By Nathaniel Baba

Baro 1

The ancient Lord Lugard “State House” on Baro Empire Hill. PICTURE: ISAH ABDULLAHI

The journey to Baro began with the decision and mandate of the editorial board of Newsline on Sunday to me to visit the rich historical village to chronicle the situation report of the dream port project and explore the community’s sundry heritage. Often, the usual decision of the board is like casting lot, and upon whom the lot fell, the person does not have the luxury to do otherwise, but accept the challenge, with equanimity.   And so, it was with me at our meeting penultimate week.

My journey with a cameraman to Baro was scheduled to commence on Tuesday, but by the time the protocol for the journey was concluded, and we headed to the motor park, we were, along the way, given what turned out to us a wise counsel.  We were told, at the time, well after 4pm; when we set out to commence the trip that our journey may hit cul-de-sac. Simply put, that we were likely to have our trip terminated before our destination.  Reason, the time looked too late to catch a vehicle to even Katcha, from Agaie, the nearby transit town, let alone from Katcha to Baro, our destination.  And if we insisted, we must be prepared to pass a night at Katcha and proceed to Baro, the next day. The counsellor advised, instead, we postponed the journey till the next day for security and convenience sake.  The suggestion appeared reasonable, and we heeded the advice and, so our journey began early in the morning the next day, penultimate Wednesday.

At dawn, on Wednesday, the journey began from Gwari Market Motor Park, the park where passengers to or fro that axis board vehicles. We boarded a vehicle heading to Agaie; we had no choice, but to stop over at Agaie because we could not get a vehicle for a direct journey to Baro, not even to Katcha.

From Agaie to Katcha, the journey was through, safely, but not smoothly, because we had to occupy the back seat of the cab, four of us in number. It was a congested back seat, and it was a journey we would quite like to forget quickly.

A grandma’s wisdom

 We arrived safely and strong enough to continue our trip ahead, to our destination, Baro. We got into a similar situation in our vehicle from Agaie to Katcha, but this time, it was only the cameraman and I, who occupied the front seat of a Toyota Starlet cab. The car was loaded to the brim, and there was only a little space at the back seat, which was occupied by a very old woman, whom we later realised was the owner of the loads. 

 I can almost swear that a car with such haulage could not go far in township routes without being apprehended by the traffic police, but thank God, this is a remote area, completely beyond the watch of  road safety wardens, so anything goes.

My inquisitiveness came alive as we journeyed on, and it brought us a reward beyond my imagination. I asked the old and frail looking old woman, where she was going to, as I considered it too tedious, if not suicidal for a woman of her age to undertake such a trip on such a rugged and dusty road. Her response was not only shockingly surprising to me, but caught me off guard: “I am going to Katcha, and even beyond”, she answered in Hausa language, the language I used to ask her. “From Katcha, I will proceed and cross the river (River Baro) to ‘Abugi’ village, to trade off my wares behind,” she added. Getting to know that she was the owner of the goods that filled the boot of the car and spilling outside was not only enough to make me feel like doubting my sight and hearing capacity; it caused me to immediately turn backward, to gaze at her once more, in bewilderment, just to reassure myself that I heard the great grandma very well.  Our continued discussion helped me to discover her real identity and status.  And her story was a darned reality, and quite thrilling.

This great grandma is Hauwa Kulu, aged over 80 years, as she guessed, but explained quickly added, “Actually, I don’t know my exact age, because, in those days, our parents were illiterates and so never kept record of their children’s age.”

The octogenarian told us she hails from Zamfara State, but added, “I have lived here, in Niger State for decades. Therefore, now I consider myself a naturalised Nigerlite, and want to remain so, and wished until Allah calls me home, and be rested here”.

This is Grandma Hauwa’s story, as told by her, which sounded very exciting: “I am from Zamfara State, born in Kaura-Namoda, to a butcher family. Till today, if you went to Kaura-Namoda, to abattoir there, and ask for my roots, there will be someone from my family tree to help you out. I was brought here by my late husband, his name is Musa, many decades ago.”She added that, her husband was one of the pioneer butchers in Agaie, recalling that the town was a much dispersed settlement, and many homes surrounded by thickets.

 “I have lived here with my late husband for over 20 years before he died, and over 30 years after his demise. We have had four children, one male and three female, but the male has died,”Grandma Hauwa said.  Instantly, I fell in love with Grandma’s thrilling story, so asked more questions, which she equally voluntarily obliged me with answers.

Naturally, one would have thought the aged and now frail widow would have returned to her home state after the demise of her husband, so I asked her why she hasn’t. Her reply:  “Two reasons were responsible for me not returning home; one, I was lucky to be married again to a man called Ndagi; and two, my children got suitors here and got married, so those are my main reasons.” She said those two reasons were responsible for her choice to make Agaie, and by extension Niger State her abode till death. She, however, said it was not an easy decision to abide by, because some of her siblings back in Zamfara State were not comfortable with her decision, and so wanted her to return to her roots at the demise of her first husband.  But she was resolute on her decision because, “I did not find it fair nor just and easy to abandon my children  here, who have also given birth to grandchildren for me. Because I brought them here, and it was for that reason they are here, so I had no better reason to change my decision, but to remain with my children and grand and great grandchildren, Allah has blessed me with.”

