A City of the Sudan

A CITY OF THE SUDAN

A Memoir

by

Gavan McDonell

A CITY OF THE SUDAN

‘This is the history of the lords of this country called Kano. Barbushe, once its chief, was of the stock of Dala, a black man of great stature and might, a hunter, who slew elephants with his stick and carried them on his head about nine miles. Dala was of unknown race, but came to this land and built a house on Dala hill. There he lived, he and his wives. He had seven children-four boys and three girls-of whom the eldest was Garageje. This Garageje was the grandfather of Buzame, who was the father of Barbushe. Barbushe succeeded his forefathers in the knowledge of the lore of Dala, for he was skilled in the various pagan rites. By his wonders and sorceries and the power he gained over his brethren he became chief and lord over them…’

The Kano Chronicle

I first came to the city of Kano from the south, driving on the main bitumen highway for several hundred miles through the scrubby orchard bush. This highway, commencing at Lagos, the biggest city of Nigeria, on the coast, stretched for thousands of miles from the edges of the rain forest in the south through the Sahara desert in the north all the way to the Mediterranean, and east-west across West Africa, in fact right across Africa, in parts only a mud track. In the past the name Sudan was given to the whole expanse of this broad zone, the mixing bowl of Africa, not, as at present, only to the Republic of the Sudan in the east of the continent.

It was late in the rainy season of 1961. Nigeria had won its Independence the previous year. Tall, stiff, green fronds of corn thwacked the brisk breeze like the feathered hafts of flung spears. Small mountains of groundnuts, stacked in beige hessian bags and covered by shiny blue tarpaulins, were growing, like swelling scarabs, at each rail station as dusty labourers slowly slung the hemp sacks from the trays of trucks queued at sidings. In the far, flat fields of rich loam spreading to the horizon, white-capped peasants were breaking sods with steel hoes and wooden digging sticks. At every creek and river tall Hausas in long, patched kaftans swung the shadoof, like a long-handled wooden spoon, to empty dousings of water onto the traceries of irrigation channels which flowed among vegetable patches and groundnut fields.

In late afternoon Kano rose up before us. Shadows cut crisp edges on its high mud walls, and poured dark pools into the obscurities of its narrow streets. We passed through the southwest gate, through the lanes of mud-brick buildings and burnt-umber plastered walls, past vegetable gardens and stagnant ponds. Out through Kofar Nassarawa, the southern gate, to the Provincial Headquarters, the office of the Resident, built near the Emir’s summer palace.

Around us was the old City, with high mud walls, home to the native Hausas and the town Fulani and other northerners; to the north were the corrugated iron shacks of the Sabon Gari, where the people from the South, from Iboland and Yorubaland and the River provinces, dwelt; and to east could be seen the Township with its tidy streets of the neat bungalows and villas of the Europeans and most senior Nigerian officials.

The day’s hot journey had started at early light and now at dusk we had reached the old metropolis, as many thousands of other caravans had done over the centuries, from the south and north, the east and west, to visit its mosques and schools, its offices and bazaars, to buy its goods, to sell and be sold, to slay and be slain. If regions, rather than states, had capitals and possessed souls, then Kano City was surely the capital of the Sudan. Other cities of the north were older and holier, but Kano was its beating heart, the source of its soul.

There has probably been a settlement in the vicinity of Kano, the southern city terminus of the old trans-Saharan caravan trade, for several thousand years. The Kano Chronicle, a unique document in the history of this part of Africa, records the reigns of forty eight kings, Emirs, as they were later called, or, in Hausa, Sarkin Kano, the head of Kano. For nearly a thousand years they reigned, from the time when the town emerged from prehistoric dust and mud at the close of the first millennium till the end of the nineteenth century. There is still an Emir of Kano, much reduced in power.

‘Bagoda, Son of Bauwo: AD 999-1063

Then came Bagoda with his host, and was the first Sarki of this land. His name was Daud. His mother’s name was Kaunasu. He began by occupying Adirani fro two years. Thence he moved to Barka, and built a city called Talutawa, where he reigned two years.

The names of the pagan chiefs whom Bagoda met were Jankare, Biju, Buduri (who had many children-about a hundred) and Ribo. Bagoda overcame them and killed their leader Jankare. Then he came to Sheme, and found Gabusani, Bouni, Gazauri, Dubgege, Fasatoro and Bakin Bunu there. He conquered them all, and built the city, and reigned at Sheme sixty six years…..’

