“I am sorry, sir, for that,” said the keke driver, while turning his face in my direction. The man felt that I was in a hurry and the young veiled Muslim woman who crossed the road caused some delay to my journey.
I told him not to say sorry, and that neither the poor woman or he has committed any offense. I told him that I came to Bauchi just to travel around and see places. He didn’t understand what I meant.
He thought I was just a holidaymaker moving around to see things, not knowing that I am a travel writer. We got to the Larema International Hotel and Suites located Behind Old Dass Park, near the Federal Radio Station, at a foot of a big hill in the New Government Reservation Area (GRA), Bauchi LGA.
The man waited patiently and I paid seven thousand Naira for a small room for the night. The room was not as big as the room I paid a similar amount for in Jos. Also, though the workers at the hotel were polite, friendly, and effective they were not like those in the Jos hotel I spent a night in.
Originally, five ethnic groups made up the Bauchi LGA. They are the Bankalawa, Gerawa, Burmawa, Hausawa and Fulani. But with the crises which had erupted in several parts of the state, other groups like the Hausa, Jarawa, Warjawa, Sayawa and others from other LGAs in the state had moved to the capital.
Bauchi State used to be part of the Northeastern state with its headquarters in Maiduguri, the present capital of Bornu State. The General Murtala Muhammad military regime created Plateau State from the Benue-Plateau State, split the Northeastern State into Bauchi, Borno, and Gongola States. And later, General Sani Abacha’s regime created Nasarawa State from Plateau; at the same time the old Bauchi state was split again into Gombe and Bauchi State, like Plateau State.
Bauchi State has about 55 over ethnic groups which are distributed amongst the 20 LGAs in the state. The north (comprising north-west, north-central, and north-east geo-political regions) has different ethnic groups, cultures, and traditions than the south (south-east, south-west and south-south geo-political regions). This fact, surprisingly, is not generally known in the Southern part of the country. Like the myth that the North is generally a well-developed place because it has produced more of the rulers of the Nigerian state, most Southern Nigerians believe that the North is mono-ethnic (same ethnic group).
Three days (Sunday, 26 July 2009) before Mohammed Yusuf was killed, members of his sect attacked a police station in Bauchi metropolis.
Members of the Yusuf movement armed with grenades and AK47 assault rifles invaded a police station. The police station is located at the Jango area, located south of the Bauchi metropolis. Members of the movement looted its armoury and killed policemen on duty and civilians.
The first time I met the keke driver at their park near the filling station, I guessed he may either come from the Bogolo or Tafawa Balewa LGA. The place (Tafawa Balewa LGA) is located south and about 83 kilometres from the Bauchi capital.
My initial impression of the man was that of a courageous, open and accommodating person. To some extent, my psychological summation or instinct didn’t disappoint me. The man told me he was of the Sayawa tribe in the Tafawa Balewa LGA.
Since the late 1940s, before the creation of the LGA with its headquarters in Tafawa Balewa town, hometown of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, first prime minister of independent Nigeria, there have been bloody crises.
The ethnic groups in the area are the Sayawa, Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri, and Tapshinwa (Angas). The Ibos and others are also in the area. Mainly the crises have been between the Sayawa tribe and the Hausa/Fulani group fighting over land ownership and chieftaincy issues.
I checked into my hotel room, bathed and wandered out for few hours into the town with my new Sayawa friend. The first place he took me to was a neighbourhood in the Yelwa Tudu area, close to Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University along Dass Road in the central area of the city.
We stopped there and we walked into an area where they were preparing Burukutu. Some were drinking it from a calabash. Burukutu is mined from fermented guinea corn. The guinea corn is soaked in water for three days, after which is dried in the sun, and later mashed or grinded. The grinded paste is cooked in a pot and allowed to cool when is properly cooked. The end product is a brownish liquid which the locals call burukutu which is poured in a calabash for consumption.
Burukutu is alcoholic, but not like kaikai also called ‘Ogogoro’ or ‘Sapele Water’ which is distilled from fermented palm wine.
I had drunk burukutu before somewhere in the Northern Nigeria. The experience was not a good one. The keke driver swallowed a small quantity and clasped his teeth like one who has eaten a soured grape. I had warned him not to take much, while I sat watching as one after the other enjoyed their drink.
