Sectarian Crises In Northern Nigeria

Project and Seminar Material for History

Sectarian Crises In Northern Nigeria

Chapter One


The Background of the Study

The city of Kano has been famed to be one of the most advanced cities in pre-colonial Northern Nigeria, being probably the largest urban centre in Sudanic West Africa in the nineteenth century (jihad), oral traditions of its origins suggest that it was founded between A.D. 1000 and 1200 during which period centralized political authority evolved. The oral tradition is based on the legendary Bayagida. Sectarian Crises

According to the Bayajida legend of the traditions of origin of the Hausa states, one Bayajida fled from Baghdad to Kanem-Bornu, a state in the Chad basin. The Mai of Bornu gave Bayajida his daughter in marriage but deprived him of his follower. Bayojida in a cautious move fled from the Mai for fear of the Mai’s intentions towards him. Bayojida traveled westward but left his wife at Biran-ta Gabbas to bear him a son before stopping at Gaya near Kano. At Gaya, Bayajida met some blacksmiths who made a knife for him to his specifications. With this knife Bayajida delivered a people that had been oppressed and deprived of water from a well by a sacred snake called “Sarki”, by killing the snake. Daura the queen of the place married him for his bravery and also gave him a Gwari concubine. By Daura, Bayajida had a son called Bawo. One of the traditions had it that Bawo had seven children who became founders of the Hausa States Hausa Bakwai. These were Biram and Daura, the oldest; Katsina and Zaria, twins; Kano and Rano, twins; and Gabir, the youngest. Whether these were names of persons or places is not certain, however in almost all Hausa traditions Biram and Daura are considered to be the earliest settlement of the Hausa people in their present location. These states were independent of each other but were bound by language and culture.

According to traditions the earliest inhabitants of Kano were the Abagiyawa, borne by few Kano blacksmiths. The Abagiyawa have it that one of their ancestors, a smith called Kano came from Gaya in search of iron stone and charcoal and settled at Dala hill. The Abagiyawa also practiced the arts of medicine, beer-brewing, archery, drumming and dancing including smithing. They were organized in local patrilinear groups each with its own head and distinguished by some special trait or skill. Among the Abagiyawa was a man called Barbushe, the hunter priest of a local deity. Barbushe had influence and power among the people of Kano of his day. In subsequent time several immigrant groups arrived in Kano; one of them was led by a man called Bagauda and overwhelmed the Abagiyawa and settled at Sheme in Kano. Probably among these immigrants were the men of the Bayajida invasion and the legendary seven children of Bawo, one of whom was called Kano. The name Kano was ascripted to two different ancestors, this in a way describes the complete assimilation and identification achieved between the newcomers and the earlier inhabitants.

From the Kano chronicle the city wall of Kano was built in the twelfth century and was inaugurated in the reign of Gijinmasu (1095 – 1134). The walls were later completed by his son and successor, YisaTsaraki (1136 – 94).

The early forms of social and political organizations in Hausaland were centred round the ‘birni’, the walled or stockaded town; as distinct from the ‘gari’ or kauyi’, the village or hamlet. The community in the birni was self-sufficient and was united by trade, industry and engaged in agriculture. In the times of wars or other conflicts, the ‘birni’ could support its inhabitants from siege and neighbouring hamlets could take refuge within the walls. The gradual expansion of a birni into a Hausa state took the form of absorption or subjugation of outlying territory, population and power. The expanding ‘birni’ developed from a village to a city town and its head – the sarki, changed from a village to a city chief with an elaborate court and official hierarchy. The other neighbouring ‘birni’ became subordinate to it. The earliest Hausa states were small in size and had limited sphere of influence being within a radius of only a few days’ march from the capital.6

The political and social order in Hausa states had underlying support from religion, which closely integrated and regulated the societies with ritual sanction and forms. In Kano, Barbushe and other senior lineage heads exercised ritual jurisdiction and leadership over the Abagiyawa. The priest – king, town and royal deities, symbols and taboos were spiritual bonds which reinforced political unity.Sectarian Crises

