Makurdi — Our reporter looks at the Hausa community of Makurdi, highlighting a typical day in the 'quarters', as well as its powerful history dating back to many years, its rich economy and architectural forms.
Life begins everyday at Wadata, a Muslim settlement in Makurdi, between 5:00am and 5:30am with a wake-up call to observe the Subhi prayers. After the prayers, the majority of the people, especially the men, are seen glued in a relaxed mood to their radio sets, listening to the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to acquaint themselves with happenings in their immediate environment and around the world.
While the women engage themselves in domestic activities such as tidying up the house and getting the children ready for school, the men often set out for the day's job after the BBC's world news. Within this period, the echoes of hustling and bustling from all the street corners located in the vicinity, rent the air. No wonder the area is the busiest part of what is today known as Makurdi.
A first time visitor to the area need not be schooled about the ethnic origin of the residents of Wadata, as they are easily given away and identified by their lingua franca, which is Hausa.
The history of the Hausa in Makurdi, predates the colonial period. While one school of thought says the Hausa community had existed in the valley of the River Benue for 400 years before the state was created in 1976, Makurdi as a town was established in the early twenties and gained prominence in 1927 when it became the headquarters of the then Benue Province. Being a river port, it attracted the establishment of trading depots by companies such as UAC and John Holt Limited.
Its commercial status was further enhanced when the Railway Bridge was completed and opened in 1932. In 1976, Makurdi became the capital of Benue after its creation just as it serves as the headquarters of Makurdi Local Government Area.
History has it that Makurdi was governed by the Hausa settlers until 1945 when the chief of Makurdi, Malam Audu died, and there arose the agitation for a chief of Tiv extraction being the dominant ethnic group in the town.
The enthronement of a Tiv chief thereafter did not create any division between the Tiv and the Hausa, and neither was there any animosity as the two groups continued to co-habit peacefully. Every resident, Tiv or Hausa, enjoyed the basic rights of citizens. The emergence of Alhaji Al-Hassan Maikeke as the Chairman of Makurdi Local Government Council in 1998, was as a result of the mutual relationship existing between the two tribes.
Makurdi city, and particularly the Wadata area, was not only founded by the early Hausa settlers, but it also derives its name from a Hausa word " Kurdi" which literarily means flow of water from its main source that creates a lagoon. In other words, it means a rapid movement of water from the river Benue.
Though "Kurdi" as a Hausa word was coined from Kurdawa which means, Deputy Imam of the Wadata central mosque, Baba Mohammed Ndeji is however, disposed to the popular notion that Makurdi was derived from 'Mai-Kudi', a Hausa word meaning 'someone that has money'.
He further disclosed that Wadata is a Hausa word meaning "what you can eat satisfactorily without having to be dependent or succinctly put it connotes "self satisfaction".
Also speaking, the Sarkin Hausawa of Benue State, Alhaji Turaki Audu Abdullahi agreed that the first set of Hausa settlers at Wadata became dominant in the area during the building of the railway bridge across river Benue, but admitted not knowing of how the name Makurdi originated.
According to him, "the first set of Hausa settlers arrived from different parts of Kano to this area. They gained prominence during the period that the railway bridge was being constructed across the River Benue. At the time of their arrival, Wadata was the main town of settlement, because other places were very bushy and there was no trace of Tiv men anywhere around. It was purely inhabited by construction workers, the majority of whom were Hausa labourers, and the place was named Wadata village", he stated.
Ever since, the Hausa community, with its increasing population put ahead of other settlers at the total 300,377 people resident in Makurdi, according to the last 2006 national census, has been living peacefully with other groups in Benue State.
The economic activities of the people have contributed a great deal in boosting the socio-economic status of the state, as Wadata market situated at the bank of the River Benue, has continued to witness an influx of people from different parts of the northern states to the community. Today eking out honest living and contributing immensely to the economy of the state.
Though the Hausa are also found in Gboko, Oturkpo, Zaki-Biam and other parts of the state, the Hausa community in Makurdi is predominantly found at Wadata area of the town which is strategically located as a trading route between the northern and middle belt states ,as well as the southeast states due to the availability of river, rail and road transportation developed by the British colonialists in the early 1920's ,when it served as a local administrative centre.
It is, perhaps, due to these factors that Hausa traders migrated in their large numbers to settle at Wadata, which is today referred to as the headquarters of the Hausa community in Benue State. It has the highest population in Makurdi local government.
As a matter of fact, "this place has become our home. We are part and parcel of Benue people. I have lived all my 80 years in this town. My parents had lived in this town for ages, and I was born here. I can only visit Kano nowadays as my ancestral home. This is applicable to most Hausas who have dwelt here. We don't have any place called home other than Wadata. We have inter-married with the Idoma and Tiv, and will remain here for life", Alhaji Abdullahi added.
Corroborating the Sarki, his grandson, a 200-level Accounting student of the Benue State University, Mohammed Misbahu Awal, said his parents had never told him that home existed anywhere other than Wadata in Makurdi.
Awal disclosed that he enjoys a scholarship grant as a duly recognized and bonafide indigene of Benue State. In the past it was not accorded those of them who were Hausa.
The only challenge, according to Awal, which he believes would soon be surmounted, is the disparity between the Hausas and other native tribes in the students' union government of his school. "We are not given positions of trust, but we hope to conquer this challenge soon, because we are part and parcel of Benue State", Awal noted.
