As Nigeria clocks 60, MARY NOEL-BERJE, Chief Press Secretary to the Niger State Governor, dissects the significance of Niger State, in particular, Zungeru and Baro in the making of the Nigeria’s socio-political and economic development.
At the midnight of 1st October, 1960, a young Nigerian Army Officer, named Lt Col David Ejoor, lower the British Flag, the Union Jack and hoisted the Nigerian Green White Green Flag, signaling the beginning of self-rule. By midnight of Wednesday, 1st October, 2020, Nigeria would have clocked 60 years of journey of nationhood.
In anals of the Nigerian history, one State that has remained indispensable is Niger State. To begin with, apart from serving as a hinge that connects the south and northern part of Nigeria, the history of the creation of Nigeria, is weaved around Zungeru and Baro towns of the State.
Also, Niger State, no doubt has contributed immensely to the leadership development and dynamics of Nigeria. Two illustrious sons of the State, Generals Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar both served as heads of state at strategic juncture of Nigeria’s journey of nationhood. General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s era marked a seismic shift in the leadership engagement and strategic planning, which culminated in a developed Abuja, today.
On the other hand, General Abdulsalami Abubakar has been severally described as the father of modern democracy in Nigeria because he midwife the Fourth Republic by refusing to be carried away by the allure of power.
As Nigeria clocks 60 years of Independence which signifies the commencement of freedom from the Colonial rule and the beginning of a sovereign nation, it is a landmark achievements that should not be overlooked.
However, the Nigerian story can not be succintly told without the mention of Zungeru and Baro towns.
Zungeru an ancient town in Niger State, North Central Nigeria is known to be the former seat of the colonial government in Nigeria, where the proclamation of the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates in 1914 was made by Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard.
The town is specifically located in Wushishi Local Government Area of Niger State, Zungeru, the glorious past of Northern Nigeria and indeed the country, is surrounded by Tegina to the Northwest, Kagara to the North, Minna to the Northeast and Wushishi to the South. River Kaduna remains its faithful neighbour for years.
Zungeru played a prominent role in the political history of Nigeria as it functioned for 14 years as Northern Nigeria’s capital city. It is also there that the name Nigeria was first proclaimed more than 100 years ago by Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard. Hence it is the birth place of the nation called Nigeria.
The name “Nigeria” was coined by the British Journalist who covered Anti-slavery in Brussels and wife of Lord Lugard, Flora Shaw in 1897 during the colonial period.
Aside from being the birth place of Nigeria, the town has the singular honour of hosting the birth of a former President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the former Biafrian warlord, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, a literary icon, Professor Cyprian Ekwensi and many other notable Nigerians.
All these and many more made the town to be a flourishing town which served as a centre of unity beyond the amalgamation of Nigeria.
Although the town was without trappings of modernity, electricity, tarred roads portable water, concrete buildings roofed with corrugated iron sheets etc., before the colonial rule, all these amenities and many more came with the colonial government but were however limited to the British quarters.
This formed the platform and the beginning of rapid transformation to modernity in Zungeru town.
Having tasted modernity more than a centenary now, and coupled with the fact that it is the nation’s cradle, the sleepy and serene linear settlement despite its past glory has been reduced to one of the many neglected villages in the country, lacking in basic social amenities.
Baro on the other hand, is also an ancient town in Agaie Local Government Area of Niger State, located 650 Kilometres up the Niger River. The name Baro was coined from a Nupe word Gbaro means “standing”.
The community is endowed with surface and underground water resources with lush vegetation that has remained a major attraction till date.
It is also one of the early settlements of the Colonial Masters especially European Merchants who chosed the town as a link between rail and river transport. The Merchants beseiged the area to take advantage of the enoumous trading opportunities on the river banks.
While the quiet community hosted Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard after leaving Lokoja, the ancient town also house the first high frequency radio in Nigeria built by the same Colonial Master, Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard at the 1500ft above sea level.
Other monuments of Lord Lugard situated in the ancient town are his residence, Guest house, West African Frontier Force Barracks and graves of missionaries among others.
The port however, was used to ship groundnuts and cotton to downstream to the Niger Delta ports of Burutu and Warri.
