Isa Ibi fishes within the Bakassi peninsula in Cross River State. We stand at the beach and look towards Cameroon,and he tells me that with the ceding of parts of the peninsula to Cameroon, the latter country now has possession of the more fertile fishing areas where catfish abound, and this is to the disadvantage of Nigeria. He was born in Ogoja to a Hausa father who was in the army, and a mother from Ogoja. From birth he was destined to be multicultural in thought and action, and just like his father he married from outside Hausaland. His partner is Habiba Isa nee Nkechi, an Igbo lady from Anambra State, and his is a heterogeneous home, with the children speaking Hausa and some of the languages in Cross Rivers state.
He comments “They speak Hausa, the Efuk dialect as well as English. I wouldn’t mind if my children marry from here just as I did. They have my blessings. My wife is now a Muslim. After marriage she converted to Islam,” he explains. Bala Ibi also lives in the peninsula. “I was born at Ogoja in 1972. My father was a fisherman from Ibi in Taraba state, and he married Regina, a lady hailing from Ogoja who became my mother. With marriage she converted to Islam and became known as Aisha. My wife, Maryam Bala, is from Akwa Ibom. I did exactly what my father did in Ogoja, by marrying a lady who is not even Hausa. My four sons may eventually follow my example. I believe that they may marry from here too,” he says with some enthusiasm.
At Bakassi, Daily Trust also comes across Samaila Mohammed, Zakari Abdul,and Saidu Umaru who all have wives who either hail from Bakassi, or from other states in the South South, or South East. Like Isa above, they are bringing up children in multicultural homes. In Bakassi, many of the Hausa fishermen own houses which they built after paying for land which they bought from the community.
One evening in Ndoni ,Rivers state Daily Trust comes across two lady’s who are married to Hausa fishermen. They are both wearing Hijabs. Hadiza Mohammed, nee Rita Nwadunugu, who hails from Anambra state is one of them and she is married to Iliya Salihu, Treasurer of the Hausa community. The other is Aisha Sani, formerly Felicia Ajie. Aisha Sani’s husband is Sani Usman, Chairman of the Hausa community in Ndoni. She tells me with some laughter, that she was at the beach one evening some years ago. All of a sudden she saw the man who later became her husband setting out to fish, and she fell in love with him. This was about the year 1989 and they were married in 1990. By 1992 she had accepted Islam. In Asaba Ase, an Isoko community in Delta State, Daily Trust is told of ‘some level of intermarriage. My brother married a lady from Asaba Ase ,but he is late now.About three or four Hausa men among us have married Isoko women, but they have all travelled along with their wives.” At Odi in Bayelsa state there are today some thirty fishermen, with most of them hailing from Kebbi State. Sanusi Sodangi arrived Odi fifteen years ago, and he points out that unlike similar communities in the state, none of the fishermen has married from the Odi community, so far.In AnaEze, Mudi Mohammed comments “Four Hausa fishermen married from the locality,while the rest of us married Hausa women.But many of the Igbo wives have travelled to nearby communities.”
Deep in the South South and along the banks of huge rivers, can be found groups of Hausa fishermen. From AnaEze and Ndoni to Asaba Ase, Odi, Kaiama, including Bakassi in Cross River and Eket in Akwa Ibom, for example, these simple men are a growing population. They have a sense of adventure and rich knowledge of aquatic life and they also come with goodwill and home grown fishing practices. With mastery of the movement of water and wind, they are poised to fish in every river and they have. Some of them hail from fishing families in Argungu, Kebbi State, while others are from similar families in Ibi in Taraba State, and there are some from Nasarawa as well as Niger State. A significant number have fished all the way from Argungu following the course of Nigeria’s big and small rivers, to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, Shuaibu Mohammed, secretary of the Hausa community in Ndoni, tells me. Others have rowed along a stretch from Yola in Adamawa State, and fished all the way through the Niger Delta to the Atlantic, with some crossing into Cameroon and Gabon. Theirs is a life filled with adventure, danger, passion and fun. Mohammed adds with a knowing look in his eyes, that in addition to being an expert diver, he has fished for sharks and dolphins in the waters around Equatorial Guinea. They have not only married from the local community, they have also developed a keen interest in the many rivers within which they fish and support their families. Many can speak of a time when the river produced more fish than it does now. They say that the rivers are now shallow and that the fish have moved further off. In a sense they know the history of the river over the past 40 years, for instance. But when the fishing season is over, many of the men turn to various other trades such as tailoring and grocery, which they temporarily leave when the season begins again. A group of men can be found who make fishing nets and other tools. The ‘Guru’ is easily the most popular fishing tool,and the ‘Guru na drum’ found at Ikang, Bakassi is a new very creative version of same. Many of the local fishermen who may be Ijaw, Igbo, Isoko etc, have learnt new fishing habits from their Hausa colleagues. At Ndoni,Amaechi Ugboma, himself a fisherman speaks of the good relationship locals enjoy with Hausa fishermen, and he stresses that they learnt many fishing habits from the latter “We learnt the use of the fishing hook from them. We also borrowed the use of another type of net from Hausa fishermen.Many of them have married Ndoni women, and that is good for all of us.” In Odi, Usman Ibrahim says that a lot has changed among the fishing folk “In the past fisherman could leave Argungu and fish all the way to the Atlantic. But fishermen are lazy now,and can’t do this.”
The fishermen in the five states of the Niger Delta visited by Daily Trust, also speak on the decline of the rivers around them which they have fished in for many years. Many of them add that oil spillage, the use of dynamite and chemicals by some individuals while fishing, combine to kill many fish and aquatic life, and has made some fish to migrate to other rivers. Bala Tama, Vice Chairman of the Hausa community in Ndoni posits “The river Niger is not as deep as it used to be, and this has affected our fishing. Seventeen years ago, the river Niger was deeper than it is now, and all fishermen here in Ndoni agree on this. If it rains at Asaba or Onitsha a lot of debris float down here, and this also affects fishing.”
Speaking on the same theme at Odi, Sodangi adds “The use of dynamite is killing off many of the fish in the rivers. People also use chemicals on their farms, some of which flow in to the rivers, and this helps to drive the fish away. These are some of the problems we face.” Haruna Abubakar arrived Eket in Akwa Ibom state in 1975. He has been fishing there ever since, and even though the number of fishermen has declined,he is staying put in Eket. On the drop in numbers, he says “We used to have up to fifty fishermen here in Eket. Some have passed on, while others have returned to Ibi due to old age.”
There are three striking images from the trip: In Ndoni, the Hausa community salutes former Governor Peter Odili, who hails from the town and according to the community ‘pays all water and electricity bills for the entire population’ made up of locals, Hausa and many other groups. They refer to other good deeds which they trace to the former governor “Our women go to the hospital and give birth freely, without paying a Kobo. For babies and small children, no payment is made by our people at the hospital.”
Also, in Ndoni, there is 55 year old Abu Musa who arrived the community forty years ago, from Taraba state seeking wealth. Forty years on he hasn’t found wealth and he tells Daily Trust that he is still searching. There is the Hausa fisherman at Asaba Ase who is a 2009 graduate of fisheries from the university of Benin, but unemployment has now pushed him into fishing. Today, he is busy ennobling fishing activities among the fishermen in his part of Delta state.