WELCOME TO SHUWARI
At age 82, Bulama Kalla, a retired village head of Shuwari-Tomri, has no better place to relax on a hot day than under the big Jujube tree which is directly facing the community’s central mosque.
It is noon, and the rebellious sun has again defied the cold harmattan weather, heating up the chilly atmosphere that keeps every resident of the dusty village indoors from dusk to dawn.
It is January; one dares the cold at night. The best way for the elderly and the kids to avoid flu or pneumonia is to remain indoors till the sun is up and the shadows cast directly under the feet of the trees. But due to the dynamics of climate change, the weather has become very unstable of late: cold at night and hot in the day.
In between the Jujube tree and the mosque is a 40-year-old cement well – the only source of water for the entire community of about a hundred thousand people.
Shuwari is on the outskirt of the Borno State capital – not more than 3km from Maiduguri township.
In the past, Shuwari community was about 15km from the capital city. It is located along the popular Kano-Maiduguri road. But with the speedy development of Maiduguri township, the suburb has almost become part of the mega capital city.
At present, the village is sandwiched by the perimeter fence of the Nigeria Air Force base from the east and from the west lies the 1000-housing unit, an ambitious estate built by the state government in 2009.
A RIGOROUS DAILY ROUTINE
It is Bulama Kalla’s usual daily routine to sit and watch the children fetching water from the old well that would soon lose most of its water especially in March when it is the peak of the heat season.
The well is about 100 metres deep. And its water can only be fetched using a large tarpaulin fetcher tied to a long rope that passes over a wooden pulley. The pulley is dragged by two donkeys that must journey away from the well to an equal distance of the well’s depth before a pail of water comes up.
A boy of about 15 years old would quickly grab the sack of water and empty it on containers lined up by other children.
At the other end, the little kid commandeering the donkeys would release the strap of the rope from the animals and the end comes speedily towards the well as the empty fetcher dives down the well.
And the process is repeated over again, till everyone around the well has his or her container filled up. But it takes much time for everyone to get water.
One could easily conclude that the above scenario perfectly matches the life lived by people during the Neolithic era, when pipe-borne water or even a wash-borehole was still a mirage.
But this is actually happening in the 21st century Borno State.
Since he clocked 70 over a decade ago, Bulama Kalla said he usually sits under the Jujube tree to watch his grandchildren and other kids of the village fetch water from the well.
Everyone in the village gives credit to him as the brain behind the existence of the well that was dug in 1981.
But in the last 10 years, the retired village head can only listen to the chattering voice of the kids and the clanking hoofs of the donkeys as they labour to get water from the well. He is now blind.
As his vision gradually gets impaired, Bulama Kalla had to hand over his title to one of his sons, Ba’malam Bulama.
In the traditional system of monarchical rule in Borno State, it is customary amongst the Kanuris, as well as the Shuwa-Arabs, for a child to succeed his father as village head.
This usually happens as a result of death or on condition of old age or health induced incapacitation.
In his advanced age as an octogenarian, Bulama Kalla seems not happy with the way things are in his community.
He also bemoans his years of wasted efforts during which he had participated in the electoral process of Nigeria, since the First Republic, with no meaningful democratic dividend coming to his community.
He said Shuwari community comprises of five distinct hamlets spread along the same axis, and it breaks his heart when he looks around and finds that in the over 60 years of his adult life, not even a single government project has come to his community.
AN ELDER’S ANGUISH
”We have five communities which are Shuwari-Tomri, Shuwari-Kaddari, Shuwari-Dagumari, Shuwari-Durumari and Shuwari-Manmari”, Mr. Kalla told PREMIUM TIMES.
“And all of these five communities, there is no means of getting water other than this well.”
The old man still has a clear memory of how the well was dug some 37 years ago.
“The well was built and commissioned in 1981 during the time of Muhammed Goni, the first civilian governor of Borno State,” he recalls.
“At that time we had one earth well behind the village over there. But it used to go dry as soon as the rains stop. So we made case through the then chairman of Konduga, Mukhtar Konduga and our councillor Mai Bukar Auno who came to help us complete this well which I personally used my resources to start digging. They came in and helped to complete it and cemented it in 1981,” he said.
The well turned out to be the only government presence in the village from where both human and animal water needs are taken care of.
Since 1981 to date, no single borehole has been sunk in the communities despite their proximity to Maiduguri the state capital.
“We hear that the new estate over there has modern boreholes and the people there drink clean water without waiting for donkeys to help them pull up the water. But here we are still living in the past,” Bulama Kalla.