Islam and Its Impact In Kano

Kano being at the centre of the trans-Saharan trade was influenced by the activities of the traders from North Africa. Islam came through these traders to Hausaland in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Islam became the religion of the ruling classes in the fifteenth century and onwards and had the consequences of altering the political and social institutions of the Hausa people. The Sarki became more powerful but these were generally checked and limited by his central council composed of the chief ministers and territorial officials who were acting in advisory capacity but were not to be ignored.Sectarian Crises

The village or district head was in-charge of judicial affairs in his district in the early times. The king sat in his compound in the capital with the SarkinFada (chief official of the household) and others to listen to grievances. But if the matter was of great importance, and serious like in murder cases, the councilors were consulted.Sectarian Crises

With Islam adopted in the Hausa states and Muslim system of justice gradually adopted, separation between the executive and judiciary was evident. Though the king, as head of state and supreme judge, he exercised judicial functions in some matters with the advice of the chief Alkali and other legal experts. Matters of major importance that concerned land and the king’s political position, serious cases of murder and manslaughter were subject to the King’s final revision.

The Alkali carried out a sole judicial function by administering the Maliki code. The administration of law in a Muslim state required not merely a knowledge of local customs but on intimate knowledge of the sharia. The Alkalis were professional magistrates who were generally learned in the law and had access to libraries containing the works of eminent jurists. Occasionally, there was also a traveling judge which decisions were also subject to revision by the chief Alkali. In the smaller villages the judicial authority was commonly the village head but minor offences could of course be dealt with by the heads of wards and families.11

The system of taxation and revenue collection developed from the ancient tribute in grain and other local products with the adoption of Islam. These elaborate system of taxes and dues included the ‘Zakat’, a tax on available income authorized by the Qu’ran for cheritable purposes,’ ‘janguli’ paid on livestock, the ‘kharaji or land tax. There were taxes on professions, paid by craftsmen, butchers, dyers, prostitutes, dancing girls and others. Dues were paid on luxury crops, such as tobacco, onions and sugar cane. Tolls were paid by caravans and fees on markets.12

The Muslim law sanctioned these taxes and dues but the taxation system was abused by corrupt officials. The methods for assessment of these taxes were done arbitrary which resulted in the extension of people’s resources. These abuses of the taxation system robbed it of its religious sanctions. And these abuses were part of the reasons the leaders of the nineteenth century Jihads struck.

Islam with its long history in the Hausa states had become an integral part of the people’s way of life. The institutions in Kano and other Hausa states were influenced and patterned on Islamic modern – the political, legal, judicial and the social life of the people. Islam transformed the Hausa states by giving them advantages in that, Islam provided a written language; Arabic, a literate and learned administrative class and a bond of union, a common ideology that cut across other groups. Islam was a powerful factor in nation-building in western Sudan states, like Kano.

The revival of Islam in Kano and other Hausa states in the nineteenth century Jihads brought about new political and cultural unities and new impetus in commercial activities linking western Sudan with the south and gradually replaced the declining trans-Saharan trade.

The greatest influence on the socio-political evolution and organization in Kano was Islam. The introduction of the Emirate system of government and the sharia legal system to Kano greatly transformed the socio-political organization of Kano state.16

The Nature and Demography of Kano State

Kano developed into a cosmopolitan city even before colonialism. Colonialism only expanded its cosmopolitan frontiers because it opened the city to migrants from southern Nigeria, principally the Igbo and Yoruba. Prior to colonialism, Kano was a large urban settlement which had an estimate of 75,000 in the sixteenth century and was organized into 74 quarters by 1851.

