For the Uba Gaya extended family, to which yours sincerely belongs, Friday, March 22, 2019, started like any other day.
But the peace of that day was shattered when, from around 5.30pm, Habiba, my first child and daughter, stopped picking her calls and it was taking her eternity to cover a short distance of barely a kilometre from Tukuntawa to Gandun Albasa quarters of Kano State. Yet, she had sent a family member on an errand, and the young man was desirous of briefing her of the success of his mission.
Hours later, her phone was still ringing but she was not picking. It is somehow normal for many women to put their cellphones in their bag and get carried away. We all thought – and were hoping – that that was the case.
But minutes turned to hours, and by 11pm, the young woman had still not returned home. And to make matters worse, her phone had by then stopped ringing. The alarm bell in us all was ringing at a feverish pitch. The family needed no more prompting to report what was clearly the disappearance of the young woman to Kano Police Headquarters.
Sadly, the incident happened a few hours to the repeat gubernatorial election that INEC had two weeks earlier declared inconclusive. So, all attention was on that election, and obviously, the police found the matter of the seeming disappearance of my daughter a sort of distraction. They told us their tracking equipment was faulty and needed servicing. We were left to our fate.
Somehow, we got in touch with General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff and he wasted no time in deploying the army tracking devices to the purpose of locating the young Nigerian.
The Army was hot on the trail of my daughter and the abductors were obviously feeling the heat, and in the dead of the night, they singled her out and showed her a bush path. They told her to walk continuously for two hours to reach the expressway leading to Minna from Abuja.
After what appeared like an eternity, the young woman reached the roadside, thoroughly tired and exhausted. All vehicles she flagged down to give her a lift probably mistook her for a mad woman, and none stopped, until a daring Good Samaritan gave it a try. After hearing her story, he dropped her off at Dikko, a major junction on the Kaduna-Abuja expressway, from where she called me, using the phone of a shopkeeper.
It was only after she was returned to us by the evening flight of that day that we heard from her what actually happened.
Her husband had dropped her off at Tukuntawa quarters in Kano to plait her hair. Barely an hour later, she was done, but decided to go and wait for him at our family house in a neighboring quarters called Gandun Albasa. It was quite a trekable distance but she chose to go by commercial tricycle the people of Kano popularly called A Daidaita Sahu. She chattered the tricycle for the brief journey, but a few meters after picking her, the young man driving the tricycle strangely picked two other women. And that was where her trouble started.
He drove them straight to somewhere close to Ado Bayero Bridge on Zaria Road and the three of them were ushered into a waiting Sharan model commercial vehicle. Obviously bewitched, none of them offered any resistance. Their abductors drove them towards Kaduna, and on the outskirts of that city, they were transferred to another vehicle which took them to kidnappers den somewhere in the deep bushes of Niger State.
Since that terrible incidence, which was well documented by Nigerian newspapers, we as a family heard different stories of how tricycles are being used in Kano to commit some of the most heinous crimes, including abduction of especially women and children. Some of these cases were obviously not reported to the police or the press, with families of the victims resigning to their ill fate.
Perhaps the most dangerous of these stories is of the existence of a criminal gang which is said to have purchased hundreds of tricycles for the purpose of mass kidnapping of innocent citizens. A driver working for them would be dashed the tricycle if he succeeds in abducting a designated number of people.
Let me, at this stage, point out that not all drivers or owners of these commercial tricycles are criminals. I can even bet my last kobo that the good ones among them far outweigh the bad ones. But these bad ones are clearly increasing in number, so much that unless the Ganduje Administration does something fast, they will sooner than later grow to a horrible monster that could rise beyond the control of the security forces or anyone else.
Officially, registered commercial tricycles in Kano State are one hundred thousand. Of this figure, 65 percent are based in the eight metropolitan local governments that constitute the bulk of Kano Central Senatorial District. Kano North has 20 percent, while the balance of 15 percent are based in Kano South.
But do you know what makes the situation frighteningly dangerous? It is the fact that nobody, not even the state government knows the true number of commercial tricycles operating in Kano State. The reason is not far fetched: it is a multi billion naira money-spinning industry that is making some people rich on daily basis. And so, all manner of sharp practices are employed by the owners to hide the true picture from government.
There are credible reports of few individuals owning hundreds, in a few instances even thousands of these tricycles. And just to avoid paying the token sum of one thousand naira that government charges to register each one, they will register a few and duplicate the registration number of ten or twenty or more units on the others.
Recently, the very hardworking Kano Roads Transport Agency (KAROTA) arrested more than thirty tricycles bearing one registration number. This has since become the norm, rather than the exception.
Whereas some investors in this transport business feel it is a way to cheat the government and make more illicit gains, the criminal elements in their midst are taking full advantage of the situation to pin down crimes on innocent commercial drivers whose registration numbers they duplicate. This makes tracking crimes and criminalistics even more difficult in Kano, making the state a safe haven for some hardened criminals who escape to it from other states, in their bid to escape justice.