The Kano Chronicle

“EE Roads. Fyi. Pls spk. SRE”

The summons from the Senior Roads Engineer, scrawled in a slant, downwards-sloping script on the bottom right of the foolscap memorandum, a wandering line of pale-blue fountain pen ink running off the page, sketched so well the personality of the writer. There mightn’t be too much to graphology, I had often thought, but this writing was the SRE to a tee-weak, evasive, sluggish, indecisive. I would have to go and talk with him.

Above the first inscribed minute at the bottom of the page was another in the now familiar bureaucratic short hand, done with a broad-shovel nib, a direction from the Provincial Administrative Officer (PAO), but with an added call to action:

‘SRE. We spoke this afternoon. Fyi & a. PAO’

And above that again was the direction to the PAOvfrom God Himself, the Sole Commissioner, in a florid, well-formed, gentian red, written with a ballpoint.

‘PAO. Pls initiate the action as outlined this pm. SC’

Not ‘begin’, but ‘initiate’-this was the language of power. And the ballpoint. From what we had heard of him-lofty, confronting, sharp-you might well have guessed that the Sole Commissioner, scion of a born-to-rule English colonial family, would be the only one of the officers toiling in the off-cream Headquarters building to have broken with the fountain pen. The announcement of his coming, specially appointed by the Government of the Northern Region of Nigeria, had shaken all the people of the city, from the spacious dwellings of the expatriates in the Township to the last dusty hovel in the old City. And it looked as though I was to be initiated into action.

‘Gajemasu. AD 1095-1134

The Sarki consulted the people about building a city. The people agreed. “Come”, they said, “let us build, for we have the power and the strength”. So they began to build the city. They began the wall from Raria. The Sarki slaughtered a hundred cattle on the first day of the work. They continued the work to the gate of Mazugi, and from there to the water gate and on to the gate of Adama and the gate of Gudan; then past the gates of Waika, Kansakali and Kawungari, as far as the gate of Tuji. There were eight gates.’

The Kano Chronicle

The Sole Commissioner had appeared in the Provincial Headquarters three days before. It was a Monday. Kano had awakened early that morning to find squads of screeching motor cycle police outriders manoeuvring on its streets. Platoons of police sitting in the back of blue riot vans, their rifles upright between their knees, were driving at speed around all of the three precincts which made up the whole city. There was a stir of alarm. Then at seven a.m. came the news, a statement on the radio from Kaduna, the administrative centre of Northern Nigeria where sat the Regional Government. The Premier, the Sardauna of Sokoto, had set up an inquiry into the financial affairs of the Kano administration. It was to be conducted, said the mellifluous Nigerian announcer, by a Sole Commissioner, a very senior official of the Northern Region Ministry of the Interior, David Muffett.

The city surveyed the motorcycles and inspected the personnel carriers; gawked at the logo painted on the their sides-a rampantly erect, blue police baton contained within the arms of a laurel crown, like wings. The occupying squads immediately became the Flying Pricks. Wondering eyes considered the gas masks and the rifles and the occasional machine gun. There were mutterings and fear. But by the middle of the morning the city had resumed its pace.

Kano had been attacked and occupied many times in its long history-from the desert to the north, from the forests to the south, from its sister states to east and west. But always its trade went on, its workshops hummed, its crafts expanded, its merchants grew rich. Attacked and occupied but never conquered, the city remarked the presence of its gaolers and went about its business…..

‘Tsamia, son of Shekkarau. AD 1307-1343

When he came to the throne he assembled the pagans and said to them, “love transmits love, and hate transmits hate; there is nothing between us except bows and spears and swords and shields; there is no deceit and no deciever except he who is afraid.” Tsamia excelled all men in courage, dignity, impetuosity in war, vindictiveness and strength...When the morning broke Tsamia, Sarkin Kano, came forth from his house, and went to the place of the god. In front of him were seventy men, each with a shield made of elephant’s hide. When Sarki came near to the place of the god he prevented the pagans entering. As the fight waxed hot, the Sarki cried, “Where is Bajeri?” Bajeri heard the words of the Sarki and took a spear and rushed into the battle, cutting his way until he reached the wall of the sacred place, near the Tchibiri tree…The Sarki returned to the tree, and destroyed the wall together with all else connected with Tchibiri which was beneath the tree. All the pagans had in the meantime fled…In the time of this Sarki long horns were first used in Kano. The tune that they played was “Stand firm, Kano is your city”. He reigned thirty years.’

