A journey to Kabi Mango, a village with over 10,000 settlers, four kilometres from Kuje Area Council in the Federal Capital Terrirtory (FCT), along an erosion-ravaged, very rough road, is not only a trip to the unknown but also full of uncertainties.
Uncertainties of robberies along the lonely herdsmen-dominated road, and uncertainties over the kind of reception from the predominantly agrarian villagers, with little or no contact with modern civilisation.
Considering the opulence of the FCT, Abuja, as Nigeria’s seat of power, it would be unthinkable that a village without motorable road, electricity, potable water, telecommunication network and functional health facilities still exists in the nation’s capital, let alone the whole of Nigeria.
A journey to Kabi Mango, only convenient through motorcycle, popularly called okada, would throw up a ramshackle village surrounded by the affluence of the FCT. However, Kabi can only discomfort visitors, not natives that have lived there for decades and still counting. They have not enjoyed the comfort of social amenities and never see their lack as a source of serious concern.
For the villagers, so long as the stream continues to flow, regardless of whether it is polluted by the cattle, so long as the kerosene lamp and other means of illumination remain accessible, so long as they get telecom network signals standing under trees, and so long as okada continues to transport them from one point to the other, life continues.
For Kabi natives, civilisation never threatens their love for their deity, Ashama, which guarantees bountiful harvest, gives children to childless women, provides sufficient rainfall, restores the dignity of women in tabooing prostitution and ultimately protects them from any external aggression, so the belief goes.
Although Kabi, an settlement of over 10,000 dwellers, has only one church and mosque, it remains a village where the traditional ruler, Gomo, and the deity, Ashama, exercise supreme authorities in resolving issues like marriage, divorce and adultery, among others.
Just as Pentecostal churches avoided the village, the Nigeria Police equally abandoned the police post in the village; and telecommunication outfits have not showed up in the village for efficient calls and browsing.
In fact, but for the school built by the FCT Universal Basic Education Board, the insufficient hand-operated boreholes, generators as the ‘modern’ source of electricity supply, the ECWA Church, the mosque, and rickety vehicles braving the rough roads, contemporary clothes, and a few other elements of modernity, Kabi Mango, named after a giant mango tree at the market square in the village, would have been a typical example of a 21st century cave dwellers’ enclave.
Life and living in Kabi
Despite all the shortcomings in social amenities, those thinking that relocating Kabi natives is an option must be day-dreamers as they have resigned to fate waiting for government and divine intervention to change their narrative.
Speaking to a Daily Sun correspondent who visited the village, head teacher of the only school in the area, Wakili Dantali Musa, ruled out the possibility of the villagers leaving Kabi, stating with a note of finality that they have become used to life there.
Wakili, who gave a guided tour of the village, said: “We don’t have any option than to continue with the life we have now gotten used to. From my childhood, there has never been any government presence in this village. We grew up without electricity, potable water or motorable road, among other social amenities.
“We have made several appeals to government but they have always fallen on deaf ears. We met our ancestors in darkness and have continued to live in darkness till date. People have asked us why we can’t relocate to another place, but we cannot leave our ancestral land for any other place.
“Again, it is not going to be easy to relocate to another area because our main occupation is farming. Everywhere in Abuja has been occupied. If land-grabbers could take over our land here in this village even without our consent, where then will be free for us to relocate and occupy?
“Nobody is willing, especially now that we are fighting our biggest threat to reclaim our land from grabbers almost taking over our only source of livelihood. We have been in this village for over 100 years but a few persons now claim that our land belongs to them.
“They have forcefully seized our lands with highly connected persons collecting over 100 acres, claiming that the FCT authorities approved the parcels for them. In fact, they have almost fenced the whole land to stop our people from farming on them.”
The teacher added that: “There is poverty in the land now because these grabbers have overtaken the villagers’ only means of survival. Many of our children have dropped out of school because parents can no longer farm to sustain their schooling. The village is into subsistence farming but we sell farm products like yam, plantain, rice, maize and guinea corn.”
Strong cultural/traditional institutions
For the greater number of Kabi people, confessing Jesus Christ or Mohammed does not ultimately guarantee entry into Paradise because they are, perhaps, subordinate to the Ashama masquerade and deity. Serving Ashama means future security, survival and blessings.
Another villager, Kabi Garba, while confirming the veracity, dominance and strength of Ashama, said: “We have a uniting cultural institution in this village celebrated every November. The name of the cultural festival is Ashama. Ashama is a masquerade, a strong deity and the god of bumper harvest.
“It is celebrated in anticipation of a rewarding harvest for the farmers. The celebration started over 100 years ago with our ancestors. The celebration is always a crowd-puller as our sons and daughters at home and in diaspora usually join the fiesta.
“Drums are rolled out during the weeklong merriment with the villagers drinking and dancing. The standing rule is that no marriage will be contracted during the duration of the celebration. Admirers can meet and start a relationship but can never contract marriage that time. Disobedience to the rule comes with dare consequences.
“Ashama equally doubles as the deity and god of harvest. The farmers petition it at the beginning of the farming season for bumper harvest. As a god, Ashama is the final arbiter in cases like adultery and many other traditional crises. Ashama is so strong that any woman who sees its nakedness must have miscarriage if she gets pregnant unless she appeases the god.”
