CITAD in the News, Entertainment

In Search of the Elusive Kuri-Wakko Dunnes, By Y. Z. Ya’u

I don’t now remember who sent the picture to me or from which group I got it. It was a piece of WhatsApp message. The picture was outstanding. It might not have been professionally done or taken with a top-level camera but the necessary details and visuals are clear: there were many palm trees, the expense of water, the lush green environment, etc. There were however no buildings around the place and no human being was in the picture, making it difficult to image the place as a resort of some sort.
The short text accompanying the picture says “The Kuri-Wakko Dunnes in Nguru, Yobe State: Located in Nguru, which boasts a variety of landscape types. Connected to Hadeija-wetlands. With breath-taking beautiful sand dunes and wetland sceneries”. It was hashtagged #FlusioTRavels. It was indeed looking breath taking, alluring and beautiful. I was immediately taken by it and made the decision that I must visit the place. Although I had earlier in my childhood lived in Nguru, in the 1960s, I did not remember this place. But I reasoned, that it might have been a latter development, perhaps one that came with the creation of Yobe State, out of the former Bornu State.
I quickly shared the picture with friends around the Nguru-Birniwa axis, asking them if they knew anything about the place and to kindly supply me with the details. Virtually all of them returned with negative responses, saying they had never heard of the place. I browsed Kuri-Wakko on google, and sure enough, it was there with those beautiful sand dunes and palm trees but there was no any narrative of what the place is or how to get there beyond that it is situated in Nguru Local Government of Yobe State.
This may also not be accurate unless the picture is dated. As I could find out later, Kuri-Wakko is in Yusufari Local Government. But Yusufari was part of the old Nguru Local government that was split into three namely Nguru, Machina and Yusufari. If the picture was taken before 1991, they it was accurate in siting Kuri-Wakko in Nguru LGA. But in that case, in spite of the alluring nature of the place, since then, nothing has really happened to transform it nor has Google updated its information about the place.
The more difficult it became for me to get information about the place, the more my curiosity heightened and I became more determined about visiting the place. As I persisted, trickles came my way. Haruna Adamu Hadejia, a staff of CITAD whose wife is from Birniwa (himself as his name indicates is from Hadejia), came with some cheering news. He had spoken to Ado Guri, someone I know from my community development work, who said he knew not only the place but also the Bulama of the community. Ado himself is from Guri, which is part of the Hadejia-Nigeria wetland. He offered to escort us and we agreed to meet at the Guri junction on the Hadejia-Nguru highway on Saturday, May 3. Unfortunately, we could not make the trip that Saturday because Dr. Emma Shehu’s Creative Spark Foundation which was collaborating with CITAD to organize a poetry writing workshop for young people in Kano had fixed that Saturday afternoon for an online poetry session and I was billed to be a panelist, to read from my poetry collection, Midnight Monologue. We reasoned that if we made the trip, it was unlikely we could be back in Kano by 5pm to participate in the session or even be able to get to a place with good internet connectivity to allow me join the zoom meeting for the poetry session. So, in spite of the disappointment of my team members, we postponed the journey to the following week.
By Wednesday however, I thought that since I was to travel to Thailand on Sunday, May 12, it was a bit risky to undertake this journey by Saturday so we decided to go on Friday, a day earlier, but by Thursday, evening, we still had not information about where exactly was Kuri-Wakko and how to get there. An intern in CITAD, Yusuf Babagana, who is from Kiri Kasama, Jigawa State said he knew the place and would serve as our guide, so we accepted his offer and raised the team to six, including our driver, Danbalare and a joint crew from CITAD’s Online Radio and the media startup, Farmers Voice. The idea was that these two would make reports for their media outfits.
We had planned to take off from Kano by 8am (even though Yusuf preferred 10am). By 8.15 we were at Dr. Aminu Aliyu’s House at the staff quarters of BUK old campus. He was still watering his plants and so we had to wait for him to finish and get prepared. While he was getting set, Danbalarabe and I decided to sort out my tree seedlings which were in Aminu’s garden and by the time he was set for the trip, we both joined Danbalarabe in moving the seedlings from the garden to our car, to take them to our Office at Gandu, where water was relatively better than in BUK Old campus, thus taking some more minutes and by the time we were done, it was almost 9.00am.
