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Monkey tales from Bauchi

Xpress Lane (Backpage)

The first thing that came to the minds of many of my Lagos friends, when I told them I was going to Bauchi was Boko Haram.

I did not help my case much when I informed them that I could not get a seat on a direct flight, and would now have to fly to Kano and go by road to Bauchi. Many thought I was just taking a stroll through Boko Haram territory. It was their classical definition of suicide. But they were wrong. Kano is safe. Bauchi is safe. And so is Jigawa State that lies between them.

For the seven or so hours it took us to commute to and fro the two cities, I didn’t see myself taking any more risk than anybody else who travels from Owerri to Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt to Warri, or even Lagos to Onitsha by bus.

Of course, without downplaying the general insecurity in the country today, I believe this inability to look at ourselves with an open mind is one of the reasons why we are where we are today. Or rather, why we were where we were.

Now, this has nothing to do with the Vice Presidential debate of December 14, nor is it about Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. For, not many people on Planet Earth can match the Vice President on grammar and delivery. So, bury the thought, before you drift too far.

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I guess the erudite VP only stuttered on the line because he was not too sure if we are still not where the PDP left us. If he had said “why we are where we are”, it could mean that all he and his principal had done in three and a half years was to get us to where PDP left us. So, he had to correct himself, and ended up in a tongue twister. But he still managed to put the point across viz: Blame the PDP for everything that is wrong with the country, and that the APC people, who had been on the moon all of those 16 years of PDP misrule, are now set to fix the problems.

But I wouldn’t want to go too deep into that debate, lest I get entangled in the argument of who was the winner, and the politicking it has generated, especially, when I know that all the politicians, whether APC, PDP, APGA, ADC, PPN, PPA, nPDP, rAPC or whatever, ultimately belong to the same party – the Sharing Gang and, even petty thieves. If you doubt me, ask Buba Galadima.

And talking about thieves, I think there are no better thieves than the monkeys and baboons at the Yankari Games Reserve. Like most muggers and petty thieves, they operate in broad daylight, and are swift, calculative and very daring. They are also attracted to handbags and small packages. As the police in the cities would warn residents to stay off black spots and not to display cell phones and other valuables in the car to avoid attracting muggers and traffic thieves, the staffers at Yankari advice you do not openly display your little packages, especially, colourful ones, in order not to attract the monkeys. For here, the monkeys are ever vigilant, and swiftly ‘punish’ any slip.

One of us, Austeen Elewodalu, who let down his guards for a few seconds as he stepped out of the bus the next morning, got an instant baptism of fire. Before he could walk the three or so steps from the bus to the entrance of his lodgement, a giant baboon appeared from nowhere, charged at him, snatched the not-too-colourful container nut cereals, and dashed back to a safe distance to his vantage point across the road before Austeen could catch his breath.

Having broken open the container with the force of its pull, the bandit baboon sat under the shade of a baobab tree across the road as it relished the content of roasted and ground assorted grains and nuts.

Like Austeen, MaryAtolagbe also had a close shave with Yankari bandits, when one of them gatecrashed into her lodge. She made the ‘smart’ decision of jamming the door on the intruder, while she ran out to look for help. Unfortunately the monkey knew the geography of that lodgement better than her. It skillfully opened the jammed door and eased itself into the reception area, where Mary had left her bags. She came back, with help, to see the monkey expertly ransacking her handbag.

But the monkeys were not done with us yet. Earlier in the day, we had emerged from our meeting venue, to meet one of them right on top of our Coaster bus, checking out every window and crevice, to see if there was enough opening to compromise the window and enter the bus.

And when we came back from visiting the historic Wikki Warm Spring, still within the facility, the monkeys were still there, watching, monitoring, and ready to pounce and snatch.

So, if you ever doubted that a snake swallowed money, I’m sure you won’t doubt that monkeys made away with N70m, especially, if you ever visited Yankari.

I could therefore be excused for quickly shutting all my windows, including the anti-burglary mosquito nets, the moment I saw a monkey perched on a rock outside my chalet’s window. There were stories of mother-monkeys, who could not squeeze through window openings, pushing their babies into them and waiting outside for the baby to do the stealing and come out with the loot. Stealing runs in the monkey family.

But Bauchi is not all about Yankari, even though it’s heartwarming that this historic Games Reserve is enjoying a new lease of life under Gov. Mohammed Abubakar.

M.A.’s Bauchi is all about massive, statewide infrastructure development and urban renewal. There are also huge investments in Housing and education. From construction of new classroom blocks to brand new housing estates, mass housing projects with the World Bank, emphasis on long stretches of roads – some of them running into tens of kilometres, that connect major towns and senatorial districts, to novel ideas in agriculture, healthcare and civil service reforms.

Of course the civil service appears to be a pain in the wrong place for most state governors. MA has not been spared the nightmare in Bauchi either. The only difference is that, having been a civil servant at some point, himself, the Bauchi helmsman seems to have a fair idea of where the skeletons are hidden. And that is saying a lot, for a state that boasts a civil service workforce of about 105,000. A state whose civil service gulps well over N5 billion, of its average monthly Federal Allocation of a little over N6 billion, in salaries.

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But the governor has refused to go the easy way of sacking workers. He instead, opted to reform the system. That reform saw him putting a temporary embargo on fresh employments and auditing the pension shibboleth.

He says the audit became necessary when, on assumption of office, he moved to settle the arrears of pension he inherited from the previous administration. Suddenly, the initial N15.8b figure jumped up to N26.3bn overnight.

A cursory investigation soon revealed that, promotion to the rank of permanent secretary was being used as some form of political patronage for serving officers and parting gift to some about-to-retire civil servants. At some point, a service that had just about 20 ministries had over 60 Perm. Secs. In some instance, a Level 04 worker retired into the gratuity of a Perm. Sec.

I guess, that is the real reason we are where we are – or, if you like, “why we were where we were”.

Unknown to many people in other parts of the country, and beyond, Bauchi is one of the few islands of peace in the troubled North East zone. And this probably explains why the people here have remained solidly behind President Muhammadu Buhari. Come 2019 presidential election, I believe only Kano probably has the potentials of giving PMB more votes than Bauchi.