Our discussion got more interesting, when the grandma story just aligned with my mission to Baro, as she told me in her narrative, that she had been involved in her chosen trade right from the era of the ancient Baro Port, and that she partook in the commercial activities at that time, when Baro Port reigned as centre of commerce and tourism, nationally and internationally. She said ever since then, she had been trading mainly in women’s wares and different items for domestic chores. Therefore, by coincidence, she became the first genuine respondent to my intended inquiries about ancient Baro Port, which was my reason for the trip.

At this juncture, the driver, by name Yaba Dagba, may be in his mid fifties, now joined in our discussion, that had become livelier and very informative.  He said he new the grandma when he was growing up, and that she has been his passenger in many uncountable journeys, to or fro Agaie, Katcha, Baro, Lapai, Gullu, Badeggi, and more, adding that the now weak looking grandma was renown in the emirate as a trader, when she was yet very strong and till today. Then, he said, she even used to go across the river, she interjected, that, “even presently, though not regular again, she still crosses the river, but not only for trading as in the past, but sometimes to see her two married daughters and her grand children, in one of the villages across the river.” She quickly added, in response to my question, how her children got to marry in the area, and not in Zamfara State, her home state, or even in Agaie, where she had lived for ages.  According to her, “because my two daughters used to join me in my trading expedition, and in the course of that, Allah gave them suitors, and they decided and married in one of the villages across the river, but with my full consent, and they have been blessed with children and grandchildren.”

Hauwa Kulu has great native wisdom and is a hilarious story teller, which are laced with great lessons and education.  She also shared with us how she forced her second husband to bring his second wife, her partner, into their matrimonial home.  She said her husband had kept them apart, and as a fisherman, he usually shared his catch between them. So, to ensure that her husband was not cheating on her, and giving her partner bigger catch of the fish, she, one day, insisted her rival must be brought to join her, where they lived with the husband. She said she had to insist, and that the husband had no choice than to accede to her demand. When I teased her that she must have consumed a lot of meat and fish in her life, with the privilege of being married first to a butcher and then a fisherman. She burst into prolonged laughter, answering in affirmative, and added, “that is the reason why am still alive and going places with agility.” She said she had eaten enough of meat and fish in her life. 

On our way, she pointed at a deserted settlement where she  said witches and wizards forced the inhabitants out of the place, adding that the incident took emergency dimensions when almost all the male there died mysteriously and  the few who remained had to relocate. She called the place the den of witches and wizards. Surprisingly, again, the driver agreed with her story, and even pointed at a distance from the road to some few households where he claimed those surviving men and their families had relocated to.

That is how interesting the journey from Agaie to Katcha was, courtesy of grandma, who never allowed a dull moment throughout the journey, forcing laughter out of everyone, until our arrival at Katcha.  However, we did not bid each other farewell without a memento: a group photograph. For me, I wanted a photograph taken, at least, to keep the memories alive. 

The rugged and dusty nature of the road, supposedly under construction, but abandoned by the contractors, which could have been a source of worry as we journeyed along, took a back seat in every ones mind, courtesy of grandma’s thrilling stories.

However, the journey to Baro from Katcha was a different ball game. All through, it was rough, undulating, sandy, and dusty, perhaps worse than the Biblical old rugged road commonly sang in Christian Hymns.  Because, we were almost running against scheduled plan, and to save time to achieve our mission, we had to hire a motorcycle (Bajaj) to convey us to Baro. It was a three-on-one ride.  Our rider was recommended to us by the driver that brought us to Katcha from Agaie, in whom he said he trust for our safe ride. Nevertheless, the rough road tested his expertise a number times. Sometimes, we had to zig-zag off the road, even swerving into the bush, to avoid extremely bad portions of the road. Then, I was made to recall and understand why National Inland Warerways Authority’s (NIWA) Managing Director, Hajiya Inna Maryam Ciroma, was concerned and apprehensive about the prevailing sorry condition of the road that she pleaded passionately for the road to be constructed and commissioned in earnest, without which the Baro Port would not thrive. Although the managing director had reassured that there was a decade long strategic growth plans proposed by NIWA,  which was due to be unveiled and implemented from 2016-2026, it is germane and urgent to do the needful concerning the road. The GRNL Building and Construction, Nigeria Limited, the contracting firm, must be made to return to work as quickly as possible and ensure completion of the road project to complement the port project.

At the end of  the about 100 kilometres journey, we were warmly welcomed by the natives and the village head, Alh Mohammed Ndanusa Kazoro, who happily applauded the initiative of the crew’s visit, hoping that it would fast track the commissioning of their dream port project. Likewise, the Emir of Agaie, Alh.Muhammadu Yusuf Nuhu, made a passionate appeal to the federal government to ensure that the port was commissioned soon in order to return Baro and the emirate to their lost glories.