Tuesday, 18 August 2015 00:00

The Other Side of Northern Nigeria

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I will start with a confession – I have never been to northern Nigeria. My Nigerian experience has only covered Lagos (of course), Benin City, Delta State, Port Harcourt and Bonny Island.  

Most of the things that I therefore know about northern Nigeria have mostly come from my sly best-worst friend. He is a know-it-all, sensationalist drama-prone person. His name is mainstream media. Since he is addicted to ‘breaking news,’ most of his news about northern Nigeria tends to break spirits.

But even as I soak in his news, I do know that all coins have two sides. Actually three. Heads, tails and sideways. As such, there are other sides of northern Nigeria that you and I don’t know much about.

In 2014 on 3rd November, my best-worst friend informed me about the tragic news of the suicide bombing in Potiskum, Yobe State. At least 29 people were killed. They could have been fewer or more, but what is indisputable is that people died.

On the same day of the suicide bombing, the Deputy Governor of Borno state, Zanna Mustapha issued a stark warning, ‘If the Federal Government does not add extra effort, in the next two to three months, the three North-Eastern states will no longer be in existence.’ The three states that the deputy Governor was talking about are Adamawa, Borno and Yobe.

My best-worst friend insisted that he is not being sensationalist or negative, but was only telling me exactly what the deputy Governor said. For once, I agreed with his accurate portrayal of the picture on the ground. However, 24 hours are partly day and partly night, so we shouldn’t just talk about the night only as if there is no day.

What lies on the other side of the northern Nigeria coin? What is the day time narrative that has been lost in the avalanche of night-focused news? The two words that dominate these night news are these – boko haram.  

As Borno State’s deputy Governor warned, Boko Haram’s territorial gain is dangerously gaining steam. It is the constitutional duty of Nigerian President Muhamadu Buhari’s government to stop this expansion in its tracks and protect all Nigerians at all times. As it does this, the daytime narrative must come forth.

All the nineteen States in northern Nigeria cover a vast area of 726,852 square kilometres. This huge size makes them bigger than the combined size of England, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, Belgium and Austria.

Northern Nigeria’s sheer size is one of the daylight narratives that is often lost. The distance between Boko Haram’s northeastern stronghold and most northwestern or north central states is at least five times the distance between England and Northern Ireland. Yet England was never guilty by proximity even during Northern Ireland’s darkest years of terrorism.

Similarly, Los Angeles in California doesn’t suffer the consequences of its proximity to Mexico’s unending drug killings. If anything American States like Texas and New Mexico continue to forge ahead economically and socially, despite sharing borders with Mexico.

Here is the factual, daylight reality – Although Boko Haram may have footholds in several states, its stronghold is only in parts of three northeastern States. Since many of the nineteen northern States are as big as some European countries, they are therefore not even guilty by proximity!

These nineteen states are as diverse as they are huge. A State like Bauchi has 55 tribes, which is 13 more than Kenya’s 42. This gives it a rich cultural and linguistic diversity that cannot be lumped into one box.

Despite its Boko Haram headache (it’s more like a heart attack), Yobe has a population of nearly three million people who are going on with their lives because life has to go on. The State also has one of the largest cattle markets in West Africa. Indeed, it has so much cattle that it has what it takes to be a leading global exporter of beef. Yobeef. Wouldn’t it be cool of this label was to be seen on beef products from Florida to Copenhagen?

Yobe State is named after a river as are three other northern States – Taraba, Niger and Benué. This has to be the highest honor that any country can pay nature. If other States and Countries in the world followed suit, then New York would be Hudson; England would be Thames; Kenya would be Tana and Italy would be Tiber.

Incidentally, three other northern States are also named after rivers – Niger, Yobe and Benué. In the same vein, one of the southern States has so many rivers bordering its territory that it is named, Rivers State. Did I mention that Cross River State, also in the South is named after Cross River? Osun State is named after River Osun; Ogun State is named after River Ogun; Anambra State is named after River Anambra and Imo State is named after Imo River.

Nine States are named after rivers, making Nigeria the unofficial global capital of rivers. It should seriously consider hosting an annual global festival for rivers! These rivers are sparkling, beautiful natural resources that are part of Nigeria’s daylight narrative.

Because of these rivers, Northern Nigeria is the proud home of some of Africa’s most breathtaking waterfalls.

Niger State’s Gurara waterfalls are quite a sight to behold. They are situated along Gurara River and watching them cascading down in a beautiful thunder reminds you of dancing stars even if you have never seen such a sight. Just to be clear, Niger State is in the north. It’s also almost twice the size of Denmark.

Farin Ruwa Waterfalls, said to be the highest in Africa, are in the north central State of Nasarawa. During their downward gush from Jos Plateau, they covers nearly 500 feet! This is even higher than the famed Victoria Falls’ 355 feet!

On Monday 14th July in 2014, the then Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned a 105,000-tonne rice mill in Nasarawa. In his speech, he touched on his country’s daylight narrative, ‘Nigeria’s position today, as the largest economy in Africa, in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is important, but not enough on its own. We must continue working towards becoming the largest producer, and exporter of food. It is my firm belief that with our vast land, water and labour resources, Nigeria has no business being a net food importing country. We shall continue to work very hard to meet our goal of unlocking all our agricultural potential.’


This agricultural potential is so pronounced in the northwestern State of Zamfara that its official slogan is ‘farming is our pride.’ Farming and other large scale industries were so established in the northwestern State of Kano that its Kurmi market was founded way back in the fifteenth century and is still going strong. Long before the New York Stock Exchange, Kurmi market was very much bustling with trading activity.


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DJ Bwakali

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