Uba town sits comfortably on the Nigerian map at the far northeastern corner as if on a balance between the two capitals of Adamawa State and Borno State. If you are driving the 410 km journey from Yola to Maiduguri, you will reach Uba town at Km200. Just like any Nigerian town, the first thing you notice on arrival is the placing of sign boards at strategic positions to either tell you the name of the town or guide you to a product or service.
However, unlike any Nigerian town, Uba’s signboards tell you more than you expect. You are instead told that the highway you are driving on is a borderline between Borno and Adamawa States. If you steer two yards to the left, you are in Uba-Borno; and two yards to the right, you are in Uba-Adamawa. You may actually stretch your imagination on how living on a fringe could be like.
You may even ask questions on how one town could be divided into two. What about the people living there, are they also divided into two? Are their feelings also divided as their residences? And for their history, do they share a common story? Well, you should read further for answers to such questions as I take you round Uba town to find out how it feels to take a long jump and appear in another state.
Let’s start from the Adamawa side for a historical excursion to know how the town came about.
I believe the first port of call should be the palace of the traditional ruler, the District Head of Uba. Unable to get my bearing immediately, I asked a commercial motor- cycle rider, popularly known as achaba, to help me get to the District Head’s palace. "Sorry I don't know the way to the district head's palace, I am from Borno State," the motor-cyclist told me. However, I finally got to the District Head's palace and after a warm welcome; my curiosity took the better of me. I wanted to know many things. Why do we have one town in two states? The District Head, Alhaji Yahya Njidda, took me on a historical excursion for a good perspective of the situation.
Calmly, the elderly man counted his words as he narrated the story of his ancestors. "My grandfathers came here and founded this town and named it Uba, which in Arabic means: Victory (in establishing Islam). The head of the clan, Ardo Muhammadu Mola, of the Mallawa Fulani stock, came into what is Adamawa State from Borno Empire during the Sokoto Jihad at the beginning of the 19th century. Ardo Muhammadu Mola, my great-great grand father, saw to the growth of Islam in Uba, which came to be a center of learning even after the Western type of education brought by the colonial masters."
Uba remained a district headquarters in Adamawa Native Authority with 38 wards and villages under its domain until 1976 when the Local Government reforms began to change the political structure of the country. It happened that the District Head at that time was not of the ruling Fulani clan, but from the Marghi ethnic group. The Marghi existed together with the Fulani and other ethnic groups in the area. Yet rivalry would not be ruled out among them. During the carving of the Native Authorities into Local Government Areas and the resultant creation of states, the people of Uba found themselves in the new Borno State. Not all of them thought it was a good choice moving into another state.
After all, there was no formal contact or arrangement to know how about their choices. It seemed that most Marghi people wanted to have a change of scene, but the Fulani people preferred to stay in what was the new Gongola State where they had lived for years "instead of being dominated by the Kanuri." As things turned out, the District Head influenced the movement of Uba District to the new Borno State, which many believed would give the Marghi people more placing politically as there was a large population of their kith and kin there.
However, a section of the Uba District wrote a petition to the then Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed who set up a panel under Justice lrikife to hear out their grievances. As a solution, the panel recommended that Uba District should completely move to Borno State, while Shani District (in Borno State) should relocate to Gongola State. However, Shani people complained that it was not a good idea "coming under the Fulani' and they got their wish.
The Uba community, too, saw that decision by Justice lrikife as not a good idea. The people resolved to send someone every week with their grievances to the Head of State until they got a final solution. Hence, every week they bought a flight ticket to Lagos and sent somebody with their petition.
In addition, they took their campaign to the pages of the leading newspapers at that time especially, the New Nigerian and the Nigerian Standard. At a stage, the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters realized that the people of Uba were a determined lot and the Federal Government decided to give them another chance. A committee under Justice Mamman Nasir visited Uba town and met with the people at the school's playground. The Borno State Government sent a high-powered delegation to the meeting in over 30 vehicles but unfortunately, the Gongola State Government did not send a representative nor show any interest. Justice Mamman Nasir then drew the curtains on the matter by recommending that the highway going through Uba town should be the dividing line between Borno and Gongola States. That decision was regardless of who got more, but a physical landmark was most convenient to settle the matter. About 30 wards and villages went to Borno State, while Gongola State had the remainder of eight.
Since that division 36 years ago, life in Uba town had never been the same. She is like the mother of twins who feels happy in spite of her burden. She gives whatever she has to both babies for the sake of peace. So it is with the two Uba towns. The Uba in Adamawa State is called Uba-Hildi, while the Borno side calls its town Uba-Askira. Politically, psychologically, socio-economically; the people of what used to be one Uba town now belong to two different worlds.
When I got to speaking to some people in the two towns, they altogether believe that the separation has brought faster development than what was expected. Then there was only one secondary school situated in Borno State, but today Adamawa Government brought two standard schools- Government Science Secondary School and Government Secondary School, which serve both Borno and Adamawa States without discrimination. Hitherto, there was only one market in Uba located in Adamawa State but today Uba-Hildi has a cattle market, which operates on Thursdays. On the same day, Uba-Askira operates a produce market (due the agrarian nature of that side).
Both sides have their own motor parks (facing each other) with a bank on the Borno side. Even though both states have police stations, an offender in Borno State could just cross the highway to escape arrest until a long procedure is followed to get him back to where he committed the offence.
Uba community had since 1976 not had the presence of government because one side has its local government headquarters in Askira and the other side had its own at Gombi (over 90 km away) before its present location at Hong (about 70 km away). However, the Adamawa State Government elevated Uba in 2003 to the status of a local government headquarters but this decision was reversed to bring it to the status of a Development Area.
The District Head of Uba in Adamawa State, Alhaji Yahya emphasized that ''but for good governance and understanding between the two communities in Uba, there would have been a strong unhealthy competition between them which would have spelt disaster for us.” He said, "Uba-Borno people have their District Head elevated to a second class status. He lives in Askira (their local government headquarters) and their community looks up to us culturally. They come to us with their problems to solve. With the differences in our living conditions and administrative set-up, we still live as one people.
The highway that was used by the military regime to separate us is only artificial. That borderline would have become a source of conflict for us but by the grace of Allah it is more or less a bridge for us in the two Uba communities." During religious functions such as Id-el-Fitr and Id-el-Kabir (Sallah days) the two communities gather at the Id praying ground (in Uba-Adamawa) for the congregational prayers. The weekly Friday prayer has remained a common ground for the split community.
Culturally, Uba town is made up of two major ethnic groups, the Fulani, and Marghi peoples. With the split into two states, a pattern evolved showing that 90 percent of the Marghi people opted for the movement to Borno, while all the Fulani remained in Adamawa. There is a very strong link between the two peoples through intermarriage. Hardly do you find a family not made up of the two ethnic groups." At the party level, Adamawa’s Uba is dominated by the Peoples Democratic Party, while Uba-Borno is a home to ANPP.
The tale of Uba town dates back to the 19th century and its dissection by the military regime in 1976 may have been just about thirty six years old; but circumstances of history and politics have created a town that is unique in its own way. It remains a town that has remained one community even though a highway cuts it between two states.
The tale of Uba as a community happens to be a long one… for now what we have is a tale of two states.
Credit: Northeast reporter