It would be forty (40) years, later this year, when death came calling and struck thrice. Stealing from me three very important people. He started with my maternal grandfather, that fine gentleman. I can remember “Baba” clearly. He comes back home each evening on his precious Suzuki motorcycle. As I rushed to welcome him home, he would bring out a piece of boiled egg from the pocket of his “Buba” and give me while carefully parking the Suzuki in the corridor of the house. It never stays outside and the unwritten rule was “never touch the Suzuki”, he cared for it as one would take care of a precious wife. We buried him in a white porcelain ladded grave. I still see the grave now, each time I visit Sita Street.
We were just rounding up with his burial when death struck again! Stretching his grim hands, he took away my paternal grandfather. That was painful, I had fond memories of him too. He was a customary court judge who went about his business with a lot of dignity and respect for people. That fateful day, it was said that he w’s returning from the court home and was about climbing the two steps that lead to the raised balcony of his house when he tripped and fell. He was rushed to the hospital where he was bed ridden for many days. He never made the trip back to the house, alive. It was a long drive from Daura to Ibadan in the Red Lada, for us to attend his burial. It was during this trip that I got to see the then mighty Jebba Bridge of which I have a story to tell, sometimes later.
Death dealt the biggest blow in October, when he hit below the belt. My Dad fell, never to rise again. It all started as a well rehearsed play. We had relocated to the ancient city of Ibadan about a month before this sad event happened. It was not part of the Act, there was no role for death in the play. Through crude mischief, death showed up and snatched my father away. What was in the Act was for Daddy to close up his affairs in Daura, meet the family in Ibadan and continue his journey to Europe, where he planned to pursue some studies of some sort. Rather than receive him with warm hugs and kisses, what we got was his lifeless body from Daura. Life was never the same again. With an ending like this, all the good experiences that we had in Daura during our three (3) year sojourn vanished. They were easily replaced with feelings of resentment, anger and great loss. How could Daura do this to us? No family meeting was held but, written in each of our hearts was the conviction that, Daura was not to be forgiven. It’s the least likely of places to be visited, ever again.
Well that was then. Forty years was what it took God to move the Israelites from Egypt to the promised land. It was long enough for God to touch us as well, especially me. It is long enough to forgive, to let bye-gone be bye-gone and to start a new chapter in life. That of acceptance and reconciliation. My renewed interest in Daura was kindled when the lanky and elderly Muhammadu Buhari (Sai Baba) won the Nigerian Presidential Elections. He is a full blooded Daura son. He had retired to Daura following his earlier incarnation as the military head of state. The adventurous spirit in me, that same spirit that oftentimes make me to wander to unfamiliar territories, craved a need to see where our new President comes from. Added to this was the urge to step again on the grounds of Daura School II, a school that contributed in no small measure to whom I am today. Now I have a potent mix, it becomes difficult to resist a trip to Daura. Daura Teachers College was also on my mind. It was the bill payer, this was where my Dad traded his knowledge for the income that sustained us. Remembering how elegantly my father stepped out each day from the house to drive his Red Lada to this school was enough to put Daura back on my adventure map. It all seemed like yesterday again. I could recollect the seemingly long walk to school and one particular trip where we got caught up in watching a domestic fracas and I ended up fracturing my left arm. The sight of the Emir’s Palace, especially during the Durbar with the elegantly dressed up horses and the riders with flowing robes, came flashing bye. I also could see the “Kasua” with the meat stalls and the endless bags of beans and other legumes being sold. The Aroma was indescribable. And of course, our house. Our Kerosene powered fridge was unique. In the hot, humid and dusty Northern Nigeria’s weather, it brought amazing relieve to us. It was an invaluable treasure that we had. My dad also had a portable vinyl player. No one else in the family, apart from me, was allowed to operate this. How can I forget our scheming as little children, one of which led to our using a razor to cut into the cloth fabrics of the Red Ladas seat. We got the beatings of our life, which was well deserved. As young children, who spoke little Hausa, we wandered free from home yet with little cares and worries. All these memories were all slowly coming back to me. These were the allure of Daura.