We arrived the office a few minutes past 9 and Danbalarabe had to look for fuel for the journey. While we waited for him, we joined the ongoing poetry workshop which was into its second day. By the time he got the fuel and returned to the office it was getting close to 11am, almost an hour later than the time Yusuf suggested we leave. When we left Yankaba on Hadejia road, it was a about 10 minutes past 11am. We wanted to pack lunch since we were not sure we could get a meal where we were going but it was too early to get any in Kano, we tried a several roasted fish joints but they were not ready for the market yet. So, we commenced the journey with the understanding that when we get to Hadejia, we could find something to eat.
The road to Hadejia is relatively good (by Nigerian Standards) except for a few potholes, especially after Gujungu. We made the over 200 KM in about two hours and when we got there, people were coming back from the Friday prayer. We reasoned that looking for a restaurant to eat will take time and since we were late in starting, and moreso, we still had no idea where we were going, we decided to buy Rufaidah Yogurt and take on the way while driving. The road from Hadejia to Birniwa to Nguru was good and the drive was smooth.
When we arrived Nguru the reality of not knowing where we were going downed on us. By this time, everyone we asked appeared not to know Kuri-Wakko, not to talk of how to get there. Yusuf who said he had been there many years before said we had to get to Yusufari first, which was over 80 KM more from Nguru. We headed to Gashua. A few kilometers after the army barracks in Nguru, we stopped at a village to ask for direction. We first asked the man the direction to Kuri-Wakko to which he said he didn’t know. He said we probably were pronouncing the name of the place wrongly. Someone asked him of Tulo-Tulo and he laughed. He said Tulo-Tulo was farther away from Yusufari and that our vehicle could not get there. We had to use what he called Concord (a four-wheel drive, suited for driving in the sands). If we were to listen to his advice, we should abort the trip and head back to where we were coming. But having invested time, energy and emotional resource into this, we were not the ones to turn back so we asked him to direct us to Yusufari.
The three old Nguru local governments along with Gashua formed the bulk of the Yobe North Senatorial Constituency which Senator Ahmed Lawan, ex-Senate President is occupying for many years. Gashua, the key non-Kanuri town of Yobe State (apart from Potiskum) is blessed with a number of educational institutions, including the Federal University, Gashua. For this reason, the town is fast developing, with many new buildings coming up to change the landscape of the town. It could be the result of the influence of Lawan who has spent more than spent more than 20 years in the National Assembly but he has done nothing to open up the tourist enclave in Yusufari. Unlike Gashua, Nguru has historically been a commercial town and has remained so to this day, with one of the largest animals’ market in the region as well as port of agro products in spite of its being on the fringe of the desert. It was this that led to the linking of the town by rail since 1930. I fondly remember as children, we could ride the train from Guri to Nguru and watch those trees moving faster than the train in opposite direction.
Before we got to Gashua, I phoned Mohammed Kati Machina who is the Chairman of the Yobe State Chambers of Commerce. The phone rang but he did not pick it. I phoned another friend who gave us a good direction. By the time we got to Gashua, Kati had returned my call but we did not hear the ringing so I missed him. It was only when we stopped at a filling station in Gashua that I saw his missed call and called him back. I explained to him our mission and he figured out some help. He called the Deputy Provost of the Federal College of Education, Gashua and requested him to assist us. While this was going on, Dr. Aminu spoke to Prof Yusufari of the Faculty of law, Bayero University, Kano and told him we wanted to get to Kuri-Wakko. As fate could have it, two weeks earlier, the District head of Maimalari (yes, the village from which one of the most famous army commandants was born) had died and he had gone there to pay his condolence. He told us we could not go with our vehicle, confirming what we had earlier been told. He offered to connect us with an agent who would provide a vehicle and driver for us. We accepted the offer. I then politely called the Deputy Provost of Federal College of Education, Gashua and told him we were his guest but someone had also arranged a transport to Maimalari for us.
