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Urban Violence in Africa

Eghosa E. Osaghae
Ismaila Touré
N’Guessan Kouamé
et al.

Violence in metropolitan Kano: A Historical Perspective

Isaac Olawale Albert

Full text

1. Introduction

1Kano, a predominantly Islamic urban centre, was conquered by the British in 1903. Since then, the city has experienced diverse social, economic and political changes. Economically, Kano’s pre-colonial influence, as the entreport of the trans-Saharan trade from North Africa waned with the arrival of the British. In colonial times, imported goods, mostly from Britain and Europe, came through the southern Nigerian seaports of Lagos, Port-Harcourt, and Calabar. The trade in imported and foreign goods led to significant south-north migrations in Nigeria, with many southern Nigerian immigrants settling in Kano. These immigrants into colonial and post-colonial Kano brought dramatic social changes. The physical structure of the city also changed as a result of the urban renewal policies of the British colonial officials and their Nigerian successors. All these factors produced a culture-shock for the inhabitants of Kano which preceded the inter-personal and mass violence experienced in the twentieth century.

2This paper explains the vioient eruptions which have occurred in Kano since 1953, and places them within the context of the urbanization of the city since the British conquest in 1903. Rather than studying acts of inter-personal violence in Kano (e.g., murder, arson and rape) which hardly differ from what obtains in any other Nigerian city, emphasis is on those acts of mass violence that have given Kano the reputation of being one of the most endangered cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The historical background of Kano is also examined. Emphasis is placed on the nature of population pressure on the city during pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial times. The Islamic factor in the history of the city is also placed in the right perspective, as most of the acts of mass violence described are connected to the practice of Islam.

2. Historical Background

3Kano is one of the most studied cities in Nigeria (see Palmer, 1928; Hogben and Kirk-Greene, 1966; Mortimore, 1966; Trevallion, 1966; Paden, 1973; Frishman, 1977: 212-250; 1986: 464-475, etc.). The city is one of the seven legitimate Hausa states Hausa bakwai identified in the Bayajidda legends which explain the origin of Hausa states. Apart from popular legends, however, Kano has a detailed history that dates from before the seventh century (Willet, 1971: 368), making the city one of the oldest in Nigeria. The history of the city is best understood when divided into three related periods: (a) the Habe era, i.e., from origin to the 1807 Fulani jihad; (b) the Fulani era, i.e., 1807 to the 1903 British conquest and, (c) the twentieth century, i.e., from the British conquest to the present. Islam, which has produced the most pronounced contradictions in the urban character and the state of inter-group relations in twentieth century Kano, was established in the city during the Habe era. During the Fulani era the religion was consolidated.

4As noted by various writers, Kano was founded before the seventh century as a settlement for Abagawa immigrant blacksmiths who came to mine iron ore from the ironstone outcrop of Dala Hill. By the tenth century, the population in Kano had become large enough to form a political structure which evolved under a Daura immigrant known as Bagauda. Bagauda’s political hegemony was however, not as well accepted as that of his son, Gigi, who located his capital to the south of Dala hill (the present Kano). To protect Kano against foreign invaders, Gigi started the construction of the famous Kano walls in 1095. These were completed in the twelfth century during the reign of Sarkin Yusa (Frishman, 1977: 214). During the reign of Sarkin Muhammadu Rumfa in the fifteenth century, the walls were extended by fifty-four per cent to accommodate the many immigrants, especially those from Bornu and North Africa, who streamed into Kano, because of its economic and, later, religious importance.

5The Wangara immigrants from the old Mali Empire as well as the Sharifai, introduced Islam to Kano in the fourteenth century (see al-Hajj, 1963: 7-16). It was, however, during the reign of Sarkin Muhammadu Rumfa (1463-1499) that Islam became the official religion in Kano since the successive Sarakuna (kings) of the city were at least nominal Muslims (Paden 1973: 47). During the reign of Rumfa, Kano played host to Al-Maghili, a north African scholar from Tlemcen who radicalized the practice of Islam in Kano. Al-Maghili’s visit to Kano was as a result of ideological conflicts in the western Mediterranean and north Africa. These occurred as a result of the colonial offensive of Portugal and Spain, and the call by Pope Martin V and Pope Eugenius IV in the early fifteenth century for Christian monarchs to eliminate Muslims, who were regarded as infidels, from their domains. North African Muslims reacted to this in different ways. Al-Maghili and many other Islamic scholars, who later revolutionarized the practice of Islam in the Sahara and South equator, developed their strong following after this (Yahya, 1989: 20). The major task Al-Maghili set for himself in Kano was that of establishing a firm framework on which the practice of Islam could rest. He produced for Sarkin Muhammadu Rumfa a treatise of political administration which incorporated the political, religious, societal and economic issues concerning the Islamic state. As a result of the activities of Al-Maghili and other Arab scholars, the traditional animists, Maguzawa, in Kano were overthrown. Kano thus became a dominantly Islamic society, with its architecture, economy and social character patterned after that of other Islamic urban centres in the Middle East and North Africa (Frishman, 1986).

6Between 1807 and 1903, Kano came under the control of the Sokoto jihadists. The Sokoto Jihad which started in 1804 was extended to Kano in 1807 on the excuse that the Habe rulers of the city had incorporated some elements of the Maguzawa (animists) theocratic practices in their administration. After its conquest in 1807 by the Sokoto jihadists, Kano came under the Sokoto Caliphate. This led to the further consolidation of Islam in the city and the elevation of Kano to the status of a prominent Islamic centre (Yahya, 1989: 21; Mahadi, 1989: 202-203). According to Mahadi, Kano played host to a variety of displaced people as well as Islamic scholars during the Sokoto Jihad. This led to a further increase in the city’s population. The story is told of how Prophet Mohammed stayed briefly in Kano and went to the top of Dala hill to pray on his ascension (Isra) to legitimize the new image of Kano as a centre of Islamic excellence. His footprints are believed to be still visible on the hill. The activities of Al-Maghili in Kano were also believed to have been directed by the Prophet himself, thus strengthening the Islamic traditions in the city. In the light of this, the Kanawa (i.e., the indigenous Kano people) see themselves as pure Muslims who received their Islamic traditions directly from Prophet Mohammed (Yahya, 1989: 22). These were the people that the British Christian colonial forces conquered in 1903. The transformation of the urban character of Kano started with the establishment of British colonial rule immediately after the 1903 conquest.

