For Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, its history cannot be written without a mention of the Boko Haram insurgency, but the good news from the city is that it has rediscovered its mojo. Michael Olugbode reports
Maiduguri also called Yerwa, or Yerwa-Maiduguri, is the capital of Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. It is located on the north bank of the seasonal Ngadda (Alo) River, the waters of which disappear in the firki (“black cotton”) swamps just southwest of Lake Chad, about 70 miles/113 km northeast. It is difficult to draw a demarcation line between Maiduguri and Yerwa, in fact modern Maiduguri comprises the twin towns of Yerwa and Maiduguri. In 1907, Yerwa (whose name is derived from an Arabic expression meaning “quenching the thirst,” referring to the waters of the nearby river) was founded on the site of the hamlet of Kalwa and was named by Shehu Bukar Garbai as the new traditional capital of the Kanuri people (replacing Kukawa, 130 km northeast, the former capital of the Borno kingdom. The market village of Maiduguri, just to the south, was selected by the British to replace nearby Mafoni as their military headquarters; and, in 1908, the colonialists built a residency in what then became the capital of British Borno. The combined city—locally called Yerwa—was divided into the urban district of Yerwa and the rural district of Maiduguri in 1957; but outside Borno both political units are now known simply as Maiduguri. Maiduguri, at its peak was both the administrative and commercial capital of North-east Nigeria, through the railway, it became the major supplier of livestock (mainly cattle but also goats and sheep), cattle hides, goatskins and sheepskins, finished leather products, dried fish, crocodile skins (the last two brought from Lake Chad), peanuts (groundnuts), and gum arabic to other parts of the country. The town became one of the most important towns in the country. Though it has had to face travails in the past, but the recent Boko Haram insurgency got the town crippled and its commerce dried out and many had to flee from the town, which was once known for peace. On the town was slammed curfew, which killed its night life and during the daytime, the people of the town were living in fear of attack; many lives were in fact cut short and many had to take cover and with them the mojo of the town departs.
Those that cannot flee took their destinies in their hands and decided to confront the monster, Boko Haram. They formed vigilante groups and in conjunction with the military confronted the insurgents whom they chased from the streets of Maiduguri into the bushes. One would have thought the insurgents have been dealt a mortal blow, but alas all was wrong as they regrouped in enclaves including Sambisa Forest and Alagarno from where they launched deadly attacks resulting” in their hoisting their flags in 22 of 27 local government areas of Borno and parts of Adamawa and Yobe states. At the peak of the insurgency, the Boko Haram, were controlling territory bigger than some countries of the world and they became perhaps the most notorious terrorist sect. The expansion of the Boko Haram empire, made Maiduguri to be overpopulated and a town that had a population of little above a million grew to be populated with over three million people, mostly people fleeing from the attacks of the insurgency.
One would have thought that Maiduguri would now be a safe haven, but the insurgents never gave up hope of making the town the capital of their empire and continually invaded and sent panic to the people of the town, who were left in total fear day and night. Recent happenings have weakened the insurgents and made them to lose all their territories and their story is that of the hunter becoming the hunted and Maiduguri has been a major beneficiary of this. The governor of Borno State, on assumption of office in 2011, had a vision to build Maiduguri to become a modern city where things work. Even with the insurgency in its incubatory stage, Shettima settled down to awarding contract on projects to achieving his vision. Some of the projects were focused on decongesting traffic and beautifying the city. But as soon as he was settling down to the work, the Boko Haram insurgency grew from incubatory stage to puberty (maturity) stage and were monstrous taking everyone as its victims, many people were murdered on the streets of Maiduguri including those working on the projects and made the governor to lose his mojo. But with the monster of Boko Haram tamed and Shettima getting back his mojo, the vision of Great Maiduguri has been revived. The work of building of road and infrastructure in the town, which was stopped for over three years, have resumed even with the resources now really scarce.
One important factor responsible for this, is the empowerment of the Borno State Road Management Agency (BORMA), an agency within the State Ministry of Works of Transport, with the necessary tools to undertake projects of all magnitude. The state government acquired complete construction equipment making it possible for these roads and bridges to be fully constructed by the State Ministry of Works. This has made it cheaper for many of the construction works in Maiduguri and other parts of the state to continue, many of the newly acquired equipment were rolled onto the streets and corners of Maiduguri in the last one year and the outcome is a new Maiduguri, a place that can stand side by side any modern town, which was not the case in the time past even before the emergence of the insurgency.
Speaking on what was responsible for the new look town, Borno State Commissioner for Works and Transport, Alhaji Adamu Lawani, said: “In the last one year, government has spent a lot on rehabilitation and resurfacing of roads, construction of new drainages, covering of existing drainages and their de-slitting; that is removal of debris inside the existing drainages which have been blocked over a long period of time, we have been able to de-slit all drainages that have been blocked over a long period of time, we have been able to provide cover slabs so that the incidents of malaria, cholera can be checked. “In the last five years, we have projects we have been able to start but because of insecurity most of these projects we have been unable to finish but some of the projects were completed in the last one year with the return of security to large part of the state. Such projects are Bulumkutu-Tsalleke, a multi-billion project given to EEC, a Chinese company, they were able to finish about 18 kilometres road and drainage in the area.
Most of the activities outside Maiduguri have been grounded because of insecurity, but the ones within the state capital and its environs we have been working on them. The Abbaganaram- Gongulong dualisation road and drainages, has been finished, we are now electrifying, we are putting the streetlights by the ministry through direct labour. The celebrated Lagos Street which was awarded in March 2012 to an indigenous company which is the dualisation of the road, building of the bridge and streetlights but because of insecurity, two of their Chinese expatriates were killed by the members of Boko Haram and they have to stop the work but in the last few months, 8-9 months or so, they have been able to reach 95 per cent level of work on the road, the bridge has been completed, the beautification of the bridge is still ongoing, the streetlight is done through the direct labour unit of the ministry, because of the economic situation of the country some of these projects we have to intervene, like the street-lighting we have to remove it from the contract because we realise it was on the high side, the ministry decided to do it to save a lot of cost, we have a new culvert bridge constructed around Galtimari-Fori that links the people in Old GRA behind Giwa barrack to Bama Road, costing about N105 million through direct labour (Borno State Road Maintenance Agency, BORMA), the bridge has be completed and the road corridor is being built, we need to compensate those that the building of the road would affect. This will serve as alternative to Lagos street, it will reduce the pressure on Lagos street, the people from that axis can easily access the university, Station Bama and Custom area.” According to Lawani, the construction works in Maiduguri though at high price are not without their gains as they have aided in the reduction of incidence of flooding, traffic, malaria and cholera infestation. The modernisation of Maiduguri, Lawani said are not without challenges though as the state government has to face the challenges paucity of fund. He said “government is really trying to see that these projects are completed and some of the projects that are dear to the state government are being carried out, the situation is so bad now that sometimes we have to look for money elsewhere outside the federal allocation to pay salaries. But the state government is trying to see that some of these projects are being executed.” Though at a high cost, the government should be happy that Maiduguri has gotten its mojo back and the people are happy.