Maiduguri, here I come! – Dr. Muiz Banire SAN

Nigerians’ lack of regard for time - Dr. Muiz Banire SAN

Dr. Muiz Banire, SAN.

The city of Maiduguri is the capital of Borno State in the north-eastern part of Nigeria. It shares borders with countries such as Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon. The people of the city are called Kanuri people. They are historically great warriors and the only tribe that successfully resisted the invasion of the Fulani during Uthman dan Fodio’s reign. Prior to my visit to this great city, as the Yoruba proverb portrays, I used to assume that my barn was the largest simply because I never had the opportunity of visiting another person’s farm. For me, nowhere else existed like Lagos, or better than Lagos. This impression is being gradually displaced by my forced visits to some other states these days. The first of the shocker was when I visited Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State, and I felt like relocating immediately to the place. When recently I then visited the city of Maiduguri, courtesy of the Emir of Lafia, His Royal Highness, Hon. Justice Sidi Bage (retd.), and contrary to the impression I had of the city and as painted to me by others, particularly the media, I had thought that I was on a suicidal mission.

Interestingly, at the end of my journey, I found the ‘excursion’ one of the most pleasurable journeys I had ever undertaken. It was indeed an eye-opener in several regards. Just imagine what the reactions were as soon as I announced to my family, friends and associates that I was visiting Maiduguri and even spending the night there. The chorus was simply: Why must you visit the deadly area? Do you want to commit suicide? Are you cursed or under a spell? Is your life worth the visit or the mission?

In fact, the unanimous verdict I received from all the people I informed was, the visit, for whatever reason, was not worth the life risk. At a point, I started having a rethink but eventually remembered Shakespeare, “Cowards die many times before their deaths but the valiant never taste of death but once.

I also recalled that in my religion, Islam, we are brought up to regard death with fondness and never to fear same. Death will come whenever it will, regardless of your location or activity. People die daily in the holy mosque and even churches. On this premise, I made up my mind to embark on the journey. However, and honestly speaking, the reactions are not misconceived or exaggerated, given the recent past and story of the city of Maiduguri as the den of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, and the atrocities committed by them.

The city used to rank as one of the most dangerous parts of Nigeria, truly and largely unsecure. Maiduguri, as aptly described then, was simply a theater of war, a war front. It was with this state of mind that I embarked on the journey. I dare say, with one eye closed. Upon arrival, the atmosphere among some of my known fellow travellers was that of despair and that of imagination of the unknown. Most of us on the flight, particularly from Lagos and, strangely, some northerners, had not visited that part of the country in more than two decades. You can again, therefore, appreciate the apprehension in us. Therefore, as we set out of the airport, I was conscious and alert to the environment, calculative of any eventuality. From about 12.30pm on arrival, till the next day of my departure at about 3pm, I was open to all manner of observations and lessons, acquiring great knowledge in the process. The trip, which was birthed out of fear and despair, turned out to be one of the most amazing outings I have ever undertaken within the country.

Let me state from the outset that the city, contrary to the impression outside, was calm and serene with no sign of the state ever being invaded by terrorists nor under siege. Commerce was smoothly going on and development unimpeded. In barely 24 hours plus, I gained so much insight into the people, the culture, the history and governance. The people are really friendly, courteous, with the traditional institutions respectable and dignified; the city infrastructure, competitive; the environment, sparkling clean; and, most importantly, the leadership being responsible and responsive. Discussing each of these areas is capable of occupying, filling or conveniently sitting in a column. However, I am more interested in the governance aspect of the conversation.

As an environmentalist, any city in the world that I visit, the waste management state is what I watch out for. The simple barometer of my measurement of such government is, is the government on top of its waste management? If the answer is in the affirmative, then it means that there is governance in that society and, by extension, good leadership. If the converse is the scenario, it then implies lack of governance and, by extension, an inept leadership. The simple logic is that, if a government cannot tame indiscriminate dumping of waste, refuse and litter in the environment, how would such a government control and manage human beings in the state, recognizing the complexity inherent in human beings? That is certainly impossible. In Maiduguri city, I was all out to ascertain this refuse management capability, looking right and left like a scared kid. As I moved round the city, alas! I could not find any spot in the city where such indiscriminate dumping was taking place, not even litter. The strange thing about this was that, unlike in my state, Lagos, where we have always had to apply sanctions and force to enthrone sanity, such is not the case in Maiduguri, where the people seem to already imbibe the culture of propriety.

