Bolori stores, as it is popularly called in Maiduguri is widely reported as the largest trans-border market in West Africa, and a place where the engines of transcontinental trucks are ignited to the three countries that share it’s borders with Maiduguri, namely Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic en route many parts of Africa.
Trucks or trailers are either seen in hundreds, off-loading goods into the vast warehouses in the market or vise-versa, ready for take-off to countries as far as Central African Republic etc.
The international market, frequented mostly by transcontinental truckers, laborers, prostitutes that are not defiantly visible because they pose as hawkers and food vendors. In the market, you will also find representatives of banks and various companies trying to woo prospective costumers for their respective companies. It has also been estimated that a minimum of one hundred million naira exchanged hands on a daily basis in the market yet, not a single infrastructural facilities like tarred roads, tap water, drainage system, public toilets and a police post, are provided in this booming industrial terminal of West Africa.
However these myriad of problems bore less burden to the drivers. What resonates most in their minds as this correspondent found on a recent reporting visit to the market, was how a killer disease stalks their ones promising and vibrant source of livelihood, to the extend that many have died, many are fated to die, while a growing number of truckers are not sure of their status and no body is ready to know.
“So far we have recorded over 60 dead persons as a result of AIDS, living behind many widows and orphans with no body to fend for them only for the little assistance we render to the families of the victims” said the Vice Chairman, Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the market, Alhaji Baba Gana Banki.
The denial and ignorance of the disease among truckers triggers its spread, what suppose to be the economic life line, of not only Borno state but Africa as a whole, is becoming a dead line that has the potential to bring down any individual or economy, as one analyst implied. Hiv/Aids obviously has adversely affected the most reproductive and productive population in Nigeria, this rages between the ages of 15 to 59 years old, the survival of this group according to analyst constitutes over 80% of the work force, “is a critical challenge in the quest for development.”
At present, about ten drivers are lying critically ill, another 70 to 80 are struggling to work as if they are not HIV positive “but we are sure they are, because the recklessness and the symptoms that killed many of our colleagues are evident today among some of us” said the Union Scribe. Yet nobody can dare raise the subject of AIDS to them, he implied. When one sick trucker was asked to speak on the cause of his lingering bodily infirmity he denied being HIV positive and went into hysterics until this correspondent was asked to leave the scene. Another driver who spoke on his infirmity also denied being HIV positive “but said, Yes I am very sick but I know I don’t have AIDS, I believe that what I am suffering from is pile” said the driver who gave his name as Mallam Yunusa. But a healthy looking trucker disagrees with Yunusa that, many drivers hide under the pretext of pile because it has nearly the same symptoms with AIDS and “they suffer in silence without going to orthodox hospitals to be diagnosed” the driver argued.
Pile or Hemorrhoid’s symptoms may not be the same with that of AIDS as Doctor Alex Paul Balami, a medical doctor base in Maiduguri contended. However, Alex said the disease is common among long distance drivers because of prolong sitting and when not properly treated it can weigh it victims’ down completely said Alex.
Mallam Baba Gana Banki from his 29 years experience in transcontinental truck driving said, “it takes courage to prevent AIDS from catching up with a trucker, and when it does, it is only the fear of God that can halt the spread and not save sex” said the veteran trucker who added that “we never mention condoms here because it goes against our traditions and is as if you are saying go and have sex” Baba Gana further said that, they only preach abstinence because according to him, he cannot imagine telling two of his sons that are now truck drivers to use condoms as against abstinence.
“I just came back from Chad yesterday and because of raining season and the heavy load I was carrying, it took me 30 days to get there” said the veteran trucker who said his three wives and many children are used to his routine activities in his life and he in turn, keeps to himself whenever he is away from home. “This is to say not all truckers are flirts.
Apart from the wild animals and arm banditry they encounter in the course of their travels especially when there is a brake down, their most frequent encounter is with women in the various villages and stopping points, as they travel between five hundred to over one thousand kilometers by road to their destinations particularly in Chad, Central African Republic and Zaire, as gathered by this correspondent from many of the truck drivers.
