On my first travelogue to Niger state where business, learning, politicking and love are the order of the day, one particular thing pricked my interest: there are no women in the state. And I dug deep to find out why. And the result was mind-boggling and soul-touching.
Tafiya Mabudin Ilmi meaning “Travelling adds to one’s knowledge,” is the title of a book written by a famous Northern Nigerian author, Abubakar Imam, who authored equally famous books such as Magana Jari Ce. Incidentally, Abubakar Imam is from Niger State. Recently, I had the opportunity of travelling to Niger State to attend a wedding and the experiences I garnered from the trip are inspirational and motivating.
Where is Niger State situated?
Niger State is a northcentral state of Nigeria surrounded by Abuja in the Southeast, Kaduna in the northeast, Zamfara in the north, Kebbi in the west, Kwara in the southwest and Kogi in the south. The present governor of the state is Alhaji Abubakar Sani Lolo who was preceded by Dr. Babangida Aliyu Umar.
According to the state’s website, www.nigerstate.gov.ng, Niger state was created on February 3, 1976, by the regime of General Murtala Muhammad, but started functioning on April 1st of the same year.
Niger state is surrounded with many rocks and mountains. The most popular among them is Zuma Rock situated at Madalla along Abuja to Kaduna Road. Zuma Rock is pictured prominently behind the highest currency of Nigeria, the 1000 Naira note.
The road that leads to Niger state is in a deplorable state with many potholes decorating the tarmac hindering the smooth movements of vehicles. If one runs at high speed on this road, he/she runs at risk of puncturing his/her tyres or life, if he/she is unlucky!
Niger state has one major road leading into its capital from Kaduna or Abuja, which dissects it straight to the heart of its seat of power. The government house is located around Government Reserved Area (GRA) but freely trespassed by motorists. The previous governor, Babangida Aliyu, didn’t reside in the government house. The residents said he preferred to stay in his personal resident and collect rent from the state’s treasury.
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The climate of the state is mild and witnesses distinct dry and wet seasons, with an annual rainfall between 1,100mm to 1,600mm (www.nigerstate.gov.ng). From May to September of every year, precipitation is experienced.
There are two types of soil in Niger state – the Ku and the Ya. Ku is prone to soil erosion, while Ya is water-tight.
In my analysis, Niger state is more appropriate for the catchphrase ‘Food Basket of the Nation’ than Benue state because of the varieties of crops found in the state. Yam is abundant, so also are melon, beans, bananas, pineapples, maize, potatoes, millets, egusi, pears, groundnuts and so on. In fact, the state is a confluence of all sort of crops cultivated in the southern and northern parts of Nigeria.
One cool thing of the people is their generosity when it gets to food crops. A cousin of mine, Salamatu Abbas, who is married to a native of the state, told me that if one visits his/her in-laws in the village, “he/she could return with a truck-load of foodstuffs.” She said the only thing the village people lack is sacks to pack the provisions. I promptly told her to always inform me whenever she is embarking on such visits to fly in with bundles of sacks.
The people of Niger state are homely and hospitable. When you are in Niger state, you don’t go hungry. You get served with different dishes from the north and south of this country.
Niger state is home to different tribes of Nigeria. It is a melting pot of the entire tribes of Nigeria ranging from Nupe, Gbagyi, Hausa, Kadara, Koro, Kanuri, Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, Edo, Itsekiri, etc. and they are all living peacefully and harmoniously.
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One trait that unites the whole people of the state is dedication to work. There are no lazy hands in the state. Everybody is busy!
The state has also brought forth many literary luminaries that have brightened the literary horizon. Names such as Abubakar Imam, Abubakar Gimba, Abubakar Dzukogi, Muhammad Haruna and Abraham Nda Isaiah are names that ring bell in the literary world! And these stalwarts happened to sprout from Niger state.
Why there are no women
In Niger state, there is no room for idle worshipping. Everybody is on the move, gathering kobos to turn into nairas. The young, the old, the men and the women! No wonder, for the three days I stayed in the capital, I came across no beggar, which is impossible in other northern states, Kano in particular.
If you dare provoke a Niger woman, you could end up getting the beating of your lifetime. Just like the woman I saw arguing furiously with a young man at the NSTA motor park on Monday, September 14, 2015. The woman, even though married and of middle-age was visibly angry and I believe, if not for God and then the timely intervention of her husband (or relative), she would have given the young man a black eye.
Women in the state don’t select trade or work to do. You will see them hawking, owning shops, farming, working in government parastatals and lecturing in higher institutions. The ones that caught my attention were the ones I saw fetching sand from a stream, which they sell. When you see them, you will think they are men standing in front of you. Muscles stretched in their arms and thighs, their bodies hugely built, exuding majestic gaits and showing no aura of shames. These women provide sands that are used to build most houses in Minna and its environs.
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Having posed as a prospective buyer, I asked one of the women how much they sell the sand. “N1,500.00 for a full tipper,” she replied. These are mothers, and some of them breadwinners of their respective homes which they built with their sweats and spirits, putting most men to shame.
In many northern states, you hardly see women riding motorcycles. In states like Kano, Katsina, Jigawa and Sokoto, you could be opportune to see one or two in a year. Move to Borno, Bauchi, Kaduna and Plateau, you will see the numbers climbing. But in most of these states, these women ride ladies’ motorcycles only. This is not the case in Minna, Niger State. After the exclusive ladies’ motorcycles, women also rub shoulders with men in the conventional men motorcycles. With my two eyes, I saw a lady riding an old Jincheng motorcycle with alacrity and dexterity that belie her femininity.
