Act, 2007 and actual laws on the subject.

They are also asking the court to make a declaration that the three-month notice given by government and CBN, the expiration of which will render the old notes inadmissible as legal tender, is in gross violation of the provisions of Section 20(3) of the CBN Act 2007, which specifies that reasonable notice must be given before such a policy and that the limit cannot be outside that provided under Section 22(1) of the CBN Act 2007.

Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Kaduna State, Aisha Dikko, in an affidavit, averred that although the naira redesign policy was introduced to encourage the cashless policy of the Federal Government, it is not all transactions that can be conveniently carried out through electronic means.

Dikko also pointed out that the Federal Government has embarked on the policy within a narrow and unworkable time frame, and this has adversely affected citizens within Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara states as well as their governments, especially as the new notes are not available for use by the people, as well as the state governments.

“That the majority of the indigenes of the plaintiffs’ states, who reside in the rural areas have been unable to exchange or deposit their old naira notes as there are no banks in the rural areas where the majority of the population of the states reside,” she said.

No date has been fixed for hearing.

Governors of the ruling party had met with the President last week and pleaded with him to allow old notes and the new ones co-exist. The President told them to give him seven days to look into issues arising from naira redesign.

However, after the meeting, CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, warned that the apex bank was not considering shifting the February 10 deadline for the old notes to cease to be legal tender.

BUT Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, has backed the Federal Government’s policy, saying moving the nation’s economy to a cashless system should be supported by Nigerians because it is the best for the nation’s banking system.

Obaseki said this in Benin, yesterday, while speaking with journalists after a meeting with CBN officials and senior management of banks in the state on ways of finding solution to naira notes scarcity.

He said: “Edo State government has no problem with the policy to move our economy into a cashless economy. The policy should be encouraged, it is the best for our banking system.

“However, we want to ensure that we do this as painlessly and as seamlessly as possible, improve on communication with our people so that we can reduce their fears because when people go to the banks to collect cash, they want to spend it on something.”

Obaseki said his administration would join hands with CBN and the bankers’ committee in the state to monitor the situation and resolve the problems, adding that the meeting was called due to his concern over the hardship on the people.

On his part, Blaise Ijebor, CBN Director, said he was in Benin to encourage people to use alternative means to make payment for business transactions.

“You can use your ATM card, bank app or USSD code to make payment. So, use alternative means as much as possible but we are going to make sure that there is cash supply within the next day or two,” he said.

He added: “We have asked banks to pay up to N20,000 but because of the crowd, some banks might not be able to pay N20,000 at once. So, if they can pay N5,000 or N10,000, use that to manage for the next day or two. We are going to make supply available.”

Protesters under the aegis of Pro-Nigeria Group, yesterday, stormed parts of Abuja, including the Unity Fountain and the CBN head office in a solidarity walk in support of the policy on naira redesign. The protesters, in their numbers and carrying various placards threw their weight behind the policy, saying it will help to curb the perennial problem of vote buying in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.

Addressing journalists, Mr. Isaac Balami, convener of Pro Nigeria Group, said the group backed the CBN policy because it is good for the economy.

“CBN had given 10 days extension but politicians are trying to play politics, to blackmail CBN and possibly blackmail the President to go back on his words. We are here to support the monetary policy. This policy will stop vote buying. Vote buying is a major problem and it has destroyed Nigeria. Enough is enough,” he added.

The PNG accused commercial banks of hoarding the new currency provided by the apex bank and selling them to politicians at a black market rate and called on the CBN to ensure that all the banks flouting its directives are properly sanctioned.

The group appealed to Nigerians to be patient as it expects CBN to urgently address the bottlenecks currently being experienced.

MEANWHILE, 14 of the 18 registered political parties participating in the general elections have threatened to withdraw all participation from the polls if the Federal Government and CBN cancel or suspend the cash withdrawal limit and naira redesign policies.

This position was made known yesterday at a press conference by the Forum of Chairmen of Nigerian Political Parties and Forum of Candidates for the 2023 General Election. The candidates’ forum comprised Presidential, National Assembly, Governorship and House of Assembly candidates.

The text of the press conference was read by the spokesperson of the forum, Kenneth Udeze and National Chairman of Action Alliance.