There wasn’t much rigor applied to the plan. I got on google.com and searched out the closest airport to the ancient city and settled on a simple plan. I would fly to Kano and take a road
trip to Daura. I thought of having my mum along on the trip, I felt this would help to revitalise her but she had other plans – the Deeper Life Easter retreat comes first, above all other things in her life. I settled on a day – it was to be Easter Friday and I would spend four (4) days in Daura to savour the old charm that the town held for us. The trip was not to be or so it seemed as other commitments soon came clashing with the departure date of Friday. I was resolute, no matter what, I will make the trip. On Saturday, with a lot of courage, I booked the flight, it was to be on the first flight that departs Lagos by 6:40am. This itself was challenging, to be at the Murtala Mohammed 2 Airport before 6am requires a lot of logistic coordination. It was a Sunday, except for the bottleneck on Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way where the riotous fuel seekers had blocked the main road queuing for fuel, the trip was enjoyable and short. Within 35mins, I was at the Airport Car Park.
I entered the Terminal and was amazed to see Technology at work. The automatic ticketing machines, four of them, were staring at me. I am a man of great hope. I approached one of them, followed the on-screen prompt and, “Walla”, had my boarding pass printed out. Amazing, Technology can work also in Nigeria? I first encountered these in South Korea in 2005 and had been wondering when this will make itself to Nigeria. With the boarding pass on me, I took the escalator upstairs, avoiding the queue at the ticketing counter. Well my excitement was soon cut short as I would not be allowed into the departure lounge, I needed to go back downstairs and obtain a little receipt from the counter. Now, this is the Nigerian challenge, we always have to put some bottlenecks to ensure that technology doesn’t work as designed. I went back to the queue that I thought I had avoided. I soon called out to one of the attendants and she graciously obliged me with the missing slip. I went back up to the departure lounge. It wasn’t long that the boarding call for Air AZMAN was called. Another surprise. Given my experiences in the past two years with a few Nigerian carriers, I had come to expect delays as normal part of flying. This wasn’t to be with Air AZMAN this morning. We departed as scheduled and landed in Kano as planned. It was great to be in Kano again, I haven’t stepped on the soils of the ancient city in the past twenty-one years. The Airport looked elegant. It was fit-for-purpose and nothing in it brings the sadness that the Port Harcourt Airport connotes. I made my way out of the Airport and got to “Kofar Ruwa”, where I had been told that I would get a connecting vehicle to Daura. It was a motor park. The choices for my trip were not many, concerns for personal safety was paramount. I thought of taking a chartered vehicle to Daura, I felt it would be risky. I wasn’t going to stand out in the crowd. I chose to join a regularly scheduled commercial bus for the two (2) hour trip to Daura. I made this choice that it was the less risky of every other alternatives as I could easily blend in amongst other commuters. It took forever for the bus to get filled up and then a joker was played on me – four other people will be loaded in the bus as attachments. Now, all comforts were gone and the hope to take in the sights and sounds of the arid landscape of the north, while we made the trip, was lost. In all, there were 15 souls in this bus whose seats were designed for 10 people. It was to be a tortuous two hour trip. I kept
shifting uncomfortably from side to side, yet I neither got an increase in comfort nor a reduction in inconvenience. My feet were crammed and I blamed myself for choosing this “talakawa” mode of transportation for the visit. Mid-way into the trip, somewhere in Jigawa state, the driver pulled away from the road and hurriedly commanded the conductor and three (3) others who were sitting as “attachments” to come down from the vehicle. There were motorcycle operators (“Okadas”) waiting by the roadside. Without understanding any word of the Hausa that was spoken, I felt relieved and really thought these folks have alighted from the vehicle and I would now have some comfort. The Driver drove off and in less than a minute, we were accosted by the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) who took a look at the vehicle and satisfied themselves that the vehicle was not over-loaded. The driver was allowed to continue his journey and he pulled over again, less than two (2) minutes from the check point. It was then that I realized what was really happening – somehow the message had been passed to him as to the presence of the VIOs and to deceive them he had made four passengers to alight from the vehicle, paid for the Okada to ferry them through the checkpoint and we were now waiting to pick them back. I got convinced that we all, especially all the occupants in the vehicle that did not raise our voices to let the VIO know what has happened, are all part of the corruption that has besieged our nation. If we were to assume that the VIO were oblivious to the scheme that just took place (and I doubt this), shouldn’t we the passengers bring this to their notice so that they can keep our roads safe?
As we drove through Jigawa State, I saw “Jaura” and I was frightened. Was it possible that the destination of the bus was Jaura in Jigawa State and not Daura in Katsina? If we were heading to Daura in Katsina what were we doing in Jigawa State? I was confused and my limited understanding of the Hausa language became a problem. I was unable to communicate and ask the needed questions to address my concerns. I soon gave up and made up my mind that whatever happens, it was all part of an adventure.
