In areas largely neglected by the Federal Government, until almost a decade ago, a road is more than a road. It is more than mere concrete and asphalt. It is a new lease of life that opens the doors of possibilities. Being located close to a border creates real and imagined distance; the type that begets an isolation that, to a large extent, a road like this eliminates.


Sixteen years ago, many assumed that building a road from Gashua to Yusufari in northern Yobe State was an impossibility. There are 31 kilometres in between the two towns. The idea of impossibility was born out the experiences of traveling on that desert and dusty path, with vehicles and people often moving as if on a wild guess or a game of chance, trudging through sand dunes, acarcia trees and tonnes of thorn. It was a short journey full of suspense. The wheels of vehicles can be stuck in sand dunes that can terminate the journey or make it look like an adventure. The dust would keep rising and obscuring the view of both the driver and the commuter. The types of vehicles that undertook such journeys were largely open four-by-four trucks and the now outdated USSR made military vehicles. Whenever such vehicles were auctioned, they were moved to starting a new life on the route from Gashua to Yusufari and Bulatura, and beyond. These are places quite close to Nigeria’s border with Niger Republic.

In 2009, some colleagues and I visited Bulatura on the BBC Hausa Service’s outstanding ‘BBC Hausa A Karkara’ programme – a village roadshow that took radio to the people, and neglected places. As we finished the broadcast then in Bulatura, a man took me aside and started narrating how desert encroachment was working hard to render him homeless. The sand dunes kept moving and he had to moved too. Years ago, he said, desertification claimed his farm, and he was close to tears while relating how it was shoving he and his family into desert cul-de-sac.

Days before my recent visit to the area, a friend told me that now, you can travel to Yusufari in minutes and return back to Gashua. It sounded like a fantasy until I took a road that leads to Yusufari. Although I did not travel all the way to Yusufari, I went to see for myself by driving down the road, trying to cast away any doubt. Indeed there is presently a road to Yusufari and beyond. In fact, there is now a road that easily connects people through to Geidam and Baymari. These are places in the vast arid parts of Yobe State that were largely neglected to the extent that, years ago, many people never believed a road could ever be built to connect these communities that need to be accessible to each other to survive. Until the former governor of Yobe State, Alhaji Ibrahim Geidam built the roads that linked these places easily, and within minutes, rather than the previous hours of toil. What these roads mean socially and economically can hardly be understood if one never experienced the daunting nature of travel in these areas before now.

For me, the road to Yusufari is not another version of Robyn Davidson’s 1977 trek across the Australian desert accompanied by four camels. It is not the journey of a stranger in the wilderness. But it is an experience that shows that the familiar can wear the look of the strange. It just depends on our ways of seeing things.


People in some parts of Nigeria need only roads and development would follow into their areas. On the road to Yusufari there is a gigantic hospital project that is nearing completion. The sign board by the road shows that it is a project brought by the Senate President Ahmad Lawan. It is meant to be a women and children’s hospital but it is certainly going to be more than that. With the rapid increase in population, the hospital that is standing tall in the desert will be of service to the people of both Gashua and Yusufari.

The road to Yusufari began from a point where a new model primary school was built by Governor Mai Mala Buni. Such schools were built across all zones of the State. Getting education right from the basic point, or from the beginning, was the reason why such schools were provided. The road to Yusufari, for me, on that day ended with a housing estate project that the current government of Yobe State is undertaking in major towns.

In areas largely neglected by the Federal Government, until almost a decade ago, a road is more than a road. It is more than mere concrete and asphalt. It is a new lease of life that opens the doors of possibilities. Being located close to a border creates real and imagined distance; the type that begets an isolation that, to a large extent, a road like this eliminates.

For me, the road to Yusufari is not another version of Robyn Davidson’s 1977 trek across the Australian desert accompanied by four camels. It is not the journey of a stranger in the wilderness. But it is an experience that shows that the familiar can wear the look of the strange. It just depends on our ways of seeing things.

Isa Sanusi writes from Abuja, Nigeria.