The Kano Chronicle

Not long after I had received the minute from the Senior Roads Engineer I had a call from the Principal Administrative Officer, now in the gleaming new role of the Inquiry’s executive officer, to attend on the Sole Commissioner. When I walked into his office, the SC was sprawled across and around the desk which was set on the opposite side from the door, looking like a groper in a cave.

The office, formerly a conference room, was bare of furniture except for his desk and swivel chair, a straight backed wooden chair in front of the desk, and a table in the left hand corner on which many files were stacked. The blinds on the windows were drawn, and light within was dim. On the desk were two black telephones, a few files, and, very conspicuously in the centre, a tape recorder.

The SC’s forearms were thrown loosely forward on the desk, the hands showing out from the cuffs of a white shirt fastened with engraved gold links. Shoulders hunched, he looked up with brown eyes in confident confrontation as I walked, it seemed for minutes, across the length of the office. I was not guilty of anything of importance to the Sole Commissioner, as far as I knew. But by the time I had reached the straight-backed chair, and accustomed my eyes to the gloom, I noticed that the tape recorder was gently whirring, I was uncertain. I hoped it did not show in my voice.

“I had a message that you wished to see me, Mr Commissioner.”

“Mr McDonell, please sit down,” he commenced, without introduction,” you know what this Commission is about, you read the local rag. I’m sure you have the benefit of the latest briefings.”

What he was referring to was that famous hub of intelligence gathering, the bars and surrounds of the Kano Club, the social gathering place to which all expatriates repaired. And he was right there. For the last few nights the Club could hear of nothing else. Talk over beers after work of plans for the next Open Night, the local polo team’s recent visit to the championships in Zaria, the case of the English trader and the disappearing Lebanese girl, which had the ladies around the swimming pool agog-all these and more were stilled and replaced by rumour, charge and counter charge about the Inquiry, and what the Sole Commissioner was really up to. “Oh, of course, they want to get the Emir, that’s obvious, and they will too, but what is the real reason?”, they asked. “It’s not what it seems, you know, if they’ve brought him up here”. Powerful impressions of inscrutable ruthlessness lingered from Muffett’s previous postings in the Province.

And so they went on, scurrying, perplexed, peering under every stone, turning each new story, each freshly suspected motivation, on its head, spinning sticky webs of fascinated paranoia. There always had to be a real reason, some reason beyond all other reasons. “You can’t know what these new bastards are up to. Of course, the Sardauna”, they said,” he wants to get the Emir. We know that. But what else is there?” The Sardauna of Sokoto was the long-standing title of the civil leader of Sokoto, the holy city of the North, where lived also the most senior of the Region’s Islamic clerics, the Sultan of Sokoto. Now the bearer of the title was the first elected premier of the Northern Region of the independent Nigeria, located hundred of miles to the south in Kaduna.

Only Sophie, the tall, radiantly tanned, French-Arab woman from Algeria, to be found of an afternoon in a bikini, propped on an elbow along a deck-bed under a palm tree, stroking her flank, watching the splashings of her children in the pool, retained her hauteur and her assurance that she saw to the heart of things. “The tawny beast of the glorious buttocks”, Cartwright, the local expert on Arab literature and sexual preferences, used to call her in impotent admiration,” heavy like twin hills of sand”, painstakingly adding that it was a quote from The Perfumed Garden. If you asked Sophie what was up she gazed with cool penetration into your eyes and breathed, easing herself a little higher on the deck-bed, “ it is de Gaulle”, with a stiff twitch of her shoulders and jaw, as if it could be no other.

The War of Independence in Algeria to our north was drawing to a long drawn out and painful close. After years of what came to be recognised as one of bloodiest of the era’s struggles between the European colonisers and their colonised natives, the War, begun in 1954, had reached a stage where isolated skirmishes and assassinations still occurred. But creaking negotiations had begun and sputtered from detente to detente with outbreaks of hostilities in-between. Above it all stood General Charles de Gaulle, President of France, who had masterminded a change of direction and moves towards an independent Algeria which led to the Evian Agreements in April 1962 and thus to Independence. In Algeria, and elsewhere by people like Sophie, he was profoundly distrusted by those patriots who would have preferred the future of Algeria to be as a province of France.

Among the leaders of the Independence movement perhaps the most famous were Ahmed Ben Bella,who in 1963 became the first President of an independent Algeria, and Houari Boumédiène. At that time in 1961 Boumédiène was the chief of staff of the ALN, the national liberation army, the military wing of the national political movement, the FLN. He subsequently deposed Ben Bella in a bloodless coup and was President of Algeria from 1965 till his death in 1978.

