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Jeunes, culture de la rue et violence urbaine en Afrique / Youth, Street Culture and Urban Violence in Africa

Georges Hérault
Pius Adesanmi

Kano. Religious fundamentalism and violence

Olawale Albert

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1Kano, the capital of the northern Nigerian state of the same name, is one of the most violent cities in the country. The manifestation of violence here, however, is markedly different from that of other Nigerian cities. Unlike the average southern Nigerian city, which is bedevilled by armed robbery (see tables 1 and 2), Kano faces the peculiar problems of ethnic and religious violence. This seriously undermines its potential of rising to the challenges of a 20th century cosmopolitan polity. Since 1953, the city has become the most virulent site of ethnic and religious violence in northern Nigeria. This is largely due to the fact that its population has become heterogeneous as a result of in-migration. Kano is also a haven of religious fundamentalism. Religious and ethnic violence have almost become an annual occurrence in the city. The most recent case occurred on 8th February 1997 when Shiite Muslims tried to prevent other Muslims from saying their Eid-el-Fitr prayers. Four of them were shot dead in the ensuing clash with the police. More of such insurgent and counter-insurgent activities should be expected in the city in view of the largely unchecked menace of religious fundamentalism. Unfortunately, policy makers are yet to accord enough attention to the social, economic and political contradictions that produced past religious and ethnic uprisings.

2The nature of ethnic and religious violence in Kano has been discussed before (see Albert 1993 and 1994b). The present paper differs from the previous ones in terms of its specific objectives. It disaggregates the important roles played by the youth in Kano’s relatively long history of violence. The youths in question are mainly products of the ambient street culture of the city. In managing conflicts, therefore, the interests of the youths must be given due attention. This paper provides insights into how Kano’s street culture facilitates the recruitment of youths during civil disorder. The paper concludes with some suggestions on how the problems associated with violent street culture in Kano can be appropriately tackled.


Youth: a working definition

3It is expedient that we begin our essay by defining ‘youth’. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is ‘every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier’ (UN, 1992: 272). In Nigeria, anybody who is above the age of thirty is exempted from the compulsory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme. He is simply not regarded as a youth. Against this background, we shall define the youth as anyone between the ages of eighteen and thirty. We are, however, concerned with both youths and children because the problems of the youth in Kano can be traced back to social maladjustments during childhood.

Conceptualization of street culture

4The street is an environment used by commuters and business operators in transit to go to work and return to their respective homes at the end of the day. It is usually a permissive environment because of its availability to all and sundry and is, therefore, not an ideal place for grooming responsible citizens at the social level. This is probably why the adjective ‘street’ often has a pejorative connotation. For example, ‘street urchin’ usually refers to the homeless child whose activities undermine public decorum. In some contemporary social science literature such a child is also commonly referred to as ‘street child’. In the same vein, a ‘street girl’ or ‘street walker’ is, simply put, a prostitute. Furthermore, various acts that are injurious to public decorum and order are legislated as ‘street offences’. Interestingly, Cloward and Ohlin (1961) have suggested that deviant subcultures include ‘all subculturally supported behaviour that violates some conventionally sanctioned set of social expectations or rules of conduct’. Even if these postulates are all acceptable in our conceptualization of ‘street culture’, we still need to define the all important notion of culture itself.

5Ross (1993: 21) defines culture as ‘the particular practices and values common to a population living in a given setting… Culture defines what people value and what they are likely to enter into disputes over, suggests appropriate ways to behave in particular kinds of disputes, and shapes institutions in which disputes are processed’. Other scholars (like Avruch and Black, 1991; Wildavsky, 1987, 1989) have equally averred that culture is a collective, symbolic and ritualized product that provides a repertoire of actions and standards that are used to assess other people.

6Against this background, we shall define street culture in this study as essentially a deviant subculture. This will enable us to view conflict and violence as a cultural behaviour in relation to how the street is (illegally) used. In essence, street culture has anthropological ramifications which suggest an abnormal situation in which an individual who has no home or work place spends a disproportionately large part of his or her time on the street and consequently becomes liable to involvement in illegal or anti-social activities.

7People who are part of street culture in Nigeria, as in some other Third World societies, can be broadly grouped into two categories: (a) those ‘on the streets’ and (b) those ‘in the streets’. In the first category are people who use the streets for various, sometimes illegal, purposes in the day-time and retire to their respective homes at the end of the day. These include street traders, pickpockets, beggars, charlatans and religious preachers who use the street as a kind of mobile market. The second category comprises those for whom the street has become a sort of permanent home. Street children and destitutes fall into this category.

8Street culture, as used in this work, refers to both normal and abnormal practices on the streets, however, most of the cases we shall examine are about youths whose behaviour runs counter to the accepted standards of their host communities. As Cohen (1965) notes, these people usually have related problems. Some of them are products of broken homes. Some, most especially the hawkers and almajirai (child-beggars from Koranic schools), take to the streets because their parents are poor; and there is no alternative. Members of the criminal gangs in the city, namely the Yan tauri, Yan banga and Yan daukan amarya, are not only unemployed but are also unemployable, since they are largely unskilled.

9The deviant activities of these gangs must be interpreted as an open manifestation of protest against the circumambient injustice and corruption with which they have to contend on a daily basis. Such gangsters, as noted by Redl and Wineman (1951), often do not see anything wrong in what they do. They rationalize their activities by bending the general rules of the society to suit their own circumstances, which of course, negate the accepted standards. Delinquents are wont to argue that they deviate from accepted norms because (a) many other people do similar things; (b) they simply lack better options; (c) they want to be heard in the society. Delinquents on the street often have peculiar life-styles by which they are identified and feared by the general populace. The youths focused on in this study live ‘on the streets’ not in the street’. They have permanent homes to which they retire at the end of each day’s ‘work’.

Historical background of Kano

10A brief discussion of the historical background of Kano is necessary to understand the issues discussed in this work. Kano is one of the seven legitimate Hausa states mentioned in the Bayajidda legend (Hogben and Kirk-Greene, 1966: 145-6; Hodgkin, 1975: 74-6). The others are Daura, Kano, Zaria, Gobir, Katsina and Biram. These seven states and seven other ‘illegitimate’ ones form the bulk of what is now referred to as northern Nigeria. The geographical area is predominantly Islamic.

11Kano was founded around the 7th century and is said to be one of the oldest cities in Nigeria (Willet, 1971: 368). It started as a settlement of some animist blacksmiths and continued to grow steadily until around 1095 when Sarkin Gigi started constructing a mud wall around it to protect it from foreign invasion. The construction was completed around the 12th century (Frishman, 1977: 214). Islam was introduced to the city around the 14th century and by the 15th century, it had become a state religion. The Sokoto jihad, which started in 1804 in an attempt to purify the practice of Islam in Hausaland, spread to Kano in 1807 on the basis that the rulers of the city were tolerating some animist practices within their political domain. At the end of this religious war, the practice of Islam became more orthodox in Kano and the city, consequently, became a prominent centre of Islamic scholarship as well as a major centre of Hausa-Fulani traditions (Frishman, 1986; Mahadi, 1989).

12The British occupation of the city in 1903 signalled the beginning of a process of modern urbanization and occasioned a wave of migrations into Kano between 1903 and 1960. Most of the migrants were Igbo and Yoruba from southern Nigeria. In 1911, a quarter called Sabon Gari (new town) was established for Christians who came mainly from southern Nigeria, as a way of segregating them from the indigenous Muslim population resident in the old walled city called Birni. The British did this to reduce the culture-shock between the Muslim and Christian populations (see Albert, 1995). The other major wards in the city include Tudun Wada and Gwagwarwa which were established for non-native Nigerians. Fagge, a settlement established in the pre-colonial period for north African immigrants is predominantly Hausa/Fulani. While those parts of Kano that are peopled by immigrants have undergone a continuous process of urbanization, the Birni (the walled city) has remained a largely indigenous settlement, socially and economically. Sabon Gari is the section of Kano most open to Christian and Western influences. Furthermore, it is one of the most economically vibrant parts of Kano and one of the few places where the sale of alcoholic drinks is tolerated in the city.

