|Tuesday, June 18, 2013|
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KANO STATE, NIGERIAThe New Kano State
08/07/12, Biodun Omojola
Governor Kwankwaso Flags Off Polio Immunization Exercise
Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso is rebuilding Kano State and changing the perception that it is unsafe and dangerous.
Driving into Kano from the domestic wing of the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, one is overcome with apprehension and anxiety. And with reasons too. Here is a culturally rich state in the north-west part of oil-rich Nigeria that has witnessed disturbances, especially repeated bombings by a sectarian group, since the beginning of 2012 and the media, local and international, have, with their reports, portrayed Kano as a state under siege. It is, therefore, not inappropriate to enter the capital city with more than a little bit of trepidation. However, a few minutes' drive out of the airport into the Kano city, that feeling of apprehension becomes unwarranted. If you were expecting to see a garrison town, with armed soldiers along every stretch of road and every corner with a populace wearing a cowed expression, the reality on ground on that sunny day in May was a marked contrast to what has been in the media about the state in recent months.
Security is present quite alright but not in the scale that was anticipated. The security presence was not different from what obtains in many other Nigerian cities and states. There were no military personnel mounting any road blocks despite the state being home to a battalion of the Nigerian Army and a wing of the Nigerian Air Force. The only visible security presence was that of the Nigeria Police sans road blocks although stationed in strategic locations. Security was not lax, but it was not obvious and direct as one would have expected given the reports coming out from the state. Vehicular and pedestrian traffic was free flowing; businesses and markets opened and there was a vibrant night life, just as you would find in any other Nigerian city and state. This is Kano.
gov.rabi'u musa kwankwaso with the co-chair bill and melinda gates foundation mr. bill gates (c) and chief of staff kano government house dr. yunusa dangwani (l( during gate's visit to the governor in his office
The government of Kano State, led by Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, is not letting the security challenges confronting the state affect the way it governs it. Kano is known universally as Nigeria's "Center of Commerce". It traditionally has been a trading post for hundreds of years and is a melting pot of many cultures and arguably, the most cosmopolitan state in northern Nigeria. For the Kwankwaso-led administration, the security challenges are just a sign of the present times that will also fade away with time. This much he told Africa Today drawing examples from other countries that faced similar challenges and overcame it. "This is the challenge of our time", Kwankwaso told Africa Today at his office in Kano (see interview).
Kano people seem to share in the administration's attitude and optimism judging by the way they go about their daily lives. Effervescent and friendly, they appear not to be bothered by the antics of the Boko Haram (Western education is sin), giving no thought to the radical Muslim group that is responsible for turning some states in the quite rustic and scenic northern region of Nigeria into a battleground with a string of suicide bombers. They go about their normal lives without fear, which is probably their way of saying to Boko Haram, "we are ignoring you".
Kano state has particularly been hard hit by Boko Haram which wants the entrenchment of Sharia, the code of law derived from the Koran, across the whole of northern Nigeria. Early January 2012 the state was hit by multiple bomb-blasts which claimed more than 150 lives. In April another bomb-blast hit the prestigious Bayero University in the ancient city claiming about 15 lives. There have been other blasts around Kano, targeting police stations some involving causalities including a German hostage that was killed in a failed rescue operation. He had been earlier kidnapped.
Surprisingly the people that Africa Today spoke to regard members of the Boko Haram group as "trouble makers" and they are often confronted. According to them, these trouble makers often start their nuisance (that is how their attacks are viewed) after the weekly Friday prayers. Being local people, they are known and often confronted by the youths who don't see anything positive in the group's action.
Nevertheless, the Boko Haram situation in Kano is not only an embarrassment to the state government it is also abhorrent to the revered Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero. Undoubtedly, the attacks initially undermined Kano's position as a foremost commercial city, which it has been for over 500 years. But now business confidence is coming back. Traders from neighbouring countries are once again flocking into the city daily and the international wing of the airport has flights arriving from Sudan and Egypt daily. Kano is home to Kurmi Market, one of the oldest and largest local markets in Africa and one of the first examples of an international market. It was a place where North African and European products were exchanged for local Kano products like leather works, textiles, iron and brass works, spices etc, by trans-Sahara traders. The Emir, Ado Bayero, has repeatedly and openly denounced the continued violence in the north and has described it as un-Islamic saying "Islam means peace and tolerance." He said after one of such attacks: "What is happening now and what has happened in the past is not Islam. It is a strange thing in the north for Muslims to hack down Muslims and Christians. We have lived in peace, tolerance and understanding for centuries. This is how Kano, Kaduna and all parts of the north have been. We have never visited our neighbours with violence. This is alien to us." Special prayer sessions are usually held near the Emir's palace for peace.
President Jonathan (Middle) with Governor Kwankwaso (Left) and the Emir of Kano
The Emir, who was crowned in 1963, has great influence across the north and in particular Kano, his domain. In times past, the palace was the meeting place for the whole city. Even now meetings still take place within the palace grounds with the Emir holding court. Boko Haram's threats and violent activities have not forced the Emir to abandon his daily meeting with his people. Africa Today visited the Emir's palace and observed a relaxed atmosphere free of apprehension. Although adjoining roads to the elegant palace are condoned off, people still troop in to pay homage to the Emir. For boys within the palace area, the condoned off roads, devoid of traffic, present a place to play football and hone their skills in football and other games.