After what had seemed an eternity of pain in the Nissan commuter bus, we reached Daura and the bus pulled into a “Kofar”. I alighted and made for the main road, the Daura-Kano road. I had earlier seen a signboard showing the way to the Emir’s palace and got convinced that the areas where we lived as little kids were not far from the “Kofar”. At the new Total Petrol Station (I believe it was recently constructed to honour Buhari), I asked for the best hotel in town and was directed to Daura Motel. I flagged down an “Okada” and in less than three (3) minutes, we were at the hotel. It was undergoing renovations but the sight at the reception told me all that I needed to know – you can’t stay here! It was dusty, the windows were left fully open and no air-conditioner was anywhere. I called for the receptionist, no one answered my call. I saw about three middle aged men talking together outside the reception hall but paying no attention to me. I left the reception and walked to the gate. I needed to look for another hotel. I got brought to Takare Inn, which I was told was the second hotel in Daura, none else. I had my many reservations but having been told that there was no other place for me to lodge, I grudgingly made the payment and got assigned a room. I could feel Joseph and Mary’s pains as they arrived Bethlehem and there was no room for them in the Inn. It had its many failings but I could pass the night in it and still wake up alive the next morning. I spent like five (5) minutes in the room, and was soon out, to explore the city which was the main purpose of my trip to Daura.
I asked to be taken to “Bayajidda Well”. As a child, I had listened to and retold the Bayajidda story severally. It was because of Bayajidda that Daura holds a place of prominence amongst the Hausa states. Just as we, the Yorubas have our cradle of civilization as “Ile-Ife”, the Hausas hold Daura ,with respect, as theirs. The valour of Bayajidda in killing “Sarki”, the snake was the foundation of Bayajidda’s marriage to Queen “Magajiya” Daurama, a relationship that produced the Hausa “Bakwai” States. A variant of the story also gives insight to the “Banza Bakwai” states. It took some time for the Okada to understand me but he finally did. We passed by the Emir’s Palace and it looked much nicer than it used to look as per my recollection. We got to the little house, in the midst of Old Daura, where the well is. It is now called Kusugu Well. I talked with the keeper who allowed me access. Just as with most things Nigeria, not much efforts have been expended to make this a tourist attraction. Apart from the Gold Plated inscription on the wall, there wasn’t much that tells the story of this well and that of the Brave Bajayidda, without which there would have been no city called Daura as at date. There were a few pictures of past Emirs of Daura on the wall and if one were not to be told, it’s most likely that the average visitor will pass bye without noting the significance of this place. Truth be told, the house and the internals of the building were kept very clean. I did not spend up to five (5) minutes before a group of about five (5) kids came in with their water cans. I exited the building, paid the fifty naira token demanded by the keeper and started my walk in the Old Quarters. I soon came across the Old Prison Walls. I wanted to get closer only to be told not to by one of the sentries watching the facility. Seriously, it is questionable what an old prison like this is still doing in service and has not been turned into a national monument. No wonder Boko Haram found it an easy target to invade in 2013. I moved on, waded through the area and kept on asking myself whether I would be able to identify our old house, my school and the Teachers’ College. I soon reached the Emir’s Palace and went in through its beautiful gates. At the entrance were a few soldiers who demanded to know my mission. I told them but they won’t let me in. They requested for my Identification Card and I obliged yet they refused me entrance, I turned back and walked towards my hotel passing through the “Kasua”. There were no stalls, of the type that I recollected with the Old Daura. It was hot, and I picked up a few essentials on my way back to the hotel. As I approached the hotel, I saw the “Mai Suya”. I stopped by and noticed this was Guinea Fowl Suya. I requested for one, which he put next to the fire and in few minutes, sliced and packed for me. I got into my room, took a brief shower and settled down to the Guinea Fowl Suya. It was tasty and well prepared. I soon fell asleep and by the time I woke up, it was 5:00pm.
