A Conversation Under the Baobab Tree


For those of us who are from the savannah region, the baobab tree plays an important role in our socio-cultural life. In Hausa, baobab is called “iccen kuka”, while in Fulfulde it is known as “leggal bolki”. It is the tree that survives hundreds of years. It adapts to the environment it is found and cannot survive anywhere else. It sheds its leaves when it is dry season to reduce losing water through photosynthesis. It has spongy ropes inside its main trunk where it stores water during dry season. Its leaves are used for making soup, miyan kuka, that no one who has ever had any contact with the savannah region could say he or she does not know or has not consumed. Its fruits are also a good source of vitamins which we sucked directly as kids, but is now used to make delicious juice drink.

Due to its size, the baobab tree provided shade where people sit when the sun is too hot or just to relax, eat, drink and converse. There is no single settlement in the savannah region, big or small, that does not have baobab trees and these trees have been playing very important functions over the years. In fact, they have been the unofficial “people’s parliament” when people come to listen to radio programmes and comment or get the latest news from people stopping by on happenings in the surroundings. Just as kuka is very favourite soup, kuka shade is my favourite joint anytime I can make it.

And so it happened that during the last Sallah break, I attended one of those sittings. As always, there was no dull moment with everyone freely chatting about issues of the moment – from cows, goats and sheep to mud round huts and the effect of the rains on them; to marriages, birth and deaths of acquaintances and relatives as well as other social, economic and political issues. You come out with the feeling that these people are well-informed about happenings in their immediate and wider surroundings. They know a lot about even our neighbouring countries.

One of the elderly ones among those under the baobab tree the day I visited was Baba Gidado. He has been very fond of me since my secondary school days during the Shagari era. He is a retired public servant who may be in his late 60s or early 70s now. I wouldn’t know his age since he is not my contemporary. Anyway, when he sighted me, he beckoned to me to come near him. I knelt down to greet him and to pay my respects. He asked after my family and other personal issues. Soon after all these, he raised the issue of a particular judgement, very controversial, passed just before the Sallah break.

Baba Gidado cleared his throat after finishing his fura drink and went down the memory lane. I knew that I had got yet another chance to learn from the wisdom of our elders. I was all ears with rapt attention. He told us that no society can ever develop if two institutions are not good – law enforcement and the judiciary. He said these are the two most important institutions for law and order for healthy well-being of any society or nation.

He told us that law and order was so important that during the colonial era it was the sons of emirs that were in charge of the police. He said great rulers like the late Emir of Kano Ado Bayero and the longest serving Emir in the history of Sokoto Caliphate, Lamido Adamawa Aliyu Mustapha, were all in the police. He said any society that cannot enforce its laws for the good of the people is doomed. He said even the lawmakers were not helping matters, citing the case of cigarette smoking which he said was banned by law but no prescribed punishment for breaking the law.

Mallam Chubado, who was sitting across Baba Gidado, interjected to help buttress the point being made. He said that it was the failure of the Nigeria Police that led to the creation of a road safety commission because, before, the Motor Traffic Division was an integral part of the police. He said it was the weakness of the police that led to the setting up of a drug law enforcement agency, as it was the responsibility of the police to deal with drug cases before. Again, he further said, it was the decay in the police that led to the establishment of the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission as the police was in charge of all cases of financial fraud. Baba Gidado and everyone there agreed.

Baba Gidado raised another issue still with regard to the police. He said since they are still in charge of prosecution constitutionally, they are central to any reform of the law enforcement capability of the government. He then came to the issue of the judiciary. He said justice is the foundation of any society and that since we have judges who sell themselves to the highest bidder like the worst prostitute in the street, however good our law enforcement or prosecution cases are, we can’t make progress. He said government has to search for and flush out the bad eggs in the judiciary, train those remaining ones and give them adequate incentives to make them more efficient.

After prayers and more conversations on many more topics, it was getting to sunset and I had many more relatives to visit, so I took my leave with appropriate compliments and respect. It was as usual a most rewarding experience.

I just hope that the baobab tree will not be cut like the rest that are being depleted at alarming rate. We have a generation of leaders who only know how to destroy but do not know how to build. Just look at the road to the Abuja airport and see how many trees were cut down to expand the road and none has been planted to take their places so far. It is a tragedy that we don’t want to leave behind anything for future generations as we destroy forests, mountains, rivers and land in our quest for wealth and power.

History is on the side of the oppressed.

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