THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: AMINU KANO
Mallam Aminu Kano (1920-1983) was a teacher, revolutionist and politician. He was born into the Gyanawa Fulani clan, a family of Islamic scholars. He attended Sheuchi Primary School and Kano Middle School between 1930 and 1937. He enrolled at the Katsina College in 1937 and earned his teaching certificate upon successful completion of his studies. He began to teach at the Bauchi Training College in 1942. He later attended the University of London’s Institute of Education in 1946, alongside Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on a scholarship for a year’s study.
As a teacher in Bauchi, he engaged in several political and educational activities apart from teaching. He spoke and wrote freely on political issues. His first publication, Kano, Under the Hammer of the Native Administration, was a controversial one, expressing his dissatisfaction with the colonial government after his father, Mallam Yusufu was denied appointment as the Chief Alkali of Kano. It was around this time that he began to write for some of the country’s newspapers and magazines. He founded the Bauchi General Improvement Union (BGIU) in 1943 with Sa’adu Zungur and Alhaji Sir Tafawa Balewa. BGIU originated from the Bauchi Discussion Circle, an organization whose activities were later constricted following Aminu Kano’s attack on British indirect rule. BGIU is considered by many as the first political party in Nigeria.
After he returned from England in 1948, Aminu Kano formed the Northern Teachers Association (NTA), which is said to be the first successful regional organization in the history of Northern Nigeria. Aminu Kano became the head of the teacher training center in Maru, Sokoto in 1948 and was also the secretary of the Northern Teachers Association at the time. In a bid to quell his anti-colonial agitations, the British offered him a position at the University of Oxford to be a Hausa lecturer but he declined. It was during this period that he established an organization to improve the quality of Qur’anic schools in northern Nigeria.
Aminu Kano is one man that kept pushing despite several setbacks. Due to pressures from the British government, he stopped teaching in 1950 and relocated to Sokoto. He joined Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa, a cultural association in Northern Nigeria that over time evolved into a political party, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), which eventually became the dominant party in Northern Nigeria during the Nigerian First Republic. However, in the same year, he gathered a group of young radicals from the Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa and formed the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU). Then came the disappointments. In 1954, he lost a federal House of Representatives seat and also lost an election to win a seat in the Northern Regional Assembly in 1956. He did not gain a major regional seat until the 1959 parliamentary election when he won a seat in the federal House of Representatives to represent Kano East as a candidate of NEPU. He ran for the Presidency in 1979 but did not win.
As a member of NEPU, Aminu Kano challenged the native northern government’s ‘dictatorship’. He strongly criticized the elite and powerful, adeptly utilizing his background as an Islamic scholar to convince the Northern people to support him. Of course, he garnered a lot of support from the talakawas (the commoners) who joined him to fight against oppression and exploitation of the masses. Following NEPU’s call for the emancipation of the talakawas, thousands of its members and supporters were jailed without trial, forced into exile, tortured and killed. Regardless, Aminu Kano had succeeded in starting a revolution.
Aminu Kano did not participate in politics in a bid to acquire wealth. His primary goal was the emancipation of the talakawas. He believed in freedom, fairness and dignity for all men and he persistently fought for this his entire life. It was said that all Aminu Kano left behind when he died were his 11-year-old daughter and the sum of 114 naira in his bank account. He served the people, fought for their rights and then served them some more. Of course, his struggles yielded much fruit, some of which include the abolishment of the asharaji (formal tax) and jangali (cattle tax), the end of forced farming of feudal land without pay and the freedom of the children of the talakawas to receive formal education to whatever level they desired. He greatly reduced the inequalities between the feudal class and the talakawas. The people were able to gain access to freedom they had previously been denied.
Aminu Kano died on Sunday, 17th April, 1983 but we still reap the benefits of his struggles today. He was a great reformist and we celebrate his sacrifices.