• Thursday, July 18, 2024
businessday logo


The roads between us


The sight is truly breathtaking. Stretching over 14 kilometres, with 40-feet thickness at the base, and standing at 30-50 feet high is a heritage that tells of the creative ingenuity of a people that once lived in the ancient northern commercial city.

Staring from a distance, Safiso Ndlovo, the adventure-minded South African on tour of northern Nigeria, is surprised at the strength of the walls built in the 16th century to checkmate movements in and out of Kano City. “Great! You can stage a dance party atop the walls,” he says.

While still appreciating the ancient Kano walls and city gates that are now monuments, he is scared by the noise from a group of young people. “My friend,” he beckons on me, “come, are they about to fight? What do we do?” As his eyes and mouth on this self-appointed adventure, I confront one of the men at the gate, who tells me the boys are Almajiris who are sharing money given to them by a big Alhaji that just came back from Mecca.

Of course, I do not tell Ndlovo the full story, though he doubts my explanation. But he has no option. If he must complete his tour, he should expect some discomforts. But his courage marvels me, a friend he barley knows.

With N1,000 gate pass we obtain from a small shop before the gate, Bako Nuhu, a local tour guide who speaks passable English, takes over. He says the wall is over 900 years old, and it defines the iconic image of Kano city’s urban landscape. A booklet he hands over to us (though we pay N300 for it later) explains further that the walls played a significant role in the emergence of Kano as a powerful and influential kingdom in the then Western Sudan and continued to sustain its existence over the centuries. While we tour round the walls, we discover some renovations. At some points the ruins are enormous; at some other points there are no walls due to encroachment. Nuhu blames the ruin on negligence by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments which has not lived up to its promises of restoring the walls despite the grant it receives from both Nigerian government and international bodies. “Is that true?” Ndlovo asks. Thank God for Nuhu’s fast pace. “Let us walk faster to catch up with him,” I beckon, happy that he has forgotten the question because the answer will expose the corruption in the Nigerian system.

Before leaving, Ndlovo asks Nuhu all the questions and takes all the pictures but not forgetting to snap himself severally. But I stop him from snapping the Almajiri boys because it can incur their wrath.

Out of his magnanimity, Nuhu takes us to the emir’s palace. Regrettably, we cannot enter because a ‘big man’ from Abuja visited and again, the palace now receives less visitors since the attack on the emir. Why? Ndlovo asks when all our efforts to enter do not yield fruit.

Leaving the palace road, we drive to Dala Hill. From the hill’s 534-metres (1,753-feet) height, the whole of Kano city is captured in a scenic mode. It compensates for the refusal at the palace. “This is great. Kano in one piece,” Ndlovo enthuses.

We are with Nuhu, whom Ndlovo thinks is like “the devil we know”. We become friends as he disappears and reappears with a tour guide for the hill. “He is proactive and cheerful,” Ndlovo whispers into my ear.

“This is Musa Jubril, the tour guide for the hill,” Nuhu says. After exchanging pleasantries, Jubril kick-starts the tour saying the hill was the place of the first settlement in Kano city; it formed the nucleus for the peopling of the rest of the city and was the foundation of its economic and political development.

There used to be over 999 footsteps, but the impact of climate change, according to Jubril, has reduced the steps to far less than a thousand today.

Of course, Ndlovo snaps until his camera battery almost runs down.

On getting to the hotel room some hours later, the passionate tourist decides it is time to leave Kano to another city. He wants to witness a Nigerian festival. But the trouble is that the only festival available is the Nwonyo Fishing Festival in Ibi, faraway Taraba State.

He insists we must go see the festival. So we leave Kano very early in the morning the next day. We charter a Peugeot 505 Wagon, as Nuhu our Kano friend who follows us to the motor park advises.

We pay N12,000 and the driver, Mancha as he calls himself, hits the accelerator very hard. Taraba is far and we must move. “The journey is truly far, about 10 hours,” he explains.

