Opinion

Northern Nigeria and the danger of a single story

As I dropped my bag at the Old Garage in Ado-Ekiti, nervous and in trepidation about my first ever trip up north, I read Psalm 23 seven times and recited my mantra of safety.

Some historians believe that Lord Lugard amalgamated the northern and southern protectorate mainly for economic rather than political reasons. Over 100 years later, there seems to be no parity between the north and south in economic and literacy terms. News of religious extremism, intolerance, and poverty is a debacle for any young southerner going to the north for the first time.

This has no doubt formed a stereotype of a northern Nigeria filled with malnourished children roaming the street begging for alms (Almajiris) and remnants of burned churches. The Boko Haram insurgency is the final nail in the coffin of an already battered image.

On the last day of the NYSC orientation camp in Mangu Local Government, Plateau State, I was posted to Wase Local Government to serve Nigeria for a whole year. I had never been so terrified in my life. Just 3 days before, news filtered through the camp that Wase indigenes slaughtered 4 soldiers that were part of Operation Safe Haven and their colleagues were on their way to retaliate. The Odi massacre came to mind immediately.  The military personnel on camp and NYSC officials, however, denied the report. We were assured that nothing like that happened.

I did a quick search on Google to find out what was going on in Wase and I was more terrified by the results. My search result was filled with news of bloodshed, killings, communal clashes and destruction of lives and properties, and boundary conflict with the neighbouring Langtan North. To balance it up, I tried to search for something comforting and interesting about the people to give me a respite for this journey online and nothing showed forth.

Over 44 corps members including myself wept profusely in the bus conveying us to the ‘slaughter yard’. I couldn’t believe the rationale behind NYSC’s decision to post us (future leaders as we are called) to a war zone. Needless to say, the 3 hours journey from Mangu to Wase was the longest journey I had ever taken mentally.  

We arrived at the ‘slaughter yard’ around 8pm but to my surprise, indigines in their tens trooped to our bus to welcome us. I later learned they had waited for hours anticipating our arrival. A welcome party was organised by the current corps members and the community members with assorted meals such as semo, fried rice and jollof. At this point, I wiped my tears with my NYSC cap and ‘balanced well’ with just 2 wraps of semo garnished with surplus meat and stepped it down with a chilled drink.

12 months after, I had seen Wase in a way no one ever told the world.

Tourism Potential

Tourism is a multi-million dollar industry worldwide. Millions of people visit fascinating sites yearly to explore the beauty of nature.

One of such natural wonders worthy of exploring is Wase Rock. This is a dome shaped rocky inselberg visible for a radius of 40km due to its height. Wase Rock is one of the ‘homes’ to the rosy white pelican birds in Africa. Based on my research, I discovered that Wase Rock is one of the very few inselbergs of its kind in the whole world.

I climbed the rock to a reasonable height and while viewing the beautiful landscape from ‘above’, I wondered how this awesome nature’s gift is not yet tapped to boost the economy of Plateau State. No incentives, facilities and exhibitions to attract tourists that I know of. Despite the government’s neglect, Wase rock is still an absolute beauty!

Mining

‘ As a miner, if you are lucky, you can make as much as N80,000 daily’ since there are buyers from various parts of the country waiting to export tin, lead and zinc. This staggering revelation was made in a report by daily trust . The statement attests to the abundance of lead and zinc in Wase and the thriving local market for solid minerals. These minerals have also made Wase the most sought after mining location by chinese miners. Sadly, lots of illegal mining activities are ongoing there.

Hospitality

Contrary to the widespread report that Wase is a hostile place for other tribes, the reality on ground was the total opposite. Igbos are industrious and ubiquitous, so I wasn’t surprised when I visited the 3 largest and most popular stores and they are owned by Igbos. On my first visit to COCIN (Church Of Christ In Nigeria)  in Wase, a Yoruba woman, after hearing my name, introduced herself and I probed her to know her mission there. She smiled and said ‘I have been living here peacefully with my kids for decades’.

How can I forget Iya Ogbomosho in the Wase market? She owns the biggest shop in the community’s main market. After probing her choice to stay in Wase, She said with a glowing smile ‘I raised all my children here and they have all settled down all over the country and I only travel to Ogbomosho once in a year’.

As I tucked my NYSC certificate in my bag to embark on a four hour journey to Jos enroute Lagos, I wondered how nice it would have been to have a balanced reportage of this community. Behind the reports of clashes and intolerance, which are greatly exaggerated most times, is a land full of resources and amazing people. Maybe not only Wase, there are various regions with amazing culture and people but all we read about them are the negatives. It only takes a visit to know that it’s not as bad as the media paints it. As Chimamanda Adichie puts it – “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” 

By Oluwatobi Abodunrin


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