Echoes of 1953 Kano riot

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - CONTRIBUTORS - Cheta Nwanze @chxta

IN May 1953, ri­ots broke out in the an­cient city of Kano, the largest city in North­ern Nige­ria. The ri­ots were for the main part clashes be­tween North­ern­ers - gen­er­ally op­posed to Nige­ria’s in­de­pen­dence, and South­ern­ers - who sup­ported im­me­di­ate in­de­pen­dence for Nige­ria. The ri­ots lasted for four days and many lives were lost.

In the pre-in­de­pen­dence de­bate, South­ern po­lit­i­cal lead­ers tried to press ahead with the in­de­pen­dence drive, while their coun­ter­parts from the North fear­ing “dom­i­na­tion by the south,” tried to slow the process and looked to the colo­nial regime to pro­tect them.

On March 31, 1953, a prom­i­nent mem­ber of the Ac­tion Group, An­thony Ena­horo, moved the mo­tion that Nige­ria should be­come in­de­pen­dent by 1956 at the fed­eral par­lia­ment in Lagos. The mo­tion was sup­ported by Ac­tion Group mem­bers and ma­jor­ity of the mem­bers of the Na­tional Coun­cil of Nige­ria and the Cameroons. How­ever, the North­ern Peo­ple’s Congress did not ac­cept the mo­tion for self-gov­er­nance as North­ern politi­cians felt that their re­gion was not yet ready for self-govern­ment, and es­sen­tially tor­pe­doed Ena­horo’s sug­ges­tion that in­de­pen­dence should hap­pen in 1956.

Ah­madu Bello, the NPC’S leader, pro­posed an amend­ment say­ing self- gov­er­nance should be granted “as soon as prac­ti­ca­ble” re­plac­ing “in the year 1956” in Ena­horo’s bill. This led to dis­agree­ments and re­sulted in a strain on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween North­ern and South­ern lead­ers. A North­ern mem­ber of the House moved a mo­tion for ad­journ­ment, a mo­tion which both the AG and the NCNC viewed as de­lay tac­tics, lead­ing all mem­bers of both par­ties to walk out of the House.

When the North­ern del­e­gates left the House, they were con­fronted by hos­tile Lagos crowds who jeered and in­sulted them. Mem­bers of the North­ern del­e­ga­tion were em­bit­tered and in an “Eight Point Pro­gramme” in Lu­gard Hall, Kaduna, they sought for se­ces­sion.

Un­de­terred, and re­fus­ing to lis­ten to the con­cerns of their North­ern coun­ter­parts, a del­e­ga­tion of the AG and NCNC led by Samuel Ak­in­tola, went on tour of the North to cam­paign for self-govern­ment. The tour was the im­me­di­ate cause of the Kano ri­ots. There was al­ready ten­sion in the re­gion be­cause of the hos­til­ity faced by the North­ern del­e­ga­tion in Lagos who ob­jected to self-gov­er­nance when Ak­in­tola’s tour ar­rived Kano on Fri­day, May 15, 1953. An ini­tially or­derly demon­stra­tion by NPC sup­port­ers took place that day, which was quickly fol­lowed by small skir­mishes on Satur­day, May 16. The dis­tur­bances that led to the riot started out at the Colo­nial Ho­tel that Satur­day. The ho­tel was the venue of a meet­ing by the AG. On the morn­ing of the meet­ing, the Kano Na­tive Au­thor­ity with­drew per­mis­sion for the meet­ing, and a mob gath­ered out­side the ho­tel and started ston­ing peo­ple. Dur­ing the fra­cas, two peo­ple be­lieved to be South­ern­ers died. The mob then moved on and at­tempted to gain en­try into Sabon Gari but were sub­dued by the Na­tive Au­thor­ity po­lice.

The sit­u­a­tion be­came a more se­ri­ous in­tereth­nic cri­sis on Sun­day, May 17, when mobs from Fagge, an area dom­i­nated by North­ern­ers, at­tempted to break into Sabon Gari with some suc­cess. It is im­por­tant to note that though the mobs’ orig­i­nal chants were against the Yoruba, the ca­su­al­ties in the Sabon Gari area were mostly Igbo, be­cause the ri­ot­ing soon de­te­ri­o­rated into loot­ing. The skir­mishes spilled into ar­eas such as Fagge where small un­or­ga­nized eth­nic clashes oc­curred. The Na­tive Au­thor­ity Po­lice, and the Army, were called upon and pre­vented fur­ther de­gen­er­a­tion.

On Mon­day, May 18, 1953, the colo­nial govern­ment de­clared a state of emer­gency in North­ern Nige­ria and troops were de­ployed to Kano. Forty-six peo­ple were killed dur­ing the riot, which was pro­nounced as an eth­nic clash by the Colo­nial Govern­ment, but down­played as “a po­lit­i­cal riot be­tween those who wanted self-govern­ment in 1956, and those who wanted im­pe­ri­al­ism to con­tinue,” by the Lagos-dom­i­nated lo­cal press.

After the riot, the NPC is­sued a list of de­mands, and said they would not re­turn to the Fed­eral Par­lia­ment in Lagos un­less their de­mands were met. The de­mands in­cluded au­ton­omy for each re­gion with re­spect to all mat­ters ex­cept de­fence, ex­ter­nal af­fairs and Cus­toms. The de­mands were met.

The is­sues which caused the Kano Ri­ots of 1953 still ex­ist in Nige­ria to­day. While there were com­pli­ca­tions along the way, such as the Western Par­lia­ment elec­tions which ef­fec­tively split the bur­geon­ing Igbo/yoruba al­liance, largely, the dis­trust be­tween the North and the South of Nige­ria still ex­ists, and I dare­say has got­ten worse in the last half decade.

Fear of dom­i­na­tion by the other; a re­fusal to lis­ten to, and try to un­der­stand the other’s point of view; the ready use of vi­o­lence by politi­cians to press home their de­mands; the fail­ure to hold some in­di­vid­u­als ac­count­able for the vi­o­lent deaths of their coun­try­men. These all ex­ist in to­day’s Nige­ria, six and a half decades later.

What I find in­ter­est­ing is this – the list of de­mands by the North­ern Peo­ple’s Congress be­fore re­turn­ing to Lagos, are in­ter­est­ingly, very sim­i­lar to the list of de­mands by var­i­ous groups seek­ing a “re­struc­tur­ing” of Nige­ria. Most of those groups, are from the South to­day.

His­tory, is in­deed, full of irony.

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