But I had more immediate concerns than Sophie’s imaginings.

“By instrument of authority issued by the Premier of Kaduna four days ago I am empowered to elicit any information, and obtain the cooperation of any person, I judge to be of relevance to the Inquiry’s objectives. “

The overblown language was numbing.

“I have very good information-some of it, incidentally, from that little rat you passed on your way in”, the small man in a stained kaftan had looked sad and worried,” that there has been corruption and malpractice from top to bottom of the Emir’s administration in the letting of public works contracts. I impress upon you that the Regional Government regards the deficiencies of the Emir and his administration, and the possible ill-effects upon the good name of the Government of open and flagrant corruption in one of its principal cities, as a matter of the utmost seriousness.

Flagrant, I have no doubt, I thought to myself, but open I’m not so sure.

The Sole Commissioner had spoken as though reading from Standing and Daily Orders. The light from the lamp behind him cut a circle on the desk, shrouding his face. From outside came the scurry of petty contractors, and mammy traders with their baskets of betel nut and sweets and perfumes waiting for the offices to close at noon, two hours early today, being Friday, mosque day.

“As Executive Engineer in charge of road works for the Township, the City and the Province you are to be responsible- responsible, directly to me as Sole Commissioner-for the complete investigation of all contracts let in the last three years. You will use whatever methods you think necessary, subject only to clearing anything unusual with me, and, of course, no extortion. You may not pay for information, you will refer anything like that to me. As you do not know Hausa, the local language, you may consult on a need to know basis with Mallam Mohammad Musa, the Nigerian administrative officer who is assisting the Inquiry.”

I knew Musa well, a sociable young man connected by family to one of the royal houses of the North. He had gone to University in Lagos and now, in the push for Nigerianisation which had come with Independence, was one of the comers.

“You will be briefed from time to time by the Principal Administrative Officer. You will no doubt hear that there are international plots and ploys involved, that all of this here is tied up with the situation in Algeria and what’s going on in what used to be the Congo. Ignore all that, it is the product of sodden brains, unused wombs and too many spy novels in the Kano Club’s library. Folly and nonsense.”
He paused for emphasis.

“Make no mistake-Kano leaves a great gaping hole in the Region’s coffers. .We have reason to believe that one of the largest sources of corruption for the slush funds of the Emir and his minions has been the public works programme, especially all the road works for Kano City which are directly under the Emir’s control. As the Executive Engineer it is easy for you to gain access to all the paperwork concerned with Kano roads. You are to examine personally, personally,” he repeated,” all the contracts for road works for the last three years and check the details on the contracts with the works that have actually been carried out. You are to come back to me with a written report in one month from today. Good afternoon.”

What a game, what big, shiny toys, he, and we, had to play with. I laughed at the theatre of it all, at the grand guignol touches, the heroics of the darkened room; but just below my navel I felt the first small gnaw of a grub of anxiety. It took an extra munch when I noticed, sitting on the bench outside the door waiting to enter after me, a blue-robed Hausa man whom I had known as an austerely composed and aristocratic member of the Regional parliament and chair of several committees. He looked up with a flare of eye-white as I came out. He was composed no longer. Now he was fidgety, eyes closed, fingers telling his rosary at speed, jaw grinding, composure drained.

Would it also be a dangerous game?

‘Yaji, son of Tsamia. AD 1349-1385

The eleventh Sarki was Yaji, called Ali. His mother was Maganarku. He was called Yaji because he had a bad temper when he was a boy, and the name stuck to him. He drove the Sarkin Rano from Zamma Gaba, went to Rano and reigned at Bunu for two years…In Yaji’s time the Wangarawa came from Melle (now known as Mali) bringing the Mohammadan religion. The name of their leader was Abdurahaman Zaite. When they came they commanded the Sarki to observe the times of prayer. He complied and made Gurdamus his Liman, and Luaul his Muezzin…the Sarki commanded every town in Kano country to observe the times of prayer. So they all did so. A mosque was built near the sacred tree facing east, and prayers were made at the five appointed times in it.

The Kano Chronicle

I had discovered that Sole Commissioner David Muffett was well known in Kano. A few years earlier he had been one of the most senior officers in Kano Province. He had spent his whole career in the Nigerian service and stood high in that elite whose members had never moved from the Northern Region. He and his like in the Northern service were fluent in the languages and the lineages, the traditions and intrigues, of the areas they were posted to. Some were acknowledged scholars of Sudanese and Muslim history and law, necessary expertise for a colonial administration meeting the challenges of long traditions of religious learning and legal doctrine. Some of them were experts in specific regions, spending most of their careers there and becoming intimately familiar with all the leading figures of the colonised communities.