The forum declared: “We, hereby, announce our resolution that at least 14 of the 18 political parties in Nigeria will not be interested in the 2023 general elections and indeed we shall withdraw all our participation from the electoral process if these currency policies are suspended or cancelled or if the deadline is further shifted.”

Defending the policies, the forum stated that the policies will enhance the credibility of the election. “In fact, if these policies are implemented fully and without shifting the deadline of February 10, President Buhari would have taken a very huge step closer to fulfilling his promise to the world that the 2023 general elections would be credible, free and fair.”

THE Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture (NACCIMA) has said CBN should have introduced a N5,000 note rather than embarking on a currency redesign.

Speaking yesterday during an interview, Sola Obadimu, director-general of NACCIMA, said there would have been less pressure on Nigerians if the naira redesign policy was implemented differently.

Obadimu said the creation of a new N5,000 note would have mopped up the money in circulation without creating discomfort. He said the CBN would have also spent less money on printing new notes.

“If I were the CBN governor, all I would have done was to have introduced a N5,000 note. That would have helped to mop up the money in circulation without the kickbacks we are getting. Because it is a higher denomination, fewer amounts of bills would have been printed.’’

On the CBN’s cashless policy, the NACCIMA DG said it was a laudable initiative because “that is where the world is heading”.

He, however, expressed reservations with government’s level of preparedness, particularly in the aspect of internet infrastructure.

“For instance, when a financial transaction declines, you get debited and the bank cannot refund you for up to three weeks even if the transaction is to the same bank,” Obadimu said.

“So, for the urban network to improve and for the rural areas to catch up, the government has to invest heavily in infrastructure so that every part of Nigeria will be digitised.”

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APPEAL COURT SETS ASIDE OSUN TRIBUNAL JUDGEMENT IN ADELEKE, OYETOLA’S CASE

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The Appeal Court sitting in Abuja on Friday set aside the judgement of the Osun State Election Petition Tribunal that annulled the victory of Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party during the July 16, 2022, Osun State governorship election.

The Osun tribunal had annulled Adeleke’s victory and affirmed Gboyega Oyetola of All Progressives Congress as the authentic winner of the poll.

The PUNCH reports that the Independent National Electoral Commission had returned Adeleke as the winner of the poll.

INEC said Adeleke polled 403,371 votes to defeat then-incumbent Governor Adegboyega Oyetola of the APC, who got 375,027 votes

But Oyetola and the APC rejected the result of the poll and headed for the tribunal.

In its January 27, 2023 majority verdict, the Justice Tertse Kume-led tribunal annulled Adeleke’s victory and declared Oyetola the winner of the poll.

However, a minority judgment by Justice B. Ogbuli affirmed Adeleke as the winner of the poll.

Displeased, Adeleke and the PDP headed for the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal heard the appeal on March 13 and reserved its judgment.

But the court of Appeal on Friday set aside the tribunal judgement.

Meanwhile, the court proceeded on five minutes break and will deliver its final judgement after it reconvenes.

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NIGERIA’S TB CASE FINDING RISES BY 50%, SAYS WHO

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The World Health Organisation said Nigeria had significantly increased its national Tuberculosis case finding by 50 percent in 2021 using innovative approaches.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, made this known in her message in commemoration of World TB Day.

World TB Day is marked yearly on March 24 to raise public awareness about the devastating health, social and economic consequences of this preventable disease and call for accelerated action to end it.

This year’s theme, ‘Yes, we can end TB’, highlights the need to ensure equitable access to prevention and care, in line with the drive towards Universal Health Coverage and Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr. Moeti said it was important to find and diagnose cases of TB so that the patients can be treated, and their contacts offered preventive medication.

“Nigeria is an example of a country that managed to significantly increase national TB case finding by 50 percent in 2021 using innovative approaches such as the expansion of the daily observed treatment protocols, use of digital technologies, Community Active Case Finding, and enlisting Public Private Mix initiatives.

“TB requires concerted action by all sectors: from communities and businesses to governments, civil society, and others,” she said in a press statement.

She said the African Region was on the threshold of reaching a 35 percent TB death reduction as there had been a 26 percent reduction in TB deaths between 2015 and 2021.

“Seven countries — Eswatini, Kenya, Mozambique, South Soudan, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia—have reached a 35 percent reduction in deaths since 2015,” she noted.

She, however, decried the challenges in TB prevention and control.

