Sunday, October 6, 2013

ZUNGERU: Amalgamation Centennial Prelude (1)

Amalgamation Centennial Prelude (1)

Zungeru: Thrills, frills of Nigeria’s Amalgamation site, birthplace of Zik, Ojukwu


Once upon a time, Zungeru was a cynosure of the British Colonial Office. Those days, this town; located in today’s Niger State, actually served as seat of the administration of the then British Protectorate of the northern parts of River Niger.

The primary school Zik attended in Zungeru.
This was after then Governor, Frederick John Dealtry Lugard, abandoned Lokoja, Kogi State; reportedly over torrid ambient temperature. But, Lugard would again pull stakes from Zungeru, taking with him the seat of government of the Northern Protectorate to a sprawling, virtual virgin-land further north.

It would seem that Lugard’s new administrative centre had no name because in its early days folks drawn there by work simply called this destination Gari Gwamanti. Gari Gwamanti (pronounced Gay-ree, Gua-manty) is a Hausa language phrase that translates as Government Town. That Government Town is today known as Kaduna, a Hausa word for Crocodiles because the river that straddles this terrain used to be infested with large numbers of that amphibious reptile.

Unlike Kaduna, then probably used only as farmland by Hausa and Gbagyi aborigenes, Zungeru was an already established Nupe settlement with traditional leaders; and, it is believed in some quarters that one of the reasons Lugard relocated to Kaduna was to avoid dealing with indigenous chiefs.

Many of Zungeru’s indigenes are always keen to remind any tourist that it was in their town, inside Lugard’s office that Nigeria’s Amalgamation papers were signed. There is no argument regarding Zungeru’s status of a former capital of today’s Northern Nigeria because Lugard actually operated from here, at least for a while.

Government House at Zungeru, which is one of Nigeria’s 65 Declared National Monuments, is an incontrovertible proof that Lugard once ran his government from this settlement. Sadly, however, like virtually all of this town’s claim to fame, which have disappeared over the last 100 years; Government House at Zungeru was no-where to be seen during our visit.

Although, pictures of Government House Zungeru can be found at Nigeria Archives, the structure is practically extinct. It is worth pointing out, that Government House Zungeru, is not the only Lugard-era legacy that has vanished in this town.

In any case, it would seem that Lugard did not only desire to ditch Zungeru, he appeared determined to punish the town, for yet unknown reasons; for, apart from moving the seat of government, Lugard even decreed the dismantling of a bridge on which he and his wife, Flora (nee Shaw), enjoyed romantic struts, when he had nothing to do or chose to do nothing. That bridge, Lugard’s Footbridge, is one of the many tourists’ attractions in Kaduna, today.

Mauricearchibongtravels went to Zungeru to capture the surviving vestiges of this settlement’s place in colonial times as well as fragments of Nigeria’s history, before they disappear completely. Although many of Zungeru’s antique objects/sites are already evocative of the dinosaur, gone, we captured the ruins of Lugard’s Office/Residence, Zungeru’s First Church and First Mosque, among others.

But, even these may not be around much longer. We discovered that the foundations of Zungeru’s monumental CMS (then United Mission Church) and its bell’s pedestal were considerably washed away by erosion. Going by an inscription on a plaque affixed to one corner of the building, this church’s construction began with a foundation-laying ceremony by His Excellency W. Wallace Esq CMC FRCS on 16 June, 1905.

Although the church’s original bell and furniture were still in use, erosion and dilapidation had taken serious toll on this structure. Completely gone is the office, where Lugard reportedly signed Nigeria’s Amalgamation documents on 1 January, 1914.  Although a spot on bare soil is identified as where that historic treaty was made, there is no office on ground. Moreover, but for a few surviving columns, nothing remains of both Lugard’s Office and Residence.

In an exclusive chat with mauricearchibongtravels, Mr. Oluremi Adedayo, who is Director, Heritage, Monuments and Sites at the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM); said: “The site of Government House at Zungeru was declared a National Monument on 13 February, 1962” and that the building was erected “in 1902, the year that Frederick Lugard established the Administrative Headquarters of the Northern Protectorate”.

He added that, with the exception of its columns and the structure’s concrete foundation, Government House at Zungeru was completely dismantled in 1916, when the seat of government relocated to Kaduna. Aside the remnants of the building itself, this particular National Monument also includes 100ft of land on either side of the crest of the hill on which the house stood and that Government House at Zungeru is one of the 65 Declared National Monuments in Nigeria.

