Gwanara district is a town in Baruten local government area of Kwara State, and it is the major border town of Nigeria sharing a boundary with the Benin Republic. The Nigeria Benin border covers a distance of 700kms of which nearly 400kms is within Baruten in Kwara State, and Baruten has two main international entry points and border posts with the Republic of Benin, namely: Tikanda and Bukuro.
While the Tikanda route in the north has been developed, the Bukuro zone remains neglected, in spite of the appeal by the people of the area over the years to the relevant authority.
A visit to the area shows how neglected the people are and also revealed their feeling of being treated like second class citizens in their own country, especially when they compare their lives with that of their neighbors from the Republic of Benin.
Ilesha Baruba is another big town close to Gwanara in Kwara State, and the distance between them is 33km. The state government has been budgeting for its construction every year without any work on the road.
One of the residents of Gwanara and a retired environmental health officer, Umar Musa Sara who spoke to Daily Trust during a visit to the village, narrated their ordeal and prayed that government remembers them and puts an end to their nightmare on the road, adding that since the creation of Kwara state 50 years ago, nothing has been done on the road.
The road from Ilesha Baruba, Gwanara to the other end which is Bukuro, usually becomes worse, especially during the rainy season and the economy of all the communities here is usually paralysed, because no vehicle or even motorcycle can pass along the road during that period. Pedestrians usually encounter problems moving on the road too.
“Since the creation of Kwara state, there has never been a time when they constructed or repaired the road. We have not really seen presence of government on our road. Our economy is in shambles, and as a result, would be customers are always scared to come to this area because of our road. We have met with the state government several times and we have written many letters of complaint, but nothing was forthcoming. Our Emir sent memos to the state and federal government, but nothing yet. Both federal and the state governments are losing greatly when you consider what is going out and coming in through our community.
“For the federal government, when you look at it, from Northern Togo, Northern Cote D’Ivoire, Northern Ghana and Northern Republic of Benin, the route is direct to Nigeria and especially to Ilorin, the Kwara state capital ,and if you see the economic activities flowing every day both day and night, one will know that the federal government is really losing on this road. If the road is constructed, both the state and federal government will enjoy through revenue generation, Sara said.
According to Sara, “over N5 million is being lost monthly as a result of the bad road. There is no week that we dont record casualties on this road, with various degrees of injuries, especially during the rainy season.”
Another resident of the area, Nurudeen Oseni Gwanara, who lamented bitterly said the road which is 55kms to the Benin Republic border and 33kms to the federal high way from Ilesha Baruba, said it is a painful experience coming or going out of the village, especially during the rainy season.
He said, we have had several casualties on the road, but the state government has been promising to do it and budgeting for the road every year, but nothing is forthcoming. They awarded the contract for which the contractor came and started work few months back, but absconded after sometime . The portion they did is less than 4kms out of the 33kms to this village. The community through our effort has tried severally to make things work out but to no avail. It is beyond what the community can handle.
“We have a lot of markets here and 54 different communities around us, while people come from far and near to buy our farm produce. More than 85 percent of our people are farmers and our products are in every market in the whole of the South west, and even some in every part of the country. Most of the yam flour eaten in Nigeria is majorly produced by our people.
“We appeal to the federal and state governments to come to our aid and construct the road. We also solicit the help of philanthropists to assist us ,if government wont listen to our pleas, and put the road into proper shape for us.”
The first statement from Muhammed Nurudeen Bio when he saw our correspondent was “You are very lucky that you came during the dry season, if you had come during rainy season, you may have turned back mid way or better still you come in with motorcycles from Ilesha Baruba of 33kms to this place, because the road is not motorable at all during the rainy season .The little portion that motorcycles ply is done by the community through the community levy we taxed ourselves.
“As an agrarian community we have the highest number of cashew plantations in the whole of Nigeria and we have the best species of cashew, but we find it difficult transporting our goods, and the products will be kept round the year without seeing people coming to buy them because of the bad road ,and at the end, it gets spoilt at home. If the road is good, it will ease our movement and boost the economy of the state.
“At a particular point on this road, six vehicles had an accident here and the victims sustained various degrees of injuries. We have a Sunday market in Ingurumi and vehicles going to the market usually fall at the spot I told you, six vehicles had accidents and the victims were rushed to Shaki hospitals for treatment.