The quarters were divided into areas which made up Kano city. One of the divides was the ‘birni’, the walled city and traditionally called the holy city. This ‘birni’ has over the years being the exclusive reserve for Kano indigenes and other Hausa. The other divide was the ‘waje’, the outside city where non-indigenes lived in their quarters and groups. Nassarawa and SabonGari became parts of the ‘waje’ and quartered Europeans and southern Nigerians and other non-Islamic migrants respectively. These territorial divisions provide an insight into the structure of relations between Kano peoples and other people or strangers, a structure which was maintained in the colonial period. Kano being a major commercial and Islamic centre, attracted a lot of foreigners and these foreigners were quartered outside the walled city. The practice of quartering foreigners outside the walled city has been from the beginning. The practice was successfully implemented because of the fact that the Emir was the only one who had authority to allocate land and quarters.

The major reason for setting migrants outside the walled city was to prevent the pollution of Islam by strangers and foreigners who were known as ‘kaffirs’ (unbelievers or infidel).18 The colonial authorities followed the line of this reasoning to continue the policy of quarterization and this led to the establishment of SabonGari.Although, Kano continued as a commercial and Islamic centre during the period of colonial rule. Colonialism was to transform the commercial and political orientation of northern Nigeria, of which Kano is a part, away from the Trans-Saharan Trade to a trade which linked it to the southern and coastal ports.

The cosmopolitan outlook of present day Kano, took root during the mass movement of Nigerians from other parts, especially the south into Kano after the colonization of the country was completed. Even, with the influx of migrants into Kano in the colonial period, and the new laws introduced by the colonial authorities, quartering remained as a policy which saw foreigners being quartered outside the walled city.

The mass movements by southern Nigerians were made possible by the opening up of upland towns like Kano through the development and expansion of transportation systems, specially road and rail transport both affordable means of mass transit. The Lagos – Kano railway line was completed in 1911, while the Port-Harcourt – Kano line was completed in 1926.19With the development of the ports in Lagos and Port-Harcourt, these lines linked Kano to the commercial and administrative nerve centres of the country. Rural – Urban and urban-urban migrations were facilitated by these linkages. The development of infrastructure in the 1920s completed the integration of the national economy which resulted to the mass migrations to the north.


The south-north migrations under colonial rule led to the establishment of the quarters of SabonGari, or strangers’ quarters in Kano. The emergency of SabonGari was as a result of the continuation of the quartering policy. The major difference between SabonGari and other strangers quarters was that the colonial law regulated the settlement. The relations between the settlers in SabonGari and those in the ‘birni’ were regulated to preserve the Islamic outlook of Kano and other northern cities which was understood to be part of the pact which the colonial authorities, represented by Lord Lugard had with the Emirs.20

SabonGari was created to prevent missionary influence in the ‘holy city’. This was to keep southern Nigerians who have been influenced by Christianity apart from the indigenes. In 1912, a new law was enacted which formally prohibited non-Muslims from dwelling in the holy city, while another law which forbade marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims was enforced.21 These laws and their enforcement served the dual purpose of preserving Islam in the ‘birni’ and to prevent southerners nationalistic tendencies from spreading such ideas to the inhabitants of the ‘birni’ or walled city and could result to the overthrow of colonial apparatus. This explains why, in 1914 non-Hausa northerners were resettled from SabonGari to Tudun Wada.22

SabonGari emerged in Kano in 1911 as the first of the strangers’ quarters established by colonial rule in Nigeria. Population pressure has been the major problem that faced SabonGari from the beginning and even till today. The pressure on the land has been as a result of more migrants in excess of the capacity which the land can bear. The quarter developed as an overcrowded and haphazard urban ‘slum’.

From inception, SabonGari has been largely inhabited by southern Nigerians, principally the Yoruba and Igbo. Initially, the Yoruba dominated, by 1921 of 2000 inhabitants, 1,478 were Yoruba. But after the second world war the mass movement that followed resulted to large numbers of Igbos and soon overtook the Yoruba as the dominant group.23 The Yorubas differ from the Igbos settlers in Kano in that the Yorubas were easily assimilated into the culture and traditions of the Hausas. They were assimilated either through marriage or Islam and resulted to residence relocation.

