•What you never knew about Kano visitors’ empire
From DESMOND MGBOH, Kano
In the ancient city of Kano, the Sabon Gari area stands out. This is a single place where there’s the highest concentration of non-natives and immigrant communities in the country. The place is unique in several ways, one of which is that it represents a cocktail of different people, tribes and tongues. Yet, with the passage of time and various life-shaping experiences, residents of the area have since evolved as a people with shared values and dispositions.
As a community, therefore, one cannot beat the unique spirit of these non-natives of Kano State, who have endured patiently the trying and threatening times of the recent years and have soldiered on in spite of all, contributing immensely in the making of the ancient city in the ways it is presently reputed as a commercial and cosmopolitan hub of Nigeria.
Insights into this expansive settlement showed certain patterns and fitting attributes that cannot be wished away. That is notwithstanding the inconstant climate of government support and the rather detached reception of their host. This includes the fact that they are largely a people from the Southern part of Nigeria, a list of which include people from Igboland, Yoruba, Benin, Ogoja, Ijaw, Isoko, Ikwere and so forth. Further uncontested is that a majority of these persons are people of Igbo extraction, coming from the five southern eastern states, as well as Delta, Rivers and Cross Rivers states.
Also noticeable is the population of Nigerians from the Christian North resident in this area. A few they are, yet these people from tribes in Adawama, Borno Bauchi and Plateau States, including Idomas, Igalas, Southern Kaduna, Kabba, Egede and Tivs, are nonetheless worthy of recognition.
There are equally a few non-Nigerians, who, long ago, had migrated from neighbouring West African countries, such as Benin Republic, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gabon and Mali and have been integrated into the area to the point of effacing their origin and history.
Historians concede that Sabon Gari was originally a residential area carved out for the West African Frontier Force Settlers. The force settled in this area after the fall of Kano in January, 1903, and was originally composed of soldiers, who worked with the British Army. Some of the initial settlers were Nupe, Yoruba, Hausa as well as non-Nigerians, such as Ghanaian, Gambians, Sierra Leonean.
The policy of separation between the non-natives and natives of Kano, a result of which the area is today the exclusive preserve of non-indigenes, was traced to the reign of Alhaji Abbas Sanusi, the then Emir of Kano, who refused to accommodate the residency of the non-natives within the confines of the ancient city of Kano. Sabon Gari grew in size at different times in history. In the years before the war, the area had records of unprecedented growth. For instance, the area first recorded a migratory surge soon after the 1914 amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates by the British government. The establishment of Kano Airport in 1935 was responsible for a similar boost in population figure. The trend was steadily progressive until the crisis of 1953-54, which flagged off an anti-climax that continued till the years of the civil war. To many, the civil war marked a definite end to an era in this boisterous urban settlement, as it never again recovered or retained the luscious prospects of its beginning.
Today, a map-like description of Sabon Gari area of Kano State will depict a settlement starting off somewhere off Post Office Road, Niger Street down through Airport Road, up No Mans Land by Gwagwaru Area. The drawing still goes round to Lagos Road, Nigeria Air Force Barracks, Yakudima Estate, down to Egbe Road up to France Road by Galadima Road.
Lying immediately next to each other are streets such as Ballat Hughes, Onitsha Road, Ijebu Road, Aba Road, Warri Road, Enugu Road, Abeokuta Road, Aitken Road and Middle Road and New Roads, Emir Road, Yoruba Road, Church Road, Niger Road and France Road with Okonkwo Avenue, sleeping at its edge facing the market.
Also lying at the other end of the settlement are the streets, like Sanyaolu Road, Sani Giwa Road, Sanusi Road, Freetown Road, Burma Road and Festing Road and Weather Head Road, among others.
These streets are largely named after prominent individuals, sons and daughters of these migrants and non-natives, who had contributed to the community in time past. The streets are, in some cases, named after the state of origins or native countries of the members of the Sabon Gari community. Some of the personalities in this category were a Ghanaian, Mr. G. E. France, a Sierra Leonean, Mr. Ballat Hughes, a Nigerian from Delta State, Chief J. B. Egbe and Chief Okonkwo, an Igbo man.