Now, reports making the rounds in Kano is that these tricycle operators are turning themselves to something above the law. Some of them are said to be bearing arms, with a view to either committing crimes or challenging security personnel on their trail. This is an allegation that is so weighty that government should ensure the security services do not sweep it under the carpet, even when some of them are also owners of these tricycles.
In Kano, the fear of tricycle operators is the beginning of wisdom. They mostly drive in a most reckless manner, blocking all lanes of busy roads and refusing in most cases to give way for faster moving vehicles. And woe betide any vehicle driver that brushes any of them. They will in no time gather in large number and molest the offender.
Interestingly, if any of them is the one at fault, they will also gather in large number and intimidate you, the victim, to silence. You will practically be forced to lick your wounds and quickly leave the scene. They damage vehicles everyday and hardly does anything happen to them.
One can only imagine what goes through the mind of Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje who must be receiving reports of dastardly activities of this class of citizens on his desk perhaps on daily basis.
On one hand, the tricyclists are a very important, very influential pressure group that could help anyone win an election. Though they number no more than a hundred thousand officially, even a casual visitor to Kano knows they must be more than one million in number.
Driving in Kano is almost always a hell because of their intimidating number. Many of them are being driven by rough looking young men who, in the least, will abuse the hell out of you if you do as little as cautioning them about their reckless driving.
Bad as they are, the tricycle business has helped in lifting millions of hitherto jobless young men off the streets, and probably off crimes.
With birth rate that is the highest in Nigeria, Kano’s population is younger than any other state in Nigeria. The state itself is the most populous in the federation. There is the obvious fear in government circles that if very hard measures are taken against the tricyclists, some of them may return to crime or get initiated into the same monster.
Government is therefore faced with what is clearly a Hobson’s choice.
The solution therefore lies in a carrot and stick approach. No individuals or group should be allowed to deploy any pretext to blackmail government to silence or into submission. The society ricks getting mortally wounded if these people are allowed to continue the way they are presently.
It was the same kind of fear that made the Ali Sheriff Administration to treat Boko Haram with kid gloves in Maiduguri, ten years ago. Mohammed Yusuf’s followers were the young men and women who were always instrumental during election. And so, even when government got credible reports that they were amassing arms, it chose to look the other way. Of course the last straw that broke the camel’s back was the brutal killing of Sheikh Yusuf by the police after he was arrested alive by the army.
Perhaps realizing they could turn out to be the monsters that many of them have turned to, today, Malam Ibrahim Shekarau, In his days as governor of Kano State (2003-2011), limited the ownership of most tricycles to government, which procured thousands of them and limited them to driving only female members of the huge population. At that time it was illegal to see the driver with any other male, whoever he might be.
Engineer Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, who succeeded Shekarau, liberalized the sector, in obvious appreciation for the massive support the drivers gave him, which enabled him return to power eight years being defeated as an incumbent by Shekarau. But to his credit, he introduced the compulsory registration of each tricycle and stopped the dealers from bringing in more for sale.
By the time Ganduje became governor four years ago, however, the dynamics have changed. There were more out of school children, and a frightening number of graduates who were jobless and roaming the streets of Kano. Some became easy preys in the hands of Biko Haram, who lured them with money and a false promise for a premium place in Paradise.
It was to give hope to thousands of these young men that the Ganduje Administration also allowed the liberalization policy started by Kwankwaso to continue.
But one reality is that, whereas Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje is one of the highest achieving governors in the history of Kano State, at least so far, he runs the risk of muddling up his legacy if he allows the excesses of Kano tricyclists to continue unabated.
It is good that he has now made education free and compulsory all over Kano State. He is also massively investing in agriculture, in an obvious bid to get thousands of jobless youths off the streets. In that singular effort, he is blessed to have as credible partner, the commissioner in that sector, who late last year became the state Deputy Governor, in the person of ever-industrious Dr. Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna.
The next big challenge ahead of Governor Ganduje is reducing the horrible number of street urchins otherwise called almajirai off the streets. It is common to see children as young as five years old roaming the streets, begging for food, and giving Islam a bad name. These young lads grow up feeling rejected and hated by the society. And it is so easy for them to accept even flimsy offers to inflict harm on the society. Yet, it is their parents that are the biggest culprits.
Countless security reports have indicated that the same young men end up being used by some unscrupulous politicians to perpetrate all sorts of evil. Some of them even end up as hardened criminals.
Some governors in the far North have chosen to allow this monster to grow, to avoid being misperceived as anti-Islam. But then, as they and all of us very well know, Islam does not condone begging. So there is absolutely nothing Islamic in that practice.
Northern governors, more so Ganduje, whose state is believed to inhabit the largest number of almajirai, should partner with the Centre for Qur’anic Reciters of Nigeria, whose national headquarters is in Kano, to fashion a realistic way out of this serious logjam. If he does so, and I am positive he is going to do so, posterity will forever be kind to him.