Street culture in Kano: a general introduction

13As earlier noted, the city of Kano comprises two major divisions: Birnin Kano, reserved for the indigenous population and the modern township where immigrants reside. The major difference between the two is that Birnin Kano does not have as many ‘infrastructures of violence and street culture’ as the township. Infrastructures of violence in this case are synonymous with what one may call the infrastructures of modem urbanization. Birnin Kano is inhabited by the indigenous Kanawa. No stranger is unduly welcomed in the settlement. The population is also largely homogeneous in terms of religious affiliation; the inhabitants are Muslims. The fact that Birnin Kano does not have vibrant economic activities which can attract people to the street and, at the same time, engender a Hobbesian competition for space and resources also makes it less attractive to deviants. The streets in the area are narrow and not as good as those in the township. The architecture is ancient and traditional. The population is largely aged as most of the young people have resettled outside the old town. Consequently, there is little or no street violence in the old walled city.

The almajiri system: a bastion of street culture and urban violence

14No serious insights can be gained into the involvement of youths in ethnic or religious violence in any northern Nigerian city without some appreciation of the role of the almajirai (sing, almajiri). The almajirai are students of Koranic schools who are sent to beg for alms in the streets by their teachers (mallams). These young boys are vulnerable and easily manipulated by the religious fanatics who foment ethnic and religious violence in Kano. Indeed, the almajirai have featured so prominently in past violent eruptions in the city that researchers working on Kano cite them almost as a matter of course.

  • 1 This writer was stationed in Dingyadi village in 1985 during his NYSC assignment.

15The almajiri educational system is one of the most popular means of ensuring Islamic education for children in northern Nigeria. The system is common in both rural and urban areas, although it generates more developmental problems and social dislocations in the urban context. For example, Dingyadi village in Sokoto State was always deserted in the day-time.1 The reasons for this were not far to seek; the villagers and their grown-up children spent the day working on their farms. Only toddlers, not yet of farming age, stayed with the mallams in Koranic schools. Children who helped their parents with farm work can only attend the Koranic school in the evening. Begging for alms is an occasional occupation which such children carry out at the central praying ground on Fridays and during Islamic festivals. Besides, in rural settings as exemplified by Dingyadi, it would be entirely pointless for any mallam to send his students out to beg on ordinary days, since most of the potential alms givers would be away in their farms. The mallams themselves have their own farm work for which they often require the help of their students.

16The situation changes markedly as one drives from Dingyadi to Sokoto city. As the Sokoto Central Market is approached on any day of the week, the almajirai are seen begging for alms on every corner. This suggests that there are less jobs in the urban environment for children than in the rural areas. It also indicates that the economic vibrancy of the city supports street begging. What is more, in a predominantly Muslim city like Sokoto, many people are favourably disposed towards giving alms in accordance with some Koranic injunctions which enjoin the faithful to give alms (zakat) to the poor. This being the case, beggars in a typical northern Nigerian city can hardly ever run out of ‘business’.

17Whether in Sokoto or in Kano, the city under study, the almajiri system underscores the fact that rural-urban migration almost always produces economically weak and disempowered subjects in the urban socius. In Women and Urban Violence in Kano (Albert, 1996), the twin sociological concepts of subsistence urbanization and urban hypertrophy are used to explain the appalling material conditions in which rural migrants to urban centres generally find themselves. Consequently, such poverty-stricken migrants are left with no choice than to give their children to the mallams as permanent almajirai. The stage is thus set for these disoriented children to metamorphose into street ‘gang members’ The almajirai are found in all parts of Kano – both within and outside Birnin Kano, but their activities are most noticeable in the more economically vibrant parts of the city.

18The relationship between poverty, the almajiri system and street-begging becomes clearer in light of Johnson’s (1966) definition of poverty. He sees it as a situation whereby ‘the resources of the families or individuals are inadequate to provide a socially acceptable standard of living’. Robert McNamara, former President of the World Bank, described poverty as ‘a condition of life so degrading as to insult human dignity’. To reiterate our earlier point, many Hausa-Fulani parents surrender their children to the almajiri system simply because of social and economic handicaps. Such parents would, however, argue that the almajiri system is a purely religious obligation and that children engaged in it are not necessarily from poor homes; but the emaciated and ragged appearance of the children makes such claims deceptive.

19These mallams are also poor and often take advantage of these children and the Islamic obligation to give alms. Unlike other urban teachers, the services of the mallams are not recognized by the government and they are not paid any official remuneration. Most of the mallams see the training they give to their students as a religious obligation or charity. They, therefore, hardly charge any school fees. They accept the children brought to them, and endeavour to support them from the proceeds of their begging, while satisfying their religious obligations.

20The tender age and the poor social status of the almajirai effectively precludes them from the planning of ethnic and religious uprisings. They can hardly ever become so important as to be consulted by those who usually spearhead violent eruptions. Their constant presence in the streets makes it very easy for them to be conscripted into a mob of adult rioters. However, instances also abound of exaggerated displays of ethnic and religious loyalty by the almajirai. In this case, the almajiri does not even wait to be recruited by the leaders of a rioting mob. The moment he sights them, especially if the rioters are Hausa-Fulani or Muslims, he picks up any available weapon and joins them without finding out the purpose of their action.

21The innocence of the almajiri is observable in times of peace. He simply roams the streets reciting verses of the Koran for alms. He exhibits no signs of aggression. The stranger who loses his way in Kano can rely on his assistance, and he renders such assistance impartially to all – Muslims, Christians, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, etc. Unlike the street children in southern Nigeria, the almajiri does not engage in petty crimes like pickpocketing, street fighting or drug abuse. This makes sense in the light of Adejumobi’s (1992: 6) observation that youths actively involved in religious activities are less likely to be associated with drugs than their less religious counterparts.

22Financial discipline is one of the virtues which the amajirai acquire under the mallams. Whereas, they often eat any cooked food given to them, they hardly touch any cash or raw food items offered them as alms. They take such gifts home to the mallams. Mohammadu Marwa, the leader of the Maitatsine sect was even said to have made it unlawful for any of the almajirai under him to have more than five naira on his person or sleep with more than one naira in his pocket. ‘To do so was to show lack of trust in God’s providence’ (Clarke, 1987: 113). Since the almajirai have no financial independence, they are highly subject to the whims of their teachers. This explains why the followers of Mohammadu Marwa were prepared to die with him during the 1980 Maitatsine riot in Kano. The almajirai often see their mallams as providers of all they need in life and, therefore, do not regret risking their life in their defence.

23The kind of education that the almajiri is given, especially the religious injunction which compels him to beg for alms in the streets, can also easily lead him to engage in acts of violence. The student is taught to interprete everything about life in purely religious terms. He is taught to see modernity as evil. In order to remain on the side of Allah the almajiri is taught to hate Western civilization and everything and everyone associated with it. The followers of Marwa in Kano were forbidden to wear wristwatches, shirts or have buttons on their clothes. The certificate which the almajiri receives at the end of his training does not qualify him for any specific job in the formal or informal sector of the economy. He has only been trained to become an Islamic teacher like his master. He can only hope to establish his own Koranic school, and, like his teacher, rely on alms collected by his own students for a livelihood.

24No conscious effort has been made by the government to integrate the ‘graduates’ of Koranic schools into the mainstream of the Nigerian economy. The price that the society has had to pay for this has been very great. Since the Islamic clerics have little or nothing to do with the state or the formal economy, they often preach against the government; and government here is always associated with modernity. Some of them believe that the modern world, characterized as it is by inequality, injustice and corruption, is too corrupt and irreligious to be allowed to continue to exist. It is through such fundamentalist ideologies that some of them, through the Yan tatsine (followers of Mohammadu Marwa) and the Shiites, imbibe violent subcultures. So great is the hatred of the mallams and almajirai for the government that in 1995 some of those in Kano gathered together to offer public prayers for the downfall of General Abacha’s regime (Otitoju, 1995: 5).

Children as auxiliary street beggars

25Closely related to the Almajiri street culture in Kano is the practice of using children as auxiliary street beggars. This practice is very common among disabled adults, especially the blind ones. It is common to see blind adult beggars in Kano being led around major streets by their children. Besides assisting the blind person across busy intersections, by being mobile the handicapped adults can cover more streets in a day and make more money. Some blind parents also use children to provide them with a back-up chorus, where they beg by singing songs.