Burukutu is a valued drink of the Sayawa tribe and others in Bauchi State and other parts of deep northern Nigeria. But in places like Plateau State and other parts of the Middle belt region, Burukutu is extracted from millet, rather than guinea corn, through the processes of production are same.
After spending three hours with him, travelling around, I returned to the hotel, and rested for one and half hour. Around 2.00 p.m., one of my good friends from one of the north central states (middle belt region) came to my hotel.
He had spent over 20 years in Bauchi metropolis but came to take me out on another voyage to some historical sites in the town. The first place we visited was the tomb of Alhaji (Sir) Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, born by a Fulani mother on 1 October 1912. Some said his father was of the Sayawa group and that the Tafawa Balewa LGA which was created about 10 years after his death, was after named after him.
Balewa was among top Nigerian politicians who were killed by rebel soldiers led by Majors Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and Arinze Ifeajuna Emmanuel during the first coup (which later failed) in Nigeria on 15 January 1966 in Lagos, then capital of Nigeria.
We travelled through the northern parts of the Bauchi town near Bauchi prison. On 7 September 2010, (about fourteen months) after the Federal Low Cost Housing police station was attacked, Bauchi Prison was also attacked.
Boko Haram assailants invaded the prison, freed over 700 prisoners; and some of their men held there were freed. We passed along the huge palace of the current emir of Bauchi, Alhaji Rilwanu Suleiman Adamu, who took over as emir four years ago after the death of his father.
I didn’t see the usual flag with the colours-yellow, white and blue with stars and moon in the middle. That was the flag Shehu Usman Dan Fodio handed over to his Hausa, Fulani, and other supporters after an area was conquered during the jihadist movement of the early 19th century. The absence of the flag on the emir’s rooftop was a sign that the emir was not in his palace.
Dan Fodio of the Fula or Fulani tribe started his Islamic Jihad which some called ‘Fulani Wars’ early 19th century. His fighters swept through north-western states and northern parts of Kaduna – Zaria and established emirates – an administrative unit where emirs preside over.
Five years after the Dan Fodio war started around Sokoto, he headed north-east and invaded Bauchi, a territory of numerous self-governing ethnic groups and waged his religious, political, and economic wars against them.
Before the arrival of Fodio’s Jihadists, some parts of Bauchi were practising Islam. The Kanuri of the Kanem – Bornu Empire had spread Islam mildly in the area. The Kanem – Bornu Empire in same North-East got converted to Islam around 9th or 10th century.
Islam was said to have been introduced there by North African traders, Arabs, and Berbers who had trading connections with the empire. The 19th century was full of activities, while Dan Fodio and his group of jihadists were rampaging the northern axis, the Christians were doing same from the southern parts too.
The Christian movement started from the Yoruba coastal and border town of Badagry (in present – day Badagary LGA, located west of the Lagos metropolis in the Lagos State) in southwestern Nigeria.
Christianity from Badagry spread to others parts of South-West, South-East, South-South and some parts of North Central states, but not by open military conquests like the ones of Fodio. However, there were pockets of wars which were waged by European traders for the missionaries when the natives resisted their aggressive attempts to convert them to the new religion, Christianity.
Chinua Achebe (16 November 1930-21 March 2013), the celebrated Nigerian writer and cultural activist in his famed novel, Things Fall Apart, published in 1958, addressed the theme of the aggressive conversion attempts and the repercussions.
Like the Kanem-Bornu Empire which had Islamic influence in Bauchi before Fodio’s arrival, the Portuguese attempted to introduce Christianity first in Nigeria, but never recorded any serious success about 15th century.
As for South-West (Yorubaland), Christianity and Islam spread simultaneously. In the old Ilorin town in present – day Kwara State, which General Afonja was presiding over, he had invited the Fulani jihadists to help him in his revolt against the Oyo Empire which was already weak due to internal struggle for power primarily.
They arrived in the kingdom, helped Afonja to break away from the Oyo Empire before they took over the leadership of the breakaway part of the empire from him. They established an emirate and from there Islam spread into some parts of Yorubaland that had not come in contact with Muslims and their religion.
There was another ambitious attempt to introduce Islamic to the southernmost parts of Nigeria through the old Benin Empire now in present-day Edo State in the South-South geo-political zone, by traders who actually attempted to introduce Islam before the jihadists.
