Understanding Kano’s naked dance in the marketplace

The recent creation of four emirates at Gaya, Bichi, Karaye and Rano out of the Kano Emirate by the Governor Abdullahi Ganduje administration, which has raised a storm of comments, is a complex issue that can only be understood when we look at it from the context of the history of Kano.

With regards to Kano’s antiquity as a cosmopolitan, commercial city, there is a saying in Hausa language, “Kano ta Dabo tumbin giwa, yaro ko da me ka zo an fika.” This means Kano, the city of Dabo (Ibrahim Dabo), founder of the current Dabo dynasty of Kano – you are like the belly of the elephant, young man whatever you bring to this city we already have it here. Roughly, this statement likens the ancient city of Kano to the the belly of an elephant wherein one can expect to find anything. It could also mean that Kano, in its long history, has seen it all and remains unfazed by any new thing that could be thrown at it.


Certainly, the decision by the Ganduje admimistration to dissolve the Kano Emirate was not a new one, as far Kano is concerned.

Going back to history, Kano Emirate itself was a creation of the Caliphate of Sokoto, following a rebellion by the Fulani inhabitants of the city, led by Ibrahim Dabo, against its Habe rulers in 1807 who, though Muslims, were not under the Sokoto Caliphate.

Ibrahim Dabo, the leader of the rebellion, was passed over in the selection of the new emir of the new Kano Emirate in favour of Suleiman, the chief imam of the city, by Uthman Dan Fodio. It was only after the death of Suleiman that Dabo became the Emir of Kano, thus establishing the dynasty that still rules over the ancient city today.

The decision by the Ganduje administration to create the four emirates follows exactly the same template by the Abubakar Rimi administration who, in doing so, was trying to revert to the pre-existing history of Kano before it became an emirate under the caliphate, wherein the four towns existed as autonomous chiefdoms from Kano. The decision was later reversed by the Sabo Bakin Zuwo administration, which succeeded the Rimi administration.  It was the coming of the emirate that removed their autonomy and subsumed them fully under Kano. It is instructive that these towns had never functioned as emirates in their history.

Although the Ganduje administration has tried to explain the reason behind the move as being purely for the purpose of making development reach the people, not many are convinced. This is given the well-established fact that between the administration and the current Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi Lamido, there is no love lost.

The emir has been on record to publicly criticise the administration’s policies, which the latter had taken great exception to. Indeed, at one point, the Kano State House of Assembly had begun a probe into the finances and expenditure of the emirate, which was only stopped following the intervention of eminent personalities in the country.

What appeared to be the last straw for the government was the emir’s public show of support for the opponent of Governor Ganduje at the last elections. Following the victory of Ganduje at the elections, the portrait of the emir was removed at the Government House, Kano.

In a sense, on one level by this action, Governor Ganduje is attempting to use history to conveniently settle vexing contemporary political issues. On another level, there is the issue of the long standing dichotomy between those indigenes who hail from the city walls of Kano and those who originate from the towns, outside the ancient city.

Those from the city walls of Kano regard themselves as superior in terms of traditional hierarchy, origin and pedigree than those from the outlying towns and districts. It has always rankled the latter to be regarded as such. The late Governor Abubakar Rimi, who hailed from Sumaila and current Governor Ganduje, who is from Tofa, as well as former Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso from Madobbi, all fall under this category. All the three had one issue or another with the emirate during their tenures.

Another dimension to the issue has to do with the differences within the royal family of Kano. As expected of a large royal household like that of Kano, there are fierce differences and competition among the scions over succession, traditional protocol and hierarchy, positions, appointment etc.

It should not be forgotten that Emir Sanusi assumed the throne after a well publicised succession battle against other princes, most especially among the children of his predecessor, the late Ado Bayero.

Since he was installed, Emir Sanusi has not endeared himself with his siblings nor the state and federal governments. Many people see his statements on policy matters as being outside the purview and status of an emir. This has been attributed to the fact that Emir Sanusi did not have sufficient grooming in matters of royal etiquette and protocol before he assumed the throne.

It will not come as a surprise, therefore, if some of the princes and those among the royal house of Dabo are fed up with what they regard as Emir Sanusi’s serial royal indiscretions.

But looking closely, Governor Ganduje”s action has also thrown some issues, which may result in immediate complications pertaining to the status of the new emirs and the merger of some of the districts under the new emirates.

Again, going back to history, when Dabo assumed the throne, he decided to disperse some of his Fulani companions to some of the outlying towns and titled them. To Dawakin Tofa he sent the Yolawa and gave their leader the title of Madaki; the Dambazawa he sent to Dambatta and gave their leader the title, Sarkin Bai, and to Wudil he gave the Makama of Kano. From then till the present, the holders of these titles are kingmakers in the Kano Emirate.

All the towns where these titled holders and kingmakers reside have now come under new emirates, with which they have little historical relation or connection. Wudil, Ajingi and Albasu, which are now under the new Gaya Emirate, do not have any significant historical links. Dawakin Tofa and Dambatta, both of which have more prestigious historical pedigree and status in the history of Kano, will now report to Bichi Emirate, which has less. Effectively, this means that Kano Emirate now has no kingmakers. Reports have it that the kingmakers have sued the Kano State Government over the matter.

How can the Ganduje administration resolve this? Will Ganduje break the famous resilience of Kano and diminish the standing of the house of Dabo, or will Kano, which prides itself as having seen it all in its long history, prevail in the end as usual?

The lessons we can draw from all these is that, notwithstanding all the grandeur and pageantry, traditional rulers, no matter their status and historical pedigree and standing, are in our modern era, constitutionally beholden to the government of the day.  Traditional rulers in the country have to come to terms with this reality or face the type of treatment meted out to Emir Sanusi in Kano.


Gadu can be reached at:


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