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Zuma Rock: Residents panic over ‘mysterious explosions’

. The rock is angry – Village Head . Weathering process responsible, say officials Last week, residents of settlements around famous Zuma Rock in Niger…

. The rock is angry – Village Head
. Weathering process responsible, say officials

Last week, residents of settlements around famous Zuma Rock in Niger State were rattled when the latest in a series of explosive sounds emanating from the landmark, rudely shook them from their daily activities. Many theories, from the scientific to the superstitious, followed. Daily Trust visited.
The famous Nigerian landmark called Zuma Rock fascinates everyone who beholds it. It is a monolith, a geological feature consisting of a single massive rock. Located in Niger State, it rises spectacularly immediately-north of Abuja, along the main road from the federal capital to Kaduna. Towering at a jaw-dropping 725 metres (2,379 ft) above its surroundings, it is also depicted on the 100 naira note. Historically, it was used for defensive retreats by the Gbagyi people against invading neighbouring tribes during intertribal warring. Apart from a somewhat colourful past, the rock has more than its fair share of mysteries surrounding it, some of them rooted in tribal beliefs and even superstition. And that is probably why it became immediately alarming to residents when thunderous explosive sounds were heard around it at night, about a month ago and the latest penultimate Wednesday.
Daily Trust visited Chachi, in Tafa Local Government Area of Niger State, where the Village Head, Malam Musa Abubakar, the traditional custodian of Zuma Rock and its surroundings, said he could not remember the last time he witnessed such an occurrence, or if ever. He disclosed that the first two, as well as the latest, manifested as frighteningly loud, resulting in a massive, widespread dust cloud, spread across the sky above and around the monolith.
At the foot of Zuma Rock, on the part of it which overlooks the Abuja-Kaduna expressway, Daily Trust observed a thick layer of ash-like dust settled over a wide expanse, with massive boulders scattered all over and a wide, flat slab of rock which fell off the monolith.
Residents gave various accounts of the latest incident. A soldier on duty close to the rock, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he and his colleagues heard a thunderous explosion, soon followed by a rumble. “It was such a powerful explosion that I actually thought it was a bomb, and thick dust covered the sky,” he said.
A resident, who introduced himself simply as Malam Alhassan, said the rumbling which followed the initial explosive sound threw residents into panic.
Other locals in communities around the rock said even wildlife were alarmed. “A lot of monkeys and baboons – native to the area – fled the area in fear,” said a man, who added that even some smaller animals from the top of the rock jumped off in fear, only to die from the impact of landing. “We’ve had meetings and no-one can say for sure what caused the explosions,” said one, describing the occurrence as “mysterious”.
Daily Trust contacted the Nigerian Geological Survey Agency, but no-one could comment on the occurrence immediately, with an official saying the situation would have to be assessed first, before it could offer any explanation on the possibility or otherwise of seismic activity within or around Zuma Rock, or any other scientific causes.
Back at Chachi village, more people gave their own accounts. Nuhu Mohammed, a resident, said: “When the slab-like portion fell off, we were at the junction, and we heard a very loud explosion, followed by a rumble, and we thought something big had exploded in nearby Zuba.” He added that they then saw a huge dust-cloud, much like smoke, billowing. The locals made to run, but someone calmed them down and told them it was from the monolith.
Village Head Musa Abubakar, however, offered an alternative explanation. “The Rock loathes impurities of any form, and these days every spiritually impure person, girls and boys gallivanting in its vicinity, provoke it,” he said. He continued, explaining that he was in his farm when it occurred. Residents returning from the area near the affected part of the rock later informed him that a prtion of Zuma Rock had fallen off. “I actually thought it was a bomb, until I went and saw things for myself.” 
Native beliefs on Zuma Rock abound. According to Abubakar, tradition dictates that no-one approach the monolith wearing a cap, out of respect. “Anyone who does that, will get lost never to be found again,” he said, adding that the rock being under the custody of the government is not helping matters either.
Abubakar also said the rock had every cause to be angry, because its sanctity had been violated by government, selling land traditionally belonging to it. “In the past, sacrifices of a black cow or black he-goat were made to the rock yearly to appease it, especially when our ancestors were praying for rain. It probably is angry because it feels cheated of the cultural practices usually undertaken to mark its significance to the communities surrounding it.”
The Village Head told Daily Trust that cultural practices no more take place around Zuma Rock. “In the past, whenever sacrifices were offered to the rock, it showed its acceptance of the sacrifices by beaming a light from the spot on it which looks like an eye,” he said referring to a crack-like depression on a part of the monolith facing Zuba town.
A resident of a settlement near Chachi who introduced himself as Danladi Ibrahim, said: “I have never experienced anything like the explosion-like sounds that shook us. I have heard that it has occurred in the distant past. It terrified the villagers around the rock and many fled. I personally thought it was a Boko Haram bomb attack.”
According to the General Manger of the Niger State Tourism Corporation, Alhaji Mohammed Sani Ahmed, who spoke to Daily Trust on phone, the occurrence was a result of some geographical reactions within Zuma Rock. “There is what we call in geography weathering process taking place on something as a result of heat from the sun, conditions produced by rainfall and various activities of animals and humans. It is a natural occurrence, we cannot prevent it. There is nothing anybody can do about it,” he said.
The General Manager, who said the loud, explosive sound could be heard for many kilometres away, said: “We’ve been told authoritatively that such a thing has happened last over 60 years ago. It is not a regular occurrence.” He also told Daily Trust that the Niger State Government was planning to develop the vicinity as a “first-class tourism site”.      
Manzo Gbagyi, a farmer whose yam crop enjoys the shade provided by the wide shadow cast by Zuma Rock said for now they will keep their eyes – and ears – open in case another explosion happens. “I don’t buy what the government people are saying about the rock,” he told Daily Trust. “There’s something mysterious going on within the rock, and nothing can convince me otherwise,” he said as he got on his bicycle and trundled away.

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