As a child growing up in my bush village, I heard fascinating stories about the bustling city of Kano. When on graduation I went to work there as an editor, I took time to find out about the good old city.
The city, according to tradition, was founded by Kano, a blacksmith of the Gaya tribe who in ancient times came to Dalla Hill in search of iron. The discovery of stone tools indicates prehistoric settlement of the site, which was selected as the capital of Hausa state of Kano in (1095–1134). After the jihad (1804–07), the city was chosen to be the capital of an emirate centered on the city. Later still when the British colonized what they called the Northern Protectorate, they enhanced the status of Kano as a centre of administration by making it the capital of the protectorate until this was shifted to Kaduna.
Kano was also a vortex of international trade and received kola nuts from Ghana; salt from the Sahara; slaves from the Bauchi and Adamawa emirates; natron from Lake Chad; and sword blades, weaponry, silk, spices, perfumes, and books brought from Europe by the trans-Saharan camel caravans in return for Hausa leatherwork, cloth, and metal wares. British forces captured the city in 1903 opening the railway from Lagos in 1912 hence changing the direction of trade south to the Gulf of Guinea.
Even though Kano was made famous as an international trading centre, it also developed a bubbling industrial base which retained its prosperity up to the 80s. The industrial districts of Sharada, Bompai, etc, were churning out textiles, knit fabrics, tents, bedding, foam rubber products, clothing, and cosmetics among others while heavy industries manufactured asbestos, cement, concrete blocks, metal structural products, bicycles, automobiles, trucks, and chemicals products that could compete with those from any part of the world.
Sadly, the Kano of today is not the good old Kano I knew and enjoyed – forty, thirty years ago. Certainly it has lost the allure and the innocence that attracted young men with their dreams, ideas and skills from all over Nigeria and abroad. Frequent social upheavals – targeted at non indigenes – beginning from the Maitatsine uprising of 1980, have scared away all skilled manpower from Kano. The industrial districts now look like grave yards. I have fond memories of Kano, have some of my best friends from there. But today, every time I go into Kano, I find myself trembling till I leave. I do not see what salary any employer can pay to make me work there again.
Kano today is in deep decay. Nobody says it better than a prominent ‘shon of the shoil’ and a former Minister Dr. SamshudeenUsman: “Kano today is one of the dirtiest states in Nigeria. Kano is one of the most polluted towns in Nigeria. Kano is subjected to health average endemic. Those of you living in Kano you don’t even know the extent of the wrath. It is catastrophic by any standard. Children are dying of measles, polio. These are diseases that some countries have forgotten about. They have been completely eliminated in some parts of the world; completely. They don’t even know, they just go to the history books to read about what is measles, what is polio. Yet these are the diseases that are rampant in Kano”.
It makes me sad and I am sure it also made the revered late Emir Ado Bayero sad too. The last two years of his life have been most traumatic. In 2012, Boko Haram launched a fierce attack on his city, killing over 200 people in a day of senseless mass murder. It made the man whom you could not read his face on any occasion shed tears in public. Then just last year, the gun men came and opened fire on him in broad daylight after he had left a mosque. The attempt on his life failed but his driver and his body guards were killed instantly.
A few years ago, it would have been unheard of for an Emir to be gunned down on the streets no matter how much his people hated him. We grew up believing that the Emirate system is based on absolute respect for the office and person of the Emir. If an Emir like Ado Bayero who represented the best of what that institution could give would be subjected to the gunfire he faced in public then there must be something terribly wrong with the system.
This system is long overdue for reform. The way to start it is by reforming the almajiri system. President Goodluck Jonathan started a good programme the other day on the almajiri system. I do not know how far he can go since primary education is the sole responsibility of the state and not the federal government. I just hope it does not go the way all other such projects go in Nigeria. In the mid 80s’ while I was an editor with the Kano state government owned Triumph Newspapers, the people of the state started Kano Foundation (Gidawniya). One of its laudable objectives was to integrate almajeri it into the western educational system. I don’t hear of it anymore.
Almajiri is a security nightmare for Nigeria. We are grooming millions of young lads without skills to make a living and with a half baked understanding of what Islam is. The result is that they are now waging war on everybody. When Boko Haram started, those of us who are Christians in the North thought we are the only objects of hatred and elimination. But now even Emirs are targets.
We cannot continue like this.