ON PEACE IN MAIDUGURI

MaiduguriBy Abdulhamid Al-Gazali

One very dear colleague, Tijjani Abakar, notorious for seeking pleasure in being inquisitive and emptily critical of everything one does, even those as insignificant as eye blink, has taken me to task to do a piece on how things fare on in the city of Maiduguri now; and here he meant to instruct me to write on how things have been since the return of relative peace.

Other colleagues have long learnt to listen but ignore his charges; and I had as well intended to follow suit, but for fact that I understand he did so because in the past, record has it that I had taken time and again to recount the kind of difficult situations this city has become a ground for.

Not until when I took upon myself to write it as charged did it downed on me how damn difficult it is—i.e. to actually capture the trend of changes that have occurred in the past six months or thereabout in this home of peace turned theatre of frontless wars. Since I wrote earlier on on a topic directly opposite to this, the methodology that finally bailed me out on this is, applying a reverse formula to the approach of those pieces, which then were focused on how life had become for the common man.

Maiduguri it was, to sum it all, where the common man had become a refugee in the openness of his own land, a prisoner of fear and uncertainty; where death had become no more any shocking or a sorrowful news and everyone was a possible prey and scavenger at the same time; where loyalty had to find its way back to its shell because it had become people’s main killer such that kinship ties and long time friendship were no more a guarantee or conditions for establishing trust; where festivities were robbed of their ecstasy and merriment and in fact transformed into a full blown nightmare of sorts to celebrants.

One would find it difficult differentiating the atmosphere of the streets, which prior to the unfolding of the insurgency were very lively, from that of a graveyard and the society in the overall woke up to find itself in a state of unending mourning. And what remains of small-scale business, the very heart of common man’s source of survival in Nigeria, was not more than a carcass of an unwanted species for helpless lower animals to dine on. Through pains, in a certain piece, I recounted my encounter with a certain butcher who had about 60% cut in his earning as a result of nighttime curfew.

That was true of whatever business activity that operates as from 6pm. Not least of this was so of our markets: the famous Monday Market itself, had been reduced to rubble as traders were struck by fear of uncertainties, which saw some deserting it, while the remaining few, have just from 1pm to 4pm to transact whatever business they had.

Even with this, some traders after transacting business, have difficult times deciding whether to take their monies to the banks for saving or keep them at home or even in the shop, just as the banks also contemplate whether to collect or reject them, for fear of Jihad-fronted armed robbery. For Babban-layi, I think enough is already expressed by the fact that the famous Civilian Volunteers emerged there. This perhaps is indicative of just how the people there were pushed to the wall.

And by the way, talking on how things have changed now, it is heartening that most people are finding it hard to remember all these—it is for my record box that I remembered very few, myself.

And now, what can one say: just as I write this piece, heavy drum-beatings have, despite ignoring it, promised to distract—and it is but the mighty wushe-wushe, a popular Kanuri traditional musical trait, played on marriage days. Had it been last year, now being 11pm, the death of those outside reveling would have been a foregone conclusion. Then it was not only impossible because of the curfew, but nobody has had the composure and peace of mind to attempt such things.

In those days, even marriage numbers have dropped from about 20 – 30 per week to 2 – 5. Ahmed Sanda’s humorous naughtiness attributed this to the curfew, which, he said, had made it impossible for “two” to meet and shape plans for marriage; and that parents are also fearful of establishing new ties because just everyone could be dangerous—and then marriage suffered the piercing of the rough side of the edge. Now, today Saturday, I have, me alone, over six weddings to grace; my boss is a recipient of nine invitations. I think enough is said!

Passing through Post Office area, which during the crisis had begun to wear a cemetery look, because only a handful of people could be seen walking on the roadsides and there was hardly any chance for cars to jam as only few people take the route; now one would have to marvel at how many cars have we in this town! I am wondering where these tens of hundreds of cars come from.

The same suya man who I sympathized with in a certain piece “Maiduguri: A Mega-Barracks”, has today regained—I am not even sure if over-regained—his previous losses. His complaints then were on how to manage his employees, but lo and behold, now he has employed additional folks! This is not less true of all butchers in the city.

Once again, the city is re-emerging as new shopping complexes are being built and closed ones reopened. The mutilated life in Gidan Madara in particular has been resurrected as new shops are springing up overnight and so is of other renowned places such as Bolori Stores, Zarah Plaza, Kosoram Mall etc. And the entire informal sector of the economy which just recently was gasping for breath has re-emerged and is incredibly booming. This has even developed the tendency of messing the image of our streets. You see many people selling goods of all varieties on the roadsides clumsily. It will indeed do a great deal if they are organized into built shops. It is very heartening also that the Monday Market is regaining itself as the great commercial ground that it used to be; today it is difficult to locate a shop you are used to patronising, because of building crowd and battering of shops with so many goods. There is, simply put, a series of revolutions such as geographical and population revolutions in place.

Most of those who have run away for hiding have returned, while deserted areas have regained their populations. The case of Gwange needs special mention. Gwange it was where I once said in a piece, “Maiduguri on Fire” would never regain its population and liveliness. But, lo and behold, by Allah’s might, it has! And almost all the major and minor roads that were blocked have been opened. People now move around freely without fear or restriction. Old ties that were given up [for good] due to risk of giving out trust have now been revisited.

And anybody fond of playing or watching football should [notice:] head to the Monday Market, buy his boot, jersey and see to it in the Shehu’s Palace—and if you a real time-waster, head to any cinema around in the night to watch El Classico. There, was a football field which, my boss [said], now 67, [he] had his youth playing football. Football as a matter of fact never ceased there until the insurgency erupted in 2009. This in itself is indicative of how things have changed.

Also, on a closing note, what is most important is that schools closed or burnt are now rebuilt and reopened while teachers and students have fully resumed. Nobody is afraid of sending his potential president to school anymore. It is however important to close by stating that a lot needs to be done still so as to consolidate on what has been so far achieved. The community has to be more vigilant and watchful while the government should ensure that such things as we have seen before never occur again. This it can do by identifying and addressing the root causes of insurgency in today’s societies.

Chai, I have to go out to our Tea Joint now. It is already 11:00. We shall continue next week please. Bye bye.

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