By Ahmed Yahaya Joe
What is the modern history of Kano without mention of its famous Groundnut Pyramids? Saul Raccah (1895-1970), a Jew that arrived Kano in 1914 laid the ground work. He would marry Hannah from the Levantine, Joseph Abdallah family. Their sons George and Rex would in partnership with the Northern Region government under Sir Ahmadu Bello since 1957 entrench Kano as an industrial hub in Nigeria. Today, a sprawling neighborhood has grown around his tomb known as “Kabarin Raccah” along the Airport Road axis. This same groundnut trade attracted Alhassan Dantata to Kano from Gonja in Northern Ghana.
By 1910, Kano emerged as the main terminus of the railway linking the Northern and Southern Protectorates. It opened up large scale commercial activities to unprecedented levels. The legendary hospitality of the Kanawa not only boosted trade and commerce but served as a huge magnet for diverse economic opportunities. Prior to that epoch the famous Kurmi Market within ancient city walls of Kano, a onetime vassal of Songhai Empire elevated to prominence by Wangara immigrants from present-day Mali was the main entrepôt of the Trans Saharan trade routes for centuries before the British conquest of 1903.
The railway system fundamentally changed that historical dominance as imported and foreign goods now came through seaports instead of across the Sahara. With significant south-north migrations in Nigeria, and many southern Nigerian immigrants settling in Kano more than anywhere else in the North, a new lexicon was introduced – “strangers”.
Predictably, the Sabongari market upstaged Kurmi as “strangers” gained more commercial dominance in Kano. Soon Fagge, the Arab/Tuareg quarters sandwiched between “Birni” the ancient city and Sabongari, strangers quarters began to lose prominence. Ethnic and religious fault lines soon surfaced. A perfect storm started forming which culminated into the first inter ethnic/religious riot in Nigeria that took place between May 15 and 18 in 1953. Based on official records 36 died and 241 were wounded.
“After the 1953 riot in Kano, the NPC government adopted a Northernization policy by which many southern Nigerians in the northern public service were retrenched and replaced by northern Nigerians. By 1957, there were specific instructions requiring the northern Nigerian Public Service Commission not to employ a non-northern Nigerian if a qualified northern Nigerian or an expatriate was available for such an appointment. Such non-northern Nigerians as were employed were also only offered contract appointment. Private companies operating in northern Nigeria were expected to comply with the terms of the Northernization policy.”
That notwithstanding Kano was the historical pioneer of an open door policy to all settlers in the North as replicated in Sokoto, Zaria, Maiduguri and so on. There is no where then in Nigeria that any person could freely settle, buy land and expand holdings like Kano. No harrasment, no intimidation, no taxation to “sons of the soil” nor “borrowing of land”. Was the same courtesy extended to Southerners in Kano replicated to Northerners in general in the South?
Perhaps why an angry Sir Ahmadu Bello thundered;
“We do not want to go to Lake Chad and meet strangers catching our fish in the water, and taking them away to leave us with nothing. We do not want to go to Sokoto and find a carpenter who is a stranger nailing our houses. I do not want to go to the Sabon-Gari in Kano and find strangers making the body of a lorry, or to go to the market and see butchers who are not Northerners.”
See details in House of Chiefs Debates, 19 March 1965, p. 55 (mimeo)
Little wonder the official biographer of Sir Ahmadu Bello Prof. John Paden notes in Communal Competition, Conflict and Violence in Kano (1971);
“By 1965, economic activities in the settler controlled Sabon Gari market in Kano town had surpassed that of the indigene controlled Kurmi market in terms of number of traders, in value of turnover, and average profit per trader”
On some the dramatic social changes that Kano has undergone, Douglas Schneider an American resident in Kano in the 1970s puts it;
“I lived in Kano, deep in the heart of the Muslim section of Nigeria. Kano was the site of the largest pig farm in the world. It puzzled me why a huge pig farm would be located where most of the people never eat pork. Then I realized: the pig farm did not have to worry about livestock disappearing. It only hired Muslims and no Muslim employee would ever sneak a pig out of the farm to take home. The pigs were shipped 450 miles by railroad to be slaughtered and processed in the Christian section of Nigeria.
So, when a beer brewery was built in Kano, there was a similar logic: hire Muslim employees because they would not sneak bottles of beer out of the brewery.
The new brewery used the same advertising approach as American breweries: drink our beer and attractive females will flock to you. This new beer was named Double Crown – double your pleasure!
The brewery hired a brewmaster named Dieter from Germany. Dieter noticed that Kano had the largest pig farm in the world and, being German, turned part of the brewery into a small sausage making facility. This was the only sausage within 450 miles.
When Dieter heard that I gave evening Hausa lessons for foreigners who wanted to learn the local language, he started coming to my lessons. I was hoping that my friendship with Dieter would pay off some day. I was hoping to get invited to the legendary Friday Beer Evaluations at the Double Crown Brewery.”
See details in Puppy Out of Breath: True Life Stories (2012)