7Having perceived Islam as a great threat to inter-group relations in Kano, the British administrators divided the city into three segregated districts. The old-walled city, Birni, occupied by the pre-colonial Hausa/Fulani Kanawa, was exclusively reserved for them. No twentieth century immigrants, especially the Christian southerners that streamed into Kano after the British occupation, were allowed to reside there. The latter were settled in ‘Sabon Gari’, the settlement which was specially established for them around 1911 (see Albert, 1994). The northern Nigerian Muslims, who distanced themselves from the Kanawa by agreeing to work under the British, were settled at Tundun-Wada and Gwargwarma. Sabon Gari, Tundun-Wada and Gwargwarma therefore constituted a second district in Kano. The third district was the ‘township’ occupied by the British administrators during colonial rule. At present, this third district is occupied by top civil servants, public establishments and major companies in Kano.

8The impact of Western urbanization on Kano from 1903 continues to be felt even in the present time. It became more pronounced with the commencement of military rule in the 1960s. Since then, there has been a marked differentiation between urban Kano and its rural areas in terms of development. Kano state was formed in 1968 by the amalgamation of the Emirates of Kano, Gumel, Kazaure and Hadejia. The state was larger than some African countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Cameroun and Burkina Faso. As a result of the creation of the state, most public and private investments concentrated in metropolitan Kano. While rural areas in the state started to experience a drastic reversal in economic activities, the city of Kano experienced economic growth. Many rural dwellers had no better option therefore, than to migrate into the city even when some had no work or business there. Other factors that necessitated the rural-urban drift to Kano included the Sahelian drought in some countries north of Nigeria – Chad and Niger; the collapse of the groundnut industry from which the vast number of the rural people earned their living and the temporary boom experienced by the construction industry in Kano which employed many unskilled labourers (Lubeck, 1986:45-46). The population of Kano which was about 300,000 in 1963 had risen to more than one million by 1980.

9With the increase of population came other social problems. The population of the city had to expand to peri-urban areas along the Zaria, Katsina, Wudil and Hadejia roads. Furthermore, the population explosion increased the problem of land density as more buildings were crammed into the limited land area. The city also became more heterogenous in terms of its demographic composition. Lubeck noted however that:

Despite the enormous increase in population, no adequate drainage or sewer system has been constructed. Public health conditions for the majority of the urban population are increasingly squalid, and the incidence of and potential for epidemic diseases such as cholera, remain exceedingly high. (Lubeck, 1986: 46)

10The most important problem faced by the rural-urban migrants in Kano was employment. Many had no skills suitable for jobs in the city. Yet, it appeared the Kano city planners did not consider such social problems as employment in their planning policies, otherwise specially designed jobs could have been created for those graduating from Koranic schools. Many of the migrants therefore became liabilities to the urban system in Kano. As will be seen, these disadvantaged people constitute the highest percentage of religious fanatics and ethnic chauvinists in Kano. The conservatism of some of them is also likely to have been responsible for what is considered as Violence against women’ in this study.

11The violence resulting from contemporary urbanization in Kano is discussed under four sub-headings:

  1. ethnic violence

  2. religious violence

  3. violence by the almajirai (children in Koranic schools)

  4. violence against women

3. Ethnic Violence

12The paradigm of ethnicity as demonstrated by Cohen (1974), Nnoli (1978), Sanda (1976) and Otite (1991) is one of the most virile tools for analysing the problem of inter-group conflict in any urban community. Cultural identity, economic factors and politics are important elements in ethnic conflict. In most cases, economic competition between sections of the urban community take the outward shape of violent ethnic conflict. However, as Nnoli has shown, contact between people of different ethnic groups does not necessarily result in conflict. Rather, it is the competition between them that makes one group consider the other as ‘strangers’ or ‘parasites’. Within this context, violence can erupt between conflicting groups. The economic aggressiveness of strangers, more than their political activities has been noted by Shack (1979: 6) as responsible in most African societies, for hostility against them. Using a Sierra-Leonian example, Leighton (1979: 85-104) also noted that the economic success of urban strangers could generate the opposition of their hosts. Such opposition could be violently expressed.

13The major incident of ethnic violence that has taken place in Kano since the British conquest of 1903 was between the Kanawa (indigenous Kano people) and the mainly southern Nigerian immigrants resident in the Sabon Gari settlement. The crisis between the two is best understood against the background of British colonial policies in Kano. As noted earlier, the British decided to settle all non-Muslim immigrants in Kano, i.e., Ghanaians, Sierra Leonians, southern Nigerians, etc. in the Sabon Gari settlement in 1911. The British expressed the fear that culture-shock resulting from the contact between the Kanawa and Christian immigrants and missionaries in Kano could produce Mahdist (jihadist) revolts against the colonial administrators. They also feared that the more educated southern Nigerians could teach the Kanawa to disobey the British administrators, thus paving the way for future insurgencies. To prevent contact between the two groups, therefore, the Christian immigrants were settled in Sabon Gari. The Kanawa were proscribed from living in the settlement just as the southern Nigerians, for whom Sabon Gari was established, were forbidden from residing in the walled city, Birni (see Albert, 1994: 59-78).

14Rather than solving the problem of culture-shock, the residential segregation of the Kanawa from southern Nigerian immigrants engendered hostility between members of the two groups. They both found it very difficult to tolerate, understand and positively adjust to each other. To the highly Islamized Kanawa, Sabon Gari was nothing but a settlement of infidels (harna or kafiri in Hausa). The southern Nigerians, who were more concerned with their economic prosperity in Kano, worked hard and succeeded in gaining effective control of the formal and informal sectors of the Kano economy, most especially in the period preceding the ‘northernization’ policy of the 1960s. They dominated the staff list of the post offices, banks, industries, local and foreign companies, etc., because they were better educated than their northern Nigerian counterparts. They also controlled the Sabon Gari market where economic activities contributed to the collapse of the long-established Kurmi market inside the Birni. All these factors made the average Kanawa hold the southern Nigerian immigrants in their midst in great hatred. The strangers were seen as interlopers. Of all the Sabon Gari immigrants, the Igbo were the most detested by the Kanawa because of their superior economic interests and ‘uncompromising religious activities’ (Albert, 1993).