In the late 70s, an additional area was carved out in this area following its population explosion. The new layout, known as ‘No mans Land,’ started off, just behind Ballat Huges Road. In the beginning, it was reputed as the zone rituals, as mutilated corpses were found there. But it has since blossomed to a small, decent town, where decent people live with their families and enjoy their lives.
This new area is made up of a number of irregularly apportioned roads and structures. Its structures, no doubt, represent a fine improvement in architecture and designs over the mostly colonial and pre-colonial structures that are predominant in Sabon Gari area.
There is also a new development layout, called “New Sabon Gari.” Lying behind Airport Road, on single road leading to Fanisau village, the layout is dramatically becoming a millionaire’s playground. It is inundated with beautiful and exotic houses of different artistic designs, history and shapes. It is peaceful. Its skies are blue and friendly. It is unlike Kano. Traffic to this low density area is still very reasonable. Only the very rich could own these houses and only the very affluent could rent a space here where a piece of land is sold for millions of naira.
Mr. Frank Ogbunugafor came to Kano State in 1958. He told Saturday Sun that Sabon Gari area started off with a reasonable small population, a population which was just enough to serve the purpose for which the area was created by the colonial masters.
In the good, old days, said Mr. Ogbunugafor, the area was beautiful and lovely and receptive. “Today, the area is exploding with all manner of people and the facilities here are obviously overstretched and messed up,” he said, amid regrets.
Talking with nostalgia, he said: “It was once beautiful. We used to have what was called sanitary lanes where children play along the streets. It was as orderly as the white man who fashioned it into being. We had major roads and access roads, with well-defined road instructions and we had people that obey traffic regulations. It cannot be compared to what is obtained today.
“Everybody was promoting good values; the individuals and the communities had that at the back of their hearts. I do know that the Igbo Union was a very powerful body and they helped in the regulating values and ethos.”
Looking back at the organisation of things those days, he affirmed: “Igbo lived mainly from Emir Road down to the present day Ballat Hughes, whereas the Yoruba in Sabon Gari lived in streets that were nearer to the market.”
In those days, living was simple and innocent and life was less stressful. Crime was almost zero. Inter-ethnic relationship was very cordial whereas rivalry and clashes between the host and non-indigenes were rare and infrequent. There were several lines of cooperation in this abode. All these are no more. They are gone with the winds.
People grew up and accepted to be buried in Kano when they die. Mrs. Fatima Ikwe, another old timer in Kano City told Saturday Sun that Kano was a home away from home in the years before the war.
“Nobody really bothered about his or her home of origin because there was really no such reason for us to do so. There was nothing like “non-indigenes.” We were kids then, but we were never aware that this was not our home town,” she observed.
Those days, according to investigation by Saturday Sun, were equally characterised by a cumbersome system of communication and transportation. Contacts to the migrant’s respective homes were done by postal mails or telegrams, which took so long to be delivered. Occasions, such as marriage ceremonies and burial rites, were conducted and completed in Sabon Gari area.
Indeed, the culture of conveying corpse to its home state was a post civil war attitude. Igbo and Christians then in Sabon Gari preferred and allowed themselves or their loved ones to be buried in Kano partly also because it took about four days to travel by Lorries and trucks to their homes, by which time the corpse would have decomposed. This reality gave reason to the construction of the Christian cemetery situated at Amaddiyya, just at the edge of Sabon Gari area, which, until date, is about the only functional Christian cemetery in the state.
Mr. Mamoud Umar is from Edo State. He has been resident in Kano for about 52 years. In fact, he was one of those proudly referred to as “Kano 1,” which is an alias for non-indigenous children who were born in Kano State.
“It was a very memorable period in the lives of the people. Sabon Gari was the only place in Kano where you can go for any entertainment. There were clubs then, like Best Night Club, Paradise Hotel at Yoruba Road, West End at Weather head, Ebua Night Club at Yoruba Road (owned by Benin woman) Federal Club at Ballat Hughes.
“During this period, according to investigation, night life was well-organised and social life went on well too. People needed no fear of molestation; people just lived their lives and blossomed in full.
