By Ali Alkali
Journeys are part of human existence. Man is always on the move, either to change abode or explore other opportunities for making his life better. Equally, the earliest history is recorded by explorers who spent their lives on the move.
If it were today, we can simply call those explorers journalists; because journalists, like the ancient explorers, also travel often and record history in a hurry. No historian, these days, can write anything without relying heavily on journalists’ reports.
Recently, I was asked to travel to Yola and Mubi, in Adamawa state, from Abuja for an assignment; and I was to travel by road. That exited me because I wanted to see the road; for, my previous two trips to Yola were by air. The first was in 2003 when late Lamido of Adamawa, Aliyu Mustafa, celebrated his golden anniversary on the throne. The second was in 2010 when Malam Nuhu Ribadu flagged up his presidential campaign in Yola. But travelling by air, though fast, easy and convenient, takes most of the thrill and life time experience out of any journey. Most of the experiences worth remembering are usually what happened before take up or after landing. In between, you only remember tiny single-serving sugar, single-serving coffee, single-serving cake and single-serving cup of juice. Even the people you meet on each flight are just one-way single serving friends.
One of my single-serving friends, however, once told me a story that I remember any time I board a plane. He told me that his boss told him that any time he (the boss) makes a trip he knows that his wife was secretly praying for a crash or mid air collision, because their company’s life insurance coverage says, “the policy pays off triple if you die on a business trip.”
Another experience you may remember when you travel by air is you, or other passengers, walking the aisle to the toilet.
From Abuja to Yola is a journey of eight to nine hours, considering the poor condition of some parts of the road. I was not early enough to catch the first, or even the second, vehicle to Yola from Tifa Motor Park, Nyayan/Mararraba, Abuja.
So, because once it was 9am, the drivers were not so sure of getting enough passengers to Yola, they usually load to Gombe. I had no choice but to join the vehicle to Gombe. But I never knew that I was about to embark on a 14-hour journey that day. The first warning came when I realized that it took us four hours to reach Jos, which normally should take two hours or less. Did I join a rickety car? No. The delay was due to many military checkpoints searching for Boko Haram bombs.
When we reached Jos, it occurred to me that I should have counted all the road blocks/check points we passed, but I did not. So, I decided to do so on my way back. To navigate through the traffic of Jos metropolis took us another hour. After reaching the outskirt of the town we stopped to fuel up, eat and pray (those of us who are Muslims).
All the way, from Abuja to Bauchi, I was uncomfortable because I was sandwiched in the center of a back seat. The guy at my right was dirty with scars all over his hands and neck; and he never said a word until we reached the place he wanted to alight from the vehicle in Bauchi.
The one at my left was arrogantly inconsiderate, because not only that he slept and slightly snored but he was a very tall guy with long legs that he opened too wide like he had gonorrhea or something, thus occupying a lot of space and forcing me to close mine too tight.
We reached Gombe central Motor Park around 4pm. I was unlucky that the vehicle to Yola was just leaving as we entered the park. Unknown to me, once it is 4pm, hardly any vehicle leaves from the park for Yola; but the union guys told me to wait, that another car going to Yola had just gone to get fuel and will be back soon. I waited for over two hours, but no vehicle to Yola. I took my bag, came outside the park and asked someone if there was another place that I can get vehicle to Yola. He simply called a motorcyclist and told him, “Take this man to Mil-Uku.”
Mil-Uku is a road-side garage, three mile away from Gombe town (thus the name Mil-Uku, meaning three miles) on the way to Yola. And once it is evening all passengers to Yola go to Mil-Uku to board vehicles. At Mil-Uku, I did not wait for 15 minutes before we took up for Yola. But it was already 6:45pm.
Two hours on the road, just before reaching Savannah Sugar Company’s sugar cane large farm in Numan, two buses flashed us dawn and alerted us that armed robbery operation was in progress about two kilometers away. So, together with the buses, we returned to the nearest military check point. But the officers could not go and pursue the armed robbers because they did not have vehicle there. So, we waited for about one and a half hour, until other motorists coming from that direction confirmed that the robbers have gone.
We finally arrived Yola at 11:15pm - that was 14 hours after leaving Abuja; and I had to beg the driver to take me to any hotel he knew because there was a dusk to down curfew on Okada riders, and there were no taxis. The hotel he took me to, Mahmud Guest Inn at Jimeta, was the worst hotel I have ever seen in my life, so far. The room smelled badly, with broken bed, dirty sheets and worn-out rug with insects crawling freely. But I cannot leave and look for another hotel because, outside, the streets were empty and I knew nowhere else to go. Well, what do you expect from a hotel that charges 2,500 naira per night? To cap my predicament, all the electric socket points in the room were dead. So, I knew I was going to wake up in the morning with many contacts to call and dead phones in my hands. What a day!
The first thing in the morning was to check out and look for a decent accommodation before starting my work.
Yola has changed so much within the last nine years since I had gone round to explore the town in 2003. The Jimeta I knew to be so crowded now has well tarred wide roads with business outlets flourishing.
Despite the security challenges that caused the death of some Igbo people in Mubi about two weeks earlier, normalcy had returned to Yola, and Igbo people were freely conducting their businesses.
The following day I proceeded to Mubi, which was three hours drive from Yola. Honestly, I was expecting to see a small town but I was taken aback when I found big town with so many banks, markets and shops at every major street. Equally, I was expecting to see a moderate building as the Mubi Emir’s palace not a gigantic edifice. I simply began to realize the historical importance of Mubi when I saw the many colonial buildings it still hosts which now accommodate police headquarters, courts, schools and ministries. The prison, near the emir’s palace, tells its own story.
On my way back to Abuja, I decided to count all the military check points; and I counted 40 (from Yola to Gombe 12, Gombe to Bauchi 6, Bauchi to Jos 6, Jos to Abuja 16).
The return was equally hectic. It was the same routine of frequent stops at check points and sometimes coming out of the vehicle to be searched or asked to open your luggage. At a particular check point near Alkaleri in Bauchi state, we were held for three hours because the queue was over five kilometers long.
But the general discussion among all travelers was, these rampant, though intimidating, check points cannot stop the movement of explosives by Boko Haram.
The military and the police cannot find bombs by opening vehicle trunks and merely casting a glance at the luggage. What the security agencies need is sophisticated equipment that can detect explosives, dangerous chemicals and fire arms without even stopping the vehicles. If the federal government is really serious about check mating Boko Haram, more than 80 percent of the huge security allocation in 2012 budget must go to the purchase of latest equipment in the world.
We arrived Abuja at 1:20am - 13 hours after leaving Yola.
Now, a little history lesson: The name "Adamawa" came from the founder of the kingdom, Modibbo Adama, a regional leader of the Fulani Jihad organized by Sheikh Usumaanu dan Fodio of Sokoto in 1804.
Modibbo Adama came from the region of Gurin, which is now just a small village, and in 1806 received a green flag for leading the Jihad in his area. In the following years, Adama conquered many lands and tribes. In 1838 he moved his capital to Ribadu, (the home town of Malam Nuhu Ribadu’s family) and in 1839 to Joboliwo. In 1841, Modibbo Adama founded Yola where he died in 1848.
Before it became a state in Nigeria, Adamawa was a subordinate kingdom of the Sultanate of Sokoto which also included much of northern Cameroon. The rulers bear the title of Emir, but mostly called ‘Lamido’ in the local Fulfulde language.