Travelling, they say, is part of education. I have travelled far and wide, outside and within Nigeria. Out of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, I have been to all but four until last week. By the end of the week, out of the initial four, namely Borno, Yobe, Taraba and Kebbi states, I had the privilege of visiting Maiduguri, the Borno State capital from January 13–15, 2021. I was there on a study visit. By the time I left the town last Friday, it made a lasting impression on me.
Borno is located in northeastern Nigeria and is one of the six states in that geopolitical zone. Others include Adamawa, Taraba, Yobe, Bauchi, and Gombe. The state was created in 1976 and was subdivided in 1991 when Yobe State was carved out of it. It was part of the old Kanem-Borno Empire and is predominantly made up of Kanuris and other tribes such as the Lapang, Babur/Bura, Marghi and Shuwa Arabs. It currently has 27 Local Government Areas. Some of the illustrious people who came from Borno include a great Islamic scholar and political leader Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi (shortened to El-Kanemi. The state football club is named El-Kanemi Warriors and there is a hostel called El-Kanemi Hall at University of Lagos).
Other notable sons of Borno include Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim, who founded Great Nigeria People’s Party and best known as the advocate of politics without bitterness; Abdurrahman Shugaba Darman, another prominent Second Republic politician who was deported to Chad by the President Shehu Shagari government; the late Abba Kyari, immediate past Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari; current National Security Adviser, Mohammed Babagana Monguno; and the incumbent Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai.
Going to Maiduguri last week was not an easy decision. It is not a trip any reasonable person from southern Nigeria will encourage one to make. It is assumed to be a suicide mission. I therefore kept my visit to Borno a top secret. I didn’t tell my mum, siblings and friends. Though the state’s slogan is “Home of Peace”, in truth and indeed, it is a Golgotha, a killing field. The truth is that the once oasis of peace and progress, an international trade route to northern and central Africa, has been violated and ravaged by insurgency for 12 years now. At some point, the Boko Haram insurgents were reported to be in full control of about 20 out of the 27 Local Government Areas before they were recaptured by federal troops in 2015. Despite the sustained war against the insurgents, travellers to some parts of the state have to be shepherded by the military or cleared to travel to some of the communities. Up till now, a few kilometres out of Maiduguri, the state capital is deemed unsafe while there is still a dusk to dawn curfew even in the capital itself.
You can imagine the kind of trepidation I felt on arrival to the state last Wednesday. As we journeyed from the airport to my hotel, I was just curious about how people could feel so normal in such an abnormal situation. Many people I interviewed said the Boko Haram elements had been weeded from the city and confined to the bushes and forest areas such as the infamous Sambisa forest. From there, the insurgents launch attack on soft targets across the state. Recall that it was in Borno that 276 schoolgirls from Chibok Science Secondary school were carted away in April 2014. Till date, over a hundred of them are still deemed to be in the insurgents’ captivity. It was also in the state that no fewer than 43 rice farmers were murdered by Boko Haram insurgents in November last year at the Zabarmari village.
Did I hide myself during the epochal visit? No. On my first day, on our way from the airport, I went to the Post Office area market to buy a new frame for my eyeglasses. We also stopped by to eat lunch at a local restaurant. I saw the modern school building with air conditioning systems built by the immediate past Kashim Shettima. The state capital also has good network of roads. In the course of my visit, I went out for a walk out in the morning and was also taken on a guided tour of the University of Maiduguri by my big brother and friend with whom I share civil society background, Prof. Abubakar Muazu. He lectures at the university and offered to take me round.
UNIMAID is a second generation university established in 1975, with 12 faculties and over 20,000 undergraduate students. It is one huge construction site at present with many structures springing up all over the campus. Many of the new buildings were donated to the school by individuals and corporate organisations.
I saw the new staff quarters being built by Zulum whom I learnt was a lecturer in the civil engineering department of the institution. Some of the roads too were newly constructed. As you enter through the second gate, the official residence of the Vice Chancellor welcomes you. Unlike in my alma matter, University of Lagos, where the VC’s lodge is tucked away in a hidden corner by the lagoon. The university like many of its ilk has staff primary and secondary schools located within its premises, and also has a community radio station known as Kanem 97.7 FM which is used to train Mass Communication students as well as inform, entertain and educate the academic community and its environs.
On our way to the university, Muazu took me through the Lagos road, bridge and House. I learnt they were built during the Second Republic as a sign of partnership and goodwill between Lagos and Borno State governments. I was also shown several spots where Boko Haram insurgents had carried out suicide bombings both within and outside the university campus. Maiduguri is a melting pot of people of different tribes and religions. A beautiful city I dare say but a city under siege no doubt. According to one of the people I interviewed, the residents of the town are used to the sound of gunshots and bomb detonation so much so that they have become a part of their new normal. If the people of Maiduguri heard about COVID-19, they cared less. Only few people I saw wear face masks. Those of us who did were easily noticeable as visitors.
Another highpoint of my visit was the august visitor that came to see me at the hotel, Mallam Baba Kura Abba Jato, the state Commissioner for Home Affairs, Information and Culture. Jato is someone I have long heard his baritone voice on radio dating back to the time I was writing commentaries for the Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation in the early 90s.
Jato was an accomplished broadcaster who had plied his trade within and outside Nigeria. I requested to see him from our mutual friend, Abubakar Muazu and pronto, he established the contact. Jato passed by to see me on his way home and what a union! Being the first time we’re seeing each other, we spent time to reminisce about the past his media exploits, his sudden announcement last year as a commissioner and philosophy about life. I gifted him a copy of my latest book, “Nigeria: Corruption and Opacity in Governance” and we parted with a promise to look out for each other during his many official visits to Abuja. I pray for his success and that of his principal, Prof. Babagana Zulum, the state governor. I hope one day soon, insurgency will end in Nigeria and the great people of Borno State will have genuine peace and not the current tenuous calmness.
– Follow me on Twitter @jideojong
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