15The first major clash between the Kanawa and their Sabon Gari ‘guests’ took place in March 1953. The problem was an extension of the ethnicity problem that had bedevilled Nigeria before her independence in 1960. It was catalysed by a disagreement on the floor of the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos over the question of when Nigeria should be granted independence. The independence motion was moved by Chief Anthony Enahoro, a member of the Yoruba-dominated Action Group (AG). The motion which was aimed at making the British grant self-government to Nigeria in 1956, was opposed by the Hausa-Fulani members who saw the 1956 proposal as a ploy of the southerners to dominate the North, especially since the northerners did not have enough Western educated people to manage their civil service. This meant that the North would have had to depend on the southerners for the administration of their region when the colonialists left. The protest of the northerners was supported by the British and therefore, the motion was not passed. At the end of the parliamentary debates, the northern Nigerian politicians were openly booed and insulted by the southerners who declared them stooges of the British. The southern press was also critical of the northerners. The news of what happened in Lagos was received with mixed feelings by the northern Nigerians who thought that the southern Nigerians did not want the Hausa-Fulani in the Nigerian federation. The northerners considered secession from Nigeria but were discouraged by the British (Sklar, 1983: 131-132).

16The Northerners were more offended when the AG decided to carry its campaign for independence in 1956 to Kano during the month of March 1953. A peaceful demonstration against the AG tour was organized by NPC leaders and the Emir of Kano. Championed by the native administration staff in Kano and the gardawa (the unemployed youths), the ‘peaceful demonstration’ soon metamorphosed into a violent encounter with the southern Nigerian residents in the Sabon Gari settlement. These Sabon Gari residents were considered kinsmen of the southern Nigerians who had opposed the northerners in Lagos. Therefore, northern aggression was unleashed on them. The demonstrators who first built up in Fagge, increased numerically as they moved towards Sabon Gari, chanting ‘We do not want the Yoruba here’. They were, however, more interested in attacking the Igbo than the Yoruba. This has been explained in an earlier study (Albert, 1993) as being due to the economic aggressiveness of the Igbo in Kano as well as their refusal to accept Islam, while many Yoruba settlers in northern Nigeria did so. The 1953 Kano riot which started on 15 May lasted until 18 May 1953. Thirty-six people were officially declared dead and 241 wounded (see table 1 below).

Table 1. Casualties of the May 1953 Kano Riot

Table 1. Casualties of the May 1953 Kano Riot

Source: Northern Regional Government, 1953: 21.

17After the 1953 riot in Kano, the NPC government adopted a ‘northernization policy’ by which many southern Nigerians in the northern public service were retrenched and replaced by northern Nigerians. By 1957, there were specific instructions requiring the northern Nigerian Public Service Commission not to employ a non-northern Nigerian if a qualified northern Nigerian or an expatriate was available for such an appointment. Such non-northern Nigerians as were employed were also only offered contract appointment. Private companies operating in northern Nigeria were expected to comply with the terms of the northernization policy (Nnoli, 1978: 191-4). Southern Nigerians in Kano were not much affected by the policy since those that lost their jobs or could not secure employment in the formal sector of the economy simply turned to the informal sector. By 1965, economic activities in the southern Nigerian controlled Sabon Gari market in Kano town had surpassed that of the Hausa-Fulani controlled market in Birni ‘in terms of number of traders, in value of turnover, and …average profit per trader’ (Paden, 1971: 124). The Sabon Gari market was Igbo-dominated. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Igbo were the worst affected by post-1960 ethnic and religious violence in Kano.

18The next major incident of ethnic violence in Kano after 1953 took place in 1966, and was part of the widespread violence in northern Nigeria. Compared to the many other northern Nigerian cities that experienced the 1966 ethnic violence, Kano city lost the greatest number of lives (see table 2). The 1966 ethnic violence in Kano, as in other parts of the north, was catalyzed by the first military coup d’etat in Nigeria led by Major Kaduna Chukwuma Nzeogu. The January 15, 1966 coup was considered to be ‘an Igbo affair’ in terms of those that participated in it and those against whom it was directed. Most of the coup plotters were Igbo speaking. During the coup, some prominent northern Nigerian leaders were assassinated. These included the Prime Minister, Sir Tafawa Balewa, and the Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello. The death of these two prominent leaders of the NPC did not ignite the anger of the northern Nigerians as much as the decision of Major-General Ironsi, the Igbo man who succeeded Tafawa Balewa, to turn Nigeria into a unitary state and abolish all regional references and associations. General Ironsi also surrounded himself with many Igbo advisers and failed to punish the plotters of the January 15, 1966 coup. These actions were seen in the north as a discreet attempt to promote Igbo interests to the detriment of other Nigerians, most particularly the Hausa-Fulani. On May 29, 1966, anti-Ironsi violence started in Kano and many other northern Nigerian cities. The demonstration in Kano, aimed against the Igbo in Sabon Gari, was led by the students of the Abdullahi Bayero College, the Provincial Secondary School, the School of Arabic Studies and the Technical Training College, Kano (Paden, 1973: 333). These students, like the other educated elite in northern Nigeria, were worried that the unitary system of government would allow the better educated southerners to dominate the northern civil service, making it difficult for northerners to occupy top positions. At the end of the crisis in Kano, 73 people were officially declared dead, 254 wounded and 170 arrested. These figures were the highest in any part of northern Nigeria during the May-June 1966 crisis (see table 2 below).