LACK OF BASIC AMENITIES
The eldest son of Mr. Kalla, who now functions as the village head, said apart from lack of water, the community has been in want of virtually all the basic amenities of modern life.
“Just look around here, we live in thatched homes as farmers and herders, which is fine because it is what our means can afford,” he said.
“But all we are asking all these years is not too much to ask from government that we pay our tax regularly since early 70s. My father still has documents and receipts to show his commitment to all kind of taxes and levies; including even education levies.
“But here we are, our kids don’t go to school because there is no school here – not even a single block of classroom; we don’t have a single clinic unless we go far into Maiduguri, and this has been the reason our wives suffer during child birth, or our children die of ailments that could have been easily cured. There is no road leading to this community.”
Hala Bulama, the deputy village head, said only a few members of the community can afford to allow their kids walk the long distance to the 1000-housing-unit primary school that was established some six years ago when the new housing estate was opened.
“It is extremely dangerous for us to allow our little kids trek those long distance to attend the school within the 1000-housing-unit estate. All we need is a school here in our community but neither the local government nor the state has considered us for this basic demand,” he said.
He said the state government cannot pretend not to be aware of their plight.
According to the history narrated to PREMIUM TIMES by the villagers, Shuwari community has been in existence long before the establishment of the present city of Maiduguri (otherwise known as Yerwa) to be seat of the Borno emirate.
“Our village has been here for about a decade before the then Shehu of Borno moved the capital of the emirate from Bama to Maiduguri in 1907”, said Mr. Kalla.
“As a matter of fact, when the then Shehu of Borno, who is the father of the present Shehu was arriving Yerwa, it was our people here in Shuwari that formed part of the local residents that moved in to welcome him with a grand durbar. History has confirmed that we have been in existence here for over five years before the Shehu brought the capital of the empire here in Maiduguri. But look at us; we have nothing to show for it, we still live in the thatch houses with no single sign of development.”
He said up till date, the Shehu of Borno still has some of his choice horses that usually accompany him for durbar in Shuwari villages.
Asked whether the community participated in most of the elections that brought past governments of the state to power, the deputy village head was handy with all documents to show how he led generation of voters from the community to help in putting various government in power.
“Here are all of the documents to prove that my father the village head and his aged colleagues as well as we the children have been participating in all the elections that brought several government to office”, he said.
“The politicians, especially those from Konduga Local Government only remember us during the campaign seasons. But after that elections are over we will never see them again. They have promised to drill borehole for us, they have promised us clinic and even road, as well as agricultural tools, but none of these were fulfilled till date,” he laments.
He said the major need of the community is healthcare facility and school for their kids.
“Each time we go to the market we pay tax”, said Mr. Bulama. ”And the tax collectors also come down here asking us to pay levies which we have been paying for a very long time now; my father has tax receipts dating back to 70s.”
For a community with no school and in which most of the residents have not attended any school, some of the old receipts shown to PREMIUM TIMES were ironically titled “Education Levy.”
The Borno State Government has proposed a budget of N162 billion for 2017. Of this, N27.4 billion will go to the education sector that comprises three sub-sectors: the Ministry of Education, Higher Education, and Universal Basic Education.
For about N10 million, the State Universal Basic Education commission can erect two blocks of six classrooms in Shuwari communities, to at least provide basic education.
The Executive Chairman of the Universal Basic Education, Shettima Kullima said the government has plans to build more schools in this financial year. He said the community is one of those to be considered.
But he blamed the community members for not taking advantage of the primary school located within the 1000-housing-unit estate.
“In the past schools are established in communities where there is a district head. Then the surrounding cluster of villages that are not more that few kilometres away would also send their wards to attend the schools”, he said.
“But sometimes, our people want government to bring everything to their doorsteps. However, all the same this government will not shy away from ensuring that every child gets education which is an inalienable right,” he said.
The Borno State Government also plans to spend N5.4 billion on provision of water in communities around the state.
It cost only half a million naira to drill a hand-pumped borehole in Shuwari.
If the five hamlets that makes up the cluster villages of Shuwari could get two such boreholes each, the state government would only spend N5 million for the residents of these poor neighbourhood.
It is not certain if the water budget captures the need of Shuwari, Maiduguri’s closest neighbour.
The state commissioner for water resources, Zainab Gimba, could not be reached for comments as at the time this report was being filed.
As this reporter left the community, the voice of the Bulama Kalla remained in his head.
“Please let the governor and local government chairman know that I will die the happiest man if he can only build a clinic, school, sink boreholes for us here in Shuwari,” he said.