I believe an average resident of the city recognizes and observes the Hadith that says “cleanliness is next to godliness.” The consciousness of not littering society, or indiscriminately dumping refuse in the environment seems to have been sold to them and they have taken ownership. The situation reminded me of the days of Donald Duke in Cross River State, the period I call the golden age of Cross River State, where the state was ever sparkling clean. It was really amazing!

The other aspect that is connected to the above is side street trading, which is in full compliance with the state’s code. One of the very first signs of street trading is impairment of flow of traffic and the abuse of the environment through clogging of the drains and the dirtying of the environment.

This again you will not find in the city, where all the traders keep to the approved setback, without any need for application of force or sanction. Again, no form of coercion was required to compel any trader to do the needful by complying with the state’s laws and regulations. No wares were found to be exhibited beyond the approved layout for them. In terms of security, the lives and properties of the people seemed well secured. This has enabled and birthed new construction and development in the city. During the day, there was absolutely no cause for alarm as everywhere was calm, and it was only at night I observed some vigilantes here and there. This is no news and not peculiar to Maiduguri as the same thing is entrenched in practically all cities and neighborhoods in Nigeria. Nigerians have learnt how to take their destinies and safety in their hands. My interaction with residents, however, revealed their confidence in the prevailing security architecture in the state. This was a city nobody could visit, much less inhibit, before the current governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, that is now booming in commerce and industry. It is gradually becoming a construction site.

In virtually all areas of the city, there is one construction or the other going on. I specially want to give kudos to my friend and brother, General Babagana Monguno and his team who have done a great job in this regard. Coincidentally, we met at lunch in the Government House. Gone were the days when there was no synergy in the security apparatus of the country and each arm of the armed forces was operating in silos and independent of each other. None of the then Security Chiefs was ever submissive to the coordinating role of the National Security Adviser. Unhealthy rivalry among the various armed forces was the order of the day then. Consequently, sabotage was the rhythm of the day, with insecurity escalating then. With the teamwork under the coordination of the National Security Adviser currently, the difference is clear in terms of substantial improvement in the security of the nation and the decimation of the criminals. Beyond these primary areas of measurement, one can see evidence of governance in the state, unlike most others.

With the trip, I now appreciate the need for such trips, where possible, though I will not strenuously advocate it in the midst of confusion and skirmishes of insecurity around. Beyond the above, I also acquired great knowledge of the people and the culture. I saw the love radiated towards their king, Shehu of Borno, and the reciprocal love of the king for the people. The Kanuri people are great warriors and still revel in their might at any opportunity, even during wedding activities. It was even in the course of the trip that I came to appreciate that the Kanuri language is vastly different from Fulfulde or Hausa languages. For some of us in the southern part of Nigeria, all northerners are Hausa and have one and the same language, until I witnessed and experienced the distinctions in their languages. The North has the largest percentage of the more than 350 languages spoken by the different peoples of Nigeria. Not so many northerners, contrary to the impression we have in the South West of the country, speak Hausa or Fulfulde.

In rounding off, let me appreciate and commend the giant strides of the governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, in the state. You are a pride to the academics and humanity. Prior to the visit and the coincidental lunch in the State House, courtesy of the Vice-President, I never closely interacted with the governor, though he claimed to have known me prior to this. I guess that chance meeting must have been during my servitude and misadventure in his party, the period I often regard as that of ignorance.

I must confess that I admire his courage, forthrightness, policies and style of governance. He reminds me always of Sheik Muhammad Makthoum of Dubai whose decisions always are informed by the happiness of his people. Well done, Mr. Governor, ride on!


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