BY ABDULHAMID AL-GAZALI & YUNUSA BUNU | YERWA EXPRESS NEWS, AUGUST 22, 2017
Kukawa, nineteenth-century capital of Borno Empire, and one of the precolonial cities of the Lake Chad region, was among the local governments of Borno that was overrun by Boko Haram in a deadly attack in 2014.
In 1812, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Amin El-Kanemi, one of the most prominent Borno scholars of the nineteenth century and the founder of the reigning El-Kanemi dynasty, established a new administrative capital at Kukawa following a rebellion by 'indigenous' Fulani that led to the destruction of the old capital, Ngazargamu.
It was in Kukawa that the El-Kanemi rulers hosted almost the all European explorers who had interest in the state, including Lander brothers, a team of Denham, Clapperton and Oudney, Heinrich Barth, etcetera in early and mid-1800.
Kukawa was one of the major powerhouses of West Africa in the 19th century alongside Timbuktu, Sokoto, etcetera.
In January 2015, Boko Haram attacked the local government, killing hundreds of people and destroying several properties.
With reprisals alleged to be indiscriminately launched by the Nigerian military, death toll was, according to reports, put at over a thousand lives and destruction, over 1,000 houses, overnight.
One of the most hit part of the local government was Baga, a district and a major source of fish in the North East, feeding most West African markets.
It was, according to Amnesty International, the deadliest attack in the history of Boko Haram.
Similarly, in 2013, two years earlier, the same military was reported to have burnt down at least 2,000 houses anf killed not less than 200 lives in Baga in a deadly reprisal following the killing of one of their own by Boko Haram who it believed, were shielded by the village people.
As a result of the two incidents, the federal government of Nigeria had come under intense criticism both locally and internationally for what was described as a combination of inaction, heavy-handedness of the military and cases of human rights violations.
For about three years, the fish market, as well as other fishing activities, had been closed. Roads linking to the place was also blocked and residents of the community, including non-indigenous people who came from various parts of West Africa for trade had to flee.
Historically, this was not the first time Kukawa suffered similar destructions, arguably as a result of its location at crossroads and abundant resources.
About a century ago, Rabi Fadl'Allah, a warrior bent on building his own force-based empire, with collaboration from another revolutionary who wanted to be recognized as the prophetic 'Mahdi', Hayatu, overran the capital and forced the rulers out.
Rabi, from there, extended his influence to other communities, while the El Kanemi ruling dynasty was left with an empire on the run--a mobile empire.
His militaristic desire for expansion, came in collision with European colonial interest, whose firepower took him out in an encounter in Dikwa in 1900.
Kukawa however survived the Rabi experience and in the course of time, re-emerged as a major business hub under the colonial administration (c. 1900 - 1960), becoming one of the 774 local governments of Nigeria and part of Borno stste.
Like the previous case, it has so far shown a great promise of revival.
Kukawa Central Market, destroyed by Boko Haram and deserted for over two years with no activity taking place, has now shown much hope for revival--even as the bullets spread all over the walls, the fallen roofs, and the locked shops hold a sad memory of what it went through.
The hope is not just in the efforts made at rebuilding it by the local government authorities under caretaker chairman, Habib Kekeno, it is rather seen in the eyes of market men and women who refused to be broken by a senseless war and, with reassuring smiles, returned to their businesses.
'It is not our doing, but we have survived it; like we have been protected last time, we are very much confident God will protect us again in case of similar attack and should it be our end, we are ready for it', Mal. Ali Bulama, a 61-year old trader in the market explained why he was back to his business.
Aji Masta Central Primary School, where the chairman said he had his primary education over two decades ago, also closed since the 2014 attack, hosts a group of selfless young men who organize basic literacy education every evening for the community, perhaps in the absence of full flown formal education.
It still adds to the story of hope, resilience and valor--more than anything, it is as if it is a mockery of Boko Haram who claims to be fighting a war against education.
Baga fish market, one of the biggest fish markets in West Africa, also officially reopened August 1, represents the mark of a healing community.
YERWA EXPRESS NEWS (YENews) who was at the market on Thursday, August 17, for an assessment establishes that Baga is, for a start, capable of producing N1.4 billion worth of fish monthly.
