|Dog meat Sellers at Kugiya|
Kugiya is the Hausa translation of the name of a hoisting tool, the hook. How did the word, “hook,” come to be used to refer to a rendezvous of fun-seekers?
A conglomeration of old, dirty shacks subsist opposite the Central Store of the old, defunct Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria (ATMN) and some two hundred and fifty meters south of the Bukuru Railway station. Of course, ATMN was the European mining company that engaged the earth of Plateau State for, perhaps, close to a century, ending in the 1980s.
We have been told that Europe built the oldest internet, better known as the railway, to satisfy its economic cravings. Thus the railway that inter-links the different locations of Nigeria has, at this very point, a diversion into ATMN’s Central Store in the town of Bukuru. The aim of the diversion was to bring the heavy equipments and machinery vital for the operations of the company into its Central Store. Hence it became imperative to have a hoisting mechanism at the very point. It explains why there is an old steel mast supporting a pulley system at the end of which hangs an awesome steel hook.
The very hook, for decades, lifted and lowered tons of heavy components of earth-moving machines into Central Store from Europe and thousands of tons of tin and columbite that went in the opposite direction. This huge steel ware that aided the European economic interest became a token with which the shanty, across the railway came to be known.
As they say, “old habits die hard.” In the face of the strong presence of modernity, the people have been able to hold on to native lifestyles in one way or the other. The drinking of local native African liquor named burkutu is one habit that has defied modernity through the ages. Kugiya is one of the many fountains of burkutu across the whole of Plateau state, home of a spectrum of cultures and a microcosm of Nigeria. Without the fear of contradiction, one can say that Kugiya remains a paradox of the most famous and notorious burkutu joints in Nigeria, not just Plateau State.
What makes Kugiya famous? It is a summit of fun. Happiness is the most important fuel that drives life. Without it, life may cease to have meaning, grinding to a halt or people may cease to live and just exist. Fun can sometimes be difficult to find though; it can be expensive. Kugiya however, offers the opportunity for the poor of the poor to find happiness. Considering that the poor and weak are in the majority, this underscores the justification for the survival of Kugiya.
The things that make Kugiya notorious are huge and skewed disproportionately against its benefits. It hosts what one may refer to as an extremism of the burden of groveling conditions for humans. The drink, dog meat and pork are not the problem but the conditions in which they come, get prepared and served. The dogs are often what Jamaicans will call “maga dogs:” diseased, famished and unattractive. Often, the pigs slaughtered there are the worst, the unconfined ones that breed around dirty gutters and putrefying human remains. Since there are hardly any toilet facilities in Kugiya, the unusual gallons of urine that should be expected from people on a drinking extravaganza have to be “channeled” in the poor drainages that work to inhibit flow rather than aid it. The result is the foulest stench in the air of Kugiya all year round with occasional relief at times of heavy down-poor. I leave the picture of solid human waste management to your imagination. Kugiya is also home to lunatics and destitute who share the afternoons and evenings with the sane. There are also hoodlums and junkies who find the place most convenient.
These are the fundamental issues that have come to accentuate the squalor and undesirability of the locality. In my travels, there is only one place that came close to Kugiya: Artillery in Bori Camp, Port Harcourt.
Against all these challenges, these citizens find the place the most attractive of all places. This is due to their mindset, shaped by the simplicity of where they have been, what they have seen and what they have heard.
People can be schooled in the classroom but also by what they see, day in day out. If the hosts and their guests in Kugiya are head-over-heals in love with the place as a result of modesty in pride, little or lack of education, then they can be educated by coercion to live constantly in decency and get accustomed to it; it is in their own interest and the interest of society. Good human behavior comes through compulsion by laws. Once they get used to decency, they will never settle for anything less. Only the powerful machinery of government can bring this fundamental change in state of the mind.
On the 19th of August, the Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, demonstrated a remarkable show of meekness by leading his glamorous convoy into the slum of Kugiya. It was an event that put the contrasting extremes of human dignity shoulder to shoulder: glamour on one hand and drabness on the other. The governor stood in the center of a crowd of his own men and excited subjects. His eyes carefully went round until he completed a circle of inspection after which he announced that he will set up a committee to evaluate the buildings, that the owners will then be compensated, that bulldozers will then set out, that Kugiya will then become history… forever. The implication is that the destitute, urchins, vermin and the businesses in Kugiya will go.
I went to Kugiya a day after the biggest proclamation regarding its fate was made to weigh their feelings. Comrade Emmanuel George is the Chairman of Kugiya Market. He only talked about how happy the people were to receive the first citizen of the state as he could not get close enough to hear what the governor had to say. Security men kept them away from the Governor by a reasonable distance. Only press men, who swarmed the governor, heard him. Those who care about news heard it the next day.
Governor Jonah Jang refers to the last two years of his administration in Plateau State as “injury time” during which contractors must throttle softly as he wouldn’t want to leave any project without completion. The implication is that, come what may, the place where Kugiya currently stands will be replaced by something more glamorous, an extension of city renewal, an indication that things are changing.