Conversion to Christianity
For the Kabi, conversion to Christianity is a remote possibility that not even the presence of the only orthodox church, ECWA, could threaten their strong affinity with Ashama. According to Wakili, “It has been very difficult for the villagers to be converted to Christianity because they are at home with their traditional worship. Most Christians in this village are foreigners.”
“There is only one church here attended majorly by Tiv settlers, and one mosque in the entire village. The people are happy with their traditional worship. The villagers are even afraid of destroying the deity for fear of vengeance from the oracle.
“Understandably, the benefits from the god are enormous. They have assurance of adequate rainfall, child to the barren women, and they usually name the child Tanko or Ashama for a child delivered during the celebration of Ashama.
“The god also protects the villagers from external aggression, and more importantly guarantee them bumper harvests. Life in the village revolves around superstition,” he said.
Perhaps to increase the population of the village, requirements for the young men getting married are not difficult in any way. Until recently when the stakes went up, a man with as little as N20 was as good as married.
Explaining what it takes to marry, Wakili said: “Although things are changing now, in the past, the tradition was for a man to spot a lady he wants to marry and visit her family to declare his intention. If the lady accepts the marriage proposal, the man pays either N10 or N20 as kolanut to confirm his interest.
“If the girl is mature enough, the parents would allow her follow the man that same day to start a relationship. If she gets pregnant, the day she would deliver would mark the real beginning of the marriage. The bride’s family would arrange for the members of the family to meet their in-laws.
“This mode of traditional marriage still exists, with some adjustments of some paying as high as N20,000 because mothers now insist on having enough money to entertain friends and relatives and buy some items for daughters to settle down.”
Expectedly, in a small village with few distractions, cases of divorce have been minimal, especially when the couple involved are helpless in an issue over which the traditional ruler has the final say.
“Divorce cases have really minimised most recently, unlike in the past when one of the couples just decides to end the marriage despite the intervention of the parents. All divorce cases end at the palace of our traditional ruler. He is the supreme authority and has the final say on all divorce matters,” Wakili said.
Strong abhorrence for prostitution, adultery
With strong consequences from the deity, the fear of the vengeance of the god is the beginning of wisdom for any lady inclined towards prostitution or promiscuity.
“It is impossible for any women to get involved in any act of prostitution because it comes with strong consequences from the god,” Wakili noted, adding: “We have strong superstition in this village that attempting prostitution is suicidal.
“We (believe) that any child gotten through adultery must die if the mother does not confess and appease the deity. It still exists till date, we don’t try the god,” he added.
Drinking polluted stream water
Kabi, till date, remains a village where residents and cattle drink from the same stream called Dodo. “Before the sinking of the two manual boreholes now serving majority of our water needs, the only source of water was the stream, Dodo,” Garba said. “Due to combination of factors, many villagers still prefer using the stream to waiting long on the queue for the borehole water.
“The major source of water here is from the stream even though herdsmen now derive joy taking their cattle to also drink from the same stream. The villagers don’t mind because the stream is flowing not stagnant and we have never had any water-borne disease.”
Electricity and motorable roads
Unless there is affirmative intervention, it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the village to be provided with electricity. The reasons range from the distance to the financial implications on the villagers.
“Unfortunately, the village has no solution to the problem of electricity because the project is above our capacity. Even the one that stopped about several kilometres to the village was through the efforts of farm owners and the land-grabbers. So, the truth is that we cannot do anything about electricity for now. We have gotten used to using lanterns, generators and other local sources of light.
“If there is any pressing request we want to make to the FCT authority, fixing the road is our priority. With good roads, we can transport the farm produce. It can also help in making the village secure by improving the communication with the security agents,” Wakili said.
Like the issues of the road and electricity, enjoying effective telecommunication service has been an impossible dream for the Kabi. A teacher in the school who spoke in confidence said: “There is only one inefficient network. It fluctuates but sometimes it stabilises, making calls under a particular tree possible. The truth is that it has not been easy communicating, just as browsing here is impossibile.”
Clashes with herdsmen in
Apart from the cold war between the villagers and land-grabbers, clashes between the villagers and herdsmen are taking a worrisome dimension.
According Wakili, this has become a regular occurrence, especially this year.
“The battle for supremacy came to a head recently when Fulani herdsmen uprooted yams already planted from the heaps and even made it difficult for the villagers to replace them.
“We have plantain farms in large quantity but the herdsmen have destroyed them, making it difficult for the villagers to raise money to train their children in school. The fighting has continued despite interventions from the traditional rulers and heads of the Fulani community,” he said.
Abandoned police post and incessant robbery attacks
Left at the mercy of frequent herdsmen’s attack and robbers maiming and killing the defenceless settlers without the protection from the security agencies, it takes grace and a big heart to live in Kabi.
“The police post built in 2014 has been abandoned since then,” Wakili lamented. “They told us that they lack manpower. We appealed to the Federal Government, through the former Minister of the FCT, but nothing has been done in terms of bringing policemen to use the unoccupied office building. We were happy when police authorities came here last year, but that was all we could see and hear about the police.
“If we had any other place, we would have all left this village when robbery attacks became unbearable. They would operate along the road for several hours and even visit the villagers from house to house collecting anything they like.
“They are mostly Fulani people. They would kill during robbery and even beat up teachers, which resulted in many of them rejecting their posting to this village.
“However, the frequency at which the robbers lay siege on the village has reduced since we constituted a vigilante group comprising the young men.”