As the car sped past the toll gate heading into the city of Kaduna from Kano, my mind raced ahead as I went through a mental checklist of all the plans my cousin Abba and I had made for the holidays. I was so giddy with excitement it felt like the car wasn't moving fast enough. I arrived and disembarked at the Kawo motor park amid the hustle and bustle of the Kawo Tuesday market. Despite the sweltering April heat, I was too preoccupied with the sights and sounds of the city to bother.
During the ride to my final destination, I got chatty with the cab driver and informed him I was born in Kaduna but hadn't been to the city in almost 22 years. He became a tour guide of sorts as he rattled out the brief history of some landmarks along the way. He told me about the Hassan Usman Katsina House, which is where the office of the executive governor is located, Arewa House sits on the grounds of the residence of the former Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello. On and on he went giving brief facts about the neighbourhoods and the roads on our path. From the way he spoke with so much pride it was easy to tell he loved his city very much as all Kaduna indigenes do.
With most of my relatives based in Kaduna at the time, I seized the opportunity to visit them and get to know the city, its people and its history. Within a week I was able to find my way around town without the need for a guide or asking for directions. During my daily sightseeing tours I got to know that Ali Akilu road forms part of the commercial district of the city, with automobile dealerships and office buildings located at various points. Ahmadu Bello Way is the major commercial hub of the city, it is the main road leading to the Kaduna central market with shops dotting both sides of the road. Yakubu Gowon Way is the nerve center of the city's banking industry as most major banks have their main offices located here. Isa Kaita Road is a long circular road that traverses various neighbourhoods and most times returns you to the point you started from. This road was the compass I used to gauge my location and retrace my steps whenever I got lost. There's also the famous Alkali Road lined with shops selling everything from personal hygiene products, groceries, fruits, pastries and provisions.
I also noticed that life in Kaduna is very mellow and laid back. People didn't seem to be in much of a hurry about anything, unlike the Lagos rush I was accustomed to. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that most locations in Kaduna are within easy reach and the traffic wasn't so chaotic. Having lived in Lagos for most of my life as well as lived and commenced my private legal practice in Abuja, I am familiar with the cost of living of both cities and I can say with absolute assurance that the cost of living in Kaduna is very reasonable. I couldn't believe how affordable the rent was in some areas. Aside from the ethnic/religious unrests which do not come often and are far between, the people live in peace and harmony.
The three months I spent in Kaduna during that holiday are one of the most cherished memories I have. I fell madly in love with the town and I promised myself I would settle down and live here someday. As the plane took off on my return trip to Lagos I looked down on the fast receding Kaduna landscape and I thought to myself "someday I'll settle down here."
Seven years, a wife and one daughter later, my prayers have been answered. I couldn't have chosen a place better than Kaduna to settle down and raise a family. No matter where I go I never feel at home until I return to the warm embrace of Kaduna. Those who know me may wonder how an indigene of Jigawa State could have so much love for a state he does not belong to. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I was born here or as my mum says, my placenta was buried here. Hold on, before you commence plans to have my Jigawa State indigenship revoked, I love my hometown and owe my allegiance to it. It's just that there is something different about Kaduna. It's beyond expression. It has to be felt to be appreciated.
About two weeks ago I wrote a short fictional story titled Maiduguri is Closer Than We Think. On Wednesday, the 23rd of July, 2014 a bit of that fictional story became a reality in two nightmarish scenarios. While driving along Isa Kaita Road I noticed large groups of individuals walking along the road. It seemed strange at first then I recalled the annual Ramadan Tafseer of Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi was closing that day, and people had come from all over the country to be part of it. Arriving at the end of the road where it connects with Alkali Road, I met with a scene of chaos and confusion. People were running helter skelter while some were wailing uncontrollably. I was utterly confused. Upon making enquiries I was informed a bomb had gone off and the intended target was Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi. My heart leapt into my mouth as I steeled myself to drive out of the area. I was relieved when it was confirmed that the Sheikh had survived the attack. About an hour later, news got to me that another bomb had gone off and the intended target this time was Rtd. General Muhammadu Buhari. I had to sit down as the gravity of what the deaths of both individuals could portend for the North and the rest of the country sank in.
There have been bomb attacks in the past, and the question that readily comes to mind is what makes this different? All lives are sacred and the life of one human being is not more important than the life of another. However, when one considers the influence and impact both these individuals have in the lives of millions of people across the country, its easy to appreciate the fact that the loss of either of them under such circumstances would have unimaginable repercussions in the North and across the country.
I was emotionally and physically drained at the thought that it could've been me on Alkali Road when the bomb went off. It could've been my wife. That's where we shop for groceries! My Kaduna! Violated by bloodthirsty maniacs. It was too much to bear. I have said it countless times whenever I engage in discussions regarding the rising insecurity in the land. Nigerians have an attitude of nonchalance mixed with a dash of "since it doesn't affect me, I don't have to worry."
Well, here's the news flash people. It affects us all. The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 has lessons we can all learn from. When the crisis in Ukraine started, other EU countries were nonplussed as the feeling was "it doesn't affect us, so we're fine." Along comes Flight MH17 with passengers of whom none were citizens of Ukraine or Russia, yet they were caught in the thick of it.
We can't keep hiding our heads and thanking God we're safe just because the crisis is in the North East. It'll get to us soon enough. It has already started crossing borders as can be gleaned from the explosion that occurred in Apapa, Lagos a few weeks ago. We need to ask our government pertinent questions like what on earth was done with the trillions appropriated for security? Why is it that despite a state of emergency things seem to be worsening?
What scares me most of all is the damage this crisis is doing to our psyche. On a weekly basis we are inundated by so many news stories of deaths ranging in the hundreds at the hands of Boko Haram. We've become so used to this we're now desensitized to the high level of casualties.
The damage to the psyche of our kids will be worse as we'll raise a generation of children who will not find violence shocking. Everyday things seem to be progressing from worse to terrible exponentially. As my friend and mentor Zainab Usman said "even the dreariness of everyday life has now become an unattainable wish."
I love this city as the indigenes themselves do and I can't and do not want to imagine how devastating it would be if it fell to the madness of these warmongers. For now Kaduna is the only home I know and I'd hate to see it crumble.
To those that lost loved ones in this heinous act, accept my heartfelt condolences. May the souls of your friends and loved ones rest in peace.
To those responsible for these acts, I say this: This is Kaduna. It has witnessed countless events and it is still standing. Try as you might you cannot break the spirit of the amazing people of this city. You will never break the spirit of Nigerians. For we are Nigerians and we survive for a living!