Maimalari is just about 20km from Yusufari. A community that has produced a well song hero is still sitting in the backward of a wilderness. It has no access road from anywhere and to anywhere. Some politician has provided a few poles of solar street lights and a solar motorized borehole. Otherwise there is nothing to say about modernity in this place. It is a shame to both the military brass and the northern elites that immortalizing their hero cannot go into uplifting the conditions of the people in his village.
With this, we thought now finally we have solved the riddle, Kuri-Wakko exists and we now have an idea how to get there, we sped up to Yusufari and by 4pm we were at the rendezvous place waiting for the person who would bring us the vehicle and the driver. Out of curiosity, we asked a few people in Yusufari if they knew how to get to Kuri-Wakko. The first two people we asked did not know but on their own, asked another person who claimed he knew and told us that we needed a four-wheel drive to go there. As we were engaign the indigenes of Yusufari, the agent and the drive arrived, making us felt relieved. Our relief however soon evaporated when the agent told us that the journey required 40 litres of petrol and that all together, we should pay N80,000 for the escort. We realized that we had no bargaining power and quickly agreed to pay.
They gave us a place to park our vehicle as we transferred to the hired one. We took fuel at a filling station called Mangalink and began the journey. We started on a tarred road and we though that was it but less a kilometer from Yusufari, we veered off to the right off the road and we were soon driving in the sand, at such a frightening speed that some of us became afraid. The driver explained that if he did not go in high speed, the vehicle will get stack in the sand and there would be no others to help us get it out. Soon it became clear also that this was no road. You have to use your intuition to keep on the right track.
When we got to Maimalari, the driver confessed he was unable to identify the correct track to Kuri-Wakko (as there were many of them) and requested direction and assistance from the people at Maimalari. Two young men volunteered and they climbed onto out vehicle and began giving him direction until we came to another valley farther away from Maimalari. they alighted and instructed the driver on how to pick his way. We thanked them and bided them goodbye. As an afterthought we decided to tip them which they accepted with evasive gratitude.
About 15 minutes later in the midst of the forest and with no other human being close by, we have had a flat tyre. It took us some time changing the tyre. We took the opportunity to survey the surrounding plains. There were many beautiful sand dunes, though we were not sure the one we were looking was among them. We could see lots of palm trees and the signs of water but we could not go close by see. Having fixed the tyre, we resumed the journey and by around 6.30pm, we were in the village of Wuri-Wakko. Our first disappointment was that there no signs of any water expense in the place, there no signs of any tourist attraction. The village itself appeared desolate and forlorn. But we were happy we made it. It is a not far from the Niger-Nigeria border.
Since both Yusuf and the driver could speak the Manga Kanuri dialect, soon we were surrounded a large number of curious residents who were wondering that these strange people were doing there. We asked them to direct us to the Kuri-Wakko Sand dunes and they gave us some description but it was already too late to try our luck. We scanned the both the valley surrounding the village and the immediate environs of the village and concluded that this was not the Kuri-Wakko of the picture that brought us there. We had passed it off at the valley just before the village, close to where we stopped to fix our tyre.
Curious to learn one or two things about the village, we asked them about their water supply, having ourselves visited the well at the centre of the village which looks frighteningly deep, they confirmed our suspicion that water was a big challenge for the community. This is ironic given that the Kuri-Wakko that attracted us here was an expense of water. They complained that no politician ever came to address any of their myriad problems, and even as they have been voting in elections. The elders of the community appeared resigned and believe that voting was useless, as with or without their votes, the politicians will make themselves winners of every election and will continue to do nothing for the community.
We wanted to know how the village got its name. An elder began to explain this when a young person nudged him to stop. When we noticed this, we chastised the young man, urging the elder to continue with the the story, pointing out to them that it was important for people to tell stories. The younger person gave up as the elder fellow insisted on telling the story. He said their grandparents had a relative who was named Kuri. Kuri had many bad behaviors, that other people kept teasing them about him. When the people got fed up, they decided to leave Kuri and moved to the current settlement which borne the name Kuri-Wakko which in the Manga dialect meant we have left Kuri (in protest).