Old TB vaccine works better when injected into a vein —Researchers

“First, the delayed diagnosis and testing. There is still a notable gap between the estimated number of new infections and case notifications of TB: 40 percent of people living with TB did not know of their diagnosis or it was not reported in 2021. One million people are living with TB in the region and have not been detected.

“Second, the link between TB and HIV. Approximately 20 percent of people newly diagnosed with TB are also living with HIV infection.

“Third, the multi-drug resistant TB. In the African region, only 26 percent of all people living with multi-drug resistance are receiving the appropriate treatment.”

Meanwhile, she hailed the member states for the increasing uptake of new tools and guidance recommended by WHO, resulting in early access to TB prevention and care, and better outcomes.

“In the African Region, the use of rapid diagnostic testing has increased from 34 percent in 2020 to 43 percent in 2021, which will improve countries’ ability to detect and diagnose new cases of the disease.

“We must work together to develop innovative approaches to reach vulnerable populations and ensure that they have access to quality TB care and management.

“The second UN High-level Meeting on TB in September 2023 will provide a rare opportunity to give global visibility to the disease and mobilize high-level political commitment to end TB.

“Ending TB is feasible with the decline in TB deaths and cases, and the elimination of economic and social burdens associated with it.

“Especially today, I urge leaders, governments, partners, communities, and all stakeholders to urgently foster the resilient health systems required to accelerate the TB response so that we can reach the Sustainable Development Goals targets by 2030. Yes, we can end TB in our lifetime,” she added.

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TRAGIC LAGOS TRAIN-BUS COLLISION REKINDLES CALLS FOR RAIL TRACK SAFETY, ADVANCEMENT

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LAGOS TRAIN-BUS COLLISION

“This life is not fair,” said a wailing woman, as victims of the recent tragic Lagos train-bus accident at the Public Works Department (PWD) Busstop along Agege Motor Road, Lagos, were moved to a triage at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja on Thursday, March 9, 2023.

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It was a moment of pain and agony for the families of those who didn’t survive and 79 other victims who suffered severe injuries and had their plans either cut short or altered.

There is the 28-year-old Juliana Aina Oreoluwa, a youth corps member with Lagos State Ministry of Education, who was to finish her service in May 2023, who died with her dreams of pursuing her master’s degree abroad, while 59-year-old Ganiyat Salawudeen, who worked with the Ministry of Finance, the State Treasury Department, on her part would have retired in January 2024.

Lamenting his daughter’s demise, Femi Aina, father of Oreoluwa, said: “I used to tell her that she took the job like she was already a staff member of the state government. She was a very nice girl with visions and ambitions.

“She was preparing to go to the United Kingdom for her master’s programme after her youth service in May, but unfortunately, all her plans had been dashed.”

The incident occurred barely two months after residents of Chikakore, Byazhin, in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), watched helplessly as an oncoming train crushed to death, a middle-aged woman, whose name was given as Hajia Selimat Idowu, along rail track.

The late Idowu, according to eyewitness account, was trying to cross the rail track, the only access road in and out of the community, when the accident occurred.

It was said that her vehicle got stuck and sadly, the train rammed into the car, killing her on the spot.

IN the last few years, it has been a catalogue of mishaps on rail tracks. After the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, an accident involving a moving train, a bus and a Toyota Sports Utility Van (SUV) happened near the Nigerian Army Shopping Arena in Oshodi.

In the SUV were a trader and his son, who parked beside the tracks, waiting to enter Oshodi Shopping Complex, Arena, for business.

Unknown to him, metres away from the parking spot, a train had collided with a bus and was dragging it along the tracks. Unfortunately, before the man could move his car to a safe distance, the train had hit it and carried it along the bus and SUV on the tracks before coming to a complete stop. The trader lost his life, and his son was seriously injured in the accident.

Also, on January 10, 2019, at the Ashade railway crossing around Agege-Ikeja, Lagos, a train skidded off its tracks, killing one person and leaving others injured. The railway corporation responded almost immediately to re-rail the train and repaired the track, but if regular maintenance had been carried out in the first place, that accident could have been avoided in the first place.

In March 2018, also around Ikeja, a National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member, Nneka Odili, on her way back from the Secretariat, lost her life in a train accident.

The young lady was walking on the rail track with her headphones plugged in and couldn’t hear the horns from the approaching train. She didn’t survive the injuries sustained in the accident.

