By Val Obienyem Lagos, Nigeria
My trip to Sokoto reminded me of an interesting trip to Kano in 2005. I have exhumed an article I wrote in 2005 after that trip. Here it goes:
A Trip Up North
Like the man, the invitation to me was couched simply: “The Adamawa Emirate Council in conjunction with Yola Tuft Club has decided to organise a two-day horse racing competition in my honour and I am pleased to invite you as my special guest.” I was humbled and surprised by a Director General of a government parastatal writing in such a way to me. I was surprised because we live in a country where people who are appointed to such high posts severe all contacts with the common man and alienate themselves from those foolish enough to remain in their “lowly” posts.
As soon as I confirmed my attendance, some of my friends forewarned that I should travel by air in view of the distance. As with me, their warnings were not considered because of my habit of deliberately travelling by road to places I am visiting for the first time, except there are compelling reasons to the contrary, certainly not on account of distance. Travelling by road has its own attractions, it enables one to observe the flora and fauna, the state of our towns and cities, the vastness of the country, the peculiarities of the peoples, the clime of places, the state of our roads, the scenic beauty of some places, etc.
Therefore on the morning of Friday, the 13th of May, 2005 we set out to Adamawa from Abuja . As we travelled, one noticed that most farmlands near the roads are cultivated, rather manually -the first contradiction. Everyday we hear this or that government committing millions to Agriculture and telling the rest of us how many millions worth of tractors and other mechanised equipment have been imported. Surprisingly, travelling from Abuja to Adamawa, a distance that takes about 10 hours to cover, one still sees farming in its primitive simplicity. The nearest to mechanised farming that I saw was cow-driven cultivators/planters. With this scandal surrounding the importation of fertilizers, it is even doubtful whether they will get to these farmers.
Another observation as one travels from Abuja to Adamawa is in sync with the observations when one travels to other parts of the country – disused railway tracks. Jos and Bauchi have so many of them that quickly aroused the pity of concerned travellers. These days, some of us only hear the tales of the glorious past of railway in this country, when the corporation provided alternative means of cheap transport of bulk loads, ranging from foodstuff to heavy machines. In spite of the money spent on railway, it is even retrogressing that one may be right in believing that the development of the corporation stopped where the colonialists left it. Railway is only cited as an example because of its foolishness in being located at spots that could easily be seen by travellers. The fact is that our country is littered with facilities that assault the sensibilities of Nigerians because of lack of maintenance.
Going to Adamawa from Abuja , one passes some major towns and capital cities such as Keffi, Akwanga, Jos, Bauchi and Gombe. I noticed that Bauchi city is clean, unlike other Nigerian cities, with well-maintained roads and streets. Even Bauchi bushes and farmlands are also clean. I was so impressed with what I saw. Surprisingly, even the Bauchi almajiris looked well fed. Commuters talked to one another about the governor of Bauchi state, Alhaji Ahmadu Adamu Mu’azu. To one commuter, “the governor is not lousy, you can hardly see him talk carelessly and once he says he has done something, you are sure the thing is really on ground”.
Beyond Yola town, we moved to Fufore, the home town of Alhaji Abubakar Jijiwa . Rather than lodge in Yola town, the man wanted us to be close to him. Besides Fufore’s Guest House, his friends in town made their houses available, we felt at home. In the morning, even when some of us, especially those who travelled by road were still resting, the man had gone round to find out if we slept well. This gesture gives us an idea of the simplicity of the man. I remember one Director in VON that lodged in the same house with me saying, “Look at him coming, I am sure he wants to find out how we are faring. This is a complete grassroots man who sees position as what brings one closer to his people than what alienates.”
The people of the town appear particularly hospitable and have profound respect for visitors. My attempt to know fully about the town was frustrated by communication barrier, as I was confronted with “bar turenchi”. Again, this reveals the extent of illiteracy in the country and poses a great challenge to those in charge of education. I say this because most Nigeria towns have the same problem. Like some Youth Corps members that served in the Eastern hinterland, those that served in the Western hinterland always tell the story of the people, even those that are nubile, who could not even understand a simple “come.” It is a Nigerian problem that requires serious efforts to correct.
Fufore, like other Northern towns have many trees, especially the Neem (Dogonyaro), planted to give the people respite from the sun that rules that part like an unchecked despot. The trees give the town a naturalness that is attractive. I also saw one tree called gwariva in local parlance,which add beauty to the town because of its peculiarity. Seeing the beauty added by the trees, if I had the opportunity I would urge southern governors to encourage their people to plant trees also, this is why one is not totally against Mallam El Rufai’s attempt to restore the green areas of Abuja.
As we prepared for the business proper that took us to Fufore on Saturday, 14th May, 2005 , the entire town became electrified. Local praise singers sang and blew the alguitars with inflated cheeks that made Alcibiades to shun flute lessons. With the DG we paid a courtesy call on his district head, who spoke with measured dignity and sonorous cadence. The Fuforeans live long life as could be seen from some of them, particularly worthy of note was the 101-age-old Chief’s Galadimma, who is still roaring like an elderly boxer, no shaking, no degeneration of brain powers.
From Fufore we moved to the Palace of the Lamido of Adamawa, who received us with courtesy. The Lamido looked so gentle that made me remember the story of a man who was sent to assassinate a prominent man but was forced to change his mind because of the looks of the man. The Lamido has soft and meditative eyes, and gave us a sombre lesson in Religions tolerance by asking a Christian to pray after a Moslem had prayed. I understand that his equal treatment of people of diverse religions remains one of his charms. “During Muslim celebrations, about 40% of the people that pay homage are non Moslems,” somebody said.
The Lamido’s palace is imposing and rich; Upon Jijiwa’s request, he allowed us to visit the Royal FOMBINA Palace Museum . The museum is rich and well kept and signifies what our traditional rulers should be doing, rather than prancing about the corridors of power forgetfulness of tradition. Amongst other artefacts, I saw the portrait of a man called Umaru Sanda (1872 – 1990), the son of Mandibbo, described as so good a leader that his rule was “characterised more by consultations than by fiat.” The moment I saw it, I felt like exhuming him wherever he is so that he would teach our leaders the imperatives of dialogue, especially when you rule men. We also saw a chukkunga, hand written Qur’an, which reminded some of us that books were copied in the past until the invention of the printing press.
After the royal treat, we paid a courtesy call on the Deputy Governor. Even though only meant for the management staff, the DG insisted I should follow. As we went I looked around and noticed that the north has more respect for space. I quietly wished the planners of Onitsha , Aba , and some congested cities elsewhere in the country should learn from them. The Deputy Governor spoke eloquently of him and revealed to those that do not know that the invasion of journalism and broadcasting constitute merely a few sides of Jijiwa’s polymorphous interest and activity. Thereafter we went for luncheon and then to the field for the horse racing. The riders were small boys and all the horses that participated, when the chips were down, ran as if they were conscious that prizes were to be won. The following day, the competition was completed and prizes given. The only sad interlude was the falling off from the horse by one of the riders.
If one may summarise people’s account of Jijiwa and what I also observed, one can say that he is accessible, compassionate and liberal minded; that he is frank, intelligent, gentle, just, indulgent, honest, charitable and an obliging man; that he does not let his grandeur prevent him from condescending towards the small and putting himself in their places. But how can such a Chief Executive enforce discipline? One of his close aides explained: “He is a disciplinarian also. Whenever policy and other things clash, policy must always be considered.” This is Jijiwa