If you want to amplify and personify the saying that “What a man can do, a woman can do it better,” don’t look far. Visit Niger state of Nigeria!
Furthermore, the feminists’ movement need not worry to preach gender equality in Niger state. They already have worthy ambassadors.
Although while I was in Niger, I couldn’t go on many sights seeing because of my primary activity (which is wedding), the state is aplenty with places one can visit. For an academic, the first places to visit are higher institutions of learning. Niger state is the home to the Federal University, Minna and Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai.
On Saturday September 12, 2015, a cousin of mine, Abdurrahman Salisu, and I went out to see things for ourselves. First of all, we went to register our SIMs at an MTN office. Abdurrahman told me that in Zaria, due to the influx of people at registration centres, fracas usually breaks up when people try to outsmart themselves in their quests of getting their SIMs registered.
He said, “While I was coming into Minna, I noticed that the queues for registrations were few. So, I told myself that I will seize this opportunity to kill two birds with one stone”. And luckily, when we got to the registration centre, even though the telecommunication office has closed for work on that day, a lone registrant was still attending to customers. The queue was moderate and within 40 minutes, Abdurrahman was registered.
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On our way, we saw the Central Bank of Nigeria, Niger state office, an old media house (Newsline) a sprawling pizza shop, new generation banks and the state motor park (NSTA) which houses its fleet of cars.
The legacies of former governor Engr. Abdulkadir Kure are still being felt such as the Kure Ultramodern Market where business activities are still bubbling. But the housing estate he engineered along Abuja to Kaduna Road was abandoned by the previous government for termites and illegal settlers to swarm into.
One conspicuous scenario is the fact that the state’s headquarters of Nigeria Police Force had one lane leading to it barred. Unlike many states of the north, such as Kaduna or Kano, that witnessed the barbaric destruction of the murderous militants, Boko Haram, which have since removed most road blocks from their major streets, Niger state still has their own fixed. From one’s recollection, Niger state only had one or two incidences. May be there are practicing “prevention is better than cure” to the fullest.
Anybody that visits Minna shouldn’t hesitate to visit the hilltop mansions of former heads of state, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar. These edifices are architectural marvels that will swerve the minds of even the most obstinate critic. But there is a restrain; you can only have a bird’s view of both mansions from a distance because stern-looking soldiers stay guarding both houses from uninvited guests.
If you are also opportune, you shouldn’t miss out on Kainji and Shiroro dams, which generate power supply for Nigeria. Kainji Dam is situated outside Minna, which a commuter told me “will take close to four hours’ drive” from the capital.
Since the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999, the ruling party in Niger state and the centre had been Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Engr. Abdulkadir Kure ruled from 1999 to 2007 and handed over to Dr. Babangida Aliyu Umar who also completed his two-term tenures in 2015. The latter’s candidate for the 2015 general elections, Umar Nasko, was taken to the cleaners by the incumbent, Abubakar Sani Bello of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who garnered 593,702 votes to stamp out his main rival’s 239,772 votes. The now ruling party also snatched all the three senatorial slots of the state, most of the House of Representatives’ tickets and now commands the State House of Assembly.
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Many people still wonders how the one-time behemoth, PDP, could be slain easily in the state by the light-weight newcomer party, APC. Even though many attribute the defeat to the aura and goodwill of President Muhammadu Buhari which rubbed off on many APC aspirants, others believe the track records of the previous administration of Babangida Aliyu were nothing to write home about. They even tagged his administration “The Billboard Government!”
During the electioneering period, the people of Niger state didn’t just deny the former governor’s candidate for governor, even his quest to transition to the senate was blocked by the citizens that were hell-bent of exerting their pounds of flesh.
The elections have come and gone, the new administration has just settled down and one cannot seriously put his performances on a scale of scrutiny. The ball is in his court. He either plays wobbly to get kicked in the ass or rolls out policies that will ameliorate, develop, transform and harness the state’s potentials to bloom brighter than now to get reelected and celebrated even after his mandatory tenures.
A popular saying goes, “Nobody is perfect!” So also no system is perfect!!
Even though the streets of the capital, Minna, are well groomed and swept, riding through the roads leading to most of the satellite towns of the state are like rumbling in a jungle. The areas I visited in the state still lack pipe borne water. Electricity supply is still epileptic, even with Buhari on seat.
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Another issue is that the citizens of the state are not security conscious, even with the security challenges debilitating the nation. There was a day I was having a running tummy and I had to dash into the building of one media house to ease myself. The security personnel at the gate didn’t stop me to ask where I was heading to. I finished what I wanted to do and left with none checking what I brought, did or left behind. One irony was that the media house’s motto is “The Vigilant Watchdog!”
Niger state gave birth to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. As a state situated at the middle of the country, it enjoys the climate, people, intellects and business opportunities peculiar to the north and the south of Nigeria. The community is putting its endowed opportunities into proper use without envying each other or being complacent. And that is why there are no women in the state. Only the governments are caught napping!
If the government of the day could emulate its citizenry, the state will become an epitome of excellence and a beautiful damsel to be wooed by business moguls and corporations from all over the world in the nearest future.