“Presently, even though i cannot confirm its authenticity I learnt ECOWAS is constructing the Benin Republic road that links to Nigeria, with a modern bridge on the river Nano that separated us from them. If it is true, we are appealing to the government to also come to our own aid through ECOWAS and construct our own road too. If this road is constructed, the economy of the state will increase, because the revenue generated from this part of the state is really assisting the state, but unfortunately, we are not getting anything in return.”
The people at the Sunday market expressed bitterness over what they described as unfair treatment by the state and federal governments.
One of the sellers at the market, Jubril Saliu said there is no day one plies the road that their blood pressure will not rise.
“Whenever you are plying the road, your blood pressure usually rises, and the prayer is always to get to wherever you are going safely. Our products are now very expensive because of the exorbitant transport fare we pay to motorists. There is no vehicle that will come here that will not visit mechanic after, and this cost is always passed to us, Saliu said.
One of the market women, Mrs Falilat Ayilara said “we are suffering a lot and food comes in through many ways into this area, but we dont have motorable roads. Most of our customers have deserted us because of the road. Even when we go out with the little we can to appeal to them to come and patronize us, they will say they won’t come because of the bad road. That is making us backward, and there is no meaningful development. Government should please remember us and do something about the road. They should repair the road and extend power to our area to all communities around here. The road should be constructed up till the border and light should be extended to Bukuro. There is no peace for us here.”
Also speaking is one of the leaders at the market, Alhaji Musa Riyo, who said they have cried out but nobody seems to be bothered about their plight, or listens to their pleas, adding that even though, the Kwara State government started from Baruten early this year ,but it stopped along the line.
“We have spoken to government severally but nothing is forthcoming, but now we will be praying to the Almighty for them to remember that some people are existing here because we are suffering, and it is not all of us that will move to the city centre.If we do, who will remain in the rural areas to do the farming that will produce our foods. I can’t believe that at this time and age people are still living in this type of condition, we are living where there is no access road in an agrarian society like this. It is terrible. If governments pay attention to us and open up this area we can feed the whole nation. The Republic of Benin is not as rich as Nigeria but they are better off than us. The border communities especially in Kwara State are neglected.
“Repair of a section belonging to the Benin Republic is giving Nigeria a bad image and we are even ashamed as citizens of this country, because the people of Benin Republic usually mock us and say Nigeria, that is the giant of Africa and wealthy, look at how bad their road is. The moment you cross the river Okpara which is our boundary with the republic of Benin. The river bears two names, in Nigeria we call it river Nano while Benin republic people call it river Okpara and they already constructed a bridge on it from their own end, and the moment they cross over to Nigeria, they will start insulting us.
“We call on Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara State and President Muhammadu Buhari to come in on the issue of our road, and do what is necessary. Even if they dont care about the people living around there, they should because of the revenue they will generate from here, come and construct the road for us. For the first time in Nigeria and the history of Kwara, let them come and see us, and see what we are going through on our road, he pleaded.
River Nano which separates Bukuro in Nigeria from Kasuwan Allah in Benin Republic, it was learnt claimed about 33 lives of children going to school in Benin Republic, which prompted the Beninoise President to come up with idea of the bridge after bringing in some relief materials to them, as well as life jackets and new boats for the people crossing the river.
Although, the traditional ruler of Gwanara, the Kotokotogi II, Emir of Gwanara, Alhaji Sabi A. Idris who was not present during the visit of Daily Trust to the area, it was learnt has also written series of letters of appeal to government on the issue of the road. The Emir in those letters made available to this reporter appealed to the federal government to include the Gwanara Bukuro road as one of the important rural roads linking Nigeria not only to the Republic of Benin, but also as a transit route to Togo, Ghana and Burkina Faso.
The Sunu Gofe of Bukuro, Aliyu Issa in his own reaction said the journey of less than 30 minutes from Gwanara to Bukuro takes many hours and that is cutting them off from Nigeria, and the more reason they prefer to access medical attention and education in Benin Republic.
We dont even feel welcome in Kwara State where we belong because reaching the state capital is hell for us, but in less than an hour we are already at Benin Republic, and we feel more comfortable going there than going to any nearby Nigeria town because of the bad road, he said.
Even though, they feel rejected as Nigerians, the hope that something good will happen soon enveloped the people of the area with the visit of journalists to the area.