From Sylvanus Viashima, Jalingo
For the people of Bandawa, Karim Lamido Local Government, Taraba State, May 3, 2021, would most certainly go down as a very miserable day.
Indeed, it was a black Monday, deeply darkened by the blaze of billowing smoke arising from a fire outbreak that claimed the lives of two inhabitants, injured many, destroyed about 300 homes and almost wiped out the people.
For the predominantly farming community, the day broke out a normal working day. The people had their eyes on their farms while some resumed at their farmlands working tirelessly ahead of the new farming season.
A rather small population of the community on government employ, mostly primary school teachers, had already gone to school, without a feeling of what the nature had in stock for them. They were unaware that a serious disaster awaited them.
Few hours later came a ferocious windstorm. The storm lifted fire from nowhere and splashed it, through the aid of the wind, on the community. “That was how the fire started,” said Ekon Abuga.
The people watched in horror as most of their thatched roofs embraced the ravaging flames with ease. The fire moved, climbed up and burned down their homes other belongings. Two lives were lost to the inferno.
The village head of Bandawa Nanshin community, Yusha’u Sharia, said: “I can’t believe what happened that day. It was unprecedented. It was as if God was angry and had wanted to consume us all. It was fire, fire and fire, all over the village.
“I was at home when I started hearing the shouts. At first, I thought we were under attack. There was a breeze and we thought it was going to rain. Instead, the windstorm quickly picked up fire from a clearing in one of the farms and was spreading it all over the place. There was no way anyone could go out to help one another, because the whole community was basically in flame.
“This is happening just at the beginning the new farming season. Now their grains and seedlings are all consumed in the fire. The chemicals they bought are all gone. The produce they kept in store to sell and put the monies back into their farms are all gone. Gone, gone and gone!
“The questions: How will they start? How are we going to begin again? We are left demoralised and empty handed. It is a very sad and gloomy experience for us.
“As we speak, more than 300 homes have been destroyed. We lost two persons. I can’t say how many thousands of bags of grains that we lost. We farm mostly grains here. “Many people were storing their grains to sell and start another farming season now that the rain is here. It is also our major source of food and for the local gin. The grains are also the major source of income for most of us here.
“That is what we use to train our children in school, to pay medical bills, to pay workers on the farm and to develop ourselves. Mostly, we don’t have savings anywhere in the banks.”
Mathias Manyi, president, Bandawa Community Development Association (BCDA) said: “This is very sad and unfortunate. It is totally disastrous and hard to take. These people are mostly poor peasants. How will they move on? Where are they going to start? Is it their lost property that they will start thinking of how to recover, or their homes that they will start trying to rebuild now, or their seedlings that are now burnt that they will start thinking of how to go to the farms again? This is sad.”
Nahum Yakubu, a victim, lost his home to the fire including over a hundred bags of grains, cash and other valuables: “It is a nightmare I still hope to wake up from. I still have most of my harvest from last year in the store both for food and to take care of other basic needs.
“In this community, we survive mostly from farming. That is what I am using to train my children in school and give some form of livelihood to my family.
“That room there (pointing to one of the structures) is where I stored my grains from last year’s farming season. I just sold some recently, bought some chemicals and reserved some money to pay workers as the rainy season has begun so that they will start work on my farm. Two of my children are supposed to register for JAMB and all of that money was in the house here. It is all gone.
“On that fateful day, I returned from the farm which I was clearing for rice farm and was very tired. I didn’t even know when I dozed off. I was awakened by the windstorm and the cries all over the place.
“At first, I thought maybe it was herdsmen’s attack or something. Waking up from the confusion, I soon realised that some homes were on fire and I rushed to help. It was harrowing as we watched the fire spread so fast and furious all over the community.
“We stood no chance to rescue anything. In fact, we lost two members of the community and some even sustained injuries in the course of trying to save the situation.
“As I speak to you, I don’t even know where to start from. I have no shelter over my head. No food for my family. No grains for the farming season, no money and no hope. What do I tell my children? That they can no longer continue in school? That I can no longer feed them? The only clothes they have are those they were wearing. Everything else was consumed. That is our plight. This is our fate right now.”
The families of Yuguda and Bakari are mourning the loss of their loved ones namely, Livinus Yuguda and Ajuji Bakari. They were lost to the inferno. A family member who preferred to speak anonymously offered said: “Livinus was our backbone. He was the motivation and strength of the family.
“He was very active in everything we did as a family. Now he is no more. I don’t how the whole family will cope now, especially after losing everything else to the fire. I hope that the government will quickly come to our aid because it is very bad right now.”