Opinion: Attack on Emir of Kano: A sinister sign to northern rulers

by Ross Alabo-George

The time has come for the emirates to stop ruling their people: instead, it is time to lead. The attack signals a need for change, from the ancient Fulani manual of dominating a conquered territory, to an all-inclusive service-driven leadership. The emirates must champion the education of their children, a role they have failed to play for almost a century.

The abhorrent and bloodcurdling assailment on the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero — 13th Fulani emir since the Fulani War of Usman dan Fodio, and the longest-serving emir in the emirate’s history – is perhaps a signal of an emerging blitz on the emirates, partly because of their disinclination to the heightened threat of  Boko Haram. It also exposes the undeniable truth – a deep chasm in socio-political dynamics on the Fulani-dominated Northern Nigeria.

The Emir of Kano sits on the throne of the wealthiest emirate in Northern Nigeria, and is by all standards the wealthiest emir of his generation; ironically, his emirate when compared with others, also has the highest population of poor people.

As far back as 1850, a German scholar, Heinrich Barth, who lived in Kano for several years, described the city as a remarkable centre of trade in Africa. The city had some of Nigeria’s earliest millionaires. By 1922, groundnut trader, Alhassan Dantata, had become the richest businessman in Kano, surpassing fellow merchants such as Umaru Sharubutu Koki and Maikano Agogo.

However, this history of commerce and trade has only left behind artefacts for the local museum in the city centre.

Kano State, by the 2006 census figures, is the most populous state in Nigeria. By virtue of its given population and the state’s 44 local government areas, the state receives the highest federal allocation from the Federal Government, more than Lagos and any other state of the oil producing Niger Delta region.

The Kano Emirate is a key beneficiary of this huge population incentive that accrues to the state. It is no secret that the Emir of Kano receives some kind of royalty (homage) from the  state government.  In March 1995, the late military administrator of Kano State, Col. Abdullahi Wase, himself the son of a first class emir in  Plateau State, ordered the federal pay officer in Kano to deduct three per cent directly from the statutory allocations of all the local governments in the state for the upkeep of the Kano Emirate Council; since then, the cash flow from the councils have remained that way.

The new Kano is ruled and governed by seasoned capitalists, who have shown little or no empathy to the squalid and grimy living conditions of majority of its people. The new Kano has a total of about six millionAlmajiris (2006 census figures) roaming the streets. The new Kano has one of the highest absolute poverty level in the country.

In the last decade, no one would have thought that such a high profile attack on one of the best preserved and established royal dynasties of the North was even nearly possible. The Kano Emirate has always enjoyed the love and honour of all its subjects, at least, so they thought until that utterly horrendous attack.

In the past, such grotesque attack on the highly revered emir would have attracted the spontaneous ire of the people of Kano, and an immediate eruption of violence from all corners of the emirate. The uncontrollable rage of the subjects would have actually made Kano State “ungovernable”.

It has happened before, in 1981, when Governor Abubakar Rimi launched a political attack on the Emir of Kano, the people resisted fiercely. Despite Rimi’s political astuteness and mass following, riots broke out in Kano. The mayhem consumed his Political Adviser, Dr. Bala Muhammed. Rimi, after the incident, showed his maverick nature once again: He retreated. And it came to pass that the emir had his peace.

This time it was not so. The city was calm. The time has come for the emirates to stop ruling their people: instead, it is time to lead. The attack signals a need for change, from the ancient Fulani manual of dominating a conquered territory, to an all-inclusive service-driven leadership. The emirates must champion the education of their children, a role they have failed to play for almost a century. Their attempt to shield the children of their poor subjects from Western education by creating a bespoke system of education called the Almajiri system, has been severely abused and has today spiralled into what we all know as Boko Haram.

The attack on the emir is quite unfortunate, but the attack that happens to the North everyday is the millions of Northern children living in poverty and illiteracy. In this generation driven by information and information technology, only education and proper mentorship can build children with smart minds, minds that can reason.

In this generation, where primary schools in the south of the country are installing computer laboratories, Northern governors and the emirates are throwing grand events for projects such as the renovation of six classroom blocks. In Kano State, apart from the Federal Government Colleges, no other secondary school has a good library.

This generation does not forgive poverty, and technology does not too. Northern children will pay severely in the coming decade if the emirates and governments in the North do not rally to declare a state of emergency in their education sector.

The next generation would not be about government and politics; it would be about industry and technology. Northern children must be prepared.

Sir Ahmadu Bello understood what preparation meant. He prepared the North radically for politics and power. Now, this generation must prepare the next for technology and industry. The Sardauna prepared and nurtured wise men in the days when Western education was not popular in the North, he sent his power trainees to London, and they were bred thoroughly.

Nigerians who had watched Alhaji Tafawa Balewa’s speech to the United States Congress would testify of an orator whose every gesticulation and word had a pleasant sweetness. Till this moment, I have not seen such a moving presentation from a Nigerian leader. Balewa was nurtured.

This moment also should serve as a period of sober reflection for the Polo-loving children of Alhaji Ado Bayero, who would rather spend millions of naira on breeding and nurturing their Arabian and Appaloosa hybrid horses, than sending a few more destitute kids to school. What I still don’t understand is how they transport these horses in chartered cargo planes to polo tournaments, while thousands of their subjects loiter around the palace begging for food.

The Governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwakwanso, recently arranged for the marriage of hundreds of widows, I would not criticise that now, but what the governor also did, but didn’t say, is that he sent and sentenced those women to become baby factories to unready men, who couldn’t sponsor a small marriage. Who will take care of the children from these arranged marriages? They are the unborn recruits of the emerging violent wing of the Almajiris.

Is it not time for the Emir and his sons to lead the campaign for the ban of the Almajiri system? Is not time that those lazy parents and Ulamas who send five-year-old kids into the cold streets be prosecuted? How much longer will the Emir wait to tell these reckless fathers in his domain who abandon their children to the Almajiri system to take responsibility for their education and security?

I remember the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, for raising a strong objection to the Onshore/Offshore Abrogation Bill as passed by the National Assembly in 2002. He, in fact, led a strong delegation — the Kano Elders Forum — to then President Olusegun Obasanjo in Aso Rock, to pressure the President to veto the bill. Now, it is time for the Emir to champion the advocacy for the abrogation of Almajiri system, at least in his large domain.

He has done it before. Alhaji Ado Bayero’s reign which has spanned five decades has been progressive and marked with landmark reforms. During his tenure, he transformed the Kano Emirate from a native authority to community leadership; he fought for the education of girls in Kano, and has never been afraid to confront civilian or military authorities at all levels.

At different times, he has had bitter clashes with civilian and military authorities in the state and the centre. In 1984, a travel ban was placed on the Emir and his friend, Ooni of Ile-Ife, Okunade Sijuwade.

Kano is Northern Nigeria’s main commercial nerve centre and whatever cripples Kano will definitely affect the already fragile economy of the country. The city has become home to many Nigerian businessmen, especially traders; it is our gold souk.

As we pray for the speedy recovery of the Emir and his sons, he should also be reminded that the throne he occupies in peace today, still bears scars of turmoil. From 1893 until 1895, two rival claimants for the throne fought a civil war. With the help of royal slaves, Yusufu was victorious over Tukur, and claimed the title of emir. Today, Alhaji Bayero’s throne is not in contention; therefore, there is no need for these children soldiers anymore.


Alabo-George is an energy analyst.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

One comment

  1. I know this simple statement will be so out of the box you all will call it radical: all traditional institutions must be abrogated for Nigeria to move into the modern age. Nigeria claims to be a republic; we bloddy hell should become one.


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