Trip to Nigeria’s
four corners (2)
By MAURICE ARCHIBONG
June 21, 2007
The northern Nigerian states of
Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto and Yobe, which stand on the fringes of
the Sahara Desert, are constantly under the threat of desertification.
This is why these political units are sometimes called Desertification Frontline
States. Although each of these states is often under the threat of environmental
disaster, Borno is ostensibly worse off.
In 1973 and 1983, Borno was devastated
by drought; in the early 1990s, Maiduguri, the state capital, was ravaged by flooding,
which claimed many lives. From plains stripped bare of trees, drains clogged by
refuse to the scary recession of Lake Chad, environmental degradation poses a
huge menace to inhabitants of Borno State. Although locals can do virtually nothing
to reverse the consequences of climate change, some of the worsening conditions
of Borno are ostensibly man-made.
Across Maiduguri, elderly folks could
easily recall that flooding in the early 1990s led to the death of many people.
A concert of unsatisfactory drainage network and dumping of wastes inside gutters,
among others, had left Maiduguri a disaster waiting to happen. A torrential downpour,
which pounded the Borno State capital for days, was to prove the trigger of that
Overwhelmed by the volume of run-off, a dam broke; local steams
burst their banks culminating in Armageddon for many. Such was the situation that
roads and bridges became submerged and it was difficult to tell a walkway from
the gutter. Many panic-stricken residents had fallen into some drains and were
promptly swept to their death by powerful currents rendered inescapable by the
deluge. Today, the likelihood of a replay of that tragedy could be considered
very remote, following the redesign and building of a better drainage system in
Maiduguri with funding provided by the state and Federal Governments as well as
international agencies. Be that as it may, Borno State still groans under lingering
In the early 1970s, it was drought; in the 1990s,
it was improper canalization. Today, it is tree felling, which makes the land
more susceptible to erosion and the soil barren or less fertile. Travelling across
Borno State, we saw vast lands stripped bare of trees. Heading to Maiduguri from
Gombe State to the South or Yobe to the West or descending from Niger Republic
in the North, the tourist would see carcasses of animals that possibly died from
drought. Another common sight across Borno is a heap of fuel-wood dotting various
highways on display for prospective buyers. This rampant felling of trees, which
is helping the Sahara Desert’s march on Borno State, poses serious threat
"Desertification is a complex phenomenon, adversely
affecting the lives and livelihoods of over 2 billion people living in dry lands,"
according to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
That research body poignantly puts the menace of desert encroachment thus: "Where
desertification occurs, poor people, especially those who depend on agriculture
for their livelihoods are hit hardest." CGIAR could well have been referring
to the Northeastern Nigerian State of Borno.
In recognition of the enormity
of desertification and desert encroachment, the United Nations had declared 2006
as the International Year of Deserts and Desertification. Although that year has
since come and gone, desert encroachment remains with us, facilitating land degradation
and consequently decreasing agricultural yield.
During a chat with Sun
Travels inside his office, Alhaji Usman Mamman Durkwa, Borno State Commissioner
for Environment, admitted that tree felling, which worsens the impact of erosion,
is rampant in Borno State. The commissioner, who spoke with us at Borno State
Secretariat complex, said those engaging in tree felling trade in firewood, which
is the main fuel for cooking in most households across Borno. According to Usman,
the state's authorities had devised several strategies over the years to discourage
Alhaji Usman again: "To prevent total stripping of
Borno plains by wood hunters, Borno State Government distributed 5m tree seedlings
last year to inhabitants." The seedlings were planted across the state to
re-vegetate the land. In northern Borno, the seedlings were mainly species of
drought-resistant trees planted to combat desert encroachment, whereas seedlings
for economic crops, such as mango and guava, were planted in the state's southern
Usman revealed that the promising result of last year's reforestation
programme encouraged his ministry to earmark 10 million seedlings for planting
in 2007. The commissioner added that aside reforestation, his ministry, with support
from the Nigerian media and other stakeholders, has enhanced awareness among Borno's
inhabitants to the dangers of tree felling. Another medium of further propagating
that awareness had been to co-opt traditional rulers, who were appealed to, to
spread the message of environmental protection among their subjects. Apart from
traditional rulers, Borno State is also investing in its youth to carry through
its programmes on environmental sensitization and sanitation.
locals are still vigorously chopping down the few trees still standing across
Borno. When we put this to Usman, the commissioner used the opportunity to remind
those engaged in tree felling that they stood the risk of going to jail for three
months, going by a 1972 edict, which also prescribed additional penalty of N100,
against anyone convicted for tree felling. However, it would seem this penalty
has not proved an adequate deterrent to perpetrators of that crime. Consequently,
the state government has been working towards an amendment of that decree, Usman
He, however, pointed out that since this review has to follow
due process, it would take some time before coming into effect. Hear him: "You
know that the review has to be carried out through the House of Assembly. So,
it will take some time because of due process."