Above all, the elite of the elite, there were those who had spent their years among the old walled cities, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto and others in the north. Here were the families of the conquering Fulani, the pale-skinned people of mysterious origin who had come from the north. Their ancestors had been the revered priests and savage warriors, who, under the famous Sheik, Usman dan Fodio, had swept across from the western plains in a great jihad early in the nineteenth century. They established dynasties in all the major cities, in the area which came to be called Hausaland, after the local people. These dynasties, even in the nineteen sixties, still wielded great power, religious and political, across the north, in that broad zone of savannah, between the jungle and the desert.

These top officials came to be friends of the Sultan of Sokoto, known as the Sarkin Mussulmi, the spiritual head of all the Muslims, and of the Emirs of the northern cities and provinces right across the north, even of the Premier of the Northern Region, Alhaji Alhmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. He was, since Independence had come to Nigeria, the most powerful figure in the north. Many of them had been at school or university in England with the new African leaders with whom they now shared power, and polo once a week, and the princely sons had visited their homes and families in England during vacations.

When Independence came men like Muffett had stayed on under the new black government and scarcely noticed the difference. For some years there was, in any case, little transition to be made. The senior British officers had for decades run the place as a colony with scarce a let or hindrance, and continued to do so under the indigenous regime. But this Kano Inquiry was one of the first signs that the old state of affairs was ending. That the new politicians were beginning to call the shots.

The elected members of the Northern government, who were the traditional lords of the Hausa states dressed up in democratic masks and modern play-clothes, had decided that the Emir of Kano, the richest and most lordly of all the chiefs of the northern cities, the least inclined to bend the peaked turban towards the new boys in Kaduna, had to go. The financial housekeeping of his administration, corrupt and messy, as were all the provincial administrations, was to provide the chopping block and in Muffett they had chosen a very keen hatchet.

‘Bugaya, son of Tsamia. AD1385-1390

The twelfth Sarki was Bugaya, called Mohammed. He had the same father and mother as Yaji. …after Zamnagawa killed Tsamia, he made ovdertures to his widow, Maganarku, but she said, “I am with child.” So Zamnagawa gave her drugs, without her knowledge, to procure an abortion. In spite of this, however, she gave birth to a living child and gave him the name Bugaya. It was this Sarki who ordered the Maguzawa to leave the rock of Fongui and scatter themselves through the country. He then gave all power into the hands of the Galadima (senior official), and sought repose.”

The Kano Chronicle

There had been a Sarkin Kano for a thousand years. The Emir’s forefathers had multiplied their gold and slaves, their jewels and harems and palaces, from the trade north across the Sahara and south through the rain forests, and from the skills and industry of their people.

In more recent times the Sarkin Kanos had enlarged their fortunes and strengthened their hold over the millions who acknowledged their feudal lordship. Their thorny independence was achieved from the harvests of the wide networks of good fields and waterchannels which produced the many pyramids of groundnuts exported each year, from the largest area of production in the world. They had cultivated, too, the networks of lineage and the channels of intelligence which linked the old cities of West Africa right up to the seaboard of the Mediterranean, through Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, even Egypt.

It was these connections, also, which guided trans-Saharan camel caravans, still persisting in the modern age, winding in and out of the many modern nations of west and northern Africa . Shadowy fleets with shadowy cargoes, they wound through old desert pathways and unmarked tracks in derisory disregard of the official frontiers on maps, mere paper inventions of the colonial powers in the nineteenth century when they sat around European tables and divided Africa up.

The Emir raised his own taxes, kept his own army, held his own courts, appointed his own spokesmen as elected members in the National Assembly, attended each Friday at his own city mosque, the finest in the north, kept his own harem in the dark depths behind the thick mud-walls of his palace: for the new masters of an independent Northern Nigeria, he was much too big a nut to be left uncracked.

What to do, to bring this crusty autarch down from his ancient citadel? An open attack was out of the question. An embargo on his trade? Tricky, difficult to pin down, rich city revenues would be lost. An enquiry into his finances? Much better. The men behind the Regional Government, the Emir’s titular peers, were themselves city potentates who knew that any one of them could be seized for corruption. What was corrupt to modern European law was ancient custom and feudal privilege here in the North. They had practised it in all its subtle and unsubtle forms for centuries, and where more so than in Kano, the most successful in the slave trade, in the traffic in gold, in the trades of the caravans, in the vigour of its modern industries. Corruption? By almost any definition it would be found somewhere in the administration of the City of Kano, if one knew where and how to look. The Emir’s time was up.