There are other settlers in SabonGari, outside the Igbos and Yorubas, these include Edo, Urhobo, Efik, Ijaw, Itsekiri, Sabon. Gari remains a predominantly Christian community.

As SabonGari developed, it has not ceased to be a focus of major national crises which involved north-south and Muslim -Christian divisions.

Today, because of population pressure and high rent those with lesser means have been forced to areas like Brigade, Maitara, RigeleMera and even locations outside the city. The affluent non-Muslims who consider SabonGari too much of a slum reside in low density areas like Bompai, Nassarawa, Naibawa.24

The population of Kano State has shown a progressive increase right from creation of the state till today. The population of Kano, according to the 1963 census was 5,774,840.25 And 2006 population census was 9,401,288 with 4,947,952 males and 4,453,336 females. The census of 2006 puts Kano state as the most populous state in Nigeria.26

The Background History and Demography of Kaduna State

According to the Zaria Chronicle, Zaria Town was founded by SarkinBakwaTuronku, the twenty-second ruler, who was perhaps a woman. Turunko is still a town with extensive ruins situated seventeenth miles south of Zaria city. The discomfort and smallness of Turunku as a capital and water supply being precarious made Bakwa transfer to Zaria.

Zaria is the most southern of the Hausa states. This area was known as Zazzau until the sixteenth century which it became known as Zaria after the famous queen, Queen Zaria. Strategically Zaria is positioned in a location that facilitated trade between the northern and southern states of Nigeria. It is also a fertile state, especially in the valley of the river Kaduna.

According to the Zaria Chronicle there were at least sixty rulers of Zaria before it was conquered by the Fulani in the early nineteenth century. The first ruler is said to have been Gunguma, a grandson of the famous Bayajidda.

The famous Queen Aminatu succeeded Bakwa and was known to had extended the frontiers of Zaria to as far as Kwararafa and Nupe. Her great military exploits brought tributes to her. The SarkinNupe sent 40 eunuchs and 10,000 kolanuts to her. In Hausaland she built walled camps whenever she halted on her travels, and as a result throughout Hausaland ancient town walls are called Ganwar Amina – Amina’s walls.

Zaria declined in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries after Queen Aminatu reign and was subject to the dominion of Borno. Zaria paid tribute to Borno and many of the top positions in the kingdom were occupied by people from Borno. The Mai of Borno also had a representative of the court of the king of Zaria. In the eighteenth century the capital was moved from Jufena to its present site, the modern city of Zaria.

Islam was probably introduced to Zaria in the early sixteenth century but with still the existence traditional religions, such as the ‘bari’ cult. Zaria was not a strongly Muslim state and this was one of the reasons that accounted for Zaria to had been a source of slaves for neighbouring Muslim states.

What is presently known as Kaduna state came into being when the Federal Military Government created it in 1976. It encompasses the area of the old Zaria (Zazzau) emirate – cum province. Two broad cultural segments have been identified in this emirate province. The first of the segment is the Hausa-Fulani group, this group constitutes about 60 percent of the emirate population, occupies mainly the northern part of the province and dominates the structure of the emirate system of government.

The second ethno-cultural group of the Zazzau kingdom who are located in the southern and western half of the territory constitute the minority, which made up of some thirty tribes. Even in this half of the territory Hausa in enclaves, walled towns or open villages which are the foci of economic, political and administrative life are found.Sectarian Crises

These minority tribes were traditionally the legitimate target for slave-raiding, and tribute being paid to the dominant Hausa-Fulani. This minority tribes were vulnerable to Hausa-Fulani hegemony because of their relatively inferior technology, smaller settlements and decentralized modes of political organization.Sectarian Crises

The degree of resistance to the Hausa-Fulani power differed from tribe to tribe in the south. The Kagoro, Jaba, moroe populations of southern Zaria had enjoyed some degrees of independence from the emirate system. The integrity and autonomy of those three groups as independent chiefdoms had been maintained over the years since the colonial era.Sectarian Crises