WHILE it is worrisome that precious lives are being lost due to what experts term negligence on the part of those saddled with safety responsibilities, train accidents have raised the need for a complete overhaul of rail transportation in the country.

According to a 2023 survey by Statista.com, in 2018 alone, over 500 train accidents were recorded in the country. Of these numbers, loss of control/locomotive failure, accounted for 222 cases, detachment- 113, derailment-101, miscellaneous-36, wash out-32, collision-12, with broken rail/damage on track, accounting for seven cases.

Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Institute for Industrial Security and a security expert, Dr. Wilson Esangbedo, pointed to reasons such incidents occur despite warnings and caution signs displayed along rail tracks.

Sanwo-Olu visit

According to him, a change in value orientation is central to preventing these avoidable train mishaps. “We need to start changing our orientation to driving and understanding how the rail tracks work and know when a train is too close to a car on a rail track, there is a magnetic effect which affects the movement of the vehicle.

“The railway corporation needs to build proper demarcation to protect vehicles and pedestrians crossing the railway. There should be more publicity on safety precautions at the railway intersection.

“Government has not done enough and Nigerians should approach railway intersections with caution to remain safe,” Esangbedo said.

Former chairman of Apapa Branch of Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Ombugadu Maikasuwa Garba, said the recurring train accidents in Nigeria has proven that there is need for a state of emergency in the sector.

He said: “It is very worrisome that precious lives are lost owing to negligence of those saddled with such responsibilities.”

According to him, “train tracks should be routed away from human/vehicular interference to reduce accidents, especially in areas where human activities and vehicular crossing is frequent.”

He also said: “Train tracks should be properly barricaded to prevent unnecessary human and vehicular interaction. This will ensure restrictions of movement along the corridor.

“Further more, in the event of train tracks on roads, electrically controlled barriers manned by competent personnel should be installed appropriately to prevent the entry of humans and vehicles when a train is passing.

“It is the responsibility of NRC to ensure that the needful is done appropriately. The state ministry of transportation and states where they have State Safety Agencies (such as the Lagos State Safety Commission —- LASSCOM) and engineering bodies should be alive to their duties so as to ensure safety of life and property.”

Also, former National Chairman, Nigerian Institution of Highways Transportation Engineers, Dayo Oluyemi, said ideally the intersection between a rail line and a roadway should be a grade-separated intersection.

“However, for economic reasons, we have them usually on same level in Nigeria. Drivers, who often are in a hurry to pass through the junction, usually cause the accidents. If our drivers are disciplined, we will not have these accidents.

“Auto controlled gates are required to be provided at sections where the roadway is intersecting a rail line at the same level,” he said.

For Ibrahim Aledu, a fellow of Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers and Apapa Inspectorate Chief of Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria and Engineering Regulation and Monitoring, the long neglect of the sector has made Nigerians forget the existence of rail transportation.

For the Chief Executive Officer Bethlehem Rail, London, Mr. Roland Ataguba, there is enough blame to go round, though it appeared that the bus driver was primarily at fault.

He pointed out that between Ebute Metta Junction and Agbado, there will be the Lagos-Ibadan standard Guage rail, Lagos-Kano NGR and the Red line LRMT.

“So, how can anyone fathom that level crossings could be appropriate in that corridor?” He wondered.

According to him, level crossings are an accident black spot and Lagos needs total grade separation and the right of way fenced all through otherwise, they should prepare for more of the same as traffic grows.

Ataguba said: “The strategic issues are that a private operator would think differently and act proactively to preempt and mitigate losses. Unfortunately, the sloppy civil service culture of the NRC ensures we are reactive, and no one is held accountable.”

Chief Executive Officer, West Atlantic Cold-Chain and Commodities Limited, Henrii Nwanguma, said since rail is still being reintroduced, provisions must be made for such, because elsewhere, more mature industry exists, there are still incidents and accidents.

Former Dean of the School of Transport and Logistics, Lagos State University (LASU), Prof. Samuel Odewumi, said there are normally different types of rail crossing barricades. It could be human, mechanical or electrical. The one in place at the time of the accident was human.

Late Oreoluwa

According to Odewumi, witnesses on site testified that there was a man waiving a red flag for vehicles to stop. While others obeyed, the bus driver refused and the train ran into it. From the railway authorities, there was a physical barrier, but was removed because of the ongoing construction work at the site. The construction is for total separation of rail and road by making an overpass for the road.