“From Chad to Central African Republic, girls come to meet us particularly when we are resting under our trucks to persuade us to have sex with them in return for money, they will insist even when you want to drive them away and attempt pulling off their cloths to display their youths” said Madu Zulolo a veteran trucker of 34 years in transcontinental truck driving, who added that “to resist these girls takes a lot of courage particularly when you are long away from home” he said, “many of our drivers and conductors know about HIV/AIDS yet it is either they doubt it or they cannot resist the temptation from these commercial sex workers, some of whom, are willing to submit themselves with a mere gift of less than 50 naira or, with a cup of garri and sugar, which we carry along on our trips,” said zulolo who said many cannot be bold enough to buy condoms or be seen with one, therefore, precautions are thrown to the wings.
One driver whose name is withheld claimed that, he has married five women in different countries with children. He also claimed he has 3 wives and 11 children in Maiduguri and busted that he has had canal knowledge of countless women across tribes and nations in the course of his travels, “as you can see I am so sure of myself” he insisted that in 24 years that he has been a truck driver he has never been ill for once “AIDS is all about bad luck, if I am about to meet a woman my mind will tell me whether I should proceed or not” he busted again.
“People like this driver are suppose to be behind bars because they are responsible for the spread of the disease, and they use their privileges to induce innocent and poor girls of Africa to have unsafe sex with them” said Hajja Iya a school administrator and gender advocate in Maiduguri, according to her, it is this stubborn ignorance by some truck drivers that gives victory for Hiv/Aids in Africa, “many women are either forced by their parents to use their bodies to fend for themselves in this circumstance, while the married ones don’t have a choice in anything concerning their reproductive lives” said Hajja Iya.
For many of these transcontinental truckers who convey goods from Maiduguri to many markets across Africa apparently “short service” either in make shifts in the bush or in their trucks, is nearly the same as stopping to buy fuel or putting water in the radiator,
Zulolo insisted and added that a growing number of truck drivers are now resisting these sex workers across Africa or are engaged on safe sex “because of the obvious danger which is now so glaring in our midst. In fact, truckers that have AIDS tend to die faster than other people in other sectors and this have made many to retrace their steps”, he said.
And Doctor Alex somewhat agrees with Zulolo “of course we all know that their jobs can be so tasking and some of them actually go on drugs to keep them awake and some of these drugs can be so harmful so because of the HIV they may have, they can easily contract AIDS” he said and added that, “The speed of coming down with AIDS may be attributable to infections with different strains, may be somebody has a silent strain and when he has another infection with a different strain that is a strain that is more virulent than the precious one and when the two are added together it form AIDS” said Alex.
According to the Executive Director for Hope Initiative in Maiduguri Musa Pumta, “the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, the only functional VCCT centre in the state, records 50 new infections every day. The hospital asked patients to go and come back the next day because when the folder reads: 50 we have to stop because of limited doctors to attend to them” he said and added that the strategic nature of Maiduguri makes it a dumping ground for HIV/AIDS and he urged the state government to open up more HIV clinics and services across the state. “The UMTH alone cannot manage the growing number of infections every day in the state.
Interestingly, at the trans-border market, Daily Trust found that, not a single bill board on HIV/AIDS exists, many drivers claimed they have not seen volunteers for more than a year now only Zulolo said he was ones invited to talk about AIDS in his field. However, the acting Permanent Secretary Borno State Ministry of Health, before a team of evaluators of UNFPA, said government will put in more efforts to improve spending and services in relation to AIDS in the state.
Until then, the fittest in the trans-border trade, not its frailest, will continue to die living the old and the children behind to steal from the abandoned goods in the market if care is not taken because no one to transport them, as Alex implied. He said even babies are not spared because many are infected at birth and for the women, they are fated to die in their seclusion at home, because the very man that refused to admit his status will not let his wife go out for help “Indeed, this is going to be a catastrophe until government wakes up to its challenge not only to sensitized people but to enforce certain majors.