“While Barrister Agbamuche, who later became the Attorney General of the Federation, was the chairman of the Federal Club, Col Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was the Brigade Commander of the 3 Brigade of the Nigeria Army, Kano. Together, they added colour to the socialites of Sabon Gari area.
“Many things have are different now. Many things have changed. Number one is that security has changed tremendously. Then, everybody was very free. But now, you are not exactly free in Kano. Then, the people of Kano were very, very friendly to their visitors. They take you as their own their own; they treated every human being as one. That is no longer be so.”
Prince Ajayi Memathayn, a veteran journalist, a community leader and Vice President of Kogi State community, Kano State chapter, reechoed the same argument that the past is better than the present. Having lived in Kano since 1968, he argued that Kano people must borrow a lot from the beautiful years of the past and re-embrace their guests so as to march forward.
CHURCHES AND RELIGION
The churches and groups, by which Sabon Gari people redeem their religious callings and obligations, are many. Prominent among them is the imposing Catholic Cathedral, Our Lady of Fatima Cathedral Church. Other Catholic Churches in the area include the fast growing St Charles Church situated at No mans Land, St Rita Catholic Church and the newly established Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic situated at Emir Road.
Other orthodox churches in the area include the Anglican Church family, led by St Stephen Anglican Church located at New Road, First Baptist Church located at France Road, Celestial Church with headquarters at Egbe Road and Deeper Life at Egbe Road.
In the early 80s, a rave of Christian revival swept through the area, leaving in its trail a new worship approach known as Pentecostalism fashioned after the biblical dawn of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus Christ. This marked the origin of a more liberal; more dynamic approach to worship that excuses some of the stern rigidity of the orthodox family.
Among these new pentecostal churches in the area are Word of Faith, Calvary Life, New Generation Bible Church, Christ Embassy Church, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Living Faith Church aka Winners Church, Treasure Life, etc.
During this period, hundreds of Christians in Sabon Gari flocked to these new churches that are located along No Mans land area and today, still growing in popularity, the Pentecostal family in Kano has graduated to a position of near rivalry to their orthodox clan and may equal them in the coming years.
MONARCHY AND CHIEFTAINCY TRADITION
Prince Ajayi Memathayn told Saturday Sun that any description of the traditional values and ethos of the people of Sabon Gari must give credence to the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, who since his emergence on the throne in 1963, has endeavoured to embrace everybody as one.
“He has been very, very nice to us, whether as settlers, minority indigenes or non-indigenes, regardless of where we come from. We are all his children and he has been a stabilising factor in the way he conducts our affairs,” echoed Mr. Thompson Olumide, a resident of Sabon Gari.
The Emir’s eminence is an inherent part of Sabon Gari people. As part of the traditional Hawanan Nassarawa ceremony, the Emir, colourful, graceful and magnificent, accompanied by a retinue of district and ward heads, undertakes a horse-ride tour of the area. He drives through Emir Road and sometimes through France Road, to the excitement, cheers and applause of his subjects, who line up in mass on the affected streets to receive him.
This cultural and historical occasion is usually accompanied by a grand display loyalty spiced by an equally grand display of submission by subjects. But most importantly, it has, overtime, become another veritable means and channel by which the monarch communes with his subjects and gauge their feelings of fulfillment in Sabon Gari.
Scholars are, in deed, unanimous that to a great extent the traditional leadership that has been surfacing in Sabon Gari is inadvertently groomed by the Emir, through his exemplary and inspiring public lifestyle.
It is held that even the people of Igbo extraction resident in the area, reputed for their republican status, have since assimilated the value of monarchy and chieftaincy, as it is practised in the North and have crowned their various kings in the state, albeit in the style, tradition and characterisations peculiar to the emirate governance style of the North.
Today, the Igbo of Kano, most of whom are found in Sabon Gari, have two kings ruling one kingdom. On one hand, there is Igwe Boniface Ibekwe, the fourth Eze Ndigbo of Kano. And on another hand, there is Igwe John Chiejina Nnaji, the Onyendu Igbo of Kano, who was crowned by another faction of the Igbo people in the state on November 30, 2010.
