What I saw in Katsina

Sunday Trust - - VIEWPOINT - Top­sy­[email protected]­hoo.com (SMS 08070850159) with Tope Fa­sua

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.

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