Call it Baruwa, Serti or Gashaka, you will be addressing the same place. This town in Taraba State, founded in the 1940s following the outbreak of a plague has witnessed exponential growth. Daily Trust digs into the mystery of the town’s many names and its changing faces over the years.
Along Bali and Gembu Road in Taraba State lies the sleepy town of Serti, which is often called the Gateway to Mambilla, it’s more illustrious neighbour.
But there is more to Serti also known as Baruwa, than just being neighbours with a more famous location. It is the headquatres of Gashaka Local Government Area and hosts the seat of the Gashaka chiefdom.
But unlike most towns and settlements, Baruwa did not evolve organically. It was founded in the 1940s as a refuge for people fleeing a plague in Gashaka.
According to history, founders of the town, led by the then traditional ruler, left Gashaka, located in the interior part of chiefdom to Baruwa, a settlement some kilometres north of present day Serti after their home had been devastated by the disease.
An elderly person, Mallam Yakubu, told Daily Trust that, just as it is common in the history of most towns and communities’ movement and migration, Baruwa town went through this process.
Another elderly person, Alhaji Bala Baruwa said apart from the outbreak of a diseases there were other factors that led to the relocation.
He explained that the former settlement was in the interior and had no accessible road, therefore Serti was found to be more ideal for expansion and further development.
The chief of Gashaka, Alhaji Zubairu Hamangabdo told Daily Trust in his palace that Baruwa is a plain of fertile land and was the area that Serti inhabitants used as farmland before the relocation.
‘’Our people carried their farming activities in Baruwa area and later they moved and stayed permanently in Baruwa,” he said.
The movement from old Gashaka to Serti and Baruwa was why Baruwa town has triple names.
The town has grown over the years since the relocation. The construction of Bali-Gembu Road, which runs through Baruwa town had also attracted more people from the remote part of the chiefdom to settle in Baruwa.
A resident of Serti, Danilami Chindo explained that the location of Baruwa was more ideal because of vast land and water.
He said Baruwa has grown from a small agrarian town in the ’50s with many factors contributing to this growth.
The encouragement of the traditional rulers and the kindness and accommodating nature of the people, he said, has led to this.
“We never witness any form of conflict here in Baruwa and the traditional rulers of the town the chief of Gashaka has always preached peace among the resident,” Bulus James, a resident, said.
One chief of Gashaka, the late Alhaji Muhammadu Sambo, has been credited with playing a crucial role in setting the tempo for the growth of the town.
During his reign, the first church was established in the town. And in 1953, the town got its first primary school, an airstrip and a police barrack.
During the reign of his son, the late Hammangabdo, Serti got a barrack for the 20 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, something that would change the outlook of the town forever.
The presence of the soldiers in the town brought different ethnic groups into Baruwa, making the town more cosmopolitan. It also boosted economic activities in the town as businesses opened to carter to the need of the soldiers.
Hundreds of these soldiers have decided to make Serti home, long after they have retired from service.
A few meters from the 20 Battalion Barracks, a Retired Army Quarters has sprung up and is now home to the many soldiers who have chosen to retire in Serti. Many of them have engaged in farming and have found ways of contributing and making a livelihood in the town.
A retired soldier, Samuel Okon, said he was from Cross Rivers and retired a few years back.
“I built my house here and I am staying with my family. I own a big farm across the road and I am farming all year round,” he said.
But beyond hosting soldiers and policemen, Gashaka hosts a huge animal population.
The Gashaka Gumti National park, upgraded from a games reserve, boasts the biggest animal population and landmass in the entire West Africa and has also contributed to the town’s growth with tourists from across Nigeria and abroad troop in.
It was during the reign of Hamman Gabdo that Gashaka Local Government was created with headquarters at Serti.
The First secondary school was also established during his era and subsequently more government schools as well as private ones were established to accommodate the children of the residents.
The present Chief, Alhaji Zubair Hamman Gabdo, a journalist by profession before ascending the throne of his late father, told Daily that his fore fathers that established the chiefdom had worked very hard in uniting the people and encouraging the subjects to embrace farming and commerce.
He said all the movement from the old Gashaka to Serti and to Baruwa was done with the common goal of attaining greatness in all spheres.
He said the Fulani and the Jibawa, the main tribes in the chiefdom had coexisted in harmony over the years, leading to peaceful atmosphere that has attracted other tribes to Baruwa.
At the Serti Main market, located some meters away from the palace of chief of Gashaka, our correspondent met traders who owned big shops and plazas, some of whom were not natives of the town.
A woman, Mrs Chioma, who hails from Enugu State, said she and her husband started a petty business a few years back in the town but now have two big shops.
She explained that Serti is their second home because nobody discriminates against them.
“The people here are accommodating and friendly. We do our business without threat or intimidation from anyone,” Chioma said.
She said she would want a situation where all Nigerians irrespective of their religious or ethnic background would be given equal opportunity to live and pursue their business in any part of the country as it is in Baruwa.
The business of special wood, called the Madrid Tree, which found good market in Asia and is very common in the forest around Serti, had also attracted hundreds of people into Serti within the last few years.
Our findings revealed that business in Madrid Wood had added more value both in fortune making and population growth to Baruwa.
It is a common sight to see trailers loaded with Madrid Wood making their way out of Baruwa daily.
There is also the flourishing business in precious stones. The surrounding forest and mountains offer opportunities to miners to dig gem stones of different local and international value.
Gashaka has a lot going for it. It’s honey, highly rated, draws connoisseurs of sweetness and medicines to the town, while the trade in hide and skin draws Yoruba and Igbo traders.
Apart from this, hundreds of people affected by communal conflicts in Sardauna, Takum, Wukari all in Taraba State and others from states in the Northeast have found a haven in Serti. All these have made Serti one of the fastest growing towns in Taraba.
The Chief of Gashaka, a First Class Monarch, Alhaji Zubairu Hamman Gabdo explained that his main focus is to further consolidate on the peace his late Father had worked for throughout his reign by encouraging peace and harmony among people residing not only in Baruwa town but in the entire domain.
“We never recorded any conflict, be it communal or otherwise, and that is why more people are coming to reside here,” he said.
But despite this rapid growth, there is only one bank in the town. This serves neighbouring towns and settlements in the area. This, and the fact that there is no tertiary institution in the town has hampered further the growth of the town. But perhaps the worst blow to Serti is the fact that the town does not have power from the national grid.
While this has hampered economic growth of Serti, today, this town, founded by people fleeing a disease is now a thriving home for many tribes from across the country.
And like its traditional stool, which has grown from a district and was later upgraded to a traditional council status, third class, second class and now a to first class stool, the people who call this place home hope it will climb the ladder quickly and become a first class town.