The incorporated minority tribes are closer geographically to the Hausa settlements and enclaves than the independent pagan groups. The incorporated tribes are more vulnerable to cultural, economic and political domination by the Hausa-Fulani power group. The independent minority populations are ruled by their own chiefs, the incorporated groups are administered by emirate-appointed district head who were mostly Hausa-Fulani group.Sectarian Crises

The hostile historical political relationship between the Hausa-Fulani group and the various minority tribes in the south has been worsened by religion differences. Islam is the religion of majority of the emirate people, the Hausa-Fulani. Islam has provided the doctrinal or ideological foundation for the emirate system. On the other hand different forms of traditional worship predominated the minority populations. The Muslims saw them as infidel and imposed their judicial and legal system on them. However, the receptiveness of the minority populations to Christian teaching and education had resulted to conversion of these pagan southern Zaria. The leadership of the minority populations has been dominated by the mission-educated elites. Today, these elites are found in important positions in the Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) who had criticized the Hausa-Fulani hegemony in the north.Sectarian Crises

Historically, the violent agitations and confrontations between the Hausa-Fulani and minority tribes in Zaria had been as a result of contest over traditional political control, culture, religion and resource distribution.Sectarian Crises

Kaduna State is a cosmopolitan state which had a population of 6,113,503 with 3,090,438 males and 3,023,065 females in 2006.Sectarian Crises

Colonial Rule In Northern Nigeria

The British rule in northern Nigeria took cognizance of the already existing traditional system – the emirate system by retaining the administrative system and its judicial structure of the Sharia at the local or grass root levels. This system of British rule that preserved the traditional administrative structure in northern Nigeria was known as the indirect rule system.Sectarian Crises

The British official argued that the reason for the introduction of indirect rule in northern Nigeria was to protect the existing traditional system, so that there would be little disruption in the development of the societies. Although, it had been argued that the introduction of indirect rule in northern Nigeria was based on economic reason. This was to save cost of administration in personnel and materials. The indirect rule system was therefore introduced to meet the needs of the European administrators who arrived in Nigeria after the conquest of the country.Sectarian Crises

In order to have stability and peace the native courts proclamation was declared in 1900. the proclamation provided for courts handled by the emirs and districts heads to administer non-European laws and practices. The Native Revenue Proclamation was also passed by the British, this gave responsibility to the emirs to collect taxes on behalf of the British government, but also allowed them to keep part of the taxes collected. The Native Authority (Enforcement) Proclamation was passed in 1907. The Proclamation established agencies to maintain law and order and confirmed officers in the new structure of government who had been approved by the British colonial administration.Sectarian Crises

Education in pre-colonial northern Nigeria was basically that of Koranic schooling system, where Koranic schools were situated in every community and hamlet. In these Koranic schools young people were educated under learned teachers ‘Ulama’ on how to recite the Koran by heart and instruction on how to read and write in Arabic and elementary mathematics was given. Islamic scholarships in philosophy, religion and science were the most advanced form of knowledge attainable in these pre-colonial northern Nigeria societies.Sectarian Crises

Colonialism was to introduce western education to northern Nigeria after the initial suspicion and opposition by the Emirs and Islamic scholars in the north who viewed western education as a threat to their Islamic faith. The activities of the European missionaries were restricted by the Emirs and Islamic scholars with the support of the British colonial administration.Sectarian Crises

In 1909 the hostility towards the missionaries was relaxed with the founding of the first primary school, the Nassarawa Primary School, Kano, by Hans Vischer, a former Christian Mission Society (C.M.S.) Missionary worker. The Primary school was to train the sons of Emirs and their chiefs and the curriculum was secularized by the exclusion of Christian religion instructions and prayers Sectarian Crises

The late introduction of western education in northern Nigeria had caused disparities in education between the north and south and had mediated against integration inspite of the 1914 amalgamation of the northern and southern of Nigerian.Sectarian Crises

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