In the 19th century, some Muslims in the Afemai tribe, who had some trade arrangements with an Islamic ruler in the old Nupe kingdom found in present – day Niger State (North-Central) tried to spread Islam in the area.
The Afemai people occupy Auchi town and places in Etsako West LGA and Esako East LGA, on the northern borderline of Edo State. Traditional warriors of the Benin Empire, who disliked the spread of Islam to their territory, advanced northwards and defeated them. That stopped them from pushing westwards towards the heart of the empire and beyond. Remnants of the Islamic fighters returned to the Afemai area and remained there. This is one of the reasons that explains why one finds lot of Muslims in that area.
Under the hot Bauchi sun we arrived at the compound which houses the tomb of Balewa.
The compound is not fenced. The place is closer to the emir’s palace on the right, while on the left is the Bauchi central market. The compound has two buildings – an office on the left side of the compound and on the right is the tomb.
Seven men all dressed in the flowing Muslim garments sat on two mats placed under a tree.
I came out of our vehicle with my friend and he spoke Hausa with them. One man, a tall, slender man walked out from them and welcomed us cordially. The man, Adamu Sambo, a 45-year-old father of four children from two wives is an attendant at the place.
We told him that we want to visit the tomb of Balewa and he said we should follow him.
We entered a building which curved, like a tunnel without a roof.
The place was dark and the more one went the deeper it looked.
We eventually walked to a base where before us was the tomb of Belewa. On wall there were multi-coloured tiles.
The tomb was built in a rectangular shape with pieces of granite rocks spread on the surface; beneath it were the remains of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
The tomb attendant started his commentary after I finished taking pictures. The man explained that the dark tunnel which we entered through represents the toils of the independence struggle, early statehood, death and sacrifice of the great leader, and the base where light glimpsed at us implied hope for the Nigerian nation. The various colours of tiles on the wall denote the ethnic mixture of the country.
He concluded by saying that there is hope for our country in spite of the current difficulties. He said further that the architecture of the tunnel building and tomb was taken from the old Mali Empire’s (now Republic of Mali in Western Africa), tomb of Mansa Musa, the Emperor of the Malian empire said to be “the richest man ever to have lived”. The man said construction of the facility started in mid-1975 and two years after was completed.
When we were walking out of the tunnel, the man said “Truly, we are from Allah and to him we shall return.”
As we were walking out, Muslims in the nearby mosque were reciting “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is great”), a sign that it was Muslim prayer time. The charming songs of the birds and that of the praying Muslims provided some rhyme for me.
The attendant took us to the second building in the compound where on the doorpost was written “Exhibition on the life and times of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa--National Commission for Museum and Monuments” (NCMM).
He explained that the entire place was managed by the Bauchi State Government, but the NCMM in Abuja is managing the exhibition centre, while the tomb and its open building was managed by the state tourism board.
We left there to the St. John’s Cathedral in the Wunti area, east of the town that was attacked by suspect Boko Haram fighters few years back, and later to Bayan-Gari, a massive suburb some few metres from the church. A large population of southern Nigerians stay here.
14 days before my visit there, two lethal bombs planted near a bustling brothel there exploded around 9.00 p.m., killing several persons. As the bombs exploded, causing panic, gunmen hanging around opened fire on the stampeded victims. That worsened the casualty figure. We visited the affected brothel, which has since been deserted.
In early 1991, Sayawa people and the Hausa/Fulani fought in the Tafawa Balewa LGA. Retaliatory killings spilled over to the suburbs of that same Bayan–Gari, Bakinkura, and the railway. Bauchi has been ahothouse of ethnic and religious violence like Plateau State and other parts of the country.
The Bauchi metropolis is a place with some diversity. There were churches and mosques located along the road.
Some of the roads, though not wide enough, were well-tarred and had some modern houses built of cement blocks and roofed with corrugated iron sheets by their sides, with juvenile beggars who wore torn and filthy clothes with plastic plates in their hands, moving from one side of the road to another seeking alms. There were also rickety and poor buildings in the town.
The Bauchi journey ended late in the evening, and I returned to my hotel to rest. Early the following day, Monday, the Sayawa keke driver came to the hotel as arranged to take me to a small motor park opposite theirs.
From there, I travelled back to Abuja and later to my home in Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State in the eastern Niger Delta region of Nigeria, to plan for another journey to yet-to-be determined destinations.
Naagbanton lives in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital, Nigeria.