“We hope it will be a wakeup call, especially, since it occurred not so long after the fatal Abuja crossing accident. There must be reawakening from all the stakeholders. There must be continuous enlightenment and education. Let the media, especially radio and television, dedicate some air time for this,” he said.

On what plans Lagos State has to ensure that rail tracks are shielded from pedestrians, vehicles and other straying bodies to ensure safety of lives and property, the Managing Director and CEO of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), Mrs. Abimbola Akinajo, said from their Strategic Transport Master Plan (STMP), they have six rail lines, and one monorail.

She said: “We are currently implementing two of the lines – Blue and Red. On the Blue Line (Marina to Okokomaiko), there will not be any interaction between train and vehicular traffic. From Orile to Okokomaiko, the train system will sit in the middle of the Lagos Badagry Expressway with no interaction at all with vehicular traffic. The entire corridor will also be fenced off with a palisade fence, made of steel pales, which are attached to horizontal rails connected to sturdy vertical joists or ‘posts’.

“On the Red line, we are sharing tracks with the Federal Government through the NRC. The NRC currently has fenced off the rail corridor. All authorised level crossings are to be closed and replaced with overpass bridges, or flyover to eliminate interaction between vehicular and train traffic. There are 10 authorised level crossings between Agbado and Oyingbo. They are at Jonathan Coker (Fagba), Pen Cinema, Asade, Ikeja, PWD, llupeju bypass. Ogunmokun (Mushin), Fadeyi, Yaba and Oyingbo.

“Lagos State was tasked to construct five and Federal Government to be responsible for the remaining five. Lagos State government has completed the Pen Cinema section with the construction of the Pen Cinema flyover bridge. The other four are located at Ikeja, Ogunmokun (Mushin). Yaba, and Oyingbo are at about 90-95per cent completion.

“The Federal Government is expected to begin the construction of its sections of four overpass bridges having completed the Asade flyover. The four are Jonathan Coker (Fagba), PWD, Ilupeju bypass and Fadeyi.

“However, we plan to work with the Federal Ministry of Transport through the NRC to put temporary barriers at level crossings, where construction of Overpass Bridge is yet to start when we commence operation shortly due to the fact that rail traffic will increase along the corridor.”

Speaking with The Guardian, Managing Director, NRC, Fidelis Okhiria, cautioned motorists to be more careful, while driving on railroads.

Okhiria said modernisation has taken care of the barriers, adding that there should not be rail and road crossing. “We have about 11 overhead bridges that will turn from, and there will be an overpass. There is going to be an overhead bridge at the PWD crossing.”

He said: “You can see that government is putting barriers first, but because there is what we call the level crossing, which at the time the government has developed a policy on modernisation, we had to have separate grades.

The late Salawudeen

“I mean the road and rail will somehow not cross their path. That is what you see at Agege, after Agege, you see the underpass coming from Guinness, same thing you can see construction going on in Oyingbo and Yaba trying to separate the road, but it’s going to be at Jibowu, we cannot do all at the same time not to cause too much traffic jam. However, before this is done, what we have resorted to is a little bit of using communication and human.

“When a train leaves the next station, we inform all the level crossing keepers who happen to man where the road and rail intersect. By doing so, they inform the men there and before the train gets there, they will ensure the road is clear from the rail, and that is what happened that fateful day. All the road vehicles had been stopped, but this bus came from nowhere and the train came and there was a collision.

A crushed vehicle in Kubwa

“Five years back, we developed light and alarm so that when the train is getting close by, an alarm will be raised. This was also vandalised. We did that four times consecutively but were still vandalised. So we now have phones to communicate and make sure that our men are there at the level crossing.

“What people don’t know is that it is not the responsibility of the rail to keep the level crossing, by international standards the rail always have the right of way because it is a permanent way, everybody is expected to know that there is a rail track there and train don’t shift position unlike the road that you turn the steering you don’t have a steering that you turn on the rail, it is the tracks that directs the rail.”

Speaking on why the country is lagging in terms of attaining respectable global standards in rail service, he said: “It is just the level that we have found ourselves. All these things happen in America. Even in India, it is still happening, and China is happening. All we have to do is to change our attitudes and our ways.”

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