JIBRIN: A TRIP TO THE SHORES OF LAKE CHAD
IN the far North-Eastern part of Borno, along the shores of the Lake Chad, lives an ethnic group as the Shuwa Arabs. They belong to the minorities in the Kanuri-led Borno State of Nigeria. History had it that for centuries they had been farmers and owners of cattle while some of them were Islamic scholars and advisers in jurisprudence to the Kanem Borno rulers.
I belong to this group, but as fate will have it, I lived, schooled and worked outside the local environs of my ethnic group. My late father had a career spanning over three decades in the Nigerian Army. This therefore gave me the opportunity of living, schooling and later working in all the three regions of the country. In view of the fact that I live and work far away from my locality, I get the opportunity of visiting only once a while. After a long period, I decided during the last yuletide to take the long journey to the shores of the Lake Chad, to reconnect with kith and kin.
After a few days in the capital city of Borno State – Maiduguri, my journey started at the Muna motor park where I boarded a car to Kirenowa. I started feeling the pulse of the people right from the park, when two of the passengers could not afford the eight hundred naira fare to their destination. A few of us in the vehicle - a rickety 504 Peugeot saloon car contributed to make up for the shortfall. While on our way, the two passengers were happy and elated that they were able to make it back home. They complained that as subsistent farmers, the harvest was not too good and they came to the city for menial jobs to augment what they made from the farms.
The journey to Kirenowa, ordinarily should take not more than an hour, but unfortunately, we spent three hours because of the terrible condition of the road. We arrived at the town about noon and one could see the abandoned infrastructure of the Chad Basin Development Authority. This town could have turned green and become the food basket of the country had the dreams of those who set up the Basin been achieved. The market day of Kirenowa is every Thursday and since I came into the town on a Sunday, there were no vehicles to convey me to my destination. Even on market days, there are only a few rickety Land Rovers that ply the sandy path to Baderi, a settlement comprising mainly subsistent farmers.
I proceeded to a group of young men on motorcycles waiting for passengers. We negotiated and agreed on a price for the journey. After paying the motorcyclist, he proceeded to a fuel vendor to fuel his bike since there are no fuel stations in the town. He requested for a litre of fuel sold at one hundred and ten naira per litre, forty five naira above the approved pump price of sixty five naira.
We took off into the hinterland of the desert, with the skilled and experienced motorcyclist manoeuvring in a manner that could make even the world's legendary motorcycle racing champion, Shumacher green with envy. Eventually we reached our destination and I proceeded to my cousin's abode. His wife told me that he left in the morning to the banks of Lake Chad. She suggested that one of my cousins should go and bring him back to the village. I insisted that I would want to go to the shores of the lake and also see some other relatives. She tried to convince me to stay behind in the village, that getting there will entail boarding a canoe and the mosquitoes were a nuisance. She could not convince me, so I had to make the journey on another motorcycle; this time around, a litre of fuel was bought at one hundred and twenty naira, fifty five naira above the approved pump price of sixty five naira.
After crossing the waters in a canoe, I eventually made it to the settlement and met my cousin. We exchanged greetings and sat down to make up for lost time. The journey was long and tedious, so I had to take a short nap.
Later in the evening, I went round to visit some of my kith and kin. After dinner, words got round that I came from the city on a visit. Not long after, the room was filled up with relatives to hear stories of the city.
I listened attentively to the discussions and one of them caught my attention when he narrated that he knows that he is an astute business man. He said if he had a capital of twenty thousand naira, within the span of two months he would be worth forty thousand naira. Here was some one dreaming of a capital of twenty thousand naira, yet we heard stories of a former bank chief executive that had a plea bargain with the Government to return one hundred and ninety one billion naira of stolen money! I realized that the settlement had no power from the national grid, no source of clean water, no dispensary or clinic, no schools for the children, no access roads, in fact there was no presence of either the Local, State or Federal Government, yet they pay tax on their farm produce when they take them to the market.
After a few days of experiencing what subsistence living was all about, I bade my people good bye and headed back to the city. I realized that from the South South to the North East, from the South East to the North West there has been a total neglect of the rural populace and the three tiers of government that is Local, State and Federal should hide their heads in shame. All they are good at is discussing the sharing formula amongst them, without any tangible result.
I strongly believe that the Private Sector should drive the economy with the Government setting the rules and ensuring a level playing ground. Those that refuse to play by the rules are punished to serve as a deterrent to others. A typical example are the banking reforms by the astute Central Bank Governor, Mallam Lamido Sanusi. If you may recall, a certain faceless group known as the Renaissance Group, fought ferociously to see to the removal of the Governor because their selfish personal interest was at stake. The Governor insisted that there would be no sacred cows in the banking sector and the reforms must prevail. Eventually he won the battle and the shameless, faceless group went into hiding licking its wounds.
The technocrats in government need to take a cue from the Central Bank governor who is now globally celebrated. The likes of Professor Barth Nnaji of the Power Reforms, Hajiya Azzubair of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), Engr. Mansur Ahmed of the Infrastructure Commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri of the EFCC and many others too numerous to mention need to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
My trip to the shores of Lake Chad, indeed, made me realise that we desperately need a visionary leadership that will take us away from this abject poverty and fix the decaying infrastructure in our country Nigeria, which has the potentials of being one of the twenty leading economies in the world.
• Jibrin, an engineer, is a company executive in Ilorin, Kwara State.