I SPENT last weekend in Kano. My intense love for the largest city in Northern Nigeria is well known by people very close to me.
Outside of Ilorin, Kano is the city that I know most intimately: I studied there; worked there in some of the most productive phases in my professional life in broadcasting, reporting for the BBC and Radio France International (RFI).
I have always been fascinated by the layer upon layer of historical riches embedded in Kano’s over 1000 years of existence.
As a reporter, I made a habit of peeling through that history to reveal a very rich vein which helped to enrich the various packages that I made for the BBC’s NETWOK AFRICA and AFRICAN PERSPECTVE as well as the magazine programmes of RFI, during the 1990s.
I decided to make the city a permanent place of abode, packed my stuff from Ilorin and a few weeks after, I was appointed pioneer General Manager of Kwara State Television; I had to return to Ilorin. But the love affair with Kano has endured.
I return regularly to give lectures at BUK; attempted to commence doctoral studies there; or just to catch up with friends and visit old haunts! Kano fascinates me as it has fascinated many intrepid travellers all through its rich history; I can name Ibn Al-Wazzan (known in history as Leo Africanus), who visited in the Middle Ages and attested to the agricultural riches and the remarkable court life; AbdulKareem Al-Maghili, a contemporary of Machiavelli, who wrote the famous “Obligation of Princes” for the most famous HabeEmir of Kano, Muhammadu Rumfa and closer still, the Africanist, Basil Davidson. So I am in good company in my fascination with Kano!
Well, last week, Baba Halilu Dantiye, former President of the Nigeria Guild of Editors called, on behalf of Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, to invite me to be part of the ceremony to award 501 post-graduate scholarships to Kano students. I readily agreed to be able to take in the strides being taken by the Kwankwaso administration.
I had not seen the governor for years really, but I follow his colourful, but often very controversial, political career.
A lot was taking place at the same time, and like a house on fire, the administration was re-defining governance in Kano in all directions: rejection of the infamous ‘security vote’; putting a stop to sponsorship of pilgrims to the Holy Lands; reclaiming open spaces parceled out amongst the rich; reclamation of flood plains, by demolition of houses built on them by the rich; the commencement of various training institutes, targeted at empowering the young; a new university and an ambitious urban renewal project, including the commencement of three new ‘cities’ to open up Kano and decongest the city at the same time. Governor Kwankwaso and his team of ‘iPad-wielding’ colleagues really seem to mean business and honestly, their enthusiasm was very infectious!
In all, I had almost five hours of no-holds-barred discussion with the governor as well as supplementary asides with the SSG; State Affairs Commissioner, Ameen AbdusSalam (Comrade) and Baba Halilu Dantiye. Kwankwaso was very forthcoming in his response to allegations about his ‘arrogance’ which he located within the different political tendencies that struggle for hegemony in Kano.
The administration is executing different projects and he assured me that he is not taking loans to execute the projects, just as he said he didn’t take any loans between 1999 and 2003. The government decided to plug all financial loopholes, by cutting wasteful expenditure. Kwankwaso said ‘security vote’ was simply an avenue of theft and added that states’ monthly allocation was adequate to finance development.
He defended the decision to brand every project with the “KWANKWASIYYA” slogan; he said after his electoral defeat in 2003, the succeeding administration launched a publicity offensive against him, that he did nothing during his tenure, meanwhile they were commissioning projects that he commenced. The branding was to let people remember they were projects of his tenure.
He was effusive about the 18 different institutes started in the past year, dedicated to teaching skills, ranging from an ICT-based institute through to sports, poultry, fisheries, tourism, film, livestock breeding, entrepreneurship, development journalism, farm mechanization and irrigation, to name but a few, along with the ambitious Northwest University.
I was invited to sit in, as the pioneer Vice Chancellor was appointed on Saturday night, after a brainstorming session with the technical committee which midwifed the university.
The event which took me to Kano was the mass scholarships award to 501 students to do post-graduate studies abroad, in practically every field of human endeavour.
Human development has taken central stage in Kano; 100 students are going abroad to study medicine; 1000 will study Chinese; 1,500 will learn French; 100 new pilots are to be trained in Ilorin and the UK; while another batch of 502 will travel abroad in January, in the second phase of the scholarships programme.
The criterion is strict: students must have graduated with a First Class or a Second Class Upper and the rule will not be bent for anyone! On Sunday, I visited sites of the Northwest University; the ‘new cities’ as well as some of the road expansion projects.
Kano has grown exponentially, has become very dysfunctional and is literally bursting at the seams. Most of the major roads need to be rehabilitated fast; the administration plans an ambitious programme of flyovers within the city just as it is building pedestrian walkways on the edges of roads. Governor Kwankwaso really has his work cut out for him.
But the beauty of it is that there is a lot of work being done and a commensurate level of effusiveness to match. I left Kano on Monday morning, having seen the face of determination; it will be interesting to see how things pan out in Kano in the next few years.
I left unconvinced though, about the defence made for the branding of public projects with the “KWANKWASIYYA” slogan, but there is no gainsaying the fact that Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso is making a genuine statement for development today in Kano.