Mallam Aminu Kano was a highly respected Nigerian politician, reformist and teacher. He worked vigorously in support of democratisation, women's empowerment and freedom of speech. In the 1940s, he led an Islamic movement in the north of the country in opposition to British rule.
Aminu Kano was born in 1920 to the family of Mallam Yusuf, an Islamic scholar of the scholarly Gyanawa Fulani clan and a mufti at the Alkali court in Kano. He attended Sheuchi Primary School and Kano Middle School between 1930 and 1937. He enrolled at the Kaduna College (formerly Katsina College, now Barewa College) in 1937. After earning his teaching certificate, he began teaching at the Bauchi Training College in 1942. In September 1946, he was offered one of seven scholarships for a year’s study at theUniversity of London's Institute of Education alongside Nigeria’s first and only prime minister, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
Upon his return from England, Kano formed the Northern Teachers Association (NTA) in March 1948, the first successful regional organisation in the history of the North. In order to avoid trouble with the authorities (a concern due to his anti-colonial opinions and reformist ideas), he decided to include conservatives such as Shettima Ajiram and Tafawa Balewa in the organisation’s leadership (Ajiram was its first president and Tafawa Balewa its first vice president). Kano was the general secretary of the organisation. Although there was already a Nigerian Union of Teachers in the south of the country, Kano wanted to establish an organisation that would be free of possible southern domination. However, the northern group eventually became affiliated with the southern union after Kano’s departure.
Kano was often at loggerheads with the colonial government. He attacked it for its misuse of taxes as well its exploitation of Nigeria for Britain’s advantage. His staunch opposition led to the British devising different methods in order to silence him. One such tactic was the offer of a scholarship to study in England. Unfortunately for them, he returned to Nigeria with more entrenched anti-colonial sentiments. The colonial government also attempted to bribe him with different posts, including the editorship of a newspaper and a job as a financial accountant for the government, but Kano merely saw these as tricks.
While at the Teaching College in Bauchi, he spoke freely on political issues and extended his educational horizon by engaging in various political and educational activities beyond his formal teaching duties. His first publication, Kano, Under the Hammer of the Native Administration, expressed his grievances with British rule when his father, Yusufu, was denied appointment as Chief Alkali of Kano. It was at this time that he began writing for a few of the country’s newspapers and magazines. He was a member of the Bauchi General Improvement Union along with Tafawa Balewa as well as secretary of the Bauchi Discussion Circle, a group whose activities were later constricted as a result of an attack by Kano on British indirect rule.
In 1949, he was sent to the Teacher Training Centre in Maru, Sokoto (now the College of Education in Maru, Zamfara State) to be its headmaster. When the British discovered he had expanded his anti-colonial agitations they offered to send him to the University of Oxford as a lecturer in Hausa, a post which he quickly turned down. During this period, he also established an organisation to improve the quality of Koranic schools in the north.
Pre-Independence and First Republic
Aminu was forced to give up teaching in November 1950 as a result of the pressure on him from the British government, after which he moved to Sokoto. While in Sokoto, he became a member of Jam'iyyar Mutanen Arewa, a Northern Nigeria cultural association that later evolved to become the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) in response to the 1951 Macpherson Constitution. The NPC went on to become the dominant party in Northern Nigeria during the First Republic. However, in that year, he led a splinter group of young radicals from Jam'iyyar Mutanen Arewa to form the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU).
Nevertheless, a new progressive union led by Aminu Kano and composed of progressive leaning teachers and some radical intellectuals such as Magaji Dambatta, Abba Maikwaru and Bello Ijumu (a Yoruba) emerged to fill the vacuum in political radicalism in the region. The members were connected together in their opposition to the management style of the native administration in Northern Nigeria.
The 1950s produced two warring political parties in the North: the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and the NEPU. In 1951, NEPU participated in the Kano primary elections and was fairly successful. However, with the formation of the Northern People's Congress, Kano began to face formidable challenges, especially in the two federal elections. In 1954, Aminu lost his federal House of Representatives seat to Maitama Sule and in 1956 he failed to clinch enough votes to win a seat in the Northern Regional Assembly. However, he succeeded in gaining a major regional seat during the 1959 parliamentary election. He won the Kano East federal seat as a candidate of NEPU, which was already in alliance with Nnamdi Azikiwe'sNational Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC – later the National Council of Nigerian Citizens). He was a deputy chief whip while in the federal House of Representatives.