26Most of these children are better dressed than the almajirai. Like them however, they do not have any access to Western education. They parade the streets from morning till late in the evening. Some of the children, especially the boys, cheat their parents, and keep some of the money for themselves. More often than not, the beggar has to convert his coins into notes. In the process of helping him do this, the child may devise some ingenious means for earning his own ‘commission’. Such children eventually accumulate large sums of money in this manner. Unlike the almajirai whose earnings are scrupulously controlled by the mallams, children who serve as auxiliary street beggars to their disabled parents enjoy much financial freedom. This makes it difficult to keep such children off the streets. Indeed, some of these children save so much money that they have enough to squander at the end of each day’s ‘work’. They buy snacks, rent bicycles or gamble with their friends. This sort of unrestricted lifestyle disposes children to all kinds of criminal tendencies. It is from the ranks of such children that the Yan tauri, Yan daukan amarya, etc., recruit their members. Children who subsist as beggars have no formal education, hence they are not employable in the formal sector; and since they are not physically handicapped, one can hardly expect them to become professional beggars like their parents. This category of children needs the special attention of the government to prevent them from engaging in criminal activities in the street.

Hawking under street culture

27Hawking constitutes another form of child abuse in Kano. There are two categories of children involved in it. The first are young Hausa-Fulani girls who sell snacks and food for their secluded mothers; the second category consists of southern Nigerian boys and girls who hawk items like fruits, bread, snacks, refrigerated water and shopping bags for their parents. Such children are found on almost every street in the city, and especially in the busy streets surrounding the Sabon Gari market. Some of these children can also be observed around Kantin Kwari, though not in any sizeable number when compared to those around the Sabon Gari market.

28The Hausa-Fulani girls involved in street hawking are direct victims of the practice of wife seclusion which is very popular in Kano. For religious reasons, most Hausa-Fulani men keep their wives in purdah from the rest of the society. These women are prevented from leaving their compounds, but behind the veil, some of them engage in some economic activities which Polly Hill (1969: 392-409) has described as ‘hidden trade’. They prepare different kinds of snacks and food which they give to their daughters to sell on the streets or in market places. The girls who perform such functions usually fall between the ages of five and thirteen. The practice of early marriage which is so common in Hausaland ensures that girls above the age of thirteen are excluded from hawking, since they are expected to have settled down in their matrimonial homes.

29Once the young girl is given something to sell, she takes her wares to the streets where she expects to find willing customers. This economic exploitation of the female child’s labour exposes her to different kinds of danger: she could be knocked down by a moving vehicle; she could be lured into crime by her peers and, worse still, she faces the perpetual danger of rape (see Women 2000, 1992: 3). This explains why the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child opposes this sort of exploitation in unambiguous terms. Article 32 of the Convention notes inter alia:

States parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. (United Nations, 1992: 275)

30The southern Nigerian children involved in street trading are usually from poor homes. More than 40 per cent of those interviewed claim to be from broken homes and live with their mothers. Paradoxically, by hawking, they generate the funds with which their parents feed and, where possible to pay for their education.

31Hausa-Fulani girls suffer more from the adverse effects of street trading than their southern Nigerian counterparts. The latter mostly do business from 3.00 PM to about 7.00 PM. This means that they are only seen on the streets after school hours and on weekends. On the other hand, the Hausa-Fulani girls spend almost the entire day on the streets. They start business as early as 7.00 AM, selling pap (kamu), bean cake (kosai), rice and beans to people around major market places and motor parks. Those who usually patronize them are homeless people who sleep in the market places, in the adjoining shops or in the streets. From around 10.00 AM, the first batch of girls withdraws from the streets and is replaced by another batch selling items like Kunnu (a non-alcoholic millet drink) and different kinds of snacks. At about 1.00 PM, this second batch is replaced by a third batch. Most of these girls have specific customers whose stores and houses have to be visited along the streets. As might be expected, some male customers make amorous passes at the girls after buying food. On a general note, the children in question hardly engage in violence even if their activities on the streets clearly incite them to occasional anti-social behaviour.

Courtesans, pimps and prostitutes and street culture

32Marriage is the most viable option of the hapless Hausa-Fulani girl wanting to escape from the infernal circle of street hawking. This seemingly salutary option presents its own problems. Firstly, since the new bride is in turn secluded, she automatically becomes an exploiter of child labour by sending unmarried girls out to hawk on her behalf. Secondly, these early marriages often engender domestic violence as in most cases, parents impose husbands on their daughters. After the marriage, the girl actuates her revolt through an open display of hostility to her husband, sexual denial, insolent behaviour, etc. These misdemeanours are ‘corrected’ with battering and different forms of maltreatment till the marriage eventually breaks up. This partly explains why there are many divorced Hausa-Fulani girls in Kano.

33It has to be added that some of the girls are divorced on health grounds. Early marriage, before the girls have reached their physiological maturity is common. Hence, some of them experience complications in childbirth which may cause vesico vaginal fistula (VVF). When the young girl faces the danger of obstructed labour, she is subjected to what is popularly known as gishiri cut by traditional birth attendants. This involves cutting the anterior wall of the girl’s vagina, often with an unsterilized blade or a penknife. If the cut extends to the posterior vaginal wall and damages the bladder, the wound and thus leads to VVF. The girl starts to discharge urine from her vagina and becomes a social outcast. If the cut damages the girl’s rectum, recto vaginal fistula (RVF) results. Although a simple surgical procedure could correct the condition, in most cases, the girl is abandoned by her husband and ridiculed by other co-wives. In frustration she leaves the matrimonial home.

34Most of these divorced girls do not go back to their maiden homes after divorce because hardly any Hausa-Fulani parents would agree to take back a divorcee. The common fear is that she will begin to flirt around with men and bring her parents into disrepute. Some parents actually reject these girls for economic reasons; accepting them means having more mouths to feed. Parents who give out their under-aged daughters in marriage, also do so with the expectation that their son-in-law will improve their financial situation. Against this background, divorce seriously undermines their financial calculations. Expectedly, the divorced girls are held responsible for this setback and are consequently rejected. They then seek solace under women leaders popularly known as magajiya. A typical magagiya is also a divorcee who has gained a reputation for housing ‘homeless’ young girls. As long as she has space in her building, she receives with open arms any girl that chooses to settle under her care. She gets some commission from whatever money the young girl makes from her ‘boy friends’. Where the girl finds it difficult to attract willing boyfriends she is assisted by the magajiya.

35In the evening, these divorced girls flood the major streets of Kano city. They are not tolerated inside the walled traditional city among the indigenous Kanawa. They are mostly found in Sabon Gari where the morals are generally loose. Influential men approach these young girls for sexual favours through the intercession of pimps known as Yan Daudu (sing. Dan Daudu). The Yan Daudu get a commission on every girl procured for men. The commission is collected from both the girl and the man for whom the girl is being procured. These young girls do not openly solicit for men. When approached directly, some of them even turn down offers.

36On the other hand, the southern Nigerian girls who engage in prostitution in Kano, openly solicit for men. To differentiate themselves from such girls, the Hausa-Fulani courtesans on the streets of Kano describe these girls using such nicknames as ‘Yan-good-evening’ or ‘Yan-how-much-you-go-pay’ indirectly insinuating that their soliciting techniques are aggressive (see Pittin, 1983; Barkow, 1972). The ‘Yan-good-evening’ are usually not professional prostitutes but school drop-outs from southern Nigeria. They usually stand in front of the big hotels in Kano dressed in the latest western styles. They solicit for customers by saying ‘good evening’ to any passing man. The ‘Yan-how-much-you-go-pay’, on the other hand, are professional prostitutes largely dominated by the Idomas and Tivs from the Middle-Belt and the Igbo and Efik from Eastern Nigeria. They have standard rates for their sexual services. But where a particular man finds it difficult to pay this he is asked ‘How much you go pay?’ This explains why they are called ‘Yan-how-much-you-go-pay’. Unlike the ‘Yan-good-evening’, this category of girls and women do not operate on the streets but in rented apartments that are well known to their customers.

37The streets of Kano would definitely look better if these girls – irrespective of what category they belong to – could be kept away from the streets. They are a bad influence on other young girls in the city. The large number of girls on a typical Kano street are likely to constitute one of the most effective ways for spreading sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the city, although no research findings have confirmed this assumption.

Youth and violent street gangsterism

38In the preceding discussions, we have indirectly identified a number of sources from which violent street gangs emanate. These include the almajiri system and the practice of using children, especially young boys, as auxiliary street beggars. From these and other sources, a vast population of street gangsters have emerged in Kano who contribute in significant ways to the precipitation of street violence in the city. Members of such criminal gangs include the Yan Daba, Yan Danga and Yan Daukar Amarya (Dawha, 1996). The ‘Yan Daba’ who are also known as Yan Tauri, are the ‘invulnerables’ of Kano. They are unemployed youths who earn their living through ‘on-the-street’ rascality. They compare favourably with the ‘area boys’ of Lagos in terms of their nuisance effect on the urban environment. Street fighting, looting, burglary and armed robbery, constitute their major activities. However, they also defend their neighbourhoods against any ‘invaders’ in times of religious, ethnic and political violence. Simply put, the Yan Banga also called Yan Sintiri (sentry) are vigilante groups constituted for the maintenance of neighbourhood security who over time began to victimize the people they were supposed to protect. Yan Daukar Amarya are those who earn their living by forcefully taking unwilling young girls to the homes of their imposed husbands. They also kidnap and rape young women.