‘Kanajeji, Son of Yaji AD 1309-1410

The thirteenth Sarki was Kanajeji. His father’s name was Yaji. His mother’s name was Aunaka. He was a sarki who engaged in many wars. He hardlhy lived in Kano at all, but scoured the country around and conquered the towns….He sent to the Kwararafa and asked why they did not pay him tribute. They gave him two hundred slaves. Then he returned to Kano and kept sending the Kwararafa horses while they continued to send him slaves. Kanajeji was the first Hausa sarki to introduce “Lifidi” and iron helmets and coats of mail for battle….He remained at Betu two years. The inhabitants, unable to till their fields, were at length starved out, and had to give in to him. They gave him a thousand male, and a thousand female slaves, their own children. They also gave him another two thousand slaves. Then peace was made.’

The Kano Chronicle

The small grub of anxiety had not detained me long as I soon had images of agreeable escapes to occupy my fantasies. I had been spending time in the evenings preparing for travels during my end-of-tour leave, due in a few months, and thinking of travelling overland to Egypt. Gumel and Hadejia in the north east had been on my mind for it was in that direction that I would probably go: east to Maiduguri and then south of Lake Chad, through Chad and across Central Africa and southern Sudan to El Obeid, thence to Khartoum and up the Nile to Cairo.

I had recently ridden a survey of a line of proposed new road out along the Hadejia River and watched the local men, naked, dark-brown, intent, silent, floating on large calabashes as though on great balloons in the water. They were throwing nets in graceful arcs to catch the giant Niger perch, giwan ruwa, the elephant of the river. It was intensely hot, and further on I was given water from a brown clay pot by a woman who knelt beside my horse and raised the pot to her shoulder, eyes averted, for me to drink, as she would for any man. Beyond that I had come on to the main Gumel road and my overseer Mohammadu Halilu had met me with the office pickup and taken me to the eastern border. I had thought then of what it would be like to travel on, and on, across Africa.

The man who came to my house after I returned from polo that evening was announced by Audu, our new cook-steward. He was a trader from Khartoum who drove his truck and organised convoys from Gao in French Territory to the north on the Niger River down to Kano and then across the savannah, the orchard bush and deserts to the markets of East Africa, the Nile and the Red Sea coast, as far as Djibouti.

One evening in the Club, talking to a District Officer who had come only the previous month from a posting in the eastern Provinces, I had asked about the condition of the roads in that area. The man from Khartoum was the one to talk to, I was told, he knows the way, trades backwards and forwards every month while the weather holds. What does he carry, I asked. Salt, skins, civet cats from Chad (Europe used them for perfumes), camel hair rugs from Timbuktu, carvings from Upper Volta, bronzes from Benin, pilgrims for Mecca, slaves, they say, for the sheikhs in Zanzibar, some gold, maybe some diamonds, local produce to and fro, what else?-that sort of thing.

The trader had fine features, lightly brown, with a genial smile. He wore a long cream turban raised in an elegant and commanding roll on his brow, and a long cotton gown, the riga, of purest white. This he arranged precisely and solemnly around his knees and buttocks as he prepared to sit cross-legged on my parquet floor. He took his rosary of brown wooden beads from his pocket, laid it on his left knee , and fixed me with a direct look, as though alerting an orchestra. A still space formed around him. He spoke excellent English in clear, short sentences

At the end of each speech he would rise slightly on his haunches and adjust his riga, unwind the scroll of turban from his head in a measured arabesque, and rewind it slowly as if tracing a calligraphic phrase. Yes, he could take me, the rains would be past, though the roads could still be up in places. But any delays would be brief. Are there motor roads all the way? Of course, I and my brothers go back and forth every month except in the rains. Lake Chad, south Sudan, the Congo? Ah, yes, there are some no good men there-quick, sociable, understanding smile-yes, further south there is Congo and Katanga and though Lumumba was killed not long ago, there are still wars in the Provinces and there is this Mobutu that nobody knows about, and there is Tshombe and many no good men.

He was obviously well up on the many troubles of Central Africa and the Congo and the savage wars that had ravaged the region. Who knows? But he, himself, he was a trader, he said with a relaxed smile, and his father, too, had been a trader, yes, Mr McDonell, my father was a famous trader in Khartoum, and a great scholar, too, even the mallams used to ask him for his opinion on the law, and he came many times to Kano and to Gao, but, of course, he is retired now and lives with his wives and children.

