Kalama — The town is the food basket of Kwara state, but three federal roads leading to it have failed, and the cost of transport keeps rising
This reporter travels along hundreds of kilometres of roads, forming connections with every crater, every pit, to have a feel of the dusty broken road which farmers must endure every day, to imagine the last moments of the lady pregnant with twins who died alongside the unborn, and the asthmatic father who perished in the dust. Daily Trust is told by Salamatu Yusuf, of Wurma Koto village, of 17 women who had miscarriages. Adama Yusuf, wearing a pink hijab, recalls "5 months ago we were taking a woman to Kainji. But she started bleeding, and had a miscarriage."
Health workers in Kaiama won't comment on this. You mull over food security and the reasons why border communities in Nigeria are almost always neglected. Development dies. Development resurrects only within Nigeria's capital cities, some argue. Suleiman Bata, Sarkin Kasuwa and former police officer says "people won't vote in the 2019 elections if the roads are not rehabilitated."
Mariam Salihu is the Iyaloja (leader of market women) "We are not enjoying the market as before, because it takes up to two weeks before our customers are able to return to purchase yam flour." She argues "Kaiama is the largest producer of yam flour in north central Nigeria, but due to the bad roads, the trade is not going smoothly. What we want is the intervention of the government to repair all the existing roads. If the roads are repaired, there is the possibility of buyers returning." She provides statistics which confirm the drop in the yam trade "When the road was manageable, we had three hundred buyers of cocoyam and yams, but due to the bad roads, now less than one hundred buyers come from Ibadan, Lagos, Ogbomoso and Ekiti. Some traders also come from Lagos to buy three hundred bags of yam flour, but now they don't come. They simply send money for twenty bags of yam flour."
Dr. Amina Ahmed, hails from Kaiama "If we had good roads, Kaiama would supply food to the whole nation.You need to see the amount of foodstuff we grow." Abdullahi Bata, Chairman, Kaiama local government, speaks on the potentials of the area "Kaiama is the food basket of the state.But the roads are in deplorable state." Yams are grown all year round. As a new harvest is being gathered, yams of the previous harvest are still being sold.
Sarkin Kasuwa exclaims "It's as if we are not part of Nigeria. We have been abandoned by the government. We feed the North West, south west and Abuja. But because of the bad roads, traders cannot afford to come again." He adds "If you keep yams for some time, they will begin to dry up. After it has dried and reached a particular stage, what will you use it for? We have fertile land, for which we don't even need fertiliser, and you have bad roads which are spoiling our trade. Instead of people becoming rich, they are becoming poor."
"The road is affecting our economy. We are farmers, and that is what is causing the high cost of food prices in Kaiama now, especially yam flour, melon and guinea corn. The transporters always complain about the road, and the high cost of transportation," says Engr Ahmed Usman, Chairman, Kaiama Development Association (KDA). Oladipupo Peter is the Secretary, of the Road Transport Workers "From here to Kusobosu, is N2,000, but if we had a good road,it wouldn't cost more than N500 per person. Kaiama to Kainji costs N1,500, instead of N800. Kaiama to Ilorin costs N2,500,but this shouldn't cost more than N1,000 per traveller." Daily Trust is told that each time a trip is made, the driver has to replace the cars shock absorber, as no car can cope with the strains of the trip, and this also raises costs for the transport of persons, crops, goods and animals. Usman Kallah farms at Wurma Koto "We are all farmers. Each household has five children, and each person has a farm. If we harvest farm products, selling it is difficult. People come and buy crops at give-away prices, and this is because of the state of the road. For instance, in Kainji, a bag of rice costs N7,000, but people come to us here to buy it at N4,000. If our people are sick, before we get them to town, they die, especially the pregnant women. Many have died on account of the road."Ibrahim Yusuf, Yerima of Wurma Koto, reveals "Most of the farmers are migrating, because there is no access road to their farms. Since farmers are not ready to farm in the area, this creates big forests which serve as hideouts for armed robbers." Mohammed Yaru, Assistant HOD Works, Kaiama local government opines that the "Kaiama-Bode Saadu road project, which would have been a direct road link between Kaiama and Ilorin, has been abandoned. Lack of roads has affected the establishment of higher institutions, and investment in the minerals in the area such as gold, tin and tantalite." The craters along all the roads, fill with water in the rainy season, making movement even more difficult. But good roads will mean an ennobled life for farmers, women, traders and the entire community. Good roads also raise the status of border towns, making them more attractive to investors, and drawing visitors.
Lord Lugard, Nigeria's colonial Governor-General, constructed the eighty-eight kilometre long Kaiama-Kusobosu road. But a large part of the road has 'disappeared' say the locals. Others call it a 'dead' road. It is both 'dead' and 'disappeared'. But farmers must convey rich harvests to the market with the attendant hike in transportation costs. Yaru reflects "The road was constructed during the colonial period." Dr. Ahmed, who is also a former commissioner in Kwara state, confesses "The road to Kusobosu has completely disappeared. It's worse than the Kaiama-Kainji, Kaiama-Kishi roads combined." Sarki Bata sheds light on the issue "The road from New Bussa is a death trap. The road from Kaiama to Kisi is another death trap, not to talk of Kaiama-Kusobosu. That one is the worst of all.You will leave the main road, and drive into people's farms, before you reconnect with the main road." The Village head of Banisunlla, exclaims "From Kaiama to Banisunlla, it's as though the road is tiled, but anything after Banisunlla heading towards Kusobosu, is very difficult to navigate."
The Kaiama-Kainji road is a nightmare to those who travel along it, as well as many who live along its sixty-four kilometres. It vanishes at a point, in the sense that the tarred section simply disappears, and it forms 'pits' and 'craters', within which cars navigate. Ordinarily, sixty-four kilometres should be covered in an hour, but taxis do well over two hours to make the trip from Kainji to Kaiama. A private car, or a driver who is not familiar with the route, may journey for upwards of three hours. There is the bridge at Tungan Maje, which collapsed during the heavy rain of 2014, which temporarily cut off Kaiama from Kainji, until some action was taken by the locals and the Kaiama local government. A detour was created, and drivers have to descend into the little valley by the bridge, and then drive up to connect with the main road.The collapsed bridge has neatly cut the road into two, and if you walk into the little valley, you begin to appreciate the force of the waters that finally hit the bridge, which was weakening gradually before it came crashing down.
"The Kaiama -Kisi road has never been tarred," says Engr Usman. Dr. Ahmed paints a picture of the Kaiama-Kisi road "There are many collapsed bridges along this road,"drawing attention to the fact that the many bridges along the road, hindered the Kwara state government from carrying out the work, because of the huge costs involved. Alhaji Muazu Omar, Emir of Kaiama explains "From here to Lagos if the road is good, is a journey of less than six hours, and that is the exact time it would take us to go to Ilorin today." Bio Yakubu, Ciroma of Tunga Aboki states 'The road is seriously affecting our community especially in the transportation of farm products. For instance, the Aboki market used to be popular nationwide, but due to the bad road, it has declined. Last year a bag of maize costs N9,000, but now it's N4,000." He says that cars cannot speed on the road, which exposes them to attack by robbers "People are afraid to come to this part of the state," he adds "If you go to Ilorin and return, you will spend nothing less than N30,000 in order to buy a new shock absorber, as a replacement for the damaged one.Because of the state of the road, doctors come once or twice a month. If you have a patient who has been referred to Ilorin, before you get to Ilorin, he may lose his life." In the meantime construction work has commenced on the Kaiama-Kisi road, a fallout of N615m refund released to the state by the federal government. But no work has started yet on the two other roads.