39These three gangs are products of some historical circumstances in Kano. The Yan Daba (hereafter referred to as Yan Tauri or the ‘strong men’) are juvenile delinquents. They are produced by the many broken homes in the city. Some are children who have run away from their parents and have taken to the streets. Such children, who lack any parental guidance or affection and have no access to formal or informal education and soon become socialized into criminal life styles on the street. They ‘prey on the wealthy, rival gangs and the police’ (Dawha, 1996: 8) and are often used to trigger religious, ethnic and political violence in Kano. Operating under the influence of drugs, the Yan Tauri often hypnotise their victims when they burgle people’s houses at night. They are often found with weapons like daggers, swords and matchets.

40During times of religious, political and ethnic violence in Kano, the Yan Tauri operate in any part of the city where their services are needed by their sponsors. They are often hired by those who want to settle political scores with opponents. In times of peace, most especially in periods of military rule when politicians are not in a position to give them ‘official assignments’, they operate in the following parts of Kano: Kwanar Goda, Gyaranya, Sabon Sara, Mandawari, and Shoshe Quarters (Karaye, 1995: 11). They are the gangsters most easily available to those who seek to instigate ethnic or religious violence in Kano and other parts of northern Nigeria. The Yan Tauri are usually well organized under a leader called ‘big boss’. They have good connections with the police and strictly protect information related to the identity of their sponsors. Writing on this Dawha (1996: 12) notes:

Like mafia-style gangs all over the world, secrecy is the key word among the members. Even under torture, in cases where their police connections have failed, they do not disclose their secrets. Members… are reputed to be die-hard, and prefer to be killed than disclose any information. In any case, anyone who discloses information to an opposing group or the police is as good as dead; he may be tortured to death by his own aggrieved gang mates.

41Yan Banga, the second main criminal gang in Kano, was formed on the 22nd May, 1973 as an association of law-abiding young hunters who set for themselves the task of combatting armed robbery in the city (Dawha, 1996: 16-20). At night, members of the organization, who are found in most parts of northern Nigeria patrolled the streets and kept the police informed about the whereabouts of armed robbers as is practised by the various ‘vigilante groups’ in Ibadan. In some cases, they personally arrest these criminals on behalf of the police. This endeared them to the authorities though they had no legal recognition. The organization was later infiltrated by thugs and career-criminals (recruited from the streets) and was thus transformed into an instrument for committing violent crimes. In ‘peace time’, they operate as pickpockets in crowded spots like market places and cinema houses. They also organize occasional burglaries-at night. In moments of ethnic, religious and political crises, they operate under the influence of drugs – maiming, killing and looting.

42The Yan Daukar Amarya, the third category of criminal street gangs in Kano, are mostly found in the Dan Agundi quarters. The gang consists of bachelors or divorced men aged between 25 and 30 years of age and they engage in kidnapping attractive young girls, married or unmarried. The Yan Daukar Amarya are school drop-outs from wealthy homes; some are even gainfully employed. Most of them began their violent street life at a very tender age and they spend most of their time in cinema houses, bars and hotels. Their victims are lured into a bus, overpowered, and then raped by all members of the gang. It is the Yan Daukar Amarya that are sometimes contracted by some men to forcibly deliver unwilling young girls into the homes of their (betrothed) husbands (Otitoju, 1995). It has been mentioned earlier that young Kano girls are usually forced into marriage by their parents for ostensibly religious reasons. However, there are situations in which such an unfortunate girl may refuse outright to marry the man imposed on her. In such a case, the embittered husband might employ the Yan Daukar Amarya to take the girl by force to his home, knowing fully well that he has the support of his ‘parents-in-law’.

43Members of all the criminal gangs discussed above derive much of their strength from hard drugs. Only very few of them can afford hard drugs like cocaine or heroine. They largely depend on marijuana (red capsule) popularly known as Kwaya among the Hausa people, and other locally sourced drugs (Egunjobi et al., 1991: 7). Kwaya is believed to be manufactured by the Igbo. One other locally sourced drug is known as zaqami, derived from a local plant. The gangsters also use another drug called I.C.D which is often reinforced with kolanut to produce effects similar to that of cocaine or heroine. Most of these locally-sourced drugs are openly available for purchase at Fagge and Sabon Gari (Otitoju, 1995), where some of the gang members are located.

44Adejumobi (1992: 4) notes that most of the young men who take these drugs are from broken homes. This conclusion is relevant to the Kano situation. The drugs are taken to compensate for parental and emotional deprivation. The gang members in Kano, like their counterparts in other parts of Nigeria, take the drugs to make them become more daring in their criminal activities.

45It is difficult to differentiate between members of these different gangs on the streets of Kano. All that one sees are hordes of young jobless men loitering on the streets, under trees, in front of hotels and around cinema houses. Some of them, especially those under trees, spend many hours playing cards and in the process gamble away their meagre income. In some cases, the gambling ends up in free-for-all fights. Some members of these gangs operate at motor parks as touts. Their abnormal activities and their appearance easily betrays the extent to which they are addicted to drugs. They are easily disposed towards aggressive behaviour and seem to thrive on street fighting. Some of them, like the Yan Banga, also engage in armed robbery but not as much as similar street gangsters in average southern Nigerian cities. Kano is therefore rated by many as a peaceful state compared to some other states of the Nigerian federation (tables 1 and 2).

Youths, street culture and violent inter-group conflicts

46Our discussions so far have focused largely on inter-personal violence. Here we want to look at the roles of youths in inter-group violence on the streets of Kano. Since 1953 the city has experienced many ethnic and religious riots each of which led to the loss of lives. A good number of these riots were led by youths. The almajirai and the various street gangsters mentioned earlier participated effectively in the riots. The discussion which follows is divided into 2 sections. The first reflects on how Islamic sectarianism has led to some of the problems while the second discusses the contribution of fundamentalist Christianity to the violent eruptions.

Table 1. Number of Robbery Cases 1983-1987

Table 1. Number of Robbery Cases 1983-1987

Source: Nigeria Police Force, Lagos

Table 2. Number of Reported Armed Robbery Cases by State (1989-1993)

Table 2. Number of Reported Armed Robbery Cases by State (1989-1993)

Source: Nigeria Police Force; Annual Abstract of Statistics, 1995 edition, FOS, Lagos F.C.T. – Federal Capital Territory

Youths, Islamic sectarianism and urban violence

47Most instances of street violence involving youths and children in Kano were masterminded by Islamic fundamentalist sects. Past explanations of this problem as well as attempts aimed at solving them have been too simplistic. Such analyses present an historical conceptualization of religious disturbances as a purely modern trend. Yet, a closer look at the history of religious fundamentalism in Hausaland will reveal the fact that there is nothing new about the presence of religious fanatics in Kano. Their demands and tactics of insurgency are a continuation of the Mahdist traditions that began in present-day northern Nigeria from the 19th century.

48It is popularly believed among the Muslims that the time is coming when a Mahdi (saviour) will emerge to terminate the problems facing the Muslims around the world and purify society and prepare the way for the second coming of the Messiah. Contemporary Mahdism started in the Sudan and by 1903 had spread to the northern provinces of Burmi in northern Nigeria. From there it spread rapidly to other parts of northern Nigeria with almost each village and town having its own Mahdi (Adeleye, 1971: 103-107). The movement became more active in the early 20th century as an expression of opposition against British colonial rule in northern Nigeria. An obviously frustrated Lord Lugard, the Governor of colonial northern Nigeria, reported in 1907 that hardly a year passed between 1900 and 1906 without an Islamic scholar declaring himself the expected Mahdi in Hausaland and as a result causing one civil disturbance or the other (Lugard, 1907: 16) just as the present-day fundamentalist groups in Kano do. Most of the Mahdist movements in colonial northern Nigeria aimed at terminating ‘the infidel regime of the whites’ just as their present-day counterparts in Kano and other northern Nigerian cities hope to prepare the grounds for the final collapse of the despicable regimes of the post-colonial Nigerian polity. The post-colonial fundamentalists are disappointed that the Nigerians who took over the political mantle from the British have not performed well.