Yes, he said, there have been some problems in some places, but they are further south, very much south , but we don’t go near there. Anyway, he and his brothers and his father know many people and many roads. Through all those areas they know many good people they could trust. There would be no trouble, no trouble, and certainly not for the Bature McDonell who was known and liked among all the gravel traders and works contractors and repair shops in the City and the Sabon Gari. And many of his brothers, brothers of him, the man from Khartoum, knew the Bature McDonell, too. And is not Mr McDonell a good friend too of the Sole Commissioner, too? Is he not now a special friend of the Inquiry?
My interview in the darkened office had been only that afternoon. Already the word was out.

Even my wife was impressed by the man from Khartoum and began to think that the whole scheme to go home via Egypt might not be as harebrained as it sounded. So he must have been persuasive because at the time she was especially sensitive to any hint of danger, what with all the police around since the Inquiry had begun. And, further, she had been exposed to Sophie’s dark thoughts more than I had been.

Most afternoons she took the three boys to the Club to play in the swimming pool and there the handsome Algerian woman would hold court in her wobbly Frenglish. And Sophie was convinced that the Inquiry was not just some local squabble among the Northern Nigerian traditional chiefs. No, the tang of high politics was in the air.

‘Mohamma Rimfa, son of Yakubu. AD1463-1499

The twentieth Sarki was Mohamma, son of Yakubu, commonly called Rimfa. His mother’s name was Fasima Berana. He was a good man, just and learned. He can have no equal in might, from the time of the founding of Kano, until it shall end. In his time the Sherifa came to Kano. They were Abdu Rahaman and his people…Abdu Rahaman lived in Kano and established Islam. He brought with him many books. He ordered Rimfa to build a mosque for Friday, and to cut down the sacred tree and build a minaret on the site. And when he had established the Faith of Islam, and learned men had grown numerous in Kano, and all the country round had accepted the Faith, Abdu Karimi returned to Massar…Rimfa was the author of twelve innovations in Kano. He built the Dakin Rimfa. The next year he extended the walls …the next year he entered his house…He established the Kurmi Market…He was the first Sarki who used “Dawakin Zaggi” in the war with Katsina…He appointed Durman to go round the dwellings of the Indabawa and take every first-born virgin for him. He was the first Sarki to have a thousand wives. He began the custom of “Kulle”. He began the “Tara-ta-Kano”. He was the first to have “Kakaki” and “Figinni”, and ostrich-feather sandals…In his time occurred the first war with Katsina. It lasted eleven years, without either side winning. He ruled thirty seven years.’

The Kano Chronicle

Rodney Thomas Geoffrey Blackett was a member of the Rural Water Supplies branch of the Ministry of Works. This group lived rough out in the bush, putting in and maintaining the precious water supplies for remote villages and sometimes deputising on other engineering works. Years before, like many an ‘RWS’, as they were called, he had been in the Army, in the Royal Engineers. During the War he had been in the Middle East, rarely in the action, usually before it or after it had passed, preparing the way for the infantry and armour, or clearing up after them. Long practice in many postings had taught him how to keep his head down and his arse out of trouble. The men of the RWS liked living and working on the fringe, on the edge, on making do, on beating the system, your friend’s system, your enemy’s system, any system. In short, to survive, where survival itself was beating the system.

He came from a lower middle-class family on the outskirts of London, had been to a middling grammar school and at the end of it faced the job queues of the lingering Depression. The War provided an escape. He joined up as a sapper and went into a unit of the Royal Engineers. After the stifle of the suburbs, the open air life, building Bailey bridges, rigging up water supplies, setting long chains of dynamite, it all agreed with him. He had some women in Italy and, after long spells smoking kif in misty hammams in the Middle East, a boy or two, but in the end he had stayed alone and learnt to drink. He didn’t take a social beer, or carouse regularly at the Kano Club, or tank up on alcohol day to day. He went on benders, sharp and savage bouts when the world was dark while the sun shone. He was eaten within by a growling rage, tearing, biting-but instead of lashing out he hit the bottle.

After the War he found he had a touch of the sun and couldn’t bear the English fogs. He worked with a contracting company in Libya for a while, but he didn’t like the constant change from project to project, from team to team. He preferred his own company and he found the RWS. He was among his peers.