Prior to these events, there was the first Eze Ndigbo of Kano, the late Igwe Nwaalusi, a contractor from Amowbia, in Anambra State, and the late Igwe Ogbonnanya Tennyson Nnadi, a lawyer who ruled the Igbo of Sabon Gari from a palace which was situated outside the area.
The Yoruba people in Sabon Gari have been under the traditional leadership of their monarch, Chief Salisu Olowo, who has been seated on the throne since his installation in 1972. He was a successor to Mr. Omosebi, who was then regarded as a traditional leader.
The Edos in Sabon Gari equally has a kingship system. The throne is known as the Onogie of Edo. The last Onigie died in 2011 and a new one, Deacon Fred Akhigbe, who is resident at Sarkin Yaki Road, inside Sabon Gari, has been presented to the Emir of Kano only last month. His installation comes up in December, 2012.
Speaking to Saturday Sun, Igwe John Chiejina Nnaji disclosed: “Going by the pronouncement of the emir on the day I was introduced to him by our people, I am automatically a member of the Kano Emirate Council. In fact, every Friday, we go to the Emir’s palace to pay homage to him like all other district heads.”
According to him, the functions of his office include, among others, to seek and promote peace among the Igbo and between Igbo and all other ethnic groups in the state. Other functions, he stated, include arbitration, especially on matters that are essentially traditional in nature, welfare, promotion of culture and tradition and to serve as a link between their people and the government at all times.
ECONOMY AND TRADE
The economic life of the people of Sabon Gari, Kano, is characterised by trade and commerce. There is an evident absence of bureaucracy and government opportunities as the non-natives in the state are subtly precluded from full-time employment in the state, except in the area of teaching and medicine where they work on contracts.
The implication is that roughly everybody is engaged in one form of trading and commerce. Against this backdrop, the streets in this area are characterised by a number of roadside, front-row shops. These shops are run by housewives or are managed by unemployed husbands.
It is generally held that everything is sold in Sabon Gari Area. This ranges from the domestic items, such as cigarettes, garri, pepper, minerals, sweet and salt to heavy wares and items such as tyres, machines and second-hand clothing.
Business outlets in this area, similarly, consist of a number of hairdressing saloons, which are bent on making fellow ladies trendy and beautiful. The good old, reliable ‘mama-puts’ and the road side food vendors are not left out; so also are the recharge card sellers, whose owners hide under the canopy of GSM branded umbrellas.
At dawn, a beehive of traffic unveils each day with a picture of anxious traders striding to their offices and market shops. The destination is usually in the direction of Sabon Gari market interfaced by another movement towards the “Iron and Steel Market,” otherwise known as “Kofar Ruwa Market.”
These two markets host a large chunk of the economy of these people, though there are other contributory commercial sections, such as the printing section, constituting of small and big time printers along Church Road, Yoruba Road and Niger Road. Motor parts dealers, who are mostly Igbo, operate along Court Road, France Road and the upper section of Yoruba Road.
The tyre (brand new and second-hand) dealers are located along Gold Coast Road, Ibadan Road, while traders in the building materials are found along France Road, towards Triumph Roundabout. The patent medicine dealers are largely inside the market, though a few of them own shops inside the town.
The hospitality industry in Sabon Gari area is a rather busy sector and the red bulb businesses, at night, is a huge luxuriant segment, which attracts all shades of persons and provides a win –win situation to its patrons. Hoteliers charge their lodgers heavily.
Apart from occasional altercation with the Kano State Hisbah Guards over the sale of alcohol, the hoteliers and their allies are not doing badly. The truth is that, at night, the same familiar front rows suddenly morph into to a hundreds of red light bars, peer parlour spots and hot pepper soup joints (fish, cow -leg or Isi ewu).
Here, Enugu Road, Abedi Road, Sani Giwa Road, Church Road are the hottest and busiest spots in town. Here, call ladies and prostitutes are never insufficient to attend to the unquenchable lusts and desires of men. With the gradually declining security concerns in the state, commercial sex workers are back on track. Sex per time goes for an average of N2,000.
