Who is to Blame for the Desecration of Kano’s Heritage?

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Back in 2010, I visited India, purely for tourism purposes, perhaps due to the marketing content I consumed ever since I was old enough to watch TV through Bollywood films. After arriving in Delhi, I immediately drove to Agra to see one of the 7 wonders of the world, which was truly magnificent. However, something happened that still stuck with me for almost a decade, it did not happen in Agra where Taj Mahal is, but rather in Delhi, when I went to check out Qutub Minar, a minaret built in 1192 when Muslims were ruling the country. While admiring the Quranic inscriptions on the minaret in a predominantly Hindu nation and the fact that it is still preserved, a little Indian girl about 8 years old approached me along with her father, who appeared to be encouraging her to talk to me. She was holding a notebook and a pencil and was a bit shy. I smiled at her and she immediately became confident to come and talk to me. She asked me my name and where I came from, I told her I am from Kano in Nigeria. She said she was doing a project from her school, and they were asked to go to tourist sites in Delhi and interview tourists to find out what made them visit India, and what they find special about the places they were visiting. We had a chat and then she asked me this question “what monument do you have at home that you feel I should visit when I grow up?”. I was quite, because I don’t really have an answer then, and I said “none”. She said thank you and left. The fact that I didn’t know interesting things about my home Kano to share with this little girl hit me hard.

So, when I came back. I started becoming involved in trying to understand the culture and heritage of my home Kano. Now fast forward to 2018, I went to Brisbane Australia for an MIT Bootcamp. I met amazing people, from over 140 countries, and through networking activities almost everyone I met asked me the same questions: where are you from, what’s interesting about Kano? This time, however, I had a lot to say, I talked about the great wall of Kano (Badala), a 24 km fortification about a 1000 years old for which Frederick Lugard, the British General-Governor of Nigeria once remarked that he had “never seen anything like it in Africa”. I showed them pictures of the great Durbar of Kano, which is the biggest and most colorful annual procession of horses in the world. I also talked about other interesting things like the Dala hill, the markets and occasionally threw in Baturiya of Hadejia, a beautiful place where birds travel to from Europe, annually to escape harsh weather. This time the response was quite amazing as everyone I talked to wanted to visit Kano, except for security reasons only.

So after I came back, we founded Makuba Center for Arts and Culture, where we wanted to revive the heritage of the people of Kano and tell the world why Kano is a great place to visit. We wanted to use the defunct building of the British Council to commence activities, and I personally met the Emir asking for a lease of the place which was going into ruins to convert into a place for promotion of the traditional arts and culture, he turned me down. We then approached the government for a lease of the Be Minister House on Sokoto Road, which was built in 1907 and now in ruins to convert into a center for the promotion of traditional arts and culture. In a typical civil servant style, they saw us as a threat to the money they are making leasing the place for wedding events and turned us down. While we were still working on setting up a center irrespective of lack of interest from our leaders, the announcement to split Kano into 5 emirates popped up on my Facebook feed on Monday the 6th. Something that seemed like a joke at first, became a reality when the bill got passed into law on Wednesday the 8th. Just like that our dreams seem shattered by our leaders that are more interested in the struggles for power and control of resources, than the preservation of our history, heritage, culture, and traditions. Suddenly Kano is no longer Kano but now Kano, Bichi, Karaye, Gaya, and Rano.

While the statement about our leaders only interested in power sounds a bit like a cliché for politicians anywhere around the world, what concerns me is how we as individual citizens, don’t value our culture, history, and heritage. We have now reached a stage where our leaders that are supposed to guard our heritage with all they’ve got are the ones now desecrating it, simply because they can get away with it.

The division of the Kano Emirate is perhaps the highest level of desecration of the heritage of the people of Kano. The worst that has ever happened since the return of democracy in 1999. Today, right in front of our very eyes, a politician has reduced Kano, which was an empire over 1000 years old to less than almost all its contemporaries. All foolishly in the name of political vendetta without any interest in the far-reaching consequences. As for the consequences, now, next time they call for representation from the Kano traditional institution, there will be 5 voices instead of 1. Now, 5 different Emirs would conduct appointments of ward heads, Imams and the likes, creating chaos. Now, the Kano Durbar will perhaps not be visited from all over the world, as it will have just a handful of district heads and a short, less colorful procession. History has consistently shown us that division or secession hardly work. Imagine if Saudi Arabia were to go back to their smaller territories, or UAE into smaller emirates, or the United Kingdom into smaller nations, or even Nigeria into smaller confederates. Even according to the law of the jungle the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”.

Sadly, however, the response to the whole crisis that I have monitored on social media is mostly based on sentiments. Those against the move felt the Emir was wronged and hence they seek to support him, not the institution. They forget the fact that he had a role in bringing down the institution to this level by constantly engaging in politics, he went against several established norms of the emirate such as for example, allegedly having his daughter represent him at an event, which was completely unprecedented. Someone told me that he was also involved in the allocation of land in the Eid ground for the construction of shops (not verified), not to talk of several construction adjustments he made to the Palace (Fada) which were never attempted by his predecessors. It is one thing to be a modern Emir and bring useful innovations to a traditional system, but should that be at the expense of the destruction of a well-established tradition and culture over 1000 years old. The British who occupy some of the peaks of civilization today still practice basic traditions such as for example naming a baby. As far as I am concerned and also as a descendant of the Dabo dynasty the Emir paved way for the Governor to even have the guts to undertake this unfortunate action. On the other hand, you have people that are happy with the decision and believe that these places were emirates before, and therefore should have Emirs. For them, I have nothing to say but they should learn to see beyond their noses.

As for the Governor, the only thing that comes to mind is the story of Aerys II Targaryen in the fictional story of Game of Thrones, who after discovering his unpopularity and impending fall from the throne decided to have the entire city burnt along with all its inhabitants. So simply because the people of Kano showed they no longer want you as their governor, you now seek to destroy it. Well, that really depends on the legacy you wish to leave behind for your descendants that will bear your name.”

Anas Yazid
PhD Student
Imperial College London

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