49Two such fundamentalist muslim movements are very popular in Kano. These are the Shiites and the Yan Tatsine. Though they claim to have roots in Islamic tradition, the two sects are denounced by the orthodox Muslims of northern Nigeria as non-Islamic groups.

50The Shiites in northern Nigeria are led by Mallam Ibrahim El Zak-Zaky who is based in Zaria. Zaky is regarded by the orthodox Muslims in northern Nigeria as an agent of the Iranian government who is trying to establish the Iranian version of Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria. For some unknown reasons, the Shiites in Kano broke away from the original group led by Zaky in 1992, declaring him an enemy. Zaky was even attacked physically by the Shiites in Kano in October 1994 while preaching at a mosque at Bayero University. The splinter group in Kano established a school in the city where they indoctrinate young men into their own version of Islamic radicalism. They also established their own mosque and set up a newsletter and a weekly propaganda sheet with which they indoctrinate converts ‘employing a mixture of anti-establishment rhetorics and threats against Muslims and non-Muslims that do not follow Shiite teachings’ (Olugboji, 1995:6). The Shiites have a pathological hatred for the Nigerian judiciary and usually call on Muslims to unite in overthrowing it because, in their opinion, the system is irreparably corrupt. They also hate the police, who they refer to as babbuque (burnt ones) because of the black uniform they wear.

51The Shiite movement, whether in Kano or any other part of northern Nigeria, is more appealing to the youths than the Yan Tatsine, though both movements depend on the youths for their violent street activities. Mallam Lawan Dambazou an elderly Islamic scholar from Kano specifically described the Shiite movement as being composed of ‘young men with Islamic adventurism’. It is an equally intellectual movement and is consequently dominated by well-educated youths. Most of them have at least secondary education. The sect has strong membership among the students of institutions of higher learning in northern Nigeria. The leader of the movement, Mallam El Zaky was a 1979 economics graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. He graduated with a first class honours degree. Zaky is believed to have been the ‘lightning rod of the Muslim Students Society (MSS)’ during his student days at ABU. There are many Shiite students at Bayero University, Kano. Zaky’s generally acclaimed deputy, Mallam Mahmud Turi, read accountancy at the University of Maiduguri and graduated in 1984. He later read Sharia Law at the International University of Africa in Khartoum, Sudan (Olorunfewa, 1996: 15 and 18).

52In August 1996, there was a bloody test of strength between the Yan Tauri and some Shiite fundamentalists in Kano. But for the quick intervention of the police, the situation could have got out of hand and escalated into city-wide religious violence. The crisis started in early August 1996, when some Shiites planned to hold a rally at the Adakawa quarters of Kano to mark the Id-El Maulud, the birthday of Prophet Mohammed. Unfortunately, the people of Adakawa quarters are not friendly to the Shiites and the leader of the community did not hide this feeling from one Kabiru Shitu who was to host the fundamentalists. The community was against the Shiites on the grounds that they often blasphemed against some of the Caliphs and faithfuls of Allah. At the instance of other members, leaders of the Yan Tauri in the community visited Kabiru’s father to warn him of the grave consequences if his’ son held the proposed reception of the Shiites. He was asked to dissuade his son from the venture. Kabiru tried to put off the meeting but his other Shiite colleagues insisted that it must hold at Adakawa as earlier arranged and maintained that a good Muslim should not be afraid of death. The police to whom the matter was reported also warned the Shiites to keep away from the Adakawa quarters.

53Matters were made worse on 11th August 1996 when the Maulud meeting of the Shiites coincided with the funeral of an inhabitant of the Adakawa quarters. As the young men who went to bury the deceased were returning to the quarters, they met the defiant Shiites who were drawn from Kaduna, Zaria, Katsina and Kano holding their meeting. The Yan Tauri ordered the immediate termination of the meeting. This was simply ignored by the Shiites who were already armed with short daggers. They called the Yan Tauri unbelievers and a free-for-all fight immediately ensued (Olorunfewa, 1996:10). The Yan Tauri with the support of members of Adakawa quarters soon overpowered the Shiites and sent them fleeing the neighbourhood, but not before several people had been brutally wounded. A contingent of policemen were quickly drafted to the quarters to keep the peace.

54The Shiites struck again on 7th February 1997 during the Eid-el-Fitr prayers in Kano. They stormed the Kofar Mate Eid praying ground to stop other Muslims from saying the end-of-fast prayers. The Shiites never miss an opportunity to engage other Muslims in Kano in open confrontation. They hate these other Muslims for their ‘lukewarm’ attitude to the practice of Islam. A good Muslim, according to them, should violently reject the present dispensation in Nigeria. Since members of the larger Muslim community in the city are not militant in their propagation of the Islamic faith, the Shiites see them as accomplices of the political leaders in power who deserve to be openly humiliated. They blocked all entrances into the Mate Eid praying ground making provocative statements and accusing religious and traditional leaders in the country of misguiding the Muslims and distorting the true worship of Allah. The police had to be invited to keep the peace. On arrival, the police advised the religious fundamentalists either to join in the prayers or leave the area. Rather than complying, the Shiites started to insult the police describing them as agents of coercion and infidelity. Matters got out of hand when they started throwing stones and bottles at the policemen. The latter replied with live ammunition, killing four of the religious fundamentalists and wounding many others. Several arrests were made (Weekend Times, 8th February 1997).

55As noted earlier, the second Muslim fundamentalist sect in Kano is the Yan Tatsine led by Mohammadu Marwa. Marwa is believed to have migrated to Nigeria from Cameroun around the 1950s. His ‘heretic’ activities were first noticed in Kano in the early 1960s. He was consequently deported to Cameroun. He secretly returned to Nigeria in 1965 and started to recruit new followers. In 1973, Marwa was arrested by Governor Audu Bako of Kano State, who considered his activities to injurious to peaceful urban development. He was sent to Makurdi prison in the present Benue state. After serving his term of imprisonment, Marwa went back to Kano and became more aggressive in his religious activities.

56As an Islamic scholar with many followers, Marwa faced many social problems all of which particularly set him against the government and people of Kano State. The first major problem that confronted him was the one often faced by other rural-urban migrants in the city: homelessness. Through past patronage Marwa could afford to have a roof over his head. He was, however, unable to afford accommodation for his followers, who were mainly almajirai and unemployed youths. He therefore decided to establish squatter settlements in different parts of Kano city. His constructions blocked streets and drains. This did not go down well with town planning authorities in Kano. The government would probably have taken no direct action against Marwa and his followers but for the constant reports made about him to law enforcement agents by his neighbours. He was a complete nuisance in the ‘Yan Awaki’ quarters where he had settled. He constantly threatened to visit the people with one disastrous punishment or the other if they failed to accept his teaching. Some people were said to have fled the neighbourhood when no protection seemed forthcoming for them from law enforcement agents.

57Though he claimed to be a Muslim, Marwa preached against the prophethood of Mohammed. He cursed all those who wore Western clothes and called for a return to pre-colonial Nigerian civilization, when nobody wore wrist watches, drove motor cars or rode bicycles, etc. He forbade his followers to have anything to do with all the material evidence of Western civilization on which the corrupt political leaders wasted their ill-gotten wealth. His followers were forbidden from using buttons on their clothes. He expected everybody to follow his teachings and usually cursed those who opposed him. He was often quoted as saying: ‘Wanda bai yarda ba Allah ta tsine mishi’ (God will punish whosoever rejects my teaching). This explains why people started to refer to his followers as Yan tatsine (the followers of he who curses).

58The killing of one of Marwa’s sons in some mysterious circumstances in November 1980 was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Marwa became very violent. Salt was added to Marwa’s injury on 26 November 1980 when he was ordered by Governor Abubakar Rimi of Kano State to demolish all his illegal structures around Kano and surrender all illegal weapons in his possession to the government. Rather than comply with these directives, Marwa sent word to all his followers in northern Nigeria that the time had come to defend their prophet against authoritarian and anti-Islamic forces. This marked the commencement of the Maitatsine violence of 1980, which resulted in the death of 5000 people including Marwa himself. During the riots, the youthful followers of Marwa confronted the combined forces of the police and army on the major streets of Kano. To the chagrin of everybody, the Yan Tatsines responded effectively to the shooting of the security men with stones, bows and arrows, and in the process succeeded in killing several policemen, soldiers and journalists. The open encounter took place in the major streets of Kano (Zaharadeen, 1988; Ekoko and Amadi, 1989; Umar, 1989; Albert, 1994). Those who lived in Kano around this time remember the incident as the ‘second Nigerian civil war’.