I stepped out of Takare Inn and waved down an Okada. I requested for directions to “Gidan” Muhammadu Buhari. I was told that the house was at the GRA. The idea was to evaluate how modest the house was. Stories have been told that since Muhammadu Buhari’s exit from the military, he had maintained an austere life and had not amassed properties like many of our past rulers did. Some point away from the Kano-Daura Road, the Okada branched left and we came to an open street on which the whole left side of the street consist of sprawling buildings and the right was bare except that it was dotted here and there with military and police presence. We soon got to the second traffic barrier on the street and the sight of the detachment of soldiers watching over the white house told me that it would be trouble for us to go towards the house to take a look. I told the Okada to turn back and it was at this point that we heard a loud voice screamed “Wait There”. We stopped took a turn and went to meet about three (3) Soldiers who had taken to their feet and were coming towards us. They sought to know what our mission on the road was and I explained to them. The leader of the group, in good English Language, expressed concerns with the manner in which we came to the street, turned back without approaching them and advised that in future we should meet with them to express our desires. I wanted to but I was not bold enough to take pictures of the President’s personal house. Somehow, with these soldiers, it would be a suicidal move. Without much ado, we left the place and I was taken to my old School, Daura II.
A lot has changed with the school. It was sporting a new look with better brick constructed buildings. In the middle of its grounds were school desks laid out in the open, for no special reasons. I took in the sight with some nostalgia. I can’t visibly remember which class I was but could recollect how we sat on our bare bottoms on the open grounds of the school and were taught the English Alphabet. I also remember the seemingly long straight walk to the school. I vividly could now recount the incident that led to the first of two fractures on my left arm. It was one school morning, as we were approaching the school that we beheld commotion from one of the houses. There was domestic violence going on and a man was having his moment of madness with one of his wives. As students, we gathered and were watching the scenes, when suddenly someone else brought out a whip to disperse us. It was in the process of running from the whip that I fell and other students stepped on my left arm. I got my first fracture and was in pains for months until it healed up. I walked out of the school grounds towards the street where I thought the event occurred. I could not identify any of the houses, everywhere looked different. I took a left turn and was soon within the old quarters.
It was evening and around the time for the evening prayers. A lot of people were on the streets. Daura has a thriving population. I could see the cars, the flowing dresses and the differing looks on the faces of the men and the kids. I also could see the “Almanjirins” and I concluded we have problems in this country. I saw the “Mai Ruwa”, the water seller and noticed that not much had changed with this profession, except that they now ply their wares using Plastic containers and not the 50 litres Iron Containers of old. I kept on walking and started seeing the decaying old mud buildings, they have seen the years and as evidence of the harsh weather on these structures, one could see them falling apart in different places and the owners putting up mud structures to support them. All the women, with no exception, had their coverings on. Everywhere I turned, the young girls with their brightly painted lips, “laali” on their feet walked the streets with their heads covered. Daura is fully a Muslim city though I heard that there is the presence of a church somewhere within its boundaries. Nearly every other house has a Mosque and people were gathered all around these. With more mosques than industries, it’s easy to conclude that Daura, like many other Nigerian cities, is extremely religious. What I could not conclude is whether she is Godly! Not far from where I stood, I saw a young man operating a grinding machine for a lady, he was either blending millet, maize or beans for the evening meal. All the streets were tarred and the outside of most houses were swept clean. Life around these places was vibrant. I took a few pictures with some fear – fear that I could be accosted as evading someone’s privacy and it doesn’t take much to excite these teeming youths in this region. I asked around for “Bayajiddah Street” and no one could locate such a street, all I kept being referred to was the “Bayajiddah School”.
I soon got to “Kofar Sarki Bashar” where I saw a few youth that I felt were educated enough to converse in English. I asked for directions to “Daura Teachers’ College” and was gladdened to be told it was just in front of me. What I saw was the Federal Government College, Daura. I showed my confusion and this was cleared when one of the young men told me that it used to be the Teachers’ College but was converted many years ago when the country chose to do away with the Grade II Teachers Qualification. I asked for “Bayajiddah Street” and again no one could provide a direction to the Street. I said my thanks, took a few pictures of the entrance to the Federal Government College and turned right, heading back to my hotel. I saw the “Bayajiddah School” with its modern one storey buildings and clean compound. I took a few pictures and soon came across a woman frying and selling Akara by the road side. I joined a few men waiting to buy the Akara. When it was almost my turn, the woman said “Baa Turenshi” to which I replied “Baa Hausa”. Everyone laughed and I gesticulate to show I wanted to buy fifty naira worth of Akara. She packed these and gave it to me and I handed over the money to her.
