Riding behind a commercial motorcycle in the ancient north-central city of Kano, Nigeria is a wonderfully two-pronged experience. While it gives you an easy and faster escape from the terrible traffic congestion and its antecedent effects, it also provides the chance to be refreshed with air – a freshness determined by exactly which location of the city you are in–which brings reprieve from the scorching heat in a city, fast transiting into the desert region, in the agro-ecological classification of Nigeria. Kano is a beautiful city, carved out of the clayey material remains of the alluvial plains of central Nigeria, with a very rich history and conservative society, according to Islamic norms. As much as the vegetative metamorphosis is ongoing, the vagaries of globalisation seem to be fast on its heels.
With the mammoth Kasuwan Kwari – a haven for textile, dates, rubber and plastic merchants, to name a few – nestled almost at the centre of the metropolis, little wonder the tag, “centre of commerce” has come to stay, much to the despair of other cities like Onitsha, and Potiskum. Lagos remaina unaffected by the competition, as it is in its own right, the “centre of excellence”. The city of Kano, written in the annals of time is today an agglomeration of nine local governments of the total 44 which make up Kano State. Characterized by thick traditional clay defense walls and gates, the original plan of the old city brings repute to the ancient planners, who had made the city impregnable, a commercial bliss and a tourist’s destination.
Kano boasts a wealth of astute business men, ranging from Alhassan Datata who had surpassed Umaru Sharubutu Koki and Maikano Agogo by 1922, to become the city’s richest man. He is the great grandfather of Africa’s richest billionaire today, conglomerate magnate Aliko Dangote, who amongst business interests in flour, sugar, cement, oil and confectioneries, is currently developing a tomato processing plant by the expressway before you enter the city. The Sharada, Challawa and Bwopai Industrial Estates are situated in the city, which has an Export Promotion Zone.
Notorious for its tye and dye, the Maitatsine uprising, the Durbar and the groundnut pyramids, Kano is a ‘wonder’ in Nigerian history and mythology. In January 2012 however, it was a scene of deadly bombings carried out by the terrorist group Boko Haram which targeted government installations in the city. This, they claimed was a retribution for the city’s support for the federal government’s effort in ending their activities. Also, for the fist time in as much as 200 years, the traditional Eid Durbar – a festival of class, pageantry, royal show-off and affirmation of loyalty of the polity to the ruler – was called off in August, due to a a variety of reasons including security challenges, and the illness of the Emir, His Royal Highness, Dr. Ado Bayero – San Kano.
Before the bombings, the city gained acclaim during the #OccupyNigeria protests organized by the Save Nigeria group, then seeking the reversal of the presidency’s decision to remove fuel subsidies. Protesters took to the Silver Jubilee Square, and renamed it “Subsidy Square”, though the naming didn’t stand the test of time. A British Broadcasting Service reporter approximated the number of protesters who camped there – a la Egypt’s Tahrir Square during the Arab spring – at 2000. Protesters followed goings-on across the country, via their mobile phones and transistor radios as they made a name for themselves. The Murtala Mohammed ICT Park, a gigantic structure built by the state government to be the information technology hub, towered behind them. Even a twitter account, @Kano, emerged from the event, highlighting the growing influence of information technology in a highly conservative and perceived illiterate society (though it is true that only 35 percent of the population are literate).
The Goron Dutse and Dalla hills overlook the city, with the Gidan Makama museum housed in a 15th century monument and the Kurmi Market where you can get the best of handcrafts, nestled in the old city. The Aminu Kano International Airport, the country’s largest cargo airport is situated outside the old city, where the first recorded flight to the city landed at the polo field, in 1925. While the railway system is getting a facelift, a bus or a tricycle ride around, is another experience of its own.
However, a phenomenon scarring the beauty that is Kano is the mass of waste produced which is improperly disposed and managed. This has not only polluted the air and land, but also the ground water system, which traditionally supplies the bulk of residents who are still waiting for government pipes to reach them. Combined with poor housing planning and hygiene, a contamination of the water system would result in a quick fire cholera epidemic. In 2001, well over 700 people died and thousands more hospitalised. The World Socialist web site reports that up until 2001, the only year in which Kano had not suffered a disease epidemic was 1997, but the year before, there was a triple epidemic, with almost 15000 people suffering from cerebrospinal meningitis.
Most worrisome, are the flecks of sand that settle between the lips, eyelids and eyebrows, when you ride the motorcycle around Kano. While you might have to wait for the harmattan winds to bring you any evidence of the fast encroaching desert in the middle belt and southern parts of the country, fine loess filter in from the desert daily, as turbulent winds erode the Sahara desert. And with the desert encroaching at an alarming rate of 0.6 kilometres per year, the efforts of the women employed by the government to sweep the roads of daily stockpile of loess might not be enough; frontline local governments in the North-Western and North-Eastern parts of the state are already feeling the impact of the desert. Soon enough, some loess landform might appear in the Kano horizon.
The state government is stepping in, planning to plant one million trees this year, with nurseries already established in Danbatta, Bichi, Gaya, Karaye, Bunkure, Dawakin Kudu and Takai local governments as well as at the monitoring unit in Kano city, according to Alhaji Maitama Danbatta, manager of the project. To confirm the severity of the situation, the federal government is also set to launch the Great Green Wall Sahara Initiative in October, a project which is expected to run across Africa, from Mauritania in the north-west to Djibouti in the north-east, which might just help rehabilitate the existing 50 kilometre shelter belt in the state.
Floods are among disasters that frequent the city of Kano, with yearly records of lives and property lost in the throes. As of Friday 14 September, there were calls for volunteers to help evacuate neighbourhoods close to the Warawa Dam. Last Sunday, it was reported that 11500 people were displaced in Kano and Jigawa States. On this occasion, a motorcycle would be handy in saving lives and property.
Word goes around that if you can ride a motorcycle in Kano, then you can go anywhere in the country. Enjoying a motorcycle ride around Kano has its downside though. Exposure to ghastly mishaps, as cyclists meander through traffic, is second only to Lagos. You might also be prepared to have your heart in your mouth sometimes, and always have some water in the bathroom for a bath afterwards.Dennis Stauffer via Compfight)