At least if we could not see our breath-taking sand dunes, we would take away the knowledge of the history of the name of the sand dunes. We bided them good buy and began the journey back. As we neared Maimalari, first the headlamps which at the time we needed since it was dark, switched off and then later the engine itself went dead. The driver said it was the battery that got disconnected, he opened the bonnet and adjusted it. We got both back and continued to drive it until got to Maimalari. As we got there, the engine stopped again. By this time, it was past 8pm. There was little debate as whether it was the fuel that finished or that the fuel pump has failed. A young man who was the petrol vendor in the village, a graduate of sociology from Yobe State University (who could educate us that there were schools In the community, with a number of university graduates who were nevertheless jobless) argued that if it was fuel pump that failed, if we top the tank with some petrol, it will take us to Yusufari.
After some debate and a protest, which was threatening to create a misunderstanding between us and the driver, we paid for the extra fuel (at N11,000), the driver was still insisting it was not fuel but the failure of fuel pump. As soon as we put the fuel, he stated the engine and ran normally. We continued the journey until we reached the next village at which we took the wrong road, or more properly, the wrong path. Some good Samaritans noticed that we looked confused, greeted the driver in the Manga dialect who then explained to them that he was looking for the road to Yusufari. They told him we had left it behind and should reverse and take a right turn, then an almost immediate left turn. As we took the right turn, we realized that a cart had blocked the road and as were wondering what to do next, one of the persons who directed us came running, passed us and on reaching the cart, drove it off the path, creating a space for us to pass. We thanked him and proceeded. Not long after, we missed the road again and, in the bush, there was no one to direct us. We stopped, retraced our path and eventually got back on track. We lost the track two more times before we finally saw the lights of Yusufari in the horizon,
By the time of we reached back at Yusufari, it was past 9am. We were exhausted and more interested to begin the real journey back to Kano. We did not have the luxury to get both the driver and the agent to return our N11,000 for the extra fuel we paid for at Maimalari and we took our car and began the journey back to Gashua enrote to Kano. We got back to Kano safely around 1.30am. it is remarkable that now people can travel this late this region that had been under the terror of Boko Haram for years. The irony did not escape us that may be, indeed this part of the country appears to be safest as there are no stories of banditry and kidnapping otherwise those sandy plains with be a no go area.
We could not confirm whether the Kuri-Wakko that was in the picture sent was mere fake news, or a reality we could not find. After discussing with a couple of people, including Dr. Kole Shettima of Macarthur Foundation, who himself is from Machina, a local government that is part of the old Nguru Local Government and therefore part of the general environment where Kuri-Wakko is located. It occurred that the place is real but no one in the state or the federal level cares about elevating it into a major tourism site. It is simply closed to people because of lack of accessibility and the general impression that the area might not be safe.
But it is a rich mine waiting to be turned into a reality. Doing that will require creating accessibility in the place. This means constructing a road either directly from Nguru through the valleys to Kuri-Wakko or from Yusufari through Maimalari and finally to the place. Another option is to cut across from Machina to the place, though in this case, I don’t know how the terrain looks like and the distance. Second requirement is to provide pipe born water for both the communities around the place and for the prospective resorts that could be established there. Although the Kuri-Wakko Sand dunes have spots of oasis, the generality of the settlements do not have drinking water as they built away from the oases and it is difficult to dig and get water in this arid zone. A third is the establishment of the resorts as places where Nigerians could go to de-stress as well as sites for tourism, attracting foreigners. But that will also require taking electricity to the area. For now, they are on their own and the few trees in this semi desert are daily being cut for domestic use, thus accelerating desertification. With abundance of sunlight in the area, a serious government can site large solar farms to provide Yobe State with electricity. These could be done by government or private sector or in the form of public private sectors partnership (PPP).
We did not find Kuri-Wakko but the journey was worthy. I can now speak on the how the people of this unbelievable enclave have been forgotten by governments. Should government open up the place, it may be the lost paradise we would discover. That will not only help the communities to feel part of Nigeria but also bring up a new source of revenue. For now, the only activity the community in this part of Yobe State is the daily rounds of those concord vehicles from Yusufari to Niger Republic, conveying traders and their goods, both ways. Could it not be better for all to enhance this international trade while bring tourism in the place?


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