In the heart of Jiddari Polo, one of the fastest developing suburbs of Maiduguri, Borno state capital, a 70 years old woman lives a solitary life. Her home is an unstable cottage built with rusted corrugated roofing sheets. Ironically she isn’t a tenant because she owns the land upon which her hut is built.
Ya’Kolo Umara, an aged Kanuri woman and internally displaced person (IDP) has no known relatives even to the knowledge of her neighbors. If she has any, none has identified with her in a very long time.
From afar Ya’Kolo’s physical outlook typifies that of IDPs who usually roam the streets of Maiduguri asking for alms.
But she is different from other IDPs who are seen leading a life of destitution.
She is a landlady who retires home every day to her unbuilt piece of land.
Hearing her story, one would learn that Ya’Kaka had once led a rewarding life of hard work.
Even as she spoke to this reporter, one could deduce that Ya’Kolo is not the typical dependent woman who has to wait for a man to provide for all her needs.
But there she is dwelling in a shaky hut built on a tiny piece of land which she claimed to have bought over two decades ago.
The rusted sheets of corrugated zink that were used in constructing the entire shack that she lives in can only guarantee some relative veil from prying eyes and nothing more. But when it comes to protecting her from heat or rainwater, the cabin offers no such service. She also coves part of her home with all colours of rags, decomposing mosquito nets and torn cellophane bags as padding to reduce heat.
But that is her home – a legitimate acquisition that differentiates her from many of her kind; and one that keeps her enlisted amongst the landowners club of Maiduguri.
Despite her age, she had to bend 90 degrees before she entered or exited the tiny door of the stunted hut.
Ya’Kolo said she still farms a little to produce the food she needs to keep body and soul intact.
She still has a vivid account of how she acquired the piece of land upon which she erected her but. She dreamt of having a decent home to retire in. But her dreams became shattered – no thanks to Boko Haram.
“At the time I bought this land, it cost me N10,000.
When she purchased the land, it was a full plot of 50/100 square feet, before her only brother decided to split it into two and sold off a portion without her knowledge. Now she is left with 25/50 square feet of land.
During the rainy season, feeding becomes her major problem because her cooking hardly gets done on time.
“The whole of this place usually gets flooded, and when the storms come, her little home is usually tested.
“Many times, during heavy rains, the storms would blow away the roofing and the entire iron sheets walls off my head. But thanks to neighbors who would help me reconstruct it” she said.
“I own this land but I cannot build it with blocks and cement just the way all my neighbors had done. I cannot even use a mud brick. So I had no better option than to use these rusted and iron sheets donated to me by some kind neighbors around here.
Food, Her Most Pressing Need
With the harmattan cold gradually setting in, everyone would naturally be worried about how such an old woman would survive in such a sketchy apartment made of rusted and flaking iron sheets.
Uninterrupted warmth is what her aged body needs for survival during the harmattan. But to Ya’Kolo, the need for food tops all other cravings.
“All I need is food to eat because I’m just too weak to continue cultivating my farm,” she said.
“For the cold weather, I can manage to cover up my body with clothing – but nothing can fill up the emptiness of the stomach better than food.
“I’d love the idea if my house is built just like that of the neighbors around me. But who will help me to do that? That is a tall dream I must say.”
An IDP from Damboa local government
Ya’Kolo said she hails from Gazamal, a remote village under Damboa local government. Back at home in those good old days, she was a highly enterprising woman who engaged in all kinds of farming activities as well as sales of agricultural products.
She has two children, a man and a woman who are also poor and struggling to survive in Damboa.
Ya’Kolo said she and her children have had cause to flee from their homes several times due to attacks by Boko Haram. Those moments were tortuous and unhealthy for her age.
“My children felt it was not safe and good for me to live in Damboa, so they advised me that I should relocate to Maiduguri to live with my only younger brother who lived here in Jiddari,” she said.
“I lost everything to Boko Haram, so did my children and their husbands.
“My children said since I also have a piece of land in Maiduguri, it would be nice if I live close by so that I can monitor its development. They said I’m too old to live in an IDP camp.
Ya’Kolo arrived in Maiduguri about five years ago only to find out that half of her plot had been sold off by her brother without her knowledge.
She had a brief stay with her brother who did not give her a dime from the illegal proceeds he got from selling part of her land.
“My brother later died and his children asked me to leave their home. So I had to come to my little piece of land here.
“I live from hand to mouth here as you can see. Every day we go out to beg. But today is Friday, so I have to stay at home and rest. It is very tiring and energy-sapping to trek all day seeking for food or money.”
In Touch With Own Kids, Grandchildren
Ya’Kolo Umar said it was a long-ago since she set eyes on her children, but they had been able to keep a communication link with her through a little phone she has.
“Yes, I use the phone to speak with my children and grandchildren each time they called me,” she said.
“Talking with them makes me happy and alive. But I would have been happier if I was around them at this stage. I’m getting weaker every day. My legs are beginning to ache if I walk long distances, that’s why I decided to rest on Fridays.
“I have to also fetch water and fill up my pots. The Waterpoint is not far away but it is now becoming hard for me to carry a full bucket. So I have to make many trips carrying half a bucket.
Marriage and multiple Breakups
Growing up as a young woman, Ya’Kolo had had her share of emotional torture having gone through “more than ten marriages”.
I’ve been married for more than ten times that I can remember,” she said.
“My first marriage took place at the beginning of the war with the Igbos (referring to Biafra War). I was not pregnant when the war started.
But my marriage did not last before it broke up. Since then I kept getting married and divorced. Most of my husbands had no choice but to divorce me because I had a spiritual problem.
“I later got cure when my last husband brought me before the Chief Imam of Maiduguri who offered prayers for me and I got healed eventually,” she said.
Knows Governor Zulum only by Name
Ya’Kolo Umara said as a citizen of Borno state, she had never set eyes on the number one citizen of Borno, Governor Babagana Zulum.
“Honestly, I don’t know him; I have never seen him physically,” she said.
“All I know is that they said the Governor called Zulum usually shares money and food to people in camps and local government areas. Please tell him not to forget about me too. I will be glad if he can help me too with food and money to fix the leaking roof of my little but.
How She Was Met By A Journalist
The photographs of Ya’Kolo Umara graced social media for the first time last week when the Borno State Chairman of the NUJ, Bulama Talba posted them on his Facebook page.
“Her home is along the route to my house and I noticed that little hut sandwiched by other buildings. So, one day, I saw her outside the hut and I decided to stop and ask about her welfare and how she copes with living in such an unfit environment.
“That was how she shared her story with me. And I was amazed when she informed me that the piece of land belonged to her.
“So I asked if she had any pressing needs and she said her little pit toilet had collapsed.
I was able to help her dig one that has been covered with a concrete slab. I’m planning to help her fence the toilet so that she can have a decent place to use it.
Appeal for support to help Ya’Kolo Have a Decent Accommodation
The NUJ chairman had suggested a crowdfunding donation to help Ya’kolo have decent accommodation.
“She is already a land owner, and all that is required is some blocks and cement, then roofing sheet to build a room or two for her.
“As you can see, the land is about 25/50 square feet. She is surrounded by neighbors that have either built or are about completing the building of their houses – which makes it easier for her.
Comrade Talba said the NUJ will coordinate any support that the spirited members of the society are willing to give to help Ya’Kolo live in a more decent home for the remaining days of her life.