However, we found no attendant on ground during mauricearchibongtravels tour of Zungeru. In a normal setting, there ought to be a site manager at each of Nigeria’s National Monuments. Sadly, however, this is not the case due to want of funding, it would seem. Adedayo confirmed: “The Site of Government House at Zungeru has no Resident Manager”. He however stressed that the place is “under watch by the Heritage Staff and Curator of National Museum Minna”.

Zungeru is home of Lugard’s Mess. Lugard’s Mess is part of the complex, where the then governor’s office and residence stands. Interestingly, this mess boasts a swimming pool. This swimming pool and Lugard’s footbridge could be pointer’s to the syberite disposition of an administrator in whose hand Nigeria’s fate lay, at some point. Fortunately, unlike the bridge that was dismantled, the swimming pool at Lugard’s Mess had not (yet) completely vanished, even though we found it in decrepit state.

Zungeru is a prospective viable domestic tourism booster. But, to realise its tourism potential, this town’s monuments and other attractions must be properly documented, rehabilitated and projected. The Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and NCMM ought to work hand-in-hand in this regard.

As seat of the Northern Protectorate, Zungeru naturally hosted the Office and Residence of Lugard, the Colonial Governor. That is how this town came by what some locals call Golden Gate. Evocative of the Golden Gate at Abuja’s Aso Rock, its Zungeru passage-way name-sake used to lead to Lugard’s office.

Apart from being where Nigeria’s Amalgamation Papers were signed, Zungeru is also important as birthplace of two of the nation’s most impactful citizens. Zungeru is the birthplace of Nigeria’s first, albeit ceremonial, President; Dr Nnandi Azikiwe. Zik (the late Owelle of Onitsha) was born in this settlement in 1904 and the block, where he did Class 6 as well as the primary school he attended, were still extant during our tour.

Aside Zik, erstwhile Biafran warlord Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was also born in Zungeru. Yes, Zungeru is where Ojukwu entered this world, in 1933. In its halcyon day, Zungeru was site of a large estate called Clerks’ Quarters, where government officials were accommodated. There were as many as 150 units at Zungeru’s Clerks’ Quarters, which was for intermediate-cadre staff, almost entirely blacks, who worked for the colonial authorities. Interestingly, Zik’s parents lived within this condominium.

Welcome to Zungeru

From a vibrant administrative hub barely 100 years ago, Zungeru has whittled into inconsequentiality. Zungeru is currently under Wushishi Local Government Area (LGA), whereas it was administrative centre for the entire Northern Protectorate about 100 years ago.

This is Zungeru, a classic One-horse town, as far as banking is concerned. The only financial institution in these climes is Unity Bank. With regard to rail services, Zungeru was a Dead-horse Town for 15 years due to the near-death of Nigeria’s railway service as well as the collapse of a bridge along the Lagos-Akere-Zungeru-Kano railway line.

Although many locals were quick to remind that “Zungeru was site of the first railway station in Nigeria”; for over a decade, their town was practically cut off from the world. Mallam Mamman, real name Mohammed T. Jubril, is a 61-year-old retired teacher. He recalled with sadness that the collapse of a bridge at Akere, which cut off Zungeru from the Zungeru-Minna-Kano route many years earlier; further worsened the community’s plight.

Since trains stopped coming to Zungeru, both passenger and goods’ freighting came to an end. This in turn made Zungeru Railway Station irrelevant and it wouldn’t be long before this station folded up. The death of Zungeru Railway Station would take severe toll on the local hospitality sector, leading to loss of jobs and, consequently, despair and despondency. As a result of the death of railway service in Zungeru, the local Railway Recreation Club no longer offered accommodation. Also, the Railway Rest House was no more in use. However, its bar and restaurant, we discovered, were still struggling to stay alive.

According to Mallam Mamman, a retired Head of School Services in Wushishi Local Education Authority (LEA), Zungeru’s inhabitants all rely on water got from boreholes, nowadays; whereas the town had pipe-borne water decades before Nigeria became an independent nation.  Mallam Mamman should know: he worked in Zungeru as teacher at Central Primary School, and later; at the elementary school, United Mission School, where Zik’s education began, in the 1970s. Such is life in Zungeru for you.

Hear the lament of a native regarding Zungeru’s viccissitudes: “By 1905, Zungeru had pipe-borne water and 24-hour electricity. When Lugard was here, a steam engine powered by coal and fuel-wood generated power to light up the community. But, today; we have nothing. It’s so sad”. Little wonder why many of this community’s youth were angry, when we came this way in 2010.

