Pushing his road development agenda in Gombe Township, Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo’s administration provokes controversy and a dilemma. Loss of valued folk history, cultural totems and heritage and human dislocation are consequences that suggest more circumspection and an alternative strategy. LOUIS ACHI reports
Convergence of the needs of people, governments and the demand for economic growth and development form a crucial nexus. In the morning of the 21st Century, difficult choices will have to be made about which interests will take precedence as resources dwindle, historical and cultural symbols are threatened, environmental stress grows, indigenous peoples’ domains shrink, and demands for “modernization” rise. Such is the unfolding story of Gombe State.
Wading into the subsisting development dilemma, Indian author Indrajit Roy in his work, ‘Good Governance and the Dilemma of Development: What Lies Beneath?’ observes that, “True development should have something in common with the community or society in question, and should address non-economic issues such as freedom, rights and equality. It must be appropriate to the social, cultural and technological situation of the community or state in question, as well as being original.
If development is simply an ‘imported copy’ of another country’s model, it will fail because it will not stabilise, but is likely to alter or possibly even devastate the society.” This scenario mirrors the current dilemma of Gombe township’s citizens in its Dawaki area.
Jewel in the savannah?
It’s early March afternoon and the rains are yet to come. Sweltering heat waves caress Gombe, the Gombe State capital, a north-eastern Nigerian city steeped in tradition and Caliphal history. Gombe elegantly straddles the past and the future.
Young bright-eyed kids, representing the future of Gombe and undoubtedly Nigeria’s recite the quran from neigbhourhood Quranic schools supervised by stern, paternal Islamic teachers. Goats, sheep and a sprinkling of nym and palm trees provide a balmy background to the intense commercial activity that plays out in the city. But there is a brewing crisis between the state and its indigenes.
These scenic traditional-modern settings have come under threat on the heels of a road modernisation project by the Gombe State government ordered by Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo.
Wearing a carefully trimmed moustache and matching beard, youthful Dankwambo calls the shots from his private residence in Gombe town which currently doubles as the ‘King’s Court’.
The official Gombe Government House will have to await a change of mind by His Excellency, perhaps, sometime in the future. He was elected governor in the May 2011 poll.
The incipient massive dislocation of folks of Dawaki area of Gombe town arises from the modernization project of the Dankwambo administration. “We welcome development,” a scared looking middle aged man who firmly declined to give his name tells LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, “But it must bear a human face,” he surmises warily.
LEADERSHIP WEEKEND checks established that Dankwambo’s efforts to modernise the roads were actually welcomed by the residents of the city’s Dawaki area. In this connection, the demolitions occasioned by government’s initial plan to build a modern two-lane road through the 1.5km Bello Sabon Kudi Street and 1.3km Idi Road was accommodated, several old graves reluctantly exhumed and reburied in public cemeteries with other totems of culture denigrated. Compensations paid, paltry in some instances, were accepted in good faith and necessary structural adjustments made.
Just as the residents of Dawaki were settling in and adjusting to the development occasioned by the phase one demolition of residential structures, the Dankwambo government had a change of mind. It decided that Dawaki should have a dual carriageway which required that a larger swath of pathway be cut through, with the attendant more demolitions.
It is estimated that this move will take out some cultural symbols and over 70 per cent of residential structures, Islamic school buildings, old nym trees with conservation significance and more. In effect, a phase-two demolition is on the cards, except Governor Dankwambo changes his mind. Herein lies the dilemma.
From LEADERSHIP WEEKEND checks, a peculiar feature of the demolitions is its concentration on one side – the left - of the Bello Sabon Kudi Street and Idi Road. The right sides are curiously left untouched, apparently suggestive of some dimension of bias.
Various palatial residence on the untouched right side of Sabo Kudi Road and Idi Road stands like a totem immune to change. But the government has neither denied nor acknowledged bias. On the same Idi Road, a 42-year old Quranic School of significant historical stature and about 75 houses were affected, impacting some 160 families.
Peering into the midday sky with wise, aging eyes, 84-year old head teacher of partly demolished Usman Memorial Primary School Gombe, Mallam Magaji Musa told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that they were not against development.
The school has an estimated enrolment of over five hundred. But with some resignation he offers, “We can’t fight government.” With the younger Assistant Head Teacher of the school, Ahmed Abdulhameed interpreting, Musa further states, “we demand fair compensation,” shrugging helplessly.
In the background, children peer curiously at LEADERHIP WEEKEND’s reporter curled unaccustomedly on the mat, chirping and prattling as they dig into their lessons, unconcerned by the impending changes they cannot decipher.
Effecting the mooted phase two demolition will effectively claim about 70 per cent of Usman Memorial Primary School Gombe. But if the government holds its fire now, sticking to its original two-lane road, the school will survive with manageable scars.
On the 1.5km-long Bello Sabon Kudi Street, about 82 houses were affected by the phase-one demolitions, affecting some 200 families. About thirty per cent of the Modibo Ahmad Quranic School with some 55 students’ enrollment is already destroyed.
This is at DC 41, Dawaki Quarters, Gombe. A rather distressed looking gentleman, over 70, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that, having accommodated the initial demolitions necessitated by road modernisation drive of the government, planned further demolitions will destroy their cultural anchors.
According to the gentleman who retired as a permanent secretary in Gombe State and was later a National Commissioner, National Population Commission, “I am the head of this house. The owner, my father died in January, 1976. He left us here.
