What I saw in Katsina
My recent visit to KT is my second in about 8 years. I first visited to condole with the Yar’adua family upon the passing of President Umaru, the Gentle. I didn’t actually meet the man while he was alive, but the haranguing by Nigerians drew me to him and I felt he was most unfairly treated by us. Story for another day. In that visit, I arrived a bit late and couldn’t see much of the town. I went prepared this time, even though the first visit was most enjoyable for the serenity of the place. We hadn’t lost our innocence as a people then. BH came later, but Katsina is one of the safe states till date.
The road to Katsina is mostly good but for the now disgraceful Abuja-Kaduna express road which is presently undergoing rehabilitation. From Kaduna through Zaria, and then through Kafur, Malumfashi to Katsina is mostly great road. The road network within and leading out of Katsina is good too. The region is helped by a weather that allows roads to last, plus the roads were well-built in the first place.
Armed with my amateur camera and a clear mind, I was prepared to capture interesting sights as we rode along. I was interested in knowing how the locals of northern Nigeria managed their lives. We stopped and filmed a group of people trying to build a mud house. Two rooms. Total cost, N200,000, from foundation to roofs to windows. If you need a latrine attached to your house, plus soakaway, you can add N30,000. We watched them measure the ground. Here, there are no unnecessary building codes, and no village planning. They just get by somehow.
Next to Kafur where we saw a sea of tomatoes being sun-dried. This covered a space larger than 3 football pitches. It takes 10 days for the tomatoes to dry - a great way of preventing waste. The locals prefer the dried tomatoes for cooking. The tomatoes need to be sliced in two to allow proper drying and not cooking. I understand that Erisco was to build a tomato paste factory around the corner but the project may have fallen through. Dozens of young boys sat under the scorching sun slicing away and placing the half tomatoes face up in the sun like one huge salad.
Before I continue, let me say that I am always so touched by the simplicity, friendliness, in fact some sort of infectious innocence of locals in Northern Nigeria each time I’ve been there. Nothing can suggest to you that this is dangerous zone. Absolutely nothing. I confess I haven’t been there at any time when people went crazy, though it’s obvious that politics - for power through religion, or tribe or whatnot - could be used to manipulate these loving, poor people at any point in time. Otherwise these are a people who will go to any length to help you, who feel like they are your kin even if they’ve never met you, who are not suspicious that you would harm them just because you parked a car and need direction. There is mutual respect in the north. The real locals are guileless. They betray no prejudices at all.
Even the police in northern Nigeria have immense respect for Nigerians. In the stretch of say 1,000 kilometers from Abuja to Katsina and back, never were we harassed for once by any policeman. We weren’t even parked by any team who may claim they want to check particulars. The police were friendly. All the mutual hatred and suspicion between the people and the police that we see down South is not there at all. I could never drive between Akure and Abuja without being stopped at least 10 times by aggressive policemen who would want to make your life hell or wring money from you. I didn’t see that annoying hunger and lack of dignity the police - and other services - display down South. Even the culture of horn blaring is absent in these parts. People seem more patient behind the wheel, even though the accident rate is high - I hear that tramadol and codeine play a part especially among commercial drivers.
On my way to Katsina, I also branched in a farm where children and women were picking beans. They all ran away upon sighting my camera and didn’t warm up to us until I gave a small token. I wouldn’t know why. I was merely fascinated that all those people were working so hard, on a Sunday. People don’t understand the concept of Nigeria’s weekly breaks in these parts. Those who need to work - in their farms or for pay just get on with the work. My fear for them though, is that they could never earn enough to survive in this our expensive globalized world. These were people who could do backbreaking work for N100 a day. How could they handle a major health crisis, or afford electricity from a modern-day DISCO, manned by tiewearing, Harvard-flaunting executives who need to declare billions in profits at the end of the year?
Oh, and by the way, it is easy to see why necessity has made them good farmers in the north. Rafis - some sort or artificial ponds - dot the road sides every 500 meters. These are large basins where rain water deposits. Though the waters eventually dry up, but these rafis afford the farmers some stretch of dry season farming. Remarkable.
My one night stay in Katsina was eventful. My good old friend Danad, showed up for me. He hosted our entire team in his house! Hospitality that puts one to shame. He even paid for my stay at the hotel! Our ANRP guys also showed up big time. They were organized and the event was amazing. I felt like an important man, right in the President’s backyard. Twice I’ve been in Katsina. Twice I’ve loved the place.
On my way out next morning we had opportunity to view the schools. It was a Monday. I first noticed many students trekking or cycling to school. Contrary to the idea that children are reluctant, what I found was that they were quite eager to learn. I then branched in one primary school to see what went on there. The teachers were friendly and wanted to really show us around. They explained their challenges without being disdainful. All the students lined up outside for inspection. Most of them were very neat. But I notice they could do with a bit more hard teaching so that the education will become ingrained in their minds. There were no chairs or tables at all in the first school we checked. But I saw a remarkable thing; the Ministry of Education had made a provision for pre-school learning for children under 5. I met them singing... in English. Leaders in northern Nigeria should take better notice of education in that region. All the children need is a bit more attention and some push, and they will soar. They want to learn.
From one school to another was the same story. No chairs, no tables. Not even a place in the classroom for a teacher to organize himself and deliver teaching. School, on that Monday, was a great big, playground. Only the brightest of minds will come out of such situations and excel academically. For about two hours I drove within Katsina, and the children were still outside, either strolling to school or wherever, or just playing in the field.
By and large the people of this region are working hard but mostly stuck in a time warp. They need better governance and more human capital investment. I am always so touched by the simplicity, friendliness, in fact some sort of infectious innocence of locals in Northern Nigeria each time I’ve been there. Nothing can suggest to you that this is dangerous zone.