59Marwa and others like him support themselves from resources generated through the street begging of the almajirai under them. Some mallams, including Marwa himself are believed to have made money by making charms for businessmen and politicians.

60Religious extremists like the Yan Tatsines are the major response of a marginalized group of people to the mounting social problems in the Nigerian society. Using the example of the Yan Tatsines in Kano, Umar (1989) notes inter alia:

What seems like a simple correlation between the wretched socioeconomic 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.

61The fundamentalists merely use religion as a platform for venting their anger against the social and political injustices around them. They are probably not as blood-thirsty as most people believe; they have a reformist agenda which the larger society has not taken time to understand. Like their pre-colonial and colonial counterparts, the modern day religious fundamentalists in Kano, in their preaching and activities, stand out against social injustice, economic marginalization of the common man and the political recklessness of those who claim to be Nigeria’s leaders. They, therefore, often express anti-establishment views. Writing about the Yan Tatsine, Umar (1989: 123) avers:

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.

62A similar opinion was expressed about the Shiites by Yakubu Yahaya, a close confidant of El Zak-Zaky and the leader of the movement in Katsina:

We as Muslims, we don’t recognise the authority of the federal government, state government, local government or any form of authority…We do not recognise them as our leaders. We are revolting against them. What is between us and them is enmity, eternal enmity, fight, war, forever until the day they will come to the book of Allah… We as Muslims, we have our own law which is the Koran and the Sunna, the traditions of Prophet Mohammed and we execute them under the leadership of Mallam Ibrahim El Zak-Zaky. (Tell, May 6, 1991)

63The fundamentalists were, therefore, always ready to dare the government. It is within this context that various kinds of street violence have occurred in Kano most especially since 1980, when the first Maitatsine riot took place.

Youths, Christian fundamentalism and urban violence

64We must extend our explanation of urban violence in Kano beyond the shop-worn tradition of demonizing the almajiri system or criminalizing the activities of the fundamental religious movements in the city. We must stop pretending that once these people are dealt with, the problems in Kano are over. There are other problems in the city that spur people into religious and ethnic violence that have to be considered. The first is the changing tide of radical Christianity in Kano. Since the 1970s there has been a proliferation of churches in the city. Most of these churches, preach a fundamentalist Christianity which is totally opposed to the dominant Islamic traditions of Kano. These activities often produce a fissiparous culture-shock which has led to a number of violent conflicts. The number and location of religious houses in Kano by 1996 is presented in appendix II at the end of the paper.

65Appendix II shows that there were no less than 130 churches in Kano in 1996. Every street in Sabon Gari, the only major section where the establishment of churches is permitted in Kano, has at least one church. The spatial distribution shows that Sabon Gari has more churches per square metre than some big southern Nigerian cities This has been a major source of concern to the Kanawa (the indigenous Hausa-Fulani people) who did not allow the establishment of any church in their city until around 1913. The Kanawa are even much more alarmed by the fact that most of the churches are of the ‘born again’ type, well known for their provocative evangelism.

66The Kano riot of November 1982 was a Muslim reaction to the proliferation of churches in the city. The Christians were trying to reconstruct the dilapidated Christ Church at Fagge. The Muslims, who had already objected to the fact that the church was located too close to a mosque, felt it should not be reconstructed. The Muslims felt that the Christians should relocate elsewhere rather than rebuild the church. They threatened to pull down the church if it was rebuilt. On the other hand, the Christians felt that they had the right to reconstruct their church and they, therefore, simply ignored the Muslims. In the skirmishes that followed, the Muslims burnt three churches and destroyed 8 others. The affected churches were: (a) Christ Redemption Church, Burma Road (b) The Church of the Lord (Aladura), Burma Road (c) Cherubim and Seraphim Movement, Freeman Road (d) Pentecostal Church of Christ, Festig Road (e) Eternal Sacred Order of Cherubim and Seraphim, Sani Giwa Road (f) Cherubim and Seraphim Church, Sanusi Road (g) Igbala Apostolic Church, Weather Head Road and (h) Christian Church of Light, Hughes Road. Some bars and hotels were also burnt.

67Relying on the interviews granted the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) by Governor Abubakar Rimi of Kano State at the scene of the riots, Professor Hackett (1987: 94-5) noted in one of her articles on the Maitatsine movements in northern Nigeria that the November 1982 riots in Kano were organized by students of the Arabic and technical colleges in the city.

68Since 1982, the opposition of the Muslim youths to Christians has grown more militant. This appears to be a reaction to the increased radicalism of Christian evangelism in Kano by the youth dominated Pentecostal churches (a.k.a. born again or living churches). As can be seen in the appendix most of the churches in Kano are pentecostal. The Kanawa are opposed to many aspects of this brand of Christianity. Many of these churches are radical and oppose close interaction with people of other faiths popularly referred to as ‘sinners’ or ‘people of the world’. They preach openly against people of other faiths and offer Jesus Christ as the only way to eternity. All ‘unbelievers’ are considered to be hell-bound. In the process, the religious sensibilities of the Muslims are easily offended. Oral interviews conducted in Kano show that the most annoying aspect to the Muslims of the ‘born-again’ subculture is the habitual practice of citing passages from the Bible to condemn Islam or comparing the contents of the Bible and Koran in order to demean the personality of Prophet Mohammed.

  • 2 Ajami is the Hausa language written in Arabic letters.

69A number of confrontations have occurred between Muslims and Christians in Kano as a result of Christian activities considered offensive to either the Koran or the Islamic religion. Part of the reasons why the October 1991 crusade of Reinhard Bonnke’s was violently aborted in Kano was that the Christians used the Hausa/Arabic Ajami script in their publicity posters and handbills.2 The Christians who tagged their crusade as ‘Kano for Jesus’ considered the use of Ajami as the best way of taking their message to the grassroots population in Kano (Albert, 1993: 15-16; 1994b: 125-6). The messages in the posters were interpreted by the Muslims as an attempt to ridicule Islam. Some of the posters contained drawings of blind Hausa-Fulani Muslims, who had supposedly abandoned their walking sticks after regaining their lost sight through Jesus Christ. But, more importantly, the Muslims interpreted the word ‘crusade’, which appeared in the posters to mean war against the Muslims (Mukhtar, 1992: 17). In the pandemonium that followed, several hundred people were killed and property worth millions of naira destroyed on the streets of Kano (Daily Champion, 23 Oct. 1991; Newswatch, 28 Oct. 1991).

70On 26th December 1994, an Igbo settler in Kano, Gideon Akaluka, was summarily executed by the Shiites on the grounds that he desecrated a leaf from the Koran. The crisis was said to have been ignited by a mai ruwa (water vendor) who went to the Kuma Asabe quarters where the Igbo man lived. The water vendor saw some patches of excreta on a sheet of paper with some Arabic inscriptions on it. He concluded that Akaluka, who was not at home at the time, must have been responsible for the desecration, since he lived within the vicinity where it was found. Akaluka was later arrested and detained by the police on the 20th of November. The Shiites feared that the Western courts of law, which they have little or no respect for, would not be able to impose capital punishment on Akaluka in accordance with the dictates of the Koran. The fundamentalists who numbered more than one thousand, therefore, stormed the prison in which Akaluka was remanded, overpowered the warders and beheaded him. They later demonstrated in the major streets of Kano with Akaluka’s head stuck to a stake chanting ‘Allahu akbar’ (Allah is the greatest). This was intended as a warning to other people who might in future want to underrate the power of the Shiites (Olugboji, 1995: 8).

71That the fundamentalists successfully broke into a Federal prison and were able to execute Akaluka was not as annoying to watchers of the events in Kano as the claim of the police that nobody was arrested after the incident. The number of hours spent by the fundamentalists on the major streets of Kano carrying the head of Akaluka around was long enough for the police to have effected arrests. Besides, the fundamentalists had no intention of concealing their action from the general public. They saw it as a victory for Allah and, therefore, boldly published the photograph of Akaluka’s head on a stake in an edition of their Hausa propaganda paper, At Tajdid. The same edition of the paper featured a landscape photograph of the leaders of the Shiites addressing their supporters after Akaluka’s summary execution (Olugboji, 1995: 8). What other evidence did the police need to make arrests?