Baba Mohammed Ndeji, the deputy Imam, recalled how he grew up as a child to know a man who had lived all his life in Wadata and at the age of 104, the man, known as Baba Lalahi, had told him that where the present day Government House is located, used to be part of his large expanse of farmland. "It means that the Hausa have existed in Wadata for centuries from his narration. Baba Lalahi sold onions and was an ally of the first Sarkin Hausawa".
Giving reasons why he has come to regard Benue State as his state of origin, Ndeji asked rhetorically "Where will I go from here? My father and mother were born in this Wadata, and the government also recognizes that the Hausas were the first settlers, so I have nowhere to go. This is home".
Trading is one the major occupations of the people. They trade in food stuffs which includes: beans, onions, potatoes, yam, grains, cattle and other livestock which they transport from the north to sell particularly at the Wadata market.
Some of them engage in tailoring, sales of traditional medicines, local fast foods, suya making and cobbling, among other menial jobs which have to do with native expertise.
According to the Sarki, business is profitable in Makurdi, and with the growing influx of people in recent times to the town due to the insecurity in most northern states, the city is fast assuming the status of an economic Eldorado with great potentials, just as the Wadata market keeps expanding.
This is particularly so, considering the number of people who visit the market from neighbouring states, especially on Saturdays when second hand clothes ('bend down boutique') dealers display their wares for customers coming from far and near to make bulk purchases.
Though Hausas in Wadata and indeed Makurdi enjoy the support and acceptance of the people and government of the state, as there is no ethnic discrimination against them, they are however lamenting their maginalization not to hold political positions.
"Our people don't have reasonable positions in government, except the position of councilor. We don't have legislative or other relevant positions in government to represent our interest", decried Ndeji.
He noted that the Hausa population in the area formed the bulk votes during elections into the Makurdi local council, insisting that such positions of recognition other than that of councilor, should be giving to them.
Besides their economic and political relevance, a unique feature of the Hausas in Makurdi is their architecture and use of space, as greater percentage of them still designed their houses like the typical rural buildings located in densely populated Hausa communities in northern states. The houses, which are fenced with a single door which serving as entrance gate into the compound inhabited by a number of children, women, and husbands, usually referred to as 'Maigida', the head of the home.
Even with the hot weather of the town, adequate space is not provided for ventilation except for the open streets created by government to ensure proper town planning .In most cases, it is only the men who relax by the street corners, while their women stay put in the compounds due to their religious and cultural ethics.
Many of the buildings were erected in the pre-colonial style and are not very well maintained, while the environment is fairly clean and the architecture exhibits Hausa influence with lots of shanties in the middle-class neighbourhood, which are often closely built.
It is not uncommon to find pockets of other tribes residing in the area, but it is assumed that the area is dominated by the Hausas who share same religion and culture.
For instance, during Sallah celebrations, it becomes difficult for non-Muslims to comprehend the mode of celebration by the youths, who go out of control to demonstrate their joy by blocking some streets to engage in motorcycle races.
Though some of them still hold on to their traditional beliefs, a vast majority of them adhere to the Muslim faith, and in recognition of this, the state government supported them in building Makurdi's largest central Mosque in the area.
According to the deputy Imam, the mosque, which was recently constructed by Governor Gabriel Suswam, and commissioned by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar III, actually existed many years before he was born and could not mention the actual date.
Sarki Abdullahi, who assumed the throne in 2005, however revealed that the central mosque is well over 70-years-old, stressing that it existed for such a very long time he could not exactly remember due to old age.
Over the years, the Hausas have been inter-marrying with other tribes in Benue state, particularly the Tiv and Idoma due to the peaceful co-existence between them despite their ethnic and religious differences. "We inter-marry with the Tivs and Idomas, it is a common thing amongst us", the Sarki maintained.
Narrating her experience and what propelled her into marrying a Hausa man, Amina Alfa, a Tiv woman told Sunday Trust that love was the underlying factor that motivated her into consummating the relationship.
Married to her husband for the past thirty years as second wife, Amina Alfa said it does not matter from whichever tribe one chooses a partner, what is important in her opinion is to accept and respect each other.
"I have a very successful marriage. Though many people felt indifferent at the time we got married because of our religious differences, I have not experienced any problem with my husband whom I have lived with for over thirty years", Amina said.
Similarly, Jamila Hassan, an Idoma lady who abandoned her Christian faith to join her heartthrob in the Islamic faith for the sake of love, revealed that her marriage of two years has produced two lovely kids, adding that it has been so exciting spending each day with her spouse whom she described as peaceful and loving.
"I will advise young ladies to marry whoever Almighty God brings their way, irrespective of religious differences, so long as there is love between them. It shall be well and peace will reign among the children" she opined.
Commenting on the numerous inter-tribal marriages between the Hausas and other tribes in Benue, Zainab Alfa, who is of Nupe ethnic extraction and the first out of three wives of her husband, explained that such marriages promote peaceful coexistence among people of different cultural backgrounds and religious affiliations.
She disclosed that her husband is married to three women of different ethnic stocks, and they all live in peace and harmony, as well as love and respect each other, besides the fact that, the union has promoted the Hausa language which they all understand and speak at home, stressing "in this way, the world would be a better place to live in and there would be no need for us to kill ourselves, or don't you think so?", she asked enthusiastically.