Prof Odo says much done
but more still to do
During a chat with Sun Travels in his residence, Professor
Peter Odo, a specialist in Cropping Systems Technology at the University of Maiduguri
(Uni-Maid), warned that Borno State still faces serious threats of desert encroachment.
The don identified deforestation, which is worsened by people felling trees for
firewood, among the factors contributing to this prospective hazard. Professor
Odo added that over-grazing by livestock and climatic change, which is a global
phenomenon, also foster the prevailing environmental threat.
that Borno State was one of the states worst hit during two droughts that ravaged
northern Nigeria in 1973 and 1983, and that the state capital, Maiduguri, suffered
severe flooding in 1994. Odo added that this particular northeastern state is
made more vulnerable by the locals’ rate of tree felling for fuel-wood.
The extent of this aspect of environmental degradation, he added, is succinctly
driven home by the result of a 2002 study, which revealed that between 90 percent
and 95 percent of Borno’s rural dwellers rely on fuel-wood for cooking.
Furthermore, 85 per cent to 90 per cent of inhabitants of the urban areas also
depend on firewood, for domestic use, according to the result of that research.
Odo, who was the founding Head of Department (HoD), Crop Production, Faculty
of Agriculture, Uni-Maid, stressed that the situation of Borno is made particularly
disturbing by forest depletion in seven of the nine forest reserves across the
state, due to the residents’ demand for fire-wood. "That seven, out
of the nine, forest reserves in this state could be encroached upon, should tell
you the level of deforestation," he rued.
When asked his views on
governments’ efforts at curbing desert encroachment, vis-à-vis respondents’
recall that Borno Government had in the past distributed gas cookers to inhabitants
as part of efforts to discourage fuel-wood consumption; Odo, who returned to Uni-Maid
in 1986, after further studies at the University of Nebraska, where he bagged
a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D), said he never heard of such distribution of gas
cookers at highly subsidized rate. In any case, he reasoned, the non-availability
of bottled gas and inability of locals to procure that fuel means that they cannot
use gas cookers. To worsen matters, a gallon of kerosene sells for N580 (roughly
N120 per litre) in Maiduguri. At that rate, very few inhabitants of that city
can afford to buy kerosene. The interpretation of all this, is that the majority
of the inhabitants still depend on fuel-wood. This led Prof Odo to wonder, whether
tree felling could now be easily curbed.
This pessimistic view is buttressed
by the realization that a huge industry has evolved around the fuel-wood trade.
Day and night, huge trucks and other antique vehicles over-laden with firewood
could be seen travelling across Borno State. Although this sight is common in
the neighbouring states of Bauchi, Gombe and Yobe, their frequency along Borno
State’s roads is alarming. Aside woodcutters, a chain of haulage/transportation
operators, distributors, hawkers and petty traders now make a living off forest
With regard to the state government’s reforestation efforts,
Prof Odo said, while it is commendable, a lot more needs to be done to ensure
success of the programme. Hear him: "The whole exercise of tree planting
has been turned into some sort of jamboree with much fanfare. But the project
does not stop at just planting of trees. After planting the nursery, provisions
must be made to ensure that the plant survives. "In too many instances, it
was discovered that the trees did not survive: Many died from lack of proper management,
and browsing animals ate up some. After planting, the trees must be managed until
they are sufficiently grown to stand on their own," Prof Odo advised.
the scholar wondered whether the most beneficial crop of trees had always been
chosen for the forestation exercise. Odo named the Neem (Dogoyaro) tree, Eucalyptus,
Flame of the Forest, Acacia Sahel and Acacia Senegal among the drought-resistant
trees capable of thriving in Borno. Neem, he said, thrives in all the Desert Frontline
States. However, he highly recommended Acacia Senegal because "it has several
advantages." Acacia Senegal produces the lax called Gum Arabic, which is
used in various industries including perfumery, printing, adhesives etc. Prof
Odo revealed that a ton of Gum Arabic sells for over N400, 000. Such is the economic
importance of this plant.
Odo has another reason for believing that Acacia
Senegal should feature prominently in the tree planting exercise. "This plant,"
he submitted, "belongs to the Legume (same as beans) family and enriches
the soil, where it grows." Given its advantages, why isn’t Acacia Senegal
the predominant plant grown in Borno? Prof Odo observed that the long period of
gestation, five to six years, before the tree begins to produce lax apparently
discourages locals, who want return on their investment within a relatively shorter
time. As a result, Odo wants governments to take up the challenge and cover the
quasi-desert lands of Borno with Acacia Senegal.