Most of the town’s local trade is in Sorghum, Tubers of Yam, Rice, Millet, Fish, Palm Oil, Shea nuts, Groundnuts and cotton. Swamp Rice is also cultivated in commercial quantity both by farmers in the vicinity and at Government’s Rice irrigation projects sites at Loguma 15 Kilometres Northwest and Badeggi 55 Kilometres Northwest also.
The ancient towns played significant roles in the political and socioeconomic history of the Nation. Aside the roles strategically played by the aforementioned towns, the State in particular is over 76, 000 square kilometre in size, which is the largest in the country. It also has the highest number of Federal roads that transverse the State.
All these are critical and sensitive areas worthy of commanding the attention of the relevant Federal Authorities towards facilitating rapid growth and development of the entire State. Alas, the State has not been receiving the motherhood treatment from the center of authority as expected.
It is worthy of note that successive Federal Governments had attempted to fast track development in these ancient towns and by extension, the State, the efforts which even saw the immediate past Administration at the centre embarked on ground breaking ceremony of 700 Magawatts Zungeru Hydro Electric Power Plant Project in addition to the three (3) existing ones situated in the State and the award of contract of the Baro inland port as well as the roads leading to the port.
The Zungeru hydro power plant is expected to create employment opportunities for an estimated 7,000 population after completion, the Baro Inland Port is also hoping to provide 2,000 direct and 2,500 indirect jobs to the people.
While the Zungeru power plant is expected to be completed in December, 2021, the first unit is expected to start power generation to the National grid in December, 2020
The completion of Baro Inland Port project on the other hand is yet to be sighted even as the Federal roads that lead to the Baro Port and also link the port with other parts of the country which should have served as catalysts to the operation of the port are in bad shapes.
The present administration of President Buhari, considering his deep personal attachment to the Baro Inland Port project as he assisted in the design of its complex during his time as chairman of the defunct Petroleum Special Task Force (PTF), believes that the port when completed would enhance intermodal transportation connectivity in Nigeria, reduce the pressure of heavy trucks on the country’s roads and also ensure huge economic opportunities for Nigerians as well as help in decongesting similar ports.
However, the facility is still lying dormant since its commissioning over one year ago.
With the situation getting bad, a book of remembrance was however opened for Zungeru town by the Governor Abubakar Sani Bello led administration who amidst tremendous challenges, demonstrated an uncommon leadership capacity by setting precedence of good governance according to people’s needs.
Knowing the significant role Zungeru play in the political history of Nigeria, the present administration saw the need to initiate projects that could help in bringing back the lost glory of the famous town after been abandoned for several decades.
Among the projects carried out by Sani Bello’s government in the ancient city is the recently completed 6.5km road project from Zungeru bypass to Zungeru main town.
The road project which was inspected and assessed by the State infrastructure, projects monitoring and implementation committee set up by the state government to monitor all ongoing infrastructural projects so as to ensure compliance with agreed terms between the government and contractors certified that the Zungeru road project meet the requirement of a standard road.
Another area of interest for the administration of Governor Sani Bello towards the residents of Zungeru is electricity.
While efforts are on to make the epileptic power supply in the town a thing of the past, the State Governor had appealed to the people to continue to be patient as government is resolute to once again develop the famous town.
Though with the efforts made by the present administration in Niger State, life would be said is about to return to the birth place of the nation, however, more needs to be done by government at all levels to bring back the lost glory of the two ancient towns in the State even as the relevant Federal government authorities have assured that concerted efforts are being made to ensure the completion of the roads leading to the port and for the take off of activities at the port.
Beyond the rehabilitation of roads and commencement of operation at the Baro Port, provision of electricity at the port is also crucial to accelerate economic activities which would bring about the desired development of the town, even as the nation celebrates it’s 60th year of Independence.
And with the beautiful theme for this year’s Independence celebration as unveiled recently by the Federal Government thus “togetherness” signifying that despite our religion, ethnic, social and political differences, we are still together. Government at the centre should therefore treat it’s birth town and State with renewed and redefined concerns.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO NIGERIA.LONG LIVE ZUNGERU!LONG LIVE BARO!!LONG LIVE NIGER STATE!!!LONG LIVE NIGERIA!!!!
Mary Noel-Berje is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Niger state.