72The refusal of the police to arrest the Shiites has been variously interpreted. The southern Nigerians in Kano as well as Olugboji (1995) believe that this is because the fundamentalists had the support of the government and the police. It is, however, most likely that the police could not effect any arrest because they were afraid of the fatal consequences of having to openly confront the ever battle-ready fundamentalists who are known to be unafraid of death. An encounter between the Shiites and the police at Kaduna in September 1996 is very instructive. As a result of the arrest of their leader by the Federal Government, the Shiites staged a public demonstration in Kaduna. They were shot by the police, but instead of retreating they simply picked up every dead body, dumped it in a bus that was following them and continued their protest march. In the process they killed a police man and captured a police station from where some arms were carted away (Olorunfewa, 1996). The Yan Tatsine also adopted the same dare devil tactics during the Maitatsine riot of 1980 in Kano. They came out with stones, cudgels, etc., against the live ammunition used by the police and the army. In the process, they succeeded in killing several policemen and soldiers.

73The refusal or inability of the police to confront these fundamentalists has resulted in a lack of confidence in the police by the non Shiite Muslims and Christians. Most people now feel that they have to be responsible for their personal safety. They find it difficult to believe that the police are capable of defending them. Rumour-mongers exploit this situation to instil fear in the minds of the people. Reacting to the issue, Pastor Nuhu Musa of the Evangelical Church of West Africa in Kano opined:

The Sunday after Gideon (Akaluka) was murdered, rumours of attacks on Christians by Muslims filled the air. Some churches even stopped their services mid way. Policemen were running all over the place with tear gas (canisters) in hand. In February, an Islamic paper published that Christians were preparing to attack Muslims and that ammunition was being stock-piled at ECWA. They spread all these rumours to make us panic. (quoted from Olugboji 1995: 9)

74Since the Akaluka incident, southern Nigerian emigrants in Kano have become very worried about the insecurity of life and property. They see the government as being insensitive to their problems and unable to keep the peace. Many have fled the city. Those who choose to remain may take the law into their own hands in future ethnic and religious disturbances in the city.

Official Policies towards Combatting the Problems

75The persistence of the problem of street violence in Kano suggests that the government has not done enough to address the outstanding issues. The various commissions of enquiry into urban violence in the city often come out with reports indicting the youths for their role in the civil disorders (for example see NRG, 1953 and FGN, 1981). Not much, however, has been done towards putting in place concrete policies for rehabilitating these youths and children. This explains why the tide of street violence in the city has been on a steady rise. An effective approach for managing the problems would be to create more jobs for the youths.

76The government seems to be conscious of the fact that the rate of crime in our cities can be drastically reduced by creating more jobs. This explains why the federal government established the National Directorate of Employment on 30th January 1987. The Directorate has four main programmes: national youth employment and vocational skills development programme, small scale industries and graduate employment programme, agricultural sector employment programme and special public works programme. The first programme, that is the national youth employment and vocational skills development programme, came into being in realization of the fact that most of the unemployed youths in Nigeria are largely unskilled. This programme has three schemes for empowering such young men and women for gainful employment: National Open Apprenticeship Scheme, Waste to Wealth Scheme and Schools on Wheels Scheme (NDE, n.d.). Tables 3 and 4 give statistics that show the efforts made by the NDE to train youths in Kano and other parts of Nigeria.

Table 3. National Directorate of Employment Small-Scale Industries Graduate Employment Department. Summary Date of Beneficiaries September, 1989 (cumulative)

Table 3. National Directorate of Employment Small-Scale Industries Graduate Employment Department. Summary Date of Beneficiaries September, 1989 (cumulative)

Source: FGN, 1990, p. 27.

77As shown above, Kano is a beneficiary of the NDE programmes. Most of the people who have participated in the training schemes, however, have had some formal education. A visit to where the apprentices are trained easily confirms this. The problem results largely from the fact that most NDE programmes were specially designed to cater for the job needs of educated youths and not the kind of uneducated people found on the streets of Kano. For example, table 5 shows that the N297, 677,434 disbursed by the NDE on agricultural programmes between 1987 and 1990 was given to graduates of agricultural sciences from universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and secondary schools. The few Kanawa who could have qualified for such loans and support are of course not unemployed but work in the local government councils, or state and federal government departments. It is unfortunate that the NDE does not have programmes for uneducated and unskilled people. This makes it very difficult for the youths in Kano to benefit adequately from the scheme. They lack certificates that could be given to the NDE as collateral for the loans.

78Attempts were made between 1992 and 1993 by the then Governor of Kano State, Alhaji Kabiru Gaya to rehabilitate some of the street gangs, especially the Yan Tauri in Kano city. This was most probably after some of them had been used for political activities in the state and were threatening the survival of the civilian administration. The Governor designed a ‘self-help’ project under which he bought several motorcycles to pacify the Yan Tauri. Some of them later took to the commercial motorbike transportation business.

Table 4. Participants in the National Open Apprenticeship Scheme (since 1991)

Table 4. Participants in the National Open Apprenticeship Scheme (since 1991)

Source: Federal Government of Nigeria: Achievements of the Federal Ministry of Employment, Labor and Productivity Under the Babangida Administration 1985-1990, Research and Statistics Dept., 1990, p. 24.

Table 5. National Directorate of Employment: Summary of Agriculture Programmes (Participants & Expenditure 1987-1990)

Table 5. National Directorate of Employment: Summary of Agriculture Programmes (Participants & Expenditure 1987-1990)

Source: FGN, 1990, p. 27.

79Total loan amount N140, 612, 168.

80This is the total projected expenditure for the agricultural programme.

81To compound this problem, some mallams have advised their pupils not to debase themselves by trying to compete with other candidates applying for the facilities offered by the NDE. In addition, most of the almajirai would have objected to the idea of paying back interest on the loans given to them, as the NDE would have demanded; since charging interest on a loan against Koranic injunctions. This partly explains why jobless youths have been on the increase in the streets of Kano. For the NDE project to be more meaningful in Kano, special programmes must be designed for the rehabilitation of the almajirai, Yan Tauri, Yan Daukar Amarya, etc., with the support of the mallams.

82This has resulted in instability into the commercial motor bike taxi business in Kano. This explains why so many of the motor cycle taxi drivers rider in Kano are aggressive towards their passengers (Otitoju: 1995: 5). The way they ride their machines is no less violent. The problem of ‘street girls’ has also been of immense concern to successive administrations in Kano. In 1987, the government set up a Committee on Women Affairs to, inter alia, identify the causes of the high rate of divorce in Kano and the means for preventing this; identify causes of prostitution and suggest means for eradicating it, etc.

83The report of the committee (Kano State, 1987) which the government accepted (Kano State, 1988) condemned street-hawking by young girls. It also opposed forced marriages and recommended that girls be allowed to attain the age of between 17 and 18 years before being given out in marriage. This will enable the girl to acquire the necessary education and skills for earning her living in the future. The contents of this report are yet to be implemented and young female hawkers and prostitutes are still found on the streets of Kano.

The way forward

Dealing with on-the-street child labour

84Three major cases of child labour have been identified in this study. The first is the almajiri phenomenon, the second is the case of children serving as auxiliary street beggars and the third is hawking, which involves Hausa-Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba children. It is necessary to legislate against all these practices. In the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Nigerian government should prohibit children below fifteen years of age from engaging in any economic activities, whether begging or hawking.

85Issues covered by such legislation should also include the participation of children in domestic and industrial labour. This is another problem outside the focus of the present work, but which has to be addressed. Of course, the law banning child labour should be different from the one aimed at checking street trading by children. This has to be dealt with separately. Government policy concerning street begging might not be too difficult to implement, considering the recent call made by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Maccido, who is the head of the Muslim community in Nigeria, that parents and governments should collaborate to eliminate street begging in the country (The Guardian, 1997: 1). If other Islamic and traditional leaders in the north could make similar calls in their areas of jurisdiction, the mallams who operate Koranic schools would be discouraged from sending their students onto the streets to beg. Parents too would become unwilling to allow their children to engage in the practice.

86We have to realize, however, that parents and the mallams turn to child labour when there appears to be no alternative way to cater for themselves and their children. The mallams, who are equally poor, send these children to the streets to beg, because they have no other means by which they can earn a living. Legislation against child labour should, therefore, be accompanied with measures aimed at helping deal with the dire problems of poverty. A policy of free and compulsory education would help some of these parents. If the children are simply withdrawn from street trading or begging without their parents being given any assistance, they will definitely come back to the streets in other roles, most probably as petty thieves and pick-pockets.

