MAIDUGURI: From Home of Peace to Pieces By Raymond Nkannebe
Barely a decade ago, it was a city synonymous with hospitality. Its people were known for their tolerance and forbearance to live with their neighbors that dot its borders. As a state sharing a common boundary with the three countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon, there is no gainsaying the fact that it is/was a commercial and business hub. With merchants from these countries who depended on Nigeria for their supplies crisscrossing the borders into Nigeria through the gates of Maiduguri, it was a window to the world.
As a city, it was a land of opportunities, with a beehive of activities in almost all its markets during the day and a Night life to cool and ebb away the troubles of the day at spots that dot every corner of the city at Night. It was for nothing that it became the capital of the Northeast of Nigeria. For a people that have produced some of the brightest heads that have played significant roles in the Nigerian project, with a rich history that dates back to the saifawa dynasty that produced the El-Kanemis and the Mais, Borno was not a second class state in the comity of states. Indeed, it predates virtually every other state in Nigeria. Majority of its people speak Kanuri, a language that takes its root north of Africa. They love their home so much that they seldom travelled out of it.
As a commercial center, the Baga Fish market located approximately 196 KM from the state capital with its people, reputed for round-the-year fishing off the Lake Chad which runs through the state, Borno joined the pantheon of states involved in the export of local commodities with the fishing and smoking of tons of fishes both for local and international consumption providing both direct and indirect employment for its teeming population. That Borno is/was a blessed state was never in doubt. The popular ‘Monday Market’ located within the metropolis served as the general market where all sort of goods were brought and sold for further distribution to the 27 Local Governments that make up the state.
With a Federal University lying stretches off Bama Road, a Teaching hospital, an International airport, a College of Education, a Polytechnic, College of Legal studies, a National zoo and recreational park, a state Library and a Post Office, Maiduguri bore the full complements of a rising urban city angling to out-perform its peers.
When I first came to the city in 2008 for a Post UME test, I was convinced without more that this is the state I would like to bag my University degree from. With a temperature that went as high as 40oC during the day and fell as low as 18-20oC at night almost round the year, there was no better one could ask for. I remember vividly, asking my host more than once at the time whether police formations truly exist within the state or not? You wouldn’t blame me. Police Patrol vans had become a common feature in virtually all of Nigerian cities, but here was I, in a state which proves to be an exception. It was as though Police and other Security apparatuses posted here just earned their salaries without having to worry over any possible breach of the public peace. That was the vintage Maiduguri and the reason was embedded within the state’s slogan? Home of Peace.
Indeed, Yerwa as some locals choose to call it, was a home of peace in every sense of the phrase but it won’t be long before all those would “wither away” in the Marxian literature.
When I later gained admission to study Law in the University of Maiduguri in 2009, I came back to a city wearing semblance of an imminent doom and entirely different from the one I had visited only a year ago.
The military vans of the then ‘Operation Flush’ now spotted every corner of the city. Nightlife was gradually being curtailed. Restrictions on movement intermittently became a common practice. The morbid fear of an impending doom hung on the face of the city and to know that this was a town I would spend the next six years of my life at least, came with a sort of ambivalence.
Fast-forward to the present, the city is now in near ruins. Its villages ransacked. It’s men and women depopulated. Her daughters kidnapped in their hundreds, its commercial prowess now lost, the foreigners of Shua-Arab descent that once populated the state with their massive investments in trade have fled to their perceived safe havens. Its borders closed, her schools vacated, Nightlife has become something of the past. The recreational centers now wear looks of a relegated scene.
The gates of ‘Hot Bites’ along the Government House closed forever. The road leading to the Custom market where non-indigenes especially of Igbo extraction (who specialized in the sale of beer products, pepper soup, ‘ngwo-ngwo’, suya e.t.c) thrilled their numerous customers have been barricaded with the joints evacuated. The red-light zones that service the city have been vacated with the prostitutes seeking safer environments. The custom-market today, bear traces of a deserted settlement. The Lake Chad Hotels, State Hotels, Giwa Barracks, NAF Officers Mess inter alia which were once centers of huge attraction are now shadows of their former self. The situation is so bad such that a person who travelled out of the state in 2008 and had just returned would bet his life that this wasn’t the city he left seven years ago.
The non-indigenes mostly of Igbo extraction who before now populated the state, after having suffered series of loss of their influential members in one ugly circumstance or the other, have heeded the persistent calls of their kindred back home and have vacated the city leaving behind numerous investments that run into millions of Naira. I spoke with one Chinedu Ozoemena, a young business man who had just taken for himself a wife six months ago, and enquired about how he was able to cope despite the mass exodus of his colleagues in the Motor Spare-parts business along Teshan Bama road and his response dejectedly was a terse, “It’s just God”. Going further, he lamented about how his business have suffered since the inception of the insurgency.
Many locals to this day, hold the view that the University of Maiduguri and the Monday Markets are the only two institutions that have ensured the continued survival of the state to this day. To them, the university and the popular market provide the escape route from their financial predicament. Mallam Kaka Fatori, a commercial tri-cycle rider who plies the Post office-University route, told me one morning in January this year that the sustenance of him, his three wives and 7 seven children hinges on the university with the population of its students and that whenever the school went on holiday, it was always nightmarish for him and his family.