19In order to bring the 1966 ethnic violence in northern Nigeria to an end, the governor of the region, Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina, held several meetings, with the Hausa-Fulani emirs and opinion leaders. In one of such meetings, attended by the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emir of Kano, the traditional rulers were informed that no permanent change in the structure of the state was envisaged by the government without first consulting the people. He assured them that under the unification decree, the majority of civil servants would be locally appointed, so that there should be no fear of domination by any external group. At the end of the meeting, the emirs presented a memorandum to Lt. Col. Hassan Katsina and issued the following statement:

All of you are aware of the disturbances that have occurred recently in some areas of this country. Because of this, the Military Governor of the Northern Provinces summoned an emergency meeting of Emirs and chiefs in order to afford us an opportunity of discussing the grievances of our peoples and to give constructive suggestions towards remedying the situation. We have now concluded our discussions and have submitted a memorandum on the grievances of our people and our recommendations on how to bring about a lasting solution for peace in Nigeria as a whole. What remains is for us to give the government time to consider our recommendations. I would now like to appeal to all Nigerians living in the Northern Provinces to remain calm and to assist us in the task of remedying the harm that has been done. I know it is within the power of every one of us to render this assistance by living peacefully with his neighbours and by refraining from doing anything likely to cause disturbance. Disturbance of any nature brings nothing but harm to all. I have already asked all the chiefs who have attended our conference to appeal to their peoples on their return to maintain peace and order and to give the government a chance to consider our recommendations. I trust that all of you will give us the necessary co-operation. (Quoted in Muffet 1982: 86)

Table 2. Casualties of the May-June 1966 Anti-Ironsi Violence in Northern Nigeria

Table 2. Casualties of the May-June 1966 Anti-Ironsi Violence in Northern Nigeria

Source: Muffet (1982:84)

20The appeal of the emirs to all Nigerians living in the northern provinces to remain calm and to assist ‘… in remedying the harm that has been done’ fell on deaf ears. Several thousands of Igbo-speaking people fled the region. Later events indicated that the Hausa-Fulani were not appeased either. They looked forward to the next opportunity to engage the Igbos in open battle for the ‘sins’ committed by their sons in the army who championed the January 15, 1966 coup and the new Nigerian Head of State, Major General Ironsi, who seemed only interested in working against Hausa-Fulani interests. The Ironsi case was addressed on 29 July 1966 when a group of northern Nigerian soldiers struck in Ibadan. The coup which was tagged a ‘return match’ led to the death of Major General Ironsi; several Igbo officers and Lt. Col. F. A. Fajuyi, the military governor of Western Nigeria who was hosting the Head of State in Ibadan. In Kano, and in other northern Nigerian cities, the carnage against the Igbo started once again. Several thousands lost their lives. As a result, more Igbo people fled from northern Nigeria. In all, about 100,000 of them returned to eastern Nigeria. This was a prelude to the Nigerian civil war in which the Igbo were pitched against the other Nigerians (see Tamuno and Ukpabi, 1989).

4. Religious Violence

4.1 The Maitatsine riots

21The first major religious violence in Kano took place between December 18 and 29, 1980. It was triggered off by members of the Maitatsine sect. To appreciate the nature of the 1980 crisis, it is instructive to start with a careful look at its antecedents. Muhammadu Marwa, the leader of the Maitatsine sect who caused the 1980 religious riot in Kano and many other parts of northern Nigeria between 1980 and 1987, emigrated to Kano in 1945 from Marwa in northern Cameroun. He entered the city as an Islamic scholar (Tamuno, 1991: 175; Adamu, 1993: 16-17). As Marwa became more integrated into the urban system in Kano, he declared himself a prophet and proceeded to engage in different kinds of rituals, which many Kanawa considered un-Islamic. He was said to have condemned the Quran and argued against the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (FGN, 1981:15). He preached a return to the pre-colonial civilization by condemning the use of wrist watches, motor cars, motorcycles, bicycles, etc. Despite this, Marwa was still able to recruit a large followership in Kano. Balogun (1989:67) estimated the membership of the sect at between six and ten thousand in 1980. So fanatical were the Maitatsinists that they believed that only their leaders and themselves were genuine Muslims. It was in the process of forcing the Kanawa and other northern Nigerians to recognize and accept his unorthodox practices that Muhammadu Marwa became known by the epithet ‘Maitatsine’, meaning ‘one who curses’. He normally invoked God to curse whosoever refused to agree with his teachings: ‘Wanda bai yarda ba Allah ta tsine mishi’ (Allah will punish whosoever refuses to accept what I teach).

22All efforts made by Marwa’s neighbours to dislodge the religious fundamentalist from his Van Awaki’ quarters in Kano proved abortive because the numerical strength of his followers was intimidating. Although he was deported to Cameroun in the early 1960s by the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi, and remained there between 1953 and 1963. After Sanusi’s deposition in 1963 (see Whitaker Jr., 1970: 279-82), Marwa returned to Kano in 1965 and started once again to recruit new followers. In 1973, he came on a collision course with Governor Audu Bako of Kano State, who considered Marwa’s activities to be injurious to peaceful urban development. He was arrested, convicted and sent to Makurdi prison in present-day Benue State. After completing his term of imprisonment, Marwa went back to Kano and became more aggressive in his fundamentalist religious activities. According to Adamu (p.1963: 16):

Throughout the late 70s, Maitatsine was a menace beyond the law of the land. He threatened his neighbourhood, blocked major roads, annexed public buildings to house his hundreds of disciples and terrorised the people of Kano city while the police offered little or no help. By 1979 he was to all intents and purposes untouchable. His neighbours fled.

23By the late 1970s, the nuisance value of Maitatsine and his followers could no longer be tolerated by the state. By early 1980, Muhammadu Marwa lost one of his favoured children (Kana’an) under mysterious circumstances. The teenager, widely considered a social irritant, was reported to have walked out of his father’s residence. He was later killed. Marwa saw this as an act of provocation and swore to punish all fathers for the death of his child (Zaharadeen, 1988: 26-27). On 26 November 1980, the Governor of Kano State, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, dared the Maitatsine sect members by asking their leader, Muhammadu Marwa, to destroy all the illegal structures he had built in different parts of Kano within fourteen days. He also accused the Maitatsinists of being in possession of illegally acquired dangerous weapons. Rather than complying with the order issued by the governor, Marwa sent for all his followers in northern Nigeria to come and defend their prophet. From this point, the Maitatsine members started killing anybody who came near their quarters. The police, and later members of the Nigerian armed forces, fought back and this led to the well known Maitatsine riots of 1980 in northern Nigeria. As noted by Ekoko and Amadi (1989: 122) and Lubeck (1986:1), the threat posed to the Nigerian state by the Maitatsine rioters can only be surpassed by that of the 1966 communal riots and the 1967-1970 Nigerian civil war. Over 5,000 Nigerians, including Muhammadu Marwa himself, and several police and military men were killed during the 1980 Kano riot. The Kano state government had to pay N8.1 million as compensation to some of the victims (Ekoko and Amadi, 1989: 128). The 1980 Kano Maitatsine riot of 1980 in Kano was followed by some others at Bulunkutu in 1982; Jimeta, Yola in 1984, Gombe in 1985, and most recent in Funtua, Kaduna state in 1987.