87The mallams and the almajirai are socially and politically excluded as citizens. They might become better citizens if their schools were given a place in the educational system. The government should give formal recognition to the role of the mallams in the Nigerian education industry. They should be seen as contributing to the educational development of Nigeria like their Western-trained counterparts. Within this context their schools should be recognized by the government and given financial support. Towards achieving this objective, the government should conduct a census of the number of Koranic schools in Kano, their locations and the number of almajiri in each to enable it determine the nature of subsidies to be given to the schools.

88The government, assisted by such agencies as UNICEF, ILO, UNDP, UNESCO, UMP and some local and international NGOs, could also start vocational training for the almajirai under which the trainees would be granted monthly allowances for their personal upkeep. At the end of their training the children could be given loans to set up small-scale business concerns. The daily activities of the children could divided between Koranic education and vocational training. The National Directorate of Employment, assisted by some Islamic scholars, could be asked to collaborate on such a training programme. If the almajirai are made to feel part of the wider society and are equipped to make useful contributions one is of the opinion that the problem of the Yan Tauri and other street gangs in the city would be indirectly solved, since most of these youths take to the streets because the Islamic education they receive hardly prepares them for any specific profession in the society.

Dealing with on-the-street courtesans

89Parents in Kano should be encouraged to take their divorced daughters back into the home rather than refusing them shelter which pushes them on the streets. The magajiya (older women) could be supported by government to act as foster parents for these homeless girls. Under the protection of the magajiya, vocational training could be organized, after which soft loans could be granted to enable them establish small businesses. As long as the girls do not have any skill, they will continue to solicit on the streets. These girls constitute a vibrant medium for spreading sexually transmitted diseases in Kano. In addition special programmes could be developed by the Family Support Programme (FSP), WHO, UNICEF, etc. for keeping them off the streets.

Dealing with religious fanaticism and street culture

90Ethnic and religious violence, as manifested in Kano, is evidence of religious intolerance. This problem could partly be dealt with using specially designed radio and television programmes, jingles, sermons and group discussions. Such programmes could be aimed at discouraging religious intolerance and street begging. The radio and television channels of the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State in Ibadan have programmes of this type which the Kano state government could emulate. The station has many radio jingles aimed at discouraging both religious intolerance and street begging, though the proportion of the problem in the western part of Nigeria is not as high as that of Kano. The station also has some television playlets for achieving the same objectives. In one of the television playlets geared towards promoting religious tolerance, a Muslim cleric is shown teaching his pupils (who could have been almajirai in northern Nigeria) some verses of the Koran. Then, a Christian preacher comes onto the scene ringing a bell and appealing to listeners to accept Christ into their lives as the end of the world is at hand. The mallam confronts the preacher and a heated argument ensues between the two until a concerned citizen comes on the scene to settle the dispute. The peacemaker asseverates that both the mallam and the Christian evangelist serve the same God. He asks them if it is recorded anywhere that Jesus and Mohammed ever quarrelled. After further exchange on these lines the two religious leaders see the merit of the argument and resolve their differences, embracing each other and pledging to cooperate thereafter. This kind of playlet is needed in northern Nigerian cities like Kano.

91Part of what the mallams preach against are the political and social injustices perpetrated by those in authority. The government could respond to the needs of the fundamentalists in this respect by democratizing the political system and making itself more accountable to the governed. The present emphasis on using coercive measures against them is counter-productive. The fundamentalists are not afraid to die. One of their goals in life is, in fact, to ‘die in the service of Allah’. Past measures against them have, therefore, not eliminated them. They often become more aggressive when efforts are made to physically suppress them and this explains why the fundamentalists kill indiscriminately. An alternative way of addressing their problems is for the government to recognize them as a (legitimate) social movement and deal with them as such. They have the right to be heard. Once their activities are noted in any area, the government should go into dialogue with them and address their needs. Even when the government is unable to meet their needs, the religious fanatics should still be made to feel that they are part of the society instead of being ostracized completely, as happens at present in various parts of northern Nigeria. They should not be seen as enemies of the government because of their persistent anti-establishment views.

92Our major finding in this work is that street culture has contributed to the stressful conditions in Kano city. Within this context (violent) conflicts are produced. If we want the city to be peaceful, the phenomenon of street culture has to be dealt with at the policy level. The role of the street in a city must be clearly defined in town development policies so that it is not too difficult for people to realize that they are committing criminal offences when putting too much pressure on the streets, by engaging in street trading and begging. In order to reduce the level of stress on the city, it is recommended that the youths resident within it should have access to educational and vocational training facilities. The devil, as the old saying goes easily finds work for idle hands. The authorities must, therefore, give ample consideration to the question of training and employment in their policies.

Appendix II. Religious Houses in Sabon Gari, Kano

Legend: 1 =Big; 2 = Small; 3 = Very small; * =Pentecostal movements or born-again churches



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Appendix I


The year 1996 was probably not the best time for conducting this kind of research in Kano. The work, however, had to be completed within this period because it was just one of out of a total of eight projects that had to completed within the same period. During that year, the Nigerian Head of State, General Sani Abacha, lost his first son in a plane mishap in Kano. The Military Administrator of the State also died in 1996 as a result of a plane crash in Jos, the capital of Plateau State. During the same year, the Shiites and other religious fundamentalists struck in Kano and frantic efforts were made by the police to prevent the news from circulating to other parts of northern Nigeria from which the Shiites could launch a counter attack. Mr. Ade Olorunfemi, a correspondent of Tell magazine who reported the 1996 encounter between the Shiites and Yan Tauri was, at the time of my visit to Kano, playing hide-and-seek with the police command in the city. His offence was that the authorities felt that his report could cause more civil disorder in Kano.

There were, therefore, enough rumours and fears in Kano to make people distrust any scholar researching into the subject of urban violence. Everybody in the city was a suspect. To the police, the researcher could be one of the ‘subversive elements in the country’ and to the average informant on the street, the researcher was simply a plainclothes state security official trying to get innocent people into trouble. The shopworn pledge of the researcher to use whatever information that was offered (to him) for academic purposes only, did not make much sense to most informants, journalists and policemen contacted. Everybody seemed to be (over) security conscious as the wounds of past problems in the city were still open. The general attitude in the city was ‘let sleeping dogs lie’

I decided to depend more on participant observation for the collection of my data. I supplemented the information generated from this source with statistical data collected from the Federal Office of Statistics in Lagos, information derived from existing published works, and my residual knowledge of the Kano situation, gained during my work in the city, on a consistent basis, since 1989.

I succeeded in having some informal discussions with the almajirai and some children hawking on the streets. There was no opportunity whatsoever to talk to any of the mallams, and I was strongly advised against this as the situation is too sensitive at the moment. I was told that the government itself does not ‘disturb’ the mallams, most of whom have decided to seclude themselves from the rest of the society. Direct interviews with members of the criminal gangs were equally impossible, but their activities could easily be observed on the streets. Those who had, at one time or the other, been victimized by these gangs were ready to discuss their travails with me. My journalist friends and a colleague at Bayero University also provided me with newspaper cuttings about some of the activities of the violent gangsters.


1 This writer was stationed in Dingyadi village in 1985 during his NYSC assignment.

2 Ajami is the Hausa language written in Arabic letters.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1. Number of Robbery Cases 1983-1987
Légende Source: Nigeria Police Force, Lagos
Fichier image/jpeg, 204k
Titre Table 2. Number of Reported Armed Robbery Cases by State (1989-1993)
Légende Source: Nigeria Police Force; Annual Abstract of Statistics, 1995 edition, FOS, Lagos F.C.T. – Federal Capital Territory
Fichier image/jpeg, 204k
Titre Table 3. National Directorate of Employment Small-Scale Industries Graduate Employment Department. Summary Date of Beneficiaries September, 1989 (cumulative)
Légende Source: FGN, 1990, p. 27.
Fichier image/jpeg, 232k
Titre Table 4. Participants in the National Open Apprenticeship Scheme (since 1991)
Légende Source: Federal Government of Nigeria: Achievements of the Federal Ministry of Employment, Labor and Productivity Under the Babangida Administration 1985-1990, Research and Statistics Dept., 1990, p. 24.
Fichier image/jpeg, 340k
Titre Table 5. National Directorate of Employment: Summary of Agriculture Programmes (Participants & Expenditure 1987-1990)
Légende Source: FGN, 1990, p. 27.
Fichier image/jpeg, 204k
Fichier image/jpeg, 428k
Fichier image/jpeg, 412k
Fichier image/jpeg, 472k
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