Displaced persons from the villages now litter the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps located at various centers of the state capital where government cater for their basic needs of food, health, shelter and clothing through the assistance of other humanitarian agencies and other spirited individuals with the assurances of returning them to their communities that does appear to be in sight. On a visit to one of the camps located in Yerwa Girls College, one Mallama Amina told me of how she lost her husband and two teenage sons to the insurgents in a dusk raid on their village of Kukawa. She pointed at her to son me among a group of shabbily cladded boys playing football at one corner of the unkempt camp. She told she had already accepted her fate and that Allah knows best.
Such is now the metamorphosis of a city which was once the cradle of peace, which prided itself for its rich traditional institution headed by the Shehus whose Durbar ceremonies once attracted tourists from near and wide. Today, the palace of the traditional ruler, Shehu Garbai Umar ibn El-Kanemi after having suffered series of attacks at the hands of the terrorists, now sits at the center of the city bidding it’s time for the next attack with a huge military presence mistaking the facility for a military barrack.
Nearly every facility in the state have suffered from an attack since the campaign of terror began. From the schools to the markets, namely: the Gamboru Cattle market, the Baga Fish market, the Monday Market to name a few. The airport have witnessed more than one raid, virtually all the police stations have been attacked at one point or the other. The military barracks are not left out. The most popular, being the attack on the Giwa barracks on the 14th of March in 2014 where the insurgents allegedly freed hundreds of their detained ‘soldiers’. The Sharia Court of Appeal complex along Lagos street have been converted to a mini military base. The Maiduguri International Airport having been grounded for operations by the aviation authorities on security sentiments, Okayed it for operations only a fortnight ago.
Upon a cursory look at the city, one cuts the picture of a people dejected and a city fastly losing the glory it took it decades to build. A climate of fear rents the whole atmosphere yet the thought of running away is not an option. Ba’ana, a member of the Civilian JTF who before now was a generator technician told me he decided to take up arms against the insurgents by joining the volunteer force instead of running away. He and many of his colleagues have resorted to either die on their own soil than to meet their demise on another man’s land as to them, that would be a mockery of their masculinity.
Femi, Yusufu and Irimiya are young displaced persons of not more than twelve years old from Gwoza Local government who found their way into the town after their local community was attacked by the insurgents in November last year. They told me they have taken their destinies in their own hands by taking up menial jobs like washing plates in restaurants, helping students of University of Maiduguri who stayed off-campus, in all sorts of casual works and sometimes benefited from the sympathy of the students who extended freebies to them. They rest their heads under the steps of one of the compounds at night and at the break of dawn, they continue their endless struggle. None of them know a thing about their parents and siblings anymore.
In the four years of the Jonathan administration which could be said to herald the peak of terrorist attacks in the city and the nation at large, influential politicians and organizations incited the populace into believing that the Jonathan government supported the wave of attacks to the end of depopulating the region for political considerations. Many of the locals already pierced and bruised psychologically, fell for this ruse and bought into the rhetoric of Jonathan’s insensitivity to their plight.
In a usual evening discussion sessions called ‘Majalisar’ at different spots within the state, one Haruna Bulama, a punctual and active member of the group told me that Jonathan supported the insurgency tacitly and didn’t want it to come to an end so that he could disenfranchise the Northeast sometime in 2014. The justifications for his assertion included: Abacha’s statement that if a problem persists in a country for more than 24 hours, then the government has an interest in it, the former National Security Adviser, Owonye Azazi’s allegations that Boko Haram was a creation of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), President GEJ’s seeming romance with former governor Ali Modu Sheriff whom the people of the state had come to blame for all their woes among others. Like a wild fire and like any other ill news, this propaganda spread like a conflagration across the state and the entire North Eastern region. The people couldn’t wait for the 2015 elections to come so they can use their ballot to turn around their misfortune.
The way they voted at the polls didn’t come as a surprise. It was their own way of dethroning darkness and enthroning light. It remains to be seen however if their actions were informed. For them, PDP was the harbinger of death, and they all voted the then opposition party?APC ‘sak’ at the just concluded polls. Who would blame a people that have seen and felt terror for any action they take?
Now that the terrorists have resurged, and appearing to be even more emboldened, many of the inhabitants of this city seem to know not where to fix the blame anymore. Their supposed messiah have come, but before his very watch, they continue to take their members to the morgue and losing life, limb and liberty to their nemesis?Boko Haram.
Before leaving the city a fortnight ago, I met Haruna Bulama, our friend from the Majalisar and an apologist of the ruling party and engaged him in a conversation on the new wave of terrorist attack as against his thesis of government’s support. He looked at me, visibly dazed and obviously lacking words to negotiate a diversion, he ended up saying, “Allah ya kiyaye kuma ya rufa mana asiri a kasan nan kawai” in Hausa. Something which translated to: May God continue to protect us in this country, that’s all I can say.
However, with the current dimension the terrorists have taken, the whole people of the state seem to be in a quagmire with the fear of another cycle of violence enveloping them. While the city lay in ruins, its inhabitants seem to be asking just one question: When will enough be enough? and when will the promise by the Buhari government to bring terrorism to a standstill be delivered?
For them, life has only found expression in the Hobbesian theory of being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. And their land have gone from being a land of peace to a land of pieces.
Nkannebe Raymond is a graduate student of the University of Maiduguri. A lawyer and a Public Affairs analyst. He wrote in from Kano and tweets @RayNkah |email@example.com