More, on Borno frontier
Our exploration of Nigeria’s Four Corners, backbreaking as it was,
proved a big relief from the nuisance called okada, in certain areas. If the regular
four-wheel saloon car cannot survive the desert terrain, where does an okada come
in here? To travel across the desert, a camel, ox, donkey or a horse is more valuable
than your prized Lexus! In fact, the only type of automobile that is useful here
is the so-called Jeep or four-wheel drive.
The bumpy ride in one of these
antique Toyota Land Cruiser or Land Rover trucks that probably rolled off some
assembly plant in the 1960s or early 1970s could pass for the classic endurance
test. Here, there is no such thing as buses’ schedule. Since no one knows,
when the next taxi would come along, every commuter is desperate to scramble onto
any truck or camel.
Thus, the vehicle is never full. There’s no
limit to the number of passengers the truck can carry. Truly, there’s no
comfort in the desert. Since there is no seat outside the driver’s compartment,
everyone stands squeezed among other passengers. If it’s a three-day trip,
no one enjoys the luxury of a bath. Thus, you need a bottle or can of perfume
(Turare) with you.
Welcome to the desert!
But there were more surprises
awaiting the visitor: Would you believe that there are still parts of Nigeria,
where people turn to GSM services in neighbouring countries before they can make
telephone calls to friends and family at home? The alternative is to resort to
using Thuraya and cough out N250 per minute for a phone call. Furthermore, there
are parts of Nigeria, where the locals do not know what electricity is, let alone
pipe-born water. Welcome, once again, to life at the frontier.
of Borno State, the largest of Nigeria’s 36 states, calls for several hours’
travel just to get to some of the border areas. We explored what it takes to get
to Daba-Masara and Doro-Baga from Maiduguri, for example. Daba-Masara and Doro-Baga
lie in Kukawa Local Government Area, one of Borno’s 27 LGAs. While Daba-Masara
is closer to Cameroon across the lake, Doro is nearer to the fringes of Chad.
In any case, both villages are around the Lake Chad Basin and are important destinations
for traders shuttling between Nigeria, and Cameroon and Chad on the foreign side.
Our journey to Borno further enriched our insight into how difficult access
to some Nigerian frontier posts could be, and some of the hazards faced by security
operatives as well as residents of such areas. It is not only at the southwestern
border town of Seme in Lagos State or at the north central frontier of Jibiya
in Katsina, that smugglers and their accomplices had barred their fangs, claiming
the life of some officer in the process. In late March, this year, Mr. I. A. Umaru,
an Assistant Superintendent of Customs, was stabbed to death allegedly by an "okada"
operator at the northeastern border post of Gamboru in Borno. The suspected assailant,
who had since been transferred to Police custody, was allegedly working as a "crosser"
at that border. "Crosser" is a euphemism for "border rat."
In the Southwestern parts of Nigeria, such a tout is also called "ekelebe."
From Maiduguri, the journey to Daba-Masara lasted roughly four hours and
cost N840, while the trip to Doro-Baga left one’s purse N1, 000 lighter.
Since the expedition to Doro was a mere prelude to Fish-dam, where passengers
board boats bound for jetties in Republic of Chad, we had to mount an okada to
ride to that riparian area. This ride on okada across sand-soaked terrain was
very unsettling. The journey lasted about 20 minutes and each second of that time
apparently posed the risk of the sandy soil seizing control of the bike and tossing
the rider and his passenger into the ocean of sand.
Our anxiety was made
worse by the sight of telltale signs of where sand-soaked craters had overwhelmed
some okada-riders, resulting in the operator and passenger(s) suffering a big
fall. Talk about leaving one’s mark in the sand of time!
But this fear
of falling and being bathed in sand paled into insignificance compared with the
journey to Daba-Masara. Never mind that the fare and duration for moving from
Maiduguri to Daba-Masara are similar to travelling from Calabar to Mfum, the Maiduguri
to Daba-Masara route is by far more dangerous.