24In contrast to the school that sees the various Maitatsine riots in northern Nigeria as a product of religious fanaticism and bigotry, Umar (1989: 91) noted that the uprisings, especially the one in Kano could be interpreted as a revolt of the marginalized urban peasants. Most members of the Maitatsine sect were peasants from the rural areas who were displaced as a result of the rapid urbanization in Kano. These people who had no official means of rehabilitation found themselves socially, economically and politically ostracized from their immediate society.

25As observed further by Umar:

the resulting alienation has the effect of total estrangement of the Maitatsines from the society, to the extent that they came to view the society itself as too monstrous to be allowed to continue to exist. What seems like a simple correlation between the wretched socio-economic conditions of the Maitatsines and their violent disposition may in fact be a positive causal relationship. Since they cannot politically articulate their grievances because of their political marginalization, they make resort to an aberrant brand of Islamic revivalism.

26The observations of Ekoko and Amadi about the Maitatsines also reinforce the position maintained by Umar (1989: 123)

The Maitatsine movement was anti-authority; they regarded every kind of authority as an idol …Maitatsinism incorporated certain kinds of people who felt a recurrent need to react violently against the existing order, to question the right of the existing authority to rule and to assert that all authority other than their own is unnecessary and evil. The movement had an enduring belief in the healing properties of violent destruction, a boundless optimism in the possibilities of an immediate and radical transformation of society for the better and the building of a completely new order on the ruins of the old. These perceptions were reinforced by a sense of belonging to a secretive group operating clandestinely until the moment of open revolt arrived.

27It has also been suggested that the various Maitatsine riots in northern Nigeria were sponsored by some disgruntled politicians who wanted to actualize their political objectives through creating disorder. Some of the religious fanatics were reported to have boasted of their connection with these politicians. The setting up of two rival government commissions of inquiry into the Kano riot, both of which indicted the government for having an illicit relationship with religious fanatics, to some extent supports this. Rather than punishing the religious terrorists, 1,000 of them were granted presidential amnesty. Based on the evidence of photographs of Gaddafi of Libya and Ayatollah Khomeni found with some of the Maitatsinists, it was also argued that the religious fanatics were sponsored from outside Nigeria. Whatever the position taken in explaining Maitatsinism in Kano, the fact remains that Marwa would not have been able to recruit such a formidable followership but for the discontent already created in Kano by the city’s urbanization process.

4.2 The 1982 Muslim-Christian riot

28The second major incident of religious violence in Kano took place in October 1982 (see Chime, 1985; Ekoko and Amali, 1989:121-2; Albert, 1994: 219-20). It was the first large-scale violence of Muslims against Christians in Kano. It started from Fagge, one of the oldest Muslim immigrant settlements in Kano. Fagge was founded around the fifteenth century as a settlement for Tuareg merchants from North Africa (Frishman, 1986: 463). Some of the immigrants in the settlement were Islamic scholars who had much influence on the spread of Islam and Islamic scholarship in Kano. Mohammadu Marwa, alias Maitatsine, who unleashed terror on Kano in October 1980 had one of his headquarters in Fagge. Probably because of their proximity to Sabon Gari, where Western civilization was prevalent, Fagge settlers in the early twentieth century were less conservative in the practice of Islam when compared to the other Kanawa residents in the walled city, Birni. The comparative social liberalism in Fagge made it attractive to many young Kanawa. The Arab and Hausa/Fulani in the settlement were joined by some Lebanese traders in the early twentieth century (Paden, 1973: 313-4). The settlement is therefore multi-ethnic. Despite its moderate tolerance of some elements of Western civilization, Fagge remains dominantly Islamic and a major breeding ground for religious fanaticism in Kano.

29The 1982 religious crisis which started from Fagge resulted from the attempt made by the Christians in Kano to reconstruct a dilapidated church (Christ Church, Fagge) located in the settlement. The Muslim community in Fagge argued that this church was situated too close to a mosque and should not be reconstructed. They threatened to pull the church down if any attempt was made to continue its reconstruction. When these protesters could not carry out their threats on the Fagge church due to police intervention, they redirected their aggression to the Sabon Gari settlement considered to be the haven of the Christians. In the pandemonium that followed, the Muslims successfully burnt three churches and vandalized a few others. The affected churches included:

  1. Christ Redemption Church, Burma Road

  2. The Church of the Lord (Aladura), Burma Road

  3. Cherubim and Seraphim Movement, Freeman Road

  4. Pentecostal Church of Christ, Festing Road

  5. Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim, Sani Giwa Road

  6. Cherubim and Seraphim Church, Sanusi Road

  7. Igbala Apostolic Church, Weather Head Road

  8. Christian Church of Light, Hughes Road

30To compensate the Christians in Kano, the Shehu Shagari-led Federal Government sent a gift of N75,000 to the Christian Association of Nigeria in Kano. Speculating on the official status of this gift, Ekoko and Amadi (1989: 122) noted:

Perhaps it was meant to buy Christians’ silence, perhaps it was part of compensation, perhaps it was part of (President) Shagari’s way of muddling through.

31Whatever ends the compensation was meant to serve, it is known today that the problem of Christian-Muslim relations in Kano is yet to be solved. In 1991, there was another clash between adherents of the two religions.

4.3 The 1991 Muslim-Christian riots

32In 1991 there were three major incidents of anti-Christian violence in northern Nigeria. The first took place in Katsina in April 1991. It was sponsored by a fundamentalist Islamic sect – the Shiite movement led by Ibrahim el Zaky Zaky. The April religious demonstration in Katsina was anti-establishment and had as one of its main objectives the drive to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. In the course of the demonstration, many Christians in Katsina were attacked and their property burnt or looted. During the same month, there was a more bloody religious riot in Bauchi between Muslims and Christians. The crisis started in Tafawa Balewa where some Christians were reported to have assaulted their Muslim counterparts. The vengeance against the aggressive Christians in Tafawa Balewa later took place in Bauchi, the capital city of Bauchi state. Here, the Muslims burnt twelve churches and vandalized several hotels and commercial establishments. The loss of lives-was estimated at around 600 people (Vanguard April 25, 1991; Okeke, 1992: 109). The most vulnerable to attack during the Bauchi riots were the predominantly Christian Sayawa people of Tafawa Balewa origin and the Igbo who dominated economic activities in Bauchi (Okeke, 1992:110). The Bauchi religious demonstration was followed by one in Kano in October 1991.

