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The Edo-Kebbi bridge

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad
“Unity among the cattle makes the lion lie down hungry.” 

Nigerian Proverb

In the midst of doom and gloom regarding the future of the nation, a spark of hope was ignited in a small town in Kebbi State. On Saturday 25th of August the small town of Koko was filled to the brim with Nigerians from every nook and cranny of the nation, and a rich assortment of representatives of the international community.

Even the Emir and Governor of Kebbi State said they had never seen anything like it in the history of Koko town.

Everything you would expect in the circumstances of our existence today was there. There were thousands of locals, horses and camels, musicians, praise singers and many, many politicians. There were also hundreds of soldiers and policemen, and a curious group in bright red obviously organised around law and order and security put together by the state government.

In short, a small army and thousands of curious and cautious locals gathered around an occasion which was entirely novel: the turbanning of a man from Edo State as the Dan Majen Koko by the Sarkin Koko, Alhaji Salihu Koko.

To get to Koko town, if you were one of the hundreds of the powerful, privileged or foreign diplomats, you flew to Birnin Kebbi or Sokoto, and then drove for about two hours on roads that could do with some serious rehabilitation. You drove through the heart of the Muslim North, a rich agricultural land and friendly and hardworking people battling the odds to stay afloat in a rural economy.

You saw no evidence of Boko Haram insurgency on the faces of the people, but many villages in danger of being swept away in this year’s heavy rains. You would have seen bumper harvests of millet and guinea corn, and hardworking villagers hoping to survive the rains and harvest them.

You would not have seen small or medium-scale agro-allied industries, but hundreds of petrol tankers and lorries which ferret fuel and other goods to neighbouring countries, quite possibly against the law. You would have passed numerous police and army checkpoints, and most probably, you would have been persuaded to part with some money to show appreciation for the diligence of security men under arms, exposed and vulnerable to the elements and enemies they suspect could be anyone.

Then you got to Koko, a town founded in 1907 by 50 people who left Jega to find better farming land. Famous for its sons who reached great heights in Western education and public service, you may be taken aback by its relatively small size and predominantly rural economy.

Driving to the palace, you were stared at by thousands of young people and adults who would not attend the turbanning because security will be too tight for ordinary citizens.

But when you got to the palace, you would have been amazed by the huge turn-out of people, hundreds of gaily-dressed camels, horses and donkeys, and an elaborate presence of security personnel equipped to fight a war. If you were not intimidated by the water-tight security, you would have witnessed a truly remarkable event that was profound in its implications for the present state of our nation, and its future.

All that elaborate gathering of the nation and the world was to help the people of Koko and Kebbi State express their appreciation to a man who, at the age of 22, was sent by the Federal Government in 1976 to Government Secondary School Koko to teach during his NYSC.

He was from Edo State, and had read History at the University of Ibadan. Obviously this young man, who today is Ambassador (Dr) Martin Ohumoibhi, K.S.J and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, must have left a profound impression on the community and his former students.

Thirty six years since then, they honoured him with a title normally reserved for princes, in a ceremony rich with symbolism, sincerity and openness. In those 36 years, the man had acquired a doctorate degree from Oxford, and served in many capacities, including being Nigerian Ambassador to Switzerland before becoming Permanent Secretary in quite possibly the most difficult Ministry to lead. You could tell from the crowd that followed him to Koko that he led a life which touched a lot more than a young class in 1976.

There was no evidence that Martin lobbied for, or paid in any manner, for this symbolic gesture of appreciation from a community to an individual. The huge entourage of Nigerians from many parts of the nation, particularly those from his home state must have been impressed by the sincerity of the gesture without the usual political trappings.

The Koko and Kebbi State community itself must have been pleasantly surprised that such numbers of V.I.Ps, including many foreign diplomats, will disregard the threat and reports of insecurity, and inconveniences of long-distance travels in remote parts of the far North to witness a three-hour event that was largely symbolic, but profound in terms of its statement about the people of Nigeria.

Those who did make the journey will have many tales to tell. First time visitors will marvel at the serenity and beauty and peace of rural Hausaland.

They would also have been struck by the poverty of the population living in a simple economy, without the industry to add value to the agricultural products that line every inch of the land. Infrequent visitors will be shocked by the huge explosion of population and the sheer number of young people with little or nothing to do, even making allowances for school holidays.

Those who listened to the speeches were struck by the outpouring of sentiments which highlight the values of sacrifice and hard work.

Those who listened to the inspiring remarks of Ambassador Ohumoibhi will be struck by the feeling that there are many Nigerians who genuinely believe in the utility of preserving our unity, and are willing to work towards it. Those who listened to Governor Dakingari were struck by his admission that money has corrupted Nigerian politics; but good people in politics can mitigate its damage.

Those who noticed the large numbers of local Igbo and Yoruba people (whose chiefs were also turbaned at the ceremony) would draw the conclusion that the roots of this nation go very deep indeed; and they are the artisans, shopkeepers, chemist operators, distributors and millions of other small operators who brave all the odds to travel to and live in communities thousands of miles from their original homes, trusting that they are safe.

Above all, those who attended the event would have come away with the strong impression that a good man will stand out wherever he is. Ambassador  Uhomoibhi built a bridge all the way from Ewatto in Esan South Local Government Area of Edo State to Koko in Kebbi State.

The class he taught during his National Service produced many people who made their marks on the nation, including two state governors. The people of Koko have preserved that bridge by acknowledging that there is still room in our hearts as a nation for appreciating sacrifice and service.

There are profound lessons in the turbanning of the Dan Majen Koko, and it says that the leaders who play the dangerous game of pushing our nation to the brink, can be challenged by others who believe in it, and who work to salvage it.


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