Apart from the scorching
sun that accompanies the wayfarer all the way, two hours after departure from
Maiduguri, the vehicle should hit Mile 90. From here, the travellers’ frills
are compounded by the fact that after turning off the motorway, to the right,
the rest of the drive to Daba-Masara is across uncharted desert plains. The ride
does not only become bumpier as the four-wheel vehicle struggles through craters
covered by fine particles of sand and mini-dunes, the sojourn is made more hazardous
by gangs of armed bandits that frequently pounce on commuters across this desert
The opinion of countless respondents was that the invaders originate
The belief is also popular that the armed bandits are spin-offs
of militia involved in the Chadian crisis, apparently sparked by the fighting
between the Sudanese Government-backed Janjaweed militia and rebels in that nation’s
southwestern region of Darfur. Whatever their origin, the cross-border marauders
move in large numbers, are usually heavily armed and shoot indiscriminately.
asked about the frequency of these criminal elements’ raids, the chorus
of Nigerian security personnel manning Daba-Masara was "Almost daily!"
Such is the fear of these murderous gangsters that virtually all the operatives
of various security agencies working at Nigerian settlements around Lake Chad
avoid wearing uniforms because such persons are usually the primary targets of
the invaders, who are notorious for their love of blood-letting.
security agencies, the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) has a strong presence in
Maiduguri. It is from the Borno State capital that the NCS runs its Borno/Yobe
Area Command. However, that command has only 14 outposts to protect a borderline
of about 1, 000 km. Curiously, this is not far for the national average, but it
must be a Herculean task for the men saddled with the responsibility for the security
of the Nigerian border in these mostly quasi-desert land, which can be patrolled
only with special vehicles. The situation is not helped by the fact that locals
and security operatives in these areas live under perpetual fear of suspected
smugglers and bands of international bandits. Due to the difficult terrain, which
impedes access and the unholy incursions by cross-border bandits, commercial activities
have consequently dipped in these climes.
During a chat with Sun Travels
in his office, inside Customs House Maiduguri, the Customs Area Controller (CAC)
for Borno/Yobe Command, Alhaji Mohammed Aliyu, helped to put the nuisance value
of these thieves in perspective. The CAC revealed that many traders now avoid
doing business around the Lake Chad area for fear of the robbers, who often invade
in very large numbers.
The lull in business activities in the affected
parts has resulted in a decline in the amount of revenue that Aliyu’s command
collects. Alhaji Aliyu, a Comptroller of Customs, said his command’s revenue
profile would have been higher than the current annual average of N50 million
without the menace of the frontier area criminals. The CAC, however, stressed
that collection of revenue is not the only responsibility of the NCS. The NCS,
Aliyu added, also sets great store by enforcement, curbing smuggling and enhancement
of national security. The Borno/Yobe NCS chief subsequently enthused that his
command was doing its best these areas. To buttress his claim, Aliyu cited 37
cases of interception in 2006 by that command.
These efforts led to the
seizure of various contraband with a duty paid value (DPV) of N47m, and seven
of the 10 defendants hauled in from those incidents were being prosecuted. According
to the CAC, rice, textile materials, vegetable oil, cigarettes, second-hand clothing,
soaps and detergents were the major items that the suspected smugglers had allegedly
brought into the country.
It was after our encounter with the CAC that
we set for Daba-Masara, from Baga Motor Park. That departure point stands some
15 minutes drive along Baga Road on the way out of Maiduguri City. About 30 minutes
after departure from Baga Park, the tourist would reach Ambudu. Beyond Ambudu,
the wayfarer is not likely to fail to notice Zundur on the way deeper into Nganzai
Local Government Area.
That LGA should normally be reached within an hour
after departure from Maiduguri, while the round-about at Monguno Town, seat of
Monduno LGA stands 90 minutes’ drive from the Borno State capital. From
Monguno Town, the traveller heading to Mile 90 would pass through Yoyo to Kekeno,
which holds an attractive building identified as a Primary Health Centre. About
an hour after a left turn at Monguno round-about, the tourist would find himself
at Cross Kauwa and subsequently, a T-junction. A right turn at that pass leads
one to Baga. Around Mile 4, Baga. Along the way, the traveller would catch glimpses
of various signboards including those of the Federal College of Freshwater Fisheries
Technology, National Inland Waterway Authority (NIWA), among others, before getting
to the local motor park. Unlike the Daba-Masara landscape, the soil of Doro is
the bottom of Lake Chad brought to the surface by recession in the volume of water.
Despite its recession, Lake Chad remains a gold mine for fishers and trawling
outfits. Professor Odo said some 60 per cent of fish consumed in Nigeria originate
from this area.
Doro is one of the major outlets, going by what we saw
at the local jetty, which is suggestively called Fish-dam. Another pointer is
the presence in Doro of a large emporium known as Kasuwa Kifi (Fish Market). Respondents
said most of the haulage vehicles come from Lagos and Onitsha. The fishes, especially
a species called Mangala, are taken to Onitsha, while the majority of the rest
are ferried to markets in Lagos, we gathered.
• To be Continued