We never thought this would happen. He left behind children – males and females; grand children, great grand children. We are almost three hundred now. Though I am not living here now but this abode represents a powerful symbol of our identity and inheritance.”
Reluctantly, warming to the enquiries of LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, he further states, “Three days ago, one of us, one his grand children died and all of us gathered here; we have nowhere to gather. If there is a marriage ceremony or death, we all gather here.
Now more than two-thirds of the house will be demolished if the government embarks on the second phase of road expansion. The compensation they paid in the first house demolitions was used to erect the house inside this compound. The planned second phase will make nonsense of the sacrifices we had made.
“You can notice this property houses a Quranic school with roughly 55-student enrolment. We have lost part of it in the first expansion. There also rooms where our aged relatives – sisters and widows are staying. My mother is over 90 and wishes she should be dead before the new planned dualisation starts. The contemplated move by the government will destroy us.”
Interestingly, many of the local residents LEADERSHIP spoke to on the road project accepted that development is good but appealed to the governor to limit the project to the initial plan of a two-lane road instead of a dual carriageway.
They conceded that the initial demolitions have been borne with good faith but were unanimous that the contemplated dual carriageway will bring destruction and massive dislocation of human community.
While pledging their unalloyed loyalty and support to Dankwambo’s philosophy of innovative governance which is bringing about revolutionary changes in infrastructure as well as human capital development that will in the long run empower the future generations of Gombe and bring them closer to global citizenship, they advised that in so doing “we must not forget that history must be preserved through a reverence of monuments and landscapes that have survived thousands of years before the advent of our present generation.”
In an advertorial in some national dailies that captured his significantly informed position, one Muhammad Jibrin Barde, an indigene of the state, stated that modernisation of Idi and Sabon Kudi roads brings a mix of issues that need circumspect resolution.
Barde welcomes the Governor Dankwambo development agenda and visionary assignment of taking the young state to the next destination of development that will bring it closer to the more proactive states of the federation but points out a strategy that will communicate fairness and empathy.
Barde’s position finds a soul-mate in the standpoint of another male Dawaki resident who politely requests his name stays out of print. “Why are they taking residential and school land and demolishing them only from the left side of these roads we are discussing and leaving property on the right side intact.
This is illogical and they have not offered any explanations. Will you blame us if we attribute ulterior motives to this development strategy? And the compensation they are paying is insufficient to go and buy another property.
“If you go to developed countries, for example if you go to London, you will see old houses left intact. Their streets are not even large. Here, there are houses of comparable historical significance and there are other cultural symbols worth preserving, just as in London.
In Gombe here, the width of the roads after the first phase of demolitions sufficiently serves the imperative of modernisation.
They don’t have to embark on another set of demolitions to build a dual carriageway as they are planning. In all, our basic argument is that if they must push this course, then they must be even-handed by taking land space from the right side of the road. People are not happy with the obvious bias.”
When LEADERSHIP sought audience with Governor Dankwambo, to glean first-hand the government’s side of the development controversy, he could not be reached within the time frame of the assignment. However, Junaidu, the Special Assistant to the governor on media told LEADERSHIP that the demolitions also affected the residence of the Emir of Gombe, judges quarters and former Governor Hashidu’s house.
He promised to get back to LEADERSHIP but failed to do that by press time. This position hardly enlightens the subsisting development dilemma.
Put on a scale of economic importance, a road in a rural community is easily of more economic importance than a road in the relatively much more developed township. But the Dankwambo administration could argue that it has devoted the princely sum of N15.3billion of its 2012 budget to construction of roads and bridges.
But clearly, like Indrajit Roy stated, true development, “must be appropriate to the social, cultural and technological situation of the community or state in question, as well as being original. If development is simply an ‘imported copy’ of another country’s model, it will fail because it will not stabilise, but is likely to alter or possibly even devastate the society.”
United Nations through the UNESCO realized the importance of living with our great past hence its desire to recognize that certain cultures and civilisations must be protected and perpetuated for the sake of posterity.
The UNESCO heritage sites that spread across many continents and ancient civilisations constitute an eloquent testimony of the need to remind humanity where they are coming from and where they are headed. Why do the highly developed economies spend billions of dollars in the excavation of buried artefacts that speak volumes of lost civilisations?
It could be recalled that Lemuria, the lost continent of the Pacific, the relics of Machu Pichu, the Egyptian mummies and excavations of celebrated Egyptologists and archeologists, the skeletal remains of the ape man as well as the historical sites that dot Nigeria, remain enduring monuments and a salute to civilisations gone by. Each time communities contemplate and reconnect to them, they at once live a thousand lives in one life time.
These experiences are only possible because they have been preserved and cannot be captured in time and space as documentary spanning eons of years. No people want to break away from its past and the aggregate of responses affirm that Gombe cannot be an exception.
Clearly, the implication of this is the need to balance modernism with the achievements of venerable ancestors who have brought us this far. In Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, China and the Far East, in Europe and the Americas, and of course famous Islamic and Christian dynasties whose knowledge of science and arts has helped mankind in its evolutionary growth process till date, this counterpoise between the achievements of yesterday and the scientific advancements of mankind are all too noticeable; which is why these countries have become great tourist attraction centres.
The emerging consensus is that, if the present fails to preserve the past, then it could unwittingly disconnect with its collective psyche and bring a self imposed amnesia whose consequence will naturally create an imbalance in the cultural heritage passed to them by these great forebears.
This is the core challenge before Dankwambo as he strives to untangle the unfolding crisis between the past and the future! The wrong steps could provoke a political backlash and diminish the positives of his tenure.