At the time I was there, Blackett was one of only two Bature, Europeans, living in the Emirate of Gumel which covered much of the far northeast of Kano Province. Here the orchard bush petered out and the Province’s northern border, which it shared with the French colony of Niger, flattened into the dusty plains of sand and rocky desert of the Sahara which stretched without a bound across Africa until it reached the shores of the Mediterranean.

The other Bature, also an Englishman, was the District Officer for the Emirate, the DO Gumel, as he was known, who was responsible for all the administration and law-keeping in that vast Emirate. By education, training and position he should have known more of what went on in the area than the RWS. In some ways-generally unimportant ways, from the point of view of the local native powers-he did, busily writing down in his report each month to headquarters in Kano all the things the local nabobs let him know. They were happy to keep him chained to his desk in the District Office and he was never let out of sight of at least one servant of the Emir of Gumel, a subordinate of the Emir of Kano.

Blackett, though, knew many things they would rather he didn’t. But they were reluctant to interfere with him, because he was so useful. Besides water supply he was also responsible for all the local roads in Gumel Emirate. He would turn up with his small gang of African tradesmen in out-ot-the-way villages mending pumps, or organising labour to push through new feeder roads or dig new wells up around the border or out towards the rivers where the groundnuts were struggling. In practice, the budget of the Rural Water Supplies Branch was a honeypot of patronage from the Northern Government Ministers to the local Emirs and other chiefs, and they dropped dollops of it around the region as their interests dictated and the villages supplicated.

So, in Gumel, Blackett had pretty much free rein. He lived in a Rest House in a small village near Gumel township, he travelled all over the Emirate and was welcome. He kept the wells full, the roads open, and his mouth shut. He saw some things that he didn’t want to, many things that he didn’t need to, and much that he wasn’t supposed to. He wrote no reports about them, and said not a word. In fact, he scarcely thought of them.

One of the things he did ponder, though, from time to time, as, like ghosts, they appeared and disappeared among the sands and the dusty gloom of a falling night, were the scruffy caravans of camels. There were sometimes one dozen, or two dozen, but lately there had been several occasions when he had seen scores of the grunting, awkward beasts, ambling through the patchy scrub, laden with hessian sacks. Even more surprisingly, those hessian sacks sometimes contained large wooden crates with numbers and letters painted on them. No trace would be left of their passing which would not be blown away in a day or so by the wind.

So had the camels come and gone for centuries, carrying the cargoes of the day. But why now, when there was plenty of modern transport-bitumen roads and large trucks and railway waggons waiting at railheads?

As the lurching rumps faded in the haze, he would wonder what consignments they might carry. Ammunition? Rifles? But he never enquired, certainly not of those silent turbanned figures he would always spot gazing at him from the shade of nearby trees when he turned around to go to his pickup. In the African bush, as Karen Blixen said in “Out of Africa”, you are never alone.

‘Abdulahi, son of Mohamma Rimfa 1499-1509

The twenty-first Sarki was Abdulahi. His mother’s name was Auwa. Her influence was very strong among the rulers of the day. She built a house at Doseyi, hence its name, “Gidan Madaki Auwa”. In his time Ahmedu, who was afterwards Liman of Kano, arrived. Abdulahi conquered (the city of) Katsina. He advanced as far as Katsina itself and encamped on the river near Tsagero. He remained four months at Tsagero and then went to Zukzuk and made war there.’

The Kano Chronicle

The voice on the telephone of Mohammadu Halilu, my Senior Roads Overseer, was bright. It had the light overlay of high frequencies, brief ululations and slight crowdings of the rhythms which signalled, I had come to learn, that he had a special message to impart. But he started off with the ritual string of solicitations and salutations which among the Hausa and the Fulani preface any conversation-thoughtful, caring questions about my family, my health, my recent doings. And then banter about the prayer boards he had given me a few days before, inscribed with propitious suras from the Koran for health, prosperity, many children, for averting dangers in travel. The verses had been brushed in ink with a flowing Arabic-style script in a style said to be exactly the same as that used by the great scholar and leader, Usman dan Fodio himself.

The occasion had been my birthday, and he had had the boards prepared as a mark of special favour by a man famous in Kano as the greatest calligrapher of them all. He lived in the City, Halilu said, and was frequently called upon by the mallams, the holy men, to write scrolls from the Koran. This man, moreover, was both deaf and dumb, and couldn’t read. The gift of great drawing skills was one directly from Allah in recompense for his disabilities, a sign of God’s mercy and magnificence. Halilu said this man was widely known, consequently, as ‘him with the gifts of God’, or simply ‘the gifts of God’-for his unerring sight and perfect command of his fingers