By Hassan Gimba –
Maiduguri, the capital and the largest city of Borno State, was founded in 1907 as a military outpost by the British colonial authority. It consists of two cities – Yerwa to the west and Old Maiduguri to the east. While Yerwa was founded in 1907 by Sheikh Abubakar Garbai as the capital of the Bornu Kingdom, old Maiduguri was selected by the British as their military headquarters, replacing Mafoni. The same year it became the location for the British Resident Commissioner over British Bornu. In 1957 Yerwa became the designated name for the urban centre while Maiduguri was officially applied as the name of the surrounding rural area, even though the name Yerwa seems to be out of trend now.
Yerwa itself came about when the Sudanese warrior, Rabih az-Zubayr (Rabah Zubayr), defeated Bornu in 1893 and destroyed Kukawa, forcing Shehu Garbai to relocate to Yerwa in 1907.
I gave this background for us to understand the Maiduguri Monday Market and how it came about. According to Alhaji Shettima Alkali, a one-time general manager of the market, when there was a relocation from Kukawa to Maiduguri, the wards of the town, namely Shehuri, Limanti, Kanandiri, Waziriri, Talbari, Kaigamari, etc, had their market in Budum before the current site took over and became the major market of the town. The current site of the Maiduguri Monday Market is, therefore, not the initial site of the Maiduguri Market.
For decades, since supplanting Budum, the market has served Maiduguri and its environs until it was burnt to ashes one hot afternoon in March 1979. Thus, the old market, or site, was adjoined to an adjacent motor park, doubling its acreage, and a new one built.
Col. Tunde Idiagbon, the Borno State Military administrator at that time, engaged Songhai Construction Company, whose general manager was the late Alhaji Mala Alamai, a respected Borno indigene, to build the new market. However, Idiagbon had to leave the construction of the new Monday Market to his successor, Muhammadu Goni, who took over as governor in October 1979.
It was not even clear if it was the place of the state government to deal with the construction of the new market. Even though markets and parks were constitutional schedules of local governments, Governor Goni made the construction of the new market a priority project and went ahead with a six-million-naira loan from the First Bank of Nigeria. The construction dragged on for a couple of years and he did not complete it by the end of his tenure in 1983, though he went ahead to inaugurate the new market in August 1983. It was the Borno State Military governor, Major-General Abubakar Waziri who officially commissioned it in August 1985.
An edifice to marvel at, housing about 20,000 shops, stores, kiosks and a kitchen, the Maiduguri Monday Market was the largest modern market of its time in the North, with tarred roads separating rows of stalls, large parking spaces for hundreds of vehicles, and offices for the managers of the market. One could drive into the market, conveniently transact any business and leave without any hassles.
During the first tenure of Senator Ali Modu Sheriff as the governor of Borno State, some shops and the kitchen, which was converted to shops, were burnt and Songhai Construction Company, which was contracted to maintain the market after building it, had to be engaged to rebuild the burnt down sections.
Since then, there had been fire outbreaks, now and then, until the recent mysterious one of Sunday, February 26, in which goods worth billions of naira were lost in the inferno that razed the market to ashes. It compelled the state government, through the governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, to donate about two billion naira, along with additional donations from the federal government, some state governments, corporate bodies and good-spirited individuals, for the reconstruction of the market.
However, the issue at stake should not be that of reconstruction alone; there is a compelling need for the expansion of the market.
The Maiduguri Monday Market was at one time patronised by traders from all over the nation as well as some nearby countries like Niger, Sudan, Chad, Cameroon and up to as far as the Central African Republic.
According to Shettima Alkali, the market was raking in a daily turnover of between N1 billion and N10 billion at a time, until the Boko Haram insurgency cut off its international trader traffic and as well significantly depleted its interstate flow.
Expectedly, the improvement in the security situation will gradually restore the economic importance and international trade status of the Maiduguri Monday Market. This will restore it to its bustling self and this is where the problem lies, and this is where the Borno State government should apply vision.
The market has been hemmed in with structures, not giving it the space to breathe, not to talk of expanding naturally as big markets do. Because of this, you see the market, filled to its “brim”, spilling onto the roads bordering it and encroaching on surrounding structures.
One would have suggested a complete relocation of the market and a super mall take its place. However, one must also be mindful of the historical and spiritual significance of the present site to the locals. But if the first one at Budum can be left for a better location, why not this with the town’s growth?
However, if relocation is not palatable, then decentralisation should be an option. The six main entrances – or exits, depending on how you look at it – to the town should be where markets should be located to service the needs of consumers around that area. Those there could be expanded and modernised or new ones built where there are none. One can be located on the way to Damaturu, another on Baga Road, and then on the road to Gamboru, Bama Road and Damboa and Muna Roads.
The state authorities could do worse than to take another look at the market and see how it can better serve everyone.
Hassan Gimba is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Neptune Prime.