33The Kano religious riot of October 1991 was one of the moves made by Muslims to check the fast spread of Christianity in northern Nigeria. The problem was catalyzed by an attempt by the Christians under the umbrella of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Kano State branch and the Reinhard Bonnke Ministry from Germany to organize an evangelistic crusade around the theme, Kano for Jesus. CAN in Kano gave the Reinhard Bonnke crusade wide publicity, much more than for previous events and several thousands of posters were pasted around Kano city. Some of the posters, according to Mukhtar (1992: 17), carried the message ‘Jesus for all by the year 2000’ and The Christian Crusade’. The word ‘crusade’ was not interpreted by the Muslims as the Christians meant it to be understood. To the Muslims the word meant religious warfare against the Islamic religion. The messages on these different posters were written not only in English but also in Hausa and Ajami (i.e., Hausa language written in Arabic letters), to ensure that the local Kanawa could read it. One side of some of the posters carried the photograph of a group of people (formerly blind) and on the other side of the poster were the bundles of sticks left behind by them after they had received their sight. This was an open invitation to the many handicapped in Kano to come forward for healing during the Reinhard Bonnke crusade. This annoyed the Kanawa, who are predominantly Muslim. They resolved to ensure that the Christian crusade did not hold.

34For a start, efforts were made to ensure that the Christians did not use the Kano Race Course which had been earlier scheduled for the crusade. The Muslims mounted pressure on the government to cancel the permit given to the Christians to use the place. Then the Christians changed the venue to the compound of St. Thomas/St. Louis School in Sabon Gari. The only alternative left to the Muslims was to physically prevent the crusade from holding. This they started on 13 October 1991 as soon as Evangelist Bonnke arrived in Kano. The Christians resident in Sabon Gari, Rimi Kebe and Tundun Murtala were attacked by the Muslims. The Christians (especially those in the Sabon Gari), unlike their practice in the past, launched counter-attacks killing as many of their aggressors as they could see. At the end of the crisis, over 500 people were recorded dead on both sides and much property destroyed (Daily Champion, 23 Oct. 1991; Newswatch, 28 Oct. 1991; Albert, 1993: 15-16). Many southern Nigerian immigrants in Kano fled the city after the religious riot, while those that remained resolved to be more aggressive in any future encounters with the Muslims, in defence of their investments in Kano.

35Religious violence in Kano is not limited to those incidents catalyzed by factors internal to the city. In some cases, the Muslim population in the city react negatively to impulses from other parts of the country. The most outstanding case mentioned here by way of concluding this aspect of the study is the 1987 Kafanchan religious riot which President Ibrahim Babangida described as ‘the civilian equivalent of an attempted coup d’etat’. The problem had its roots in an incident on March 7, 1987 at the College of Education, Kafanchan, Kaduna State which led to conflict between the Christian and Muslim students during a fellowship meeting organized by a group known as the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA). A bearded young man who was formerly known as Abubakar Bello, but who ‘had now accepted Christ into his life’, was said to have ridiculed the Islamic religion by drawing some disparaging conclusions from his comparison of the contents of the Bible and the Qur’an. He was challenged by a Muslim lady. Then the fighting started. As the news of the fracas filtered to Kafanchan, the dwellers in the city came out in defence of whatever faith they professed, using any dangerous weapon they could lay their hands on. Gradually, the riot spread from one town in Kaduna State to the other.

36In Kano, the students of the Bayero University demonstrated against the Kafanchan incident on the streets, burning four vehicles. The Muslim students in the school were later summoned to an emergency meeting by their counterparts from other institutions. The president of the Muslim Students Society (MSS), Mallam Adamu Ahmed, consequently issued an ultimatum to the Federal Government, giving it until March 14, 1987, demanding that he punish ‘the infidels’ at Kafanchan or ‘else there will be war’. He then banned all Christian activities in the Bayero University and warned all ‘naked girls’, i.e., non-Muslim students who did not wear veils, to steer clear of the University campus. The Muslim students then proceeded to the Emir of Kano’s palace to formally register their grievances against the Christians The governor of Kano State, Mohammed Umaru, had to quickly close down all the schools in his domain (This Week, March 30, 1987: 20-1).

5. Violence by the Almajirai

37The prevalence of child rioters, most especially the Almajirai (singular Almajiri), in all the violent outbreaks in Kano has been well noted by many writers on the city. The Almajiri educational system in Kano is typical of most northern Nigerian societies, in which parents send their young children to Islamic scholars, Mallamai (singular, Mallam) to study the Qur’an, Hadith and other branches of Islamic knowledge. Since such children are not usually given any material support by their parents, but rather abandoned with the Mallamai, they often go about begging for alms to take care of themselves and their teachers (Balogun 1989: 70 f. 33: Yahya, 1984). A popular Quranic injunction enjoins all faithful Muslims to give alms (sakat) to the poor, and so the Almajirai find willing patrons as they go about begging. They can be found in different parts of Kano – on the streets, in the market places, in open restaurants, in front of cinema houses, etc.

38The Almajirai or gardawa have been indicted by various sources for providing the instigating many of the past riots in Kano. In explaining how the 1966 riot in Kano started, Paden (1973: 334) described how the gardawa and Van haya’ (bicycle renters) invaded the Sabon Gari settlement on May 30, 1966 attacking the Igbo. About six hundred people lost their lives in this particular encounter. Justice Anthony N. Aniagolu’s report on the 1980 Maitatsine riot in Kano was also emphatic about the contribution of the Almajirai to the precipitation and prosecution of urban violence in the city. The Almajiri system was exploited by Muhammadu Marwa to recruit his well over six thousand strong followership (see FGN, 1981; Balogun, 1989: 67; Tamuno, 1991: 175). The Almajirai were also said to have constituted the bulk of the demonstrators that invaded the Igbo shops along Court Road and France Road in Sabon Gari, Kano on October 14, 1991 as a result of which the 1991 religious riot in Kano broke out (Albert, 1994). When the Maitatsinists struck at Funtua in January 1993, killing several hundreds of people, the police reportedly arrested ninety-four of the fanatics. Forty-five of them were confirmed to be Almajirai (Zakka and Jega, 1993: 11).

