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Kano city wall under threat: Who will save our heritage?

By Kabiru Haruna Isa  Heritage is our collective treasure, given to us and ours to bequeath to our children  –  Margaret MacMillan   History is…

By Kabiru Haruna Isa 

Heritage is our collective treasure, given to us and ours to bequeath to our children 

  Margaret MacMillan  

History is made by both great and ordinary people in the society. Ordinary people can transform and propel themselves into positions of greatness by doing ordinary things in a great way. The cultural heritage in form of monuments, relics, artifacts and paintings were mostly constructed and produced by the labour of ordinary people often based on the directive/guidance of leaders of the society. Each society has a number of structures that it identifies and reveres as its heritage, which are bequeathed from one generation to another. These monuments and structures connect current generations with their ancestors. They help reenact the past and instill a sense of pride, glory and dignity. Heritage and monuments have the power to make  animpact on the economies and revenue generations of many countries. Therefore, heritage can be seen as an economic unit or firm that provides certain services to visitors in return for payment. A substantial amount of money is spent when visiting monuments both in terms of entry fees to museums, shops and restaurant bills, as well as other logistics – hotel/guest house. The visitors have strong effects on local economies.  

The importance of heritage makes advanced countries and civilisations to jealously preserve and conserve them for the younger generations to appreciate and learn from them. Canada, as one of the most civilised and developed countries in the world, established a Department of Canadian Heritage in 1993 ostensibly to promote and support national identity and values, cultural development and heritage. This should serve as a lesson to less technologically advanced societies in Africa and other parts of the globe.  

Kano is an ancient city, whose tangible and intangible history attracts the attention of researchers and scholars both within and without Africa to investigate and reconstruct its fascinating past. One of the material and tangible histories of Kano is the ganuwa (the city-wall), which encircled, fortified, enclosed, beautified and decorated ancient human settlements including the historic Gidan Rumfa (Emir’s Palace). According to many historical sources, the construction of the city wall started in the 12th century during the reign of Sarki Gijimasu (c. 1095 -1134) and continued in the subsequent centuries up to the completion level. The wall served as a defensive mechanism and fortification to the city and its growing population, burgeoning economy and culture. It has more than a dozen gates and is about 24 kilometres long, 40 feet wide and at the base, and 30 to 50 feet high. The wall had been in existence for over 800 years and the successive leaders, both traditional and political, helped in its preservation and conservation because, to use Macmillan’s words, it is our collective treasure given to us and ours to bequeath to the generations yet unborn. But alas, the wall is now facing extinction in the 21st century due to illegal encroachment, mind-boggling plundering and atrocious destruction.  

As a student of history and patriotic son of Kano, I have a responsibility to remind my fellow citizens, especially those who are accomplices, as the constructors of the wall made good history, which makes us to celebrate them, they are conversely making another history of destroying and expropriating our collective heritage.   

The city wall symbolises our identity, cultural artifact, civilisation and material history, which earns our society’s respect. The wall, coupled with other historic sites, attracts tourists from different continents who patronise the local economy and entrepreneurs in our various markets such as Kurmi, Kwari, Sabon Gari and the like. The existence of the wall gives protection to polluted, yet environmentally functional, ponds, which recharge city’s table water and aquifers and contribute in averting water scarcity. In recent years, Kano city has been experiencing unprecedented floods occasioned mostly by the destruction of the wall and conversion of ponds into settlements. In addition, the destruction and conversion of the wall into commercial plots deprive the city of its open space, which serves as a place for recreation and sports to ever exploding youth population.   

At this juncture, I will conclude with a submission that our traditional rulers, whose ancestors built the wall, Kano elders, environmentalists/environmental activists, UNESCO, National Commission for Museums and Monuments and intellectuals have a significant role to play in saving the monument from the ‘spectacular demolition’ and imminent extinction.  Finally, I exhort the authority concerned to immediately stop the ongoing destruction of the wall in order to preserve our history and identity and, more importantly, to protect our settlements from the seasonal floods. I will close with the words of wisdom of Wendell Phillips, “the heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future”. 

Kabiru writes from the Department of History, Bayero University Kano