Kano’s cordial relations with Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was chosen as Prime Minister in 1959, as well as with the other stalwarts of NPC, gave him the opportunity to take on posts of national responsibility notwithstanding local antagonism. For example, he was one of the country’s delegates to the UN in the wake of Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
The upheaval that marked the First Republic ushered in a military coup on January 15, 1966. Aminu Kano later served in the military government of General Yakubu Gowon as Federal Commissioner for Health.
After twelve years, the military government lifted its ban on political parties in September 1978. In the following months, five newly formed parties emerged: the Nigerian People's Party, the Unity Party of Nigeria (led primarily by Chief Obafemi Awolowo), the Great Nigeria People’s Party, the National Party of Nigeria and the People’s Redemption Party. The People's Redemption Party (PRP) was led by Kano, Sam Ikoku and Edward Ikem Okeke. The party, which was considered the Second Republic incarnation of NEPU, leaned towards a populist framework and enjoyed the support of prominent labour leaders such as Michael Imoudu. In 1979, Aminu Kano was its presidential candidate and he chose a woman, Bola Ogunboh, as his vice-presidential running mate. Although he lost the election, the party won two gubernatorial seats.
Kano had co-founded the Northern Elements Progressive Union as a political platform to challenge what he felt were the autocratic and feudalistic actions of the Native Northern government. He was especially critical of the ruling elite, including the emirs who were mostly Fulani. The potency of his platform was strengthened partly because of his background: as his father was an Alkali in Kano who came from a lineage of Islamic clerics, he had deep knowledge of Islamic ideas on equity which he used to great effect during his political campaigns. Many talakawas (commoners) and migratory petty traders in the north supported his message. Some of the tradesmen later manned the offices of NEPU. He also sought to use politics to create an egalitarian northern Nigerian society.
Northern Nigeria during the pre-colonial and post-colonial period was marked by a societal gulf which saw the aristocrats and feudal class subjecting the talakawas to much oppression and exploitation. The commoners were made to pay various exorbitant taxes and forced to provide free labour by farming land owned by the feudal class. Kano called on the people to resist tyranny and to fight to be regarded as humans with freedom and dignity. The talakawas joined NEPU en masse, making the local authorities and traditional rulers particularly uncomfortable with the party’s ideology.
Due to NEPU's call for the emancipation of the talakawas, thousands of its members and supporters were jailed without trial, forced into exile and tortured. Some NEPU members were even killed: one well-known case was that of Mallam Audu Angale, who was crucified without trial and left to die in public for allegedly abusing the fathers of the feudal lords. The party was the first real mass movement in the modern history of Nigeria.
Kano did not participate in politics to acquire wealth: the emancipation of the talakawas was foremost in his agenda. Freedom, equality and dignity for everyone were what he fought for until the end of his life. At the time of his death, Kano left behind an eleven-year old daughter and only N114 in his bank account. He had spent his whole life serving the people. His struggle yielded many achievements: people were no longer forced to farm any feudal land without pay. Taxes such asharaji (formal tax) and jangali (cattle tax) were abolished. The children of talakawas could acquire education to whatever level they desired and political positions were opened to all; these were two privileges previously reserved for the aristocrats and feudal class exclusively.
People all over Northern Nigeria were encouraged by Kano to know their rights and to actively participate in the democratisation of the nation. There was freedom of speech and expression, which they had previously been designed.
Another major idea of his was the breakup of ethnically-based parties. This concept was well received by his support base of petty traders and craftsmen, men and women who were mostly migrants searching for trade opportunities and who shared few ethnic similarities with their host communities. He also proposed a fiscal system that favoured heavy taxation of the rich in the region and was notably one of the few leading Nigerian politicians who supported equal rights for women.
Death and Legacy
Kano was found dead on the early morning of Sunday, April 17, 1983 by his senior wife Shatu after suffering from a stroke as a result of a bout of cerebral malaria. He was buried according to custom on the same day in his house.
The Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport and the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, both in Kano State, are named after him, as are a college and major street in the state. The house in which he lived, died and was buried, popularly known as Mambaiya House, is now the Centre for Democratic Research and Training and is under the management of Bayero University.
- Feinstein, Alan (1988). African Revolutionary: The Life and Times of Nigeria's Aminu Kano. Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Press.
- Bahaushe Mai Ban Haushi!
- Triumph Newspapers
Picture source: ZTopics