39The Almajiri system, a pre-capitalist institution, is an aberration in a capitalist economy. The system was instituted when the knowledge of how to read and write Arabic was a source of social, economic and political mobility. The exploits of Al-Maghili and many other north African scholars in Kano in the period preceding the European incursion into the city, were chiefly made possible by their Islamic scholarship. Before 1903, the Mallamai (Ulama) occupied eminent positions in the socio-political structure of Kano. But all of this was changed in the twentieth century by the advent of British colonialism and the modern system of urbanization that Kano was exposed to. Under the new dispensation, the intellectual and judicial status of Islamic scholars was altered with the modern system’s emphasis on Western education. The jobs offered by government establishments, factories, companies and private individuals became available only to those with Western certificates. This meant that the Almajirai, after completing their studies, found themselves in a labour market where no specific provision was made for them. The Mallamai and the generality of the peasant class who benefited less from the modern system were additionally overstressed by the excessive taxation of colonial and post-colonial state agents. These factors made most of the Almajirai and gardawa oppose the capitalist environment. As Yahya (1989: 27) observed, the involvement of the Almajirai and probably many of their Mallamai in past riots in Kano is most likely a protest against the colonial legacies around them. ‘The spontaneous nature of the riots was also a demonstration of the popular mind and a reflection of popular frustrations against the status quo’.

40If Kano, like many other northern Nigerian cities is to be made peaceful, the Almajiri system must be reformed. Writing on this Adamu (1993: 9) noted that:

…though unfortunately the only system that has kept the Quran alive in our midst - is archaic, and now a potential breeding ground for the Maitatsine phenomenon. It ought to be reformed …doing this doesn’t have to take forever.

6. Violence Against Women

41According to the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against women of 1992 (cited in Pronk, 1994: 11) and Women 2000 (No. 4 1992: 3), violence against women refers to all gender-based violence, violence occurring in the family or the general public, resulting in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women. Such violent acts include threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation, violence related to exploitation, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, trafficking in women and forced prostitution, and violence perpetrated or condoned by the state where it occurs. A careful perusal of available literature on women in Nigeria suggests that all these acts of violence against women are prevalent in different parts of Nigeria, even when authors do not expressly state them in their publications. All the violent acts against women result from their purported secondary position in the Nigerian society. Woman battering, for example, is largely based on the assumption that a man is the supreme commander in his house. The woman is only expected to do the bidding of her husband. When she fails to carry out his instructions, the man can then force her, by battering or some other act of intimidation, to do what he wants. Marital rape, forced prostitution (as manifested in the case of men who use their wives to make money), sexual harassment and intimidation at work, and female genital mutilation can all be explained in terms of the man’s right to exercise control over his wife or female children who are considered to be the man’s property.

42Data on violence against women is difficult to come by as only a few women agree to report even the most well known acts of violence like battering, and exploitation, not to mention the more shameful incidents such as rape, sexual abuse of female children and sexual harassment in schools and places of work. It is assumed in this work that all these violent acts do occur in Kano, but probably far less than in other cities like Lagos, Ibadan, Benin and Port Harcourt, where Western civilization has driven people to a more aggressive way of life. Our discussion of violence against women is concentrated on early marriage and female genital mutilation – two problems that have now assumed a frightening dimension in the Islamic dominated city of Kano.

6.1 Forced marriage

43Marriage, to the average Kanawa, as in other Muslim communities in northern Nigeria, is a sacred institution which is highly respected. The Islamic religion frowns on pre-marital or extra-marital sexual relationships by married women. As a result, the Hausa people normally ensure that their daughters are married at the time when they are least likely to yield to the temptation of engaging in sexual practices. This is the reason for the prevalence of forced early marriage in Kano. Hausa people give their daughters out between the ages of 11 and 14 when the girl has the least ability to resist the decisions of her parents (Albert, 1992). As a result of this, many Hausa girls face the pain of childbirth at very tender ages.

6.2 Vesico vaginal fistulae (WF)

44One of the well known effects of forced early marriage, as observed at the Murtala Specialist Hospital in Kano, is a medical complication known as vesico vaginal fistulae (VVF). Harrison (1975:14) described this as ‘an injury to the bladder, urethra and even lower end of the bowel such that there is constant leakage of urine and sometimes faeces’. A brief exposé on this problem compiled by Women in Nigeria (WIN, 1992: 71-2) indicates that VVF can be caused in three major ways. As earlier noted, the first reason is early marriage when the girls’ organs are not fully developed for childbirth. The girls often have prolonged labour, lasting three or more days. This, in most cases leads to VVF. In most cases, the young girls are forced to give birth to their babies at home. Because of the Islamic belief that it is not proper for a man to see the nakedness of another person’s wife, many Hausa men force their wives to deliver at home, supervised by traditional female birth attendants. The modern health care system dominated by male doctors is often not acceptable to many. Women who asked their husbands for permission to visit hospitals rarely got permission (Alti Muazu, 1985: 179). In the case of obstructed labour resulting from the woman’s premature age or other problems, she is made by the traditional birth attendant to undergo an operation popularly called yankan gishiri’. This according to Tahzib (1983: 388) involves ‘the cutting of the anterior and rarely, the posterior aspect of the vagina with a razor blade’. This is to allow the baby a wider passage for it to be born. In the process, the woman could have a hole cut in her bladder or rectum. In many cases, even after this crude operation, the baby is born dead.

45The vesico vaginal fistulae that results from this operation leads to an uncontrolled discharge of urine and faeces from the girl’s private parts. As noted by WIN (1992: 72), the offensive odour coming from the young girl is confused with the symptoms of venereal disease. She is soon abandoned by her relatives, including the husband who took her for a wife at a premature age. Between January 1969 and December 1980, 1443 northern Nigerian women were operated on for VVF repair; 64.4 per cent of the cases were due to prolonged labour at home and 13.0 per cent due to ‘yankan gishiri’. By 1991 about 600,000 known cases of VVF were believed to exist in Nigeria and about 10,000 cases are expected to occur annually if the practices of forced early marriage and early childbirth are not curbed in Nigeria (Sunday Champion, 24 November 1991).