POLITICS AND ISOLATION
Chief Tobias Idika, president of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Kano State chapter, described Sabon Gari as a politically relevant community. He acknowledged its potential, given its mass population and voting power. But he added: “This area, no doubt, is being denied fair participation and representation in politics.
“This large population of people in Sabon Gari is allocated only two wards out of a total of 13 wards in Fagge Local Government Council. That is in spite of the fact that we represent the largest concentration of people that make up the council.
“If a census of about 1.5 million people in Sabon Gari is anything to go by, then we ought to and deserve a total seven or eight wards of the 13 wards. But it is not the case because somebody somewhere does not want us to ever come to political leadership or to rule ourselves.”
Chief Idika, who is also the President General, Leaders of Ethnic Communities Resident in Kano State, concluded: “This is a case of political manipulation designed to hold the non-natives in perpetual political subjugation.
“The host community would stop at nothing to ensure that Sabon-Gari and the non-indigenes are precluded from power and decision making. They could concede some space, no doubt, when it comes to business and some kind of trading, but they are inelegant and jealous of political power.
“In a nutshell, we the people of Sabon Gari are a great people, a people of sufficient political energy, waiting to excel but we are held down by the prevalent system. Decisions about us are taken without our knowledge; issues about us are concluded without our inputs akin to the past South African experience. It should not be so.
“The only time we are well-acknowledged is during census, when our figures are dearly needed to boost the figures of the local population, and of course, when it is time for taxation and revenue generation for the state.
“The most painful aspect of it all is that in spite of the evidently multiple tax regimes, which are almost breaking our necks and shoulders, and which are often times questionable, the returns to our people in term of government’s presence and favourable policy allocations is zero, unimpressive and unfair.
“Let look at the statistics: We are really unrepresented in the Kano State House of Assembly. I challenge the guy there, claiming to be representing us if he can successfully name a street in Sabon Gari. The same goes for that Comrade – what is his name?- in the House of Representatives, who has never returned to us to know how we are feeling, to see the pains of our people. What about Senator Lado, he deceived our people to vote for him during the elections. We voted for him and PDP and that was the end. We have no further contact. That is a shame.”
It is the responsibility of government to give us these facilities and infrastructure, but as I said earlier, we are living in South African times. There are about 50 roads in Sabon Gari, but apart from France Road, Igbo Road, Festing by Burma Road and Sarkin Yaki Road, all other roads in this area are in a decrepit state. What can we do? Well, we are praying that things get better. For now, things are so bad.
Prince Ajayi Memathayn had this to say: “Despite the fact the Hisbah people dealt with Sabon Gari and destroyed our businesses worth millions of naira over the years, we are still managing. The roads, made many years ago, are in horrible state; most of the bridges built then by the colonial masters have been washed away over time and new ones are not likely to come soon. Nobody is looking after Sabon Gari any more.
“Some governors came and they performed well; people like Commissioner Audu Bako, the first administrator of the state. Others came and played to sectionalism and simply neglected us. In fact, most of them have neglected Sabon Gari. These people collect a lot of money from Sabon Gari as tax, but little is put back into Sabon Gari for the good of our people. Here, drinking water is costlier than our house rents because we buy the water we drink from water vendors.
Igwe John C Nnaji appealed to the present administration of Kano State to revisit the needs of the Sabon Gari community, saying the people in this area are actually neglected in the scheme of things and are urgently in need of government assistance: “There are no good road networks here, no government health centre nor even hospital, no water supply, and no electricity supply in this area,” he intoned from his palace.”
He also charged the state government to recognise the immense contributions of the traditional institutions of the different tribes resident in Sabon Gari, adding that they are doing a lot in the promotion of the peaceful coexistence that is being experienced among the inter-groups and inter-communities in the state.
“It is only when there is crisis in the state that we are suddenly recognised as the leaders of our people. During such crisis, they would send official cars from Government House and from the SSS office to fetch us to help find solutions to the crisis or to calm our people. That should not be the case. This is the time to engage us properly and give us the recognition we deserve in the light of our roles as leaders of our people,” he said.