George Chijioke Amadi

A History of Biu, Bukar Usman, Klamidas Communications Limited, Abuja, 2015

AHistory of Biu is the third book of the Biu Emirate Studies Series (BESS 003). The other two are: Girl-Child Education in Biu Emirate: The Early Years (BESS 001) and Language Disappearance and Cultural Diversity in Biu Emirate (BESS 002).

When the author, imbued with candour went to work, in earnest, more than 10 years ago, he was guided by due diligence, with the sole objective of unearthing the customs, beliefs, traditions, occupations, arts, and crafts of a people who have lived together, and still, do live together, in the same place for over 400 years. His hard work, passion, and tangential, inspiring revelations, no end, are some of the pleasant surprises that I discovered in my heart-warming task of drilling through Dr. Bukar Usman’s 693-pages book, A History of Biu, page by page, with excitement, in 120 hours.

The book’s four sections, A to D, Geographical Overview; Pre-Colonial History of Biu; Biu Under Colonial Rule; Biu After Independence respectively, constitute one coherent, mighty whole that is as resplendent as the strength of a people leading a Spartan life whose never-say-die determination to be productive, and yet remain law-abiding, stands them in good stead, through thick and thin, in their struggle for survival.

Bound in a thick, black, hard cover clothed in a silky wrap-around decorated in quiet colours, for a smooth-touch effect, the invaluable document is enriched, on its front cover, with the picture of Tilla Hill, one of the notable features in Biu Borno State, North-Eastern Nigeria. At the back, is excerpt from the Foreword written by Sa’ad Abubakar FHSN, OFR, Professor of History at the University of Abuja. The front and back inside folds contain a write-up with the heading: About the Author.
Masterfully crafted, the publication’s consummate story-teller spared no effort towards enriching his captivating narration with requisite annotations; sharp pictures, black-and-white and coloured; and illustrated diagrams, making it a must-read for anybody enamoured of imbibing historical facts presented with objectivity, and in full, leaving the reader ample evidence with which to draw his, or her, own conclusions.

Folktales, widely used in Biu, in days of yore, as instrument of education and platform for entertainment, long before the arrival of the British colonisers, had, in no small way, inculcated morals in Biu children, as well as, instilled good virtues, loyalty, hard work, and honesty, to mention a few, in their parents. Folktales according to the author, plays an essential role till this day, in their much-cherished Emirate of Biu.

Unscathed by colonial rule which presence in Nigeria, finally got felt in Biu, circa 1900, Chief Yamtarawala, the Emirate’s founding father (1535-1560), strategist, soldier, educationist, administrator, with dogged determination, anchored on valour, exhibited discretion in every socio-political decision he took, and many there were, and, at no time, it must be noted, did he take Biu citizens for granted, the book explains. Word, from the treasure trove of Biu tradition, has it that he came from the Palace of Ngazargamo, the former seat of the Kanuri Royal dynasty.

The administration of his domain, as the 1st Kuthli of Biu in Biu Royal Dynasty, at every level, enjoyed the backing of his subordinates chosen for their honesty, and zeal to serve the people, without fear or favour. With such a solid foundation laid by a hands-on patriotic leader, it is no surprise that even after over four hundred years of existence, the unity of the people of Biu, now ruled by the 28th Kuthli, His Royal Highness Mai Umar Mustapha Aliyu, since 1989 till date, has continued to grow from strength to strength.

But to get a sense of how things evolved from the moment that the British cavalry, with a gun in one hand, and a Bible in the other, arrived in Biu, the Emirate’s reigning monarch, Mai Garga Kwamting, who had been on the throne for about 10 years, in 1904, moved the capital of Biu Kingdom from Pelaminta to Biu Town.
This step coincided with the beginning of formal British rule over the Biu Kingdom. He reportedly pledged his loyalty, and the British, recognising him as the Kuthli of Biu, appointed him a 3rd Class Chief in 1908. He was granted a Staff of Office at a ceremony in Magumeri in present-day Borno Emirate. Kuthli Kwamting was instructed to make Biu his permanent abode, and headquarters. Since then, it has continually served as the headquarters of Biu Kingdom.

The year 1908 was a landmark date for Biu. It was the year that the Biu Division, as a formal administration, was given its own Emirates. It was the year that Western Education began in Biu. It was the year that the Chief of Biu was promoted from 3rd Class to 2nd Class grade, thereby beginning the suzerainty over petty chiefs in the Division.
The 20th of January, in 1920, was the first time the Governor-General, Sir Hugh Clifford, and his deputy, H. W. Goldsmith, visited Biu, and that day, also, marked the first time that a motor-car was driven into Biu. It was not until the second half of 1955 that an aeroplane landed in Biu.

But it is sad to note that twenty-two years, after Nigeria’s Independence which took place on the 1st of October, in 1960, when the Borno State Governor Mohammed Goni administration designed a dam towards providing potable water to Biu, and 35 other towns, and villages (an estimated population of 300, 000), within a radius of three miles, or four kilometres, the construction of the dam is yet to go beyond its first phase, thirty years (in 2014) after work had started on it in 1982. The project has, according to the author, ran into turbulent political waters suffice it to say.

Provision of good roads, electricity, hospitals, schools, and markets, just to mention a few of much-needed social amenities, till date, suffers a similar setback that continues to dog the abandoned dam project.
As for the tangential revelations that for me pleasant surprises threw up scouring through this hard-to-put-down, historic, reference treasure, an interesting discovery awaits any curious mind looking out to find if historical and cultural parallels exist among the various tribes that make up this magnificent country that Nigerians call home.

A History of Biu has but one flaw: Because it is such an inspiring story that was researched with acumen, illustrated with aplomb, and written with dedication, perseverance, not forgetting accuracy, one cannot but, like Oliver Twist, ask for more of such stories, from the author, to be written about other parts of the country, in no distant future.