About 15 minutes from Kano City on the Kano-Zaria Expressway, Mancha diverts to Baguda and we drive past the Nigerian Law School, Kano campus, in Baguda, leaving the Tiga junction and moving towards Kaduna. The roadblocks manned by soldiers tell of the insecurity in the northern part of the country. “Oga, it is because of Boko Haram. Before now nobody disturbed you on this road, but now army collects money, yet Boko Haram still bombs,” Mancha explains, but I thank God it is in Pidgin English as Ndlovo does not get the gist. Rather than explain what the driver says, I keep pointing at the breathtaking savannah landscape to him and urge him to engage his camera. I will not wash Nigeria’s dirty linen in public.

The driver keeps pointing at the criminal jungles along the road. One that catches our attention is a deep one after a bend in Kaduna State, near Zangon Kataf. “If your car breaks down, you should say your final prayers because you must be attacked by local robbers,” Mancha tells us.

As he refuels at Akwanga – about 45 minutes to Jos – we stretch our legs, and the journey resumes once again after we pass through light traffic on the Akwanga-Keffi Junction. How Ndlovo wishes to be in Jos, but it is not part of his itinerary. The rocky hills and sloppy topography of Akwanga keep refreshing the journey. The journey continues in its smoothness from Akwnaga-Lafia till Makurdi where we relax a little more to eat. Mancha applies the brakes twice at Lafia Township and River Benue Bridge for Ndlovo to capture his adventure in pictures.

“The river is receding,” Ndlovo says, pointing to the first bridge across River Benue that hosts both vehicle and train on same lane, “and what is over there?”

While I eat rice with plantain, Ndlovo prefers pounded yam with ‘okpehe’ soup, a native Tiv delicacy, just to feel at home with the locals. After a practice of pronouncing few Tiv words, we set out again. This time, we drive through Gboko, Katsina-Ala, Zaki Biam, and finally to Wukari in Taraba State, our final destination. Of course, we cross River Benue’s second bridge at Katsina-Ala.

Wukari is a small town of less than 200,000 people. They belong to the Jukun tribe and are known for their bravery among neighbouring Tiv tribe to the west, Fulani to the north and some other tribes across the border to Cameroon.

We pass the night at Apiah Hotel, a 20-room hotel in Wukari. There is no Boko Haram scare as Ndlovo relaxes with some bottles of beer before resting for the night. We are on our way as early as 6:00am the next day to capture the other side of the festival, as advised by a local we meet at the hotel. With N1,000 charter, we are right on time at the Nwonyo River (a tributary of River Benue, about 10km off and back to the source) to witness Mohammed Dan-Sango, the chief priest of the river (Sarikin Ruwa), who as the custodian of the river since 1943 appeases and opens the water for over 1,000 fishermen to scramble for the biggest catch for the fishing festival. The festival, according to Danladi Tokuna, an indigene, has been celebrated for over a century by Ibi people, who are mainly Jukuns, for the peace of the land.

A moment after the blow of whistle, the river radiates as over 1,000 able-bodied men, like bees, invade its waters, taking hostage of its inhabitants. The skilful paddling of the boat and dragging of their nets all add colour to the festival. After hours of fishing, Lucky Bulus Joshua catches the biggest fish that weighs 218kg.

“Are you sure that fish is from this river?” Ndlovo asks because of the intimidating size. He really does not know when he starts dancing the local Jukun dance in celebration of the big catch. “It sounds Zulu,” he says. That is the height of the adventure as we both dance our way out in order to catch up with a late flight from Abuja to Lagos that evening.

To meet our flight, we charter a Nissan salon car at the park. While Solomon, the Tiv driver, presses harder on the accelerator, Ndlovo keeps admiring the pictures and recordings while I think of the number of days I have been out and the volume of work waiting on my desk. It is until we get to the airport around 6:38 that evening that he sighs in relief. “I got just what I wanted. Your country is great but unexploited|.”

The 7:30pm flight does not take off until 8:12. We get to Lagos around 9:20. Ndlovo leaves for South Africa the next day, singing Nuhu all the way. “But why Nuhu?” I ask, as I await the documentary that inspired him to undertake this adventure. Keep a date with Ndlovo on African Voices on DSTV.