Be that as it may, Kano state under Governor Kwankwaso remains on course to be transformed especially with the wind of change that is blowing through the state. This wind of change is epitomised by the Kwankwasiyya movement, championed by Kwankwaso himself. Kwankwasiyya is based on the ideology of arguably one of the state's most eminent citizens, the late Mallam Aminu Kano, the people's politician and champion of the talawakas (masses or the poor in Hausa). Kwankwaso told Africa Today that Aminu Kano believed that as politicians "we should be in politics for humanity especially for people who are in need: the sick, the children, the women, the poor and all those who need assistance." This ideology of "politics for humanity" as espoused by Aminu Kano is at the foundation of the Kwankwaso administration and has helped shaped the way the engineer turned politician governs Kano state.
The Kwankwasiyya movement is one ideology that virtually all of Kano has embraced. It is not uncommon to see men wearing white kaftans and red caps, a style of dressing favoured by Kwankwaso and the great Aminu Kano. At public gatherings a sea of white dress and red caps fill the venues. Of particular interest is what the movement has done for Kano youths. Hitherto, they were on the streets, jobless and without direction. Now the governor has harnessed this potent force and directed them to specific duties. This is similar to what Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, did with the infamous street urchins of Lagos. So encouraged are the youths that a group of them went to the Government House to salute the proponent of the ideology on Nigeria's Democracy Day, May 29. They were addressed by the governor's Chief of Staff, Yinusa Dangwani.
ALIKO DANGOTE PRESENTATION TO COMMUNITY REORIENTATION COMMITTEE IN KANO
It is easy to see why Governor Kwankwaso is in a hurry to fast-track his plan for Kano state. Unlike some governors who were sworn-in last year with him, Kwankwaso does not have the luxury of another term in office. His legacies during his first sojourn at the state house in Kano having been eroded by the past administration are being re-built and he wants to add more. So far there has been commendation for the Kwankwaso policies. Such commendation comes from the people themselves who often troop out to cheer his motorcade which is very rare in oil-rich but poverty-stricken Nigeria except, of course, if the crowds are "rented" which is often the case.
This much was obvious during the Democracy Day holiday. After the visit to the Central Mosque and the Emir's palace, Governor Kwankwaso took a trip, devoid of fanfare and siren, to his village, Kwankwaso, where his father is the district head. Along the route, through the capital, some towns and villages, people - men, women and children - trooped out, waving as the simple motorcade made its way at considerate pace. Not only were hands waving but people held two fingers above their heads in V-sign, shouting Amana (trust in Hausa). The V for Victory sign was made popular by former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and in Nigeria by Obafemi Awolowo, the premier of the defunct western Nigeria. This is significant, as it is a clear indication that Kwankwaso's policies are liked by the people. At his village it was a simple crowd, mostly youngsters, who welcomed the governor back home.
After a brief meeting with his father, the four o'clock al asri prayer and a quick tour of a construction project, it was back on the road again, this time to another village where a group of recently trained women were waiting to hear words of encouragement and get their start-up capital directly from the governor. The women are part of a group of 44,000 women being trained by the government. Already a first batch of 44,000 has been trained and empowered. It was a cheery set of women that left the venue of the event. At this rate Governor Kwankwaso is sure to empower over 176,000 women by the end of his tenure in May 2015.
Despite the trips being outside the capital, they were devoid of any special security for the governor. He stood right close to the people, spoke to them in words and language they understood best and shared with them insights and simple wisdom. While other governors, undoubtedly, spent the Democracy Day holiday with the elite, Kwankwaso was with the ordinary people, those who really need to feel the impact of democracy, to hear their concerns and encourage them.
Kwankwaso is coming back to governance after a stint as governor of the state between 1999 and 2003. Eight years of another administration that didn't share the Kwankwaso dream led to the erosion of some positive achievements made by Kwankwaso in his first term. Back then considerable progress especially in the areas of education, healthcare delivery and rural electrification were achieved but the introduction of sentiment into governance destroyed that. Now in his second and final term, Kwankwaso has upped the ante introducing innovative people-oriented policies. He has said that his administration intends to fast-track the economic development and modernisation of Kano because of the importance of the state to commerce.
Members of the Kwankwasiyya Movement
There is a renewed confidence in the state's business sector especially in the construction sub-sector. Everywhere you go roads are being expanded and upgraded with shoulders, streetlights, drainages and pedestrian bridges. New schools are being built while old ones are undergoing rehabilitation. It is not in the capital alone where construction projects are on-going. All the 44 local government areas of the state have enough money to construct "at least five kilometres of dualised roads with streetlights and drainages, everything to make them look like big cities" the governor told Africa Today.
Although much of the work is still in progress, Kano state is gradually undergoing a transformation. The development is not limited to modern infrastructure alone. Even the walls surrounding the old Kano city is being rehabilitated. Gradually Kano state under Kwankwaso's watch is evolving with enough infrastructures to prove to locals and visitors alike that modern day Kano aims to continue its traditional role as Nigeria's Center of Commerce.
Kwankwaso's government is based on trust, transparency, accountability and prudence in managing the state's resources. Kano people seems to have taken these four principles to heart so much so that Amana is usually the answer one gets when one greets the people shouting Kwankwasiyya. Based on these principles it is no wonder that decisions taken at the end of each state executive council meeting are published on the state's website and in some national newspapers. Public queries are also entertained regarding decisions taken at the council. And despite the security challenges, Governor Kwankwaso has placed great emphasis on human development and provision of infrastructure. It is the pivot for building a new Kano state.
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