As I walked towards my hotel, it was then that I noticed the street lights, they were all on and helped to dissipate the darkness. I soon noticed the Traffic lights at the junction of Kano-Daura Road and that of Mamman Daura Road. I noticed that everyone was obeying them, including the notorious Okadas. There was no policeman at the traffic light junction to control traffic yet everyone moves only when the light is green. Daura works! I was soon at my hotel and I settled down and ate the Akara, with a bottle of water.
I came, I saw, I conquered, goes the famous saying by Napoleon. I have seen nearly everything that I came to look for in Daura, it was time to pass the night. I made sure my doors were firmly locked and settled on the bed and slept off. Tomorrow would be another morning. I kept on thinking, what was the secret behind this thriving remote post in North Central Nigeria? The next town to Daura is in Niger Republic and it was probably, in my understanding, the town that helped the Nigeriens and Nigerians to facilitate trade. There were no other notable resources to support this town. I could see three well- built commercial bank offices located on the main road – First Bank, Access Bank and of course Unity Bank. I still couldn’t fathom what keeps the population here thriving and staying firm in Daura? These were the thoughts on my mind before I dozed off. I woke up on Monday morning to a dusty, dry Harmattan weather. The sun lighted up the room and the tall “Dongoyaro” tree by the window did a brilliant job of shading the room from the full intensity of the sun. I did my morning rituals and was soon out of the motel. Downstairs, I picked a “Sai Buhari” Cap at a princely sum and then headed to the city limits. Having promised myself that my journey out of Daura had to be with much more comfort than the trip in, I was able to get a cab that took me on the one and a half-hour ride back to Kano. I negotiated with the driver not to take on excess passengers and agreed to pay for the seats not filled. Despite this, he still carried two (2) other gentlemen in the booth. I had my comfort and the much needed leg room.
Without much ado, we left Daura and soon passed through the Katsina State’s border into Jigawa. Here I saw an amazing spread of fresh green vegetables being grown at the road side. I saw this as a revelation about the fertility of the soil in the area and what a great food basket the area could be turned to with some significant investment in irrigation. Saudi Arabia did this and so did Egypt around the Nile. Nigeria can do same as well. We were soon faced with the mountain range of Jigawa as we approached Kazaure. The sight was awesome. Looking at the formation, I jumped to the conclusion that this was a limestone rock. We soon approached the Vehicle Inspection Officers and the same scenario that I witnessed during the earlier trip repeated itself out. The two (2) men in the boot alighted and took Okadas while my cab proceeded through the checkpoint without any issue. Once through the checkpoint, at a safe distance, the cab stopped and picked the two (2) men who continued the journey in the boot. I got reminded of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart where Eneke the bird says that “Since men have learned to shoot without missing, he has learned to fly without perching.” I concluded with a question – Who is fooling who? The Drivers, the passengers or the VIOs. It won’t be surprising to find out that the VIOs are the owners of the bikes that they have rented out to ferry people across the checkpoints!
As the cab continued its journey across Jigawa, I saw the open pit mines dotting the landscape. I had learnt over the years that Jigawa is blessed with Kaolin and this was probably what was being mined, along with sand mining, in the open pits. The dangers of erosions were glaring and concerted government efforts to stop this environmental degradation act would be needed. You can’t ignore the billboard of the National Agency for the Great Green Wall, it stares you right in the face! I saw it earlier as we drove to Daura and I am seeing it again. Do we have an agency for Secret Societies or are we in a sort of clandestine collaboration with China for something around the Great Wall of China? I couldn’t fathom what the Great Green Wall was all about and why there should be a national agency established for this. Well, the little research I did when I got back to Lagos helped to cover the gap in my education – the Agency was all about afforestation and was established in 2015 by an Act of Parliament. As we approached Kano, around Dambata, we came across a River on our right side. It was sprawling with life and vegetation. I concluded that this must be River Kano (I may be wrong) but as I enjoyed the sight of the river, I thought of the economic importance of this river to the area and the need to continually keep the river healthy. We arrived Kano around half past ten in the morning and I made my way to the Airport. My flight to Lagos was to be by 2:40pm in the afternoon and given my previous experience with Air Azman, I was looking forward to a timely departure. This was not to be. We did not board until around 4:00pm and even with this, the flight was routed through Abuja where we spent some time on the tarmac for Abuja passengers to disembark and take on more passengers to Lagos. I arrived Lagos around 6:30pm a weary man. I made my way to the parking lot, picked my car and drove straight home.
As I reflected on the trip, I was thankful that I am alive and well and could revisit moments of my childhood. I can now comfortably strike out Daura from the list of cities that I needed to visit.