Across Nigeria, dozens of cities with vast road networks have sprung out of what used to be barren lands a century ago, while Zungeru; the heart of northern Nigeria at a time, basically boasts only three streets, today. Take out Bank Road, where Unity Bank is located; and Nnamaye, named for Nnamaye River, which washes into River Kaduna; as well as Zungeru Road from the picture and Zungeru would be more like a village, these days.

Possible way out

As to possible solution, Zungeru resident Mallam Mamman, quickly volunteered: “The only reasonable thing to do is to restore and reconstruct all the heritage sites allowed to collapse in Zungeru. Assuming that the structures had been preserved and were still standing, you can imagine the number of tourists that would have come to this town during celebration of Nigeria at 50; and the difference it would have made to the economy and the inhabitants’ welfare”.

Nigeria turned 50 as an independent nation on 1 October, 2010. Next year, Nigerians are again celebrating. This time, the first Centenary of the Amalgamation of the British Protectorates North and South of the River Niger. It remains unclear what is being done to encourage tourism both international and domestic in this regard.

What does Zungeru mean?

Pray, what is the etymology of this town’s name? Natives, including Mallam Mohammed Yahaya, said Zungeru derives from Dungurum, itself coined from a Nupe language phrase. The lore of the root of Zungeru’s name mentioned Nda (man in the Nupe tongue) and Dungurum (a sort of traditional guitar or goje, molo aka kora). Nda, the man, was a fisher; but, he was also a popular guitarist (dungurum-player).

Daily, upon returning from fishing, Nda would play his dungurum to announce his arrival in order to attract buyers. And, soon; when asked where they were heading, some traders would respond, Nda-dungurum (to the place of the guitar-playing man). This was later shortened to Dungurum before Lugard and others corrupted everything to Zungeru, mauricearchibongtravels gathered.

Getting there, where to stay

The journey to Zungeru was not smooth, at all. We came in from Minna, capital of Niger State and left through Bida, where Palace of Etsu Nupe stands, which is why this ancient settlement serves as the spiritual hub of the Nupe nation. Roadside blurs as we shuttled included sights of numerous communities, markets and villages. Along Bida-Zungeru route, the wayfarer is likely to notice Badifu-Zhaba as well as Toroko and Wushishi, hometown of retired General Ibrahim Wushishi.

The Bida to Zungeru road also boasts a settlement called Lokongoma, and; at Yabatagi, which stands between Kele and Kuchita, we noticed that erosion had washed away one lane of a narrow bridge resulting in gaping craters. A disaster was waiting to happen here, we mused. After Kuchita Wawagi, lookout for Gbako, Ewanko and Lemu also on this route.

Coming from Abuja, we had first travelled to Bida through Suleja and went to Minna to spend the weekend before setting out for Zungeru. Between Suleja and Bida, the major settlements we saw on the way included Lambata, Agaie and Badeggi. Cheeringly, we also sighted numerous stations of the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI) as well as paddy rice fields along the way.

Minna’s major motor park seems to be the surroundings of a Mobil filling station, whereas an Oando gas station’s environment serves that purpose in Bida. During a previous visit, in 2010; the fare to Zungeru from Minna, capital of Niger State was N200 per passenger over a distance of roughly 65km. Today, the same journey extracts N400. And, this is even as six passengers are cramped into seats meant for four. To make matters worse, the majority of bush taxis in Niger and surrounding States are compact VW Golf, Nissan, Toyota et cetera models.

If you ever need a place to stay in these parts, remember; Zungeru has only two lodges, Yanka Noga and Jamaa Guest Inn. Both are modest budget outfits with nothing to write about, really. Zungeru’s apparent importance and eventual abandonment are aptly captured in the book, Zungeru the forgotten capital of Northern Nigeria, written by Bamtsoho Mohammed, a retired Brigadier General of the Nigerian Army.

A happy ending

On a cheery note, after some 15 years since railway service disappeared from Zungeru, the town was agog six months ago; following the resumption of train services there; according to Mallam Mamman. He added that Zungeru was also lucky because for more than a year now, electricity supply has really, really improved. With these developments, it is hoped that the social and economic life of Zungeru’s inhabitants would be improving, soon.

During our visit and subsequent telephone conversations, mauricearchibongtravels spoke with dozens of respondents. However, Alhaji Salisu Madaki, District Head of Zungeru; Tanko Madaki, Adamu Bagudu, Mohammed Yahaya and Mohammed T. Jubril aka Mallam Mamman were particularly helpful.

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