46Apart from the general offensive odour produced by the VVF victims, which leads to their being ridiculed in the society, they are highly susceptible to kidney and nerve infections that could result in their untimely death or physical deformity (Sunday Sketch, 24 Nov. 1991). The fight against VVF in Nigeria was launched in 1985 and led by Hajia Amina Sambo. Hajia Sambo, worried by the prevalence of VVF in Kano and other parts of northern Nigeria, appealed to the Federal government of Nigeria to eradicate the affliction in Nigeria. Through the Federal Ministry of Health, the government established a task force on VVF in February 1991. The task force is headed by Hajia Sambo herself (The Guardian, 18 Sept. 1991). The National Council for Women’s Societies and the Kano State government have also been active in the attempt to eradicate VVF in Nigeria and properly rehabilitate its victims.

6.3 Clitoridectomy

47Closely related to the problem of VVF is the problem of female circumcision, which is popular in Kano, as in most other parts of Nigeria. The most usual type of female circumcision is known as clitoridectomy. It entails the removal of the clitoris, sometimes with adjacent parts of the labia majora (WIN, 1992: 68). The practice is considered one of the rites of passage for young women, but is basically aimed at rendering women sexually subordinate to men. Clitoridectomy reduces sexual pleasure and thereby, in the traditional belief, renders them less vulnerable to promiscuity (Hafkin and Bay, 1976: 10). Writing on the evils of clitoridectomy, an anonymous writer in Daily Sketch (2 Oct. 1992) observed that:

Circumcision virtually deforms if not damages a woman. This barbaric act almost certainly prevents any response from surrounding nerves. A circumcised woman had been unknowingly tampered with, starved and deprived of feelings of a normal sexual life. It is unfortunate that female circumcision is carried out a few months after birth, thus at adult age there is no way a circumcised woman could qualify, quantify or appreciate the degree of the loss inflicted on her.

48The paradox of the practice of clitoridectomy is that nobody has been able to present scientifically acceptable reasons why it should not be discontinued. During the 1991 seminar on ‘Stages of Life’ jointly sponsored by UNESCO and the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, the issue of female circumcision was debated at length. As usual, some traditional doctors, who attended the seminar, argued that an uncircumcised woman might find it difficult or impossible to deliver babies. The opinion was hotly challenged by some educated working women who asserted that though they were not circumcised, they had never had any problem during childbirth. As noted by WIN (1992: 68), some people also argue that if a child’s head touches the clitoris of his mother, still-birth could result. It has been shown that it is female circumcision, rather than the lack of it, that endangers childbirth. The scars and keloids left in the woman’s genital area can lead to complications during childbirth. Because of the crude method of excising the clitoris and the unsterilized implements used for the operation, the girl’s genital area can become infected. She can experience severe shock and great loss of blood as the operation involves no use of anaesthetic. Other complications that could result from clitoridectomy include infertility and VVF.

49In most African societies, clitoridectomy is usually defended as part of the people’s cultural heritage. Jomo Kenyatta (1938:10), the one time President of Kenya once defended it as ‘the conditio sine qua non of the whole teaching of tribal law, religion and morality’. It is comforting to note that not many Kenyans supported the argument that the system should be allowed to continue. It was outlawed in Kenya in 1982 (Stamp, 1986: 44).

50Trying to stop such obsolete traditional practices as clitoridectomy, forced marriage and female circumcision, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations’ Economie Commission for Africa, Professor Adedeji (1989: 64) once noted:

…some of these traditions and customs, which may have once appeared to serve the needs of our societies, are no longer relevant. We must recognize that some cultural beliefs and traditional norms number among the major factors that hinder women from fully enjoying their educational, political and social rights. The situation warrants a willingness to closely and critically examine our value structures and a readiness to disregard those practices which we find to be harmful to the health and well-being of individuals in our society.

7. Conclusion

51What has been attempted in this pilot study is no more than an overview of the state of urban violence in Kano, the largest and most industrialized city in northern Nigeria. It does not pretend to be an exhaustive assessment. It studies merely the tip of the iceberg. The main theme of the paper is that a city’s transformation from a ‘traditional’ to ‘modern’ society can generate such tension and friction as can result in violence. Before the incursion of the British colonialists in 1903, Kano was a pre-capitalist Islamic urban centre. British colonialism was successful in altering the physical structure of the city, but not the belief system of its indigenous population. Hence, the Kanawa have been continuously pitched in violent religious and ethnic conflicts with the twentieth century immigrants in their midst. This has largely resulted from the way these ‘outsiders’ have colonized the economic systems of Kano and subjected the city to objectionable social stresses and changes. It is most likely that the many acts of violence would not have been as successful or widespread but for the refusal of the Islamic Kanawa to alter the almijiri system, a pre-capitalist institution that is obviously antithetical to the development of a modern urban centre. What is termed as Violence against women’ in this study has been sustained by Islam in Kano. It is a series of devices for making the woman the safe property of her husband. While early marriage and the incidence of Vesico Vaginal Fistulae (WF) might be said to be most rampant in Hausaland, female circumcision is a common problem in almost all parts of Nigeria. The historical bent of this paper has limited the scope of issues that could be covered here. Urban violence in Kano is not limited to the four sub-headings emphasized in this study. Other issues such as student demonstrations, armed robbery, kidnapping, murder, rape, etc. are areas which should be studied by scholars interested in the nature of urban violence in Kano. But these are better studied synchronically by sociologists, criminologists and anthropologists, using questionnaires and interviews, both structured or unstructured. The penchant of the professional historian for dischronic analysis ends the present study.



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List of illustrations

Title Table 1. Casualties of the May 1953 Kano Riot
Caption Source: Northern Regional Government, 1953: 21.
File image/jpeg, 80k
Title Table 2. Casualties of the May-June 1966 Anti-Ironsi Violence in Northern Nigeria
Caption Source: Muffet (1982:84)
File image/jpeg, 179k


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