Dan Azimi Baga, a native of Zuru in Kebbi state and the chairman of the fishermen in the market, told YENews that based on the arrangement, only six trucks of goods are allowed to be taken out of the town weekly and only three days of fishing activity was allowed.
'So far we are only allowed to fish from Monday to Wednesday every week, and the amount of fish to leave Baga weekly is also put at six trucks', Dan Azimi said.
He added that each truck carries at least 1,700 boxes of fish, noting that each box is sold at N35,000.
'We started this August 1, after three years and because it is just starting, we are given a hallmark of just six trucks weekly which we are really happy about.
'But this is nothing close to what we have capacity for on full scale.
'Secondly, we can only fish for three days, you can imagine if it is daily.
'Another thing is that, previously many people in other countries bordering us bring their fish to this market for onward sale to a wide range of consumers', he explained, noting that 'it is not possible today due to the situation and this will also affect quantity of production'.
YENews analysis shows that in spite of the constraints, a total of 10,000 boxes can leave the market weekly to different parts of the country.
In a December 6 report, 'Boko Haram: Why Nigeria is in recession', this newspaper had analyzed how the closure of the Baga fish market, alongside other major markets in Borno such as Bama, Banki and Gamboru contributed to the recession West Africa has been engulfed with.
The analysis showed that the scarcity of dollar in the country, among other things, was also a result of the closure of the markets, which were previously major sources of foreign exchange.
Economists, faced with receding economy in different parts of the world have since begun to look towards what they term as 'hidden economies' for immediate solutions.
10,000 boxes sold at N35,000 each is N350,000,000 weekly. In a month, N1.4 billion worth of fish will leave the market. On full scale production, the quantity is likely to be two to three folds more.
The market has a local drying facility where fish are smoked and packaged. It is less than a 5-minute walk from the main market.
Doron Baga, where the fresh fish is sourced, is also less than 5 kilometers from the main market.
According to Dan-Azumi, 'soldiers take position around the water to protect fishermen while fishing activities go on at Doron Baga for the three days they gave us'.
Habib Kekeno, who has jacked up reconstruction works at major public institutions, is confident, according to him, that the market will start full scale operation in no distant time so that the economy of the state will recover speedily, and 'our government is determined to see to it'.
However, the six trucks which were loaded since August 1 when the market was officially opened, only left Baga yesterday, August 18--a two week delay as a result of clearance issues from the military.
'We plead with the chairman who has done very well to reopen the market to also do something about unnecessary delays by the security', Muhammad Imamu, also a fisherman, pleaded, adding that 'it greatly affects productivity'.
He further added that 'once the first batch leaves Baga to Maiduguri, there won't be poverty again in Baga'
Efforts to interface with the security formation in charge of the area for comments did not yield results.
At Kasuwan Baga in Maiduguri where goods from Baga are brought for sale and onward transportation, dealers and major suppliers spoken to at random by our correspondent about their reactions to the reopening of the market, commended the effort.
Reacting to the delays, a dealer who did not give permission to publish his name, while lauding the military, also said that 'there are bad eggs among the soldiers who have interest in the lucrative fish business and we appeal to the authorities to investigate the matter. If you want to do fish business, you should resign first'.
Rumors fly in Maiduguri that security operatives deployed to the place have, in the absence of formal market activity, shown much interest in the business, but there's no evidence to support these allegations.
The first consignment that arrived Maiduguri August 18 from Baga, a distance of 100 miles, after three years was received with much joy among the people of the state.
'It is a sign hope that alas, things are getting better', Shettima Mastaa said.
The Baga road fish market in Maiduguri was littered with joyous customers, wearing euphoric face as the consignment arrived.
It was almost three years ago that such a consignment had arrived the market from Baga.
We have been anticipating for this day for long, Alh. Gado Zauro, a dealer said, expressing his gratitude to government for the effort.
Gado noted that the news of the reopening of the fish market is everywhere and my decades old customers from all states of Nigeria have already begun to call, placing orders.
However, market men have complained that as a result of the two weeks delay, some of the fish have begun to rot, noting that it has greatly affected them.
They plead with authorities to ensure that similar delays do not recur.