Ancient Kano Wall Disappears Along with History

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Illegal encroachment and a lack of maintenance has led to the destruction of the city’s historical barrier

It was the time of the Fulani Empire and this prosperous ancient city in northern Nigeria bustled with activities.

Hundreds of years before British colonisers set foot, Kano – now the second most populous city in Nigeria – was surrounded by a brown-mud wall standing 3.5-metres high and 1.5-metres thick to protect it from outside invasion.

The fortification covered an area of 24km and all entry and exit to the city, which at the time was home to an estimated 50,000 people, was through one of 13 giant gates manned by security guards.

The city was a centre for Islamic studies and a thriving trading hub with abundant water and rich iron deposits. The massive barrier protected the inhabitants inside, but that was the old days. Things are very different today.

Large parts of the barricade, which is more than 1,000 years old, are either destroyed or in a bad state of disrepair.

Abbas Yushau, 34, stands in front of one of the gates, talking to a group of young men taking cover next to the wall from the blazing afternoon sun.

The father of one is a campaigner who wants to preserve the barrier’s glorious past.

“The wall is our culture. That wall stands for us. When people think of Kano they think of the wall. It is our symbol. We need to preserve and maintain our ancient culture, not destroy or watch it go into ruins,” Yushau said, his eyes squinting because of the sunlight.

Kano city has expanded exponentially since its early days, now with a population of about 3.6 million. At the destroyed parts of the wall, homes and business have popped up. Other areas have been turned into a dumpsite.

Hamisu Bello just opened a mechanic shop to repair rickshaws that clog the city’s roads at a partly demolished section of the fortification. Business is booming and he is happy he chose this location to ply his trade.

“I have only been opened a month and as you can see I have more than 15 rickshaws to repair today,” he said, pointing to yellow-painted auto-tricycles awaiting his attention.

“I moved here because it has more space. I wanted to expand my business and this was the best place in the city. I want to expand the business further and this place gives me that,” he added.

Yushau, the wall-restoration campaigner, tried to talk Bello out of expanding his business space, fearing it will destroy the barrier further.

But Yushau accepts that many city residents have more pressing issues to worry about than the ancient fortification’s well-being.

“When a lot of people are struggling to survive, they will not take the issue of the wall as a priority. And I can understand that – but I won’t give up,” he said.

At the city’s Bayero University, one of the largest learning institutions in northern Nigeria, the barrier’s historical significance is still taught despite the present challenges.

Professor Tijjani Muhammad works in the university’s history department and said he cannot emphasise enough the importance of the crumbling wall to Kano’s past.