Ubale Ibrahim, a commercial driver plying Askira-Uba to Maiduguri is one of the few persons that have survived the terrorist attacks along Maiduguri-Damboa road in Borno State, North East Nigeria.
For over four years since the road was declared open after being closed for over 13 months, he transported passengers through that road. For all those years, he was lucky to not be a victim of any of the attacks that took place. Until one fateful morning in December last year.
As he transported five passengers in a Volkswagen vehicle locally known as Sharon, he saw some cars and trucks on the Damboa road, lined up and waiting for security clearance.
“After about an hour of waiting, we got the green light, meaning the road was safe. As we passed, we saw a car burning on the road. Apparently, it had run over a mine explosion,” said Ibrahim.
He was unaware that his own tragedy lurked just a few seconds ahead even as he and his passengers sympathised with the victims of the burning car.
He stepped on a mine explosion, too.
“I found myself conscious at a clinic in Damboa with a lucky passenger. The remaining four passengers in the vehicle died from the explosion.”
‘My hand was fractured but after a few weeks in the hospital, I was discharged. Till today, there are certain things I cannot do with my hand.”
Many months after the terrifying experience, Ibrahim has not returned to the road.
“I don’t even want to have anything to do with that road. However, I cannot leave the business of driving because it is the business I have been doing for a long time, but I have abandoned that road for good. As you can see, I am waiting for my passengers for Taraba, that is the lane I am doing my business now.”
The deadly road
Since the Boko Haram insurgence began in 2009, Maiduguri-Damboa remains one of the most dangerous roads in Borno State.
Terrorists usually ambush travellers, killing and kidnapping many. Despite the presence of security operatives at some strategic areas of the road to keep travellers safe, the terrorists continued to carry out their deadly activities.
The road is the shortest route to various parts of Borno through Damboa. It serves three towns and a dozen communities.
It was first deserted and subsequently closed after the Boko Haram insurgents captured Damboa Local Government and hoisted their flag there in July 2014. It was later reopened in Feb. 2016.
In Nov. 2018, the 187-kilometre road was closed for 13 months by the Nigerian Army to enable troops to contain the road attacks of the Boko Haram terrorist group. It was, however, reopened after several pleas by the governor of the state.
For Ibrahim, his experience was his seamy side of life and he hoped that the appropriate authorities would take adequate measures to make the road safer for people.
Damboa is popular for fruits and vegetables business. It is one of the biggest suppliers of fruits and vegetables for Borno.
However, the lack of safe roads is killing businesses. A businessman who simply identified himself as Bana expressed worry over the incessant attacks on the road by terrorists.
“I am very sad with the way things are moving, but what can I do? We can only pray for God Almighty to bring us ease. Without this road, the only alternative for us to transport our goods is through Chibok to Uba to Michika to Gwoza to Bama before Maiduguri, you can imagine the distance.
“We have already suffered enough, the conflict has already done enough damage to our wealth, now that we are ready to bounce back, the least the government can do for us is to ensure a safe and conducive atmosphere for us to thrive,” Bana laments.
On his part, Ishaku Adamu, a motorist on the Chibok-Damboa-Maiduguri route told our reporter that he has seen it all on the road. He misses the epoch when he could wake up at any time and hit the road without any restriction or fear of attacks.
Today, that luxury is a mere fantasy.
“Each day the road is opened for motorists, it is a race against the marauding terrorists lurking in the thick bushes waiting for unsuspecting travellers to devour.
“The road has been dilapidated for years, giving the terrorists the leverage to easily ambush travellers and security personnel on the road. There is an urgent need to rehabilitate the road to allow for smooth travel on the road.”
A trip from Damboa to Maiduguri costs an average of N2,500 but alternative routes cost an average of N10,000, a trend causing hardship for commuters.
At the time this report was filed, over 20 trucks transporting goods to Maiduguri are left stranded on the road as they await security operatives’ clearance.
A truck driver who spoke under anonymity alleged that the military has turned the road into their cash cow as the security situation of the road has been commercialised.
“Every time, cars are forced to pay N500 each and N1,000 for each truck driver. We are fed up with all these, let the military free the road for travellers to use. I left Uba with these goods hoping to reach Maiduguri on the same day only to find out that the road has been closed. I have nowhere to sleep, I had to buy food all this while, you can only imagine how much it has cost me for the five days that I have been here, I am really angry.”
Speaking with our reporter, Ibrahim Mafa, a Director in the Ministry of works in Borno said the state government is committed to renovating the road as soon as it is safe to rehabilitate.
“The executive governor of Borno State, Prof. Babagana Umara Zulum has proposed the rehabilitation of the road in this year’s budget and hopefully, the work will be done.”
Jibrin Kolo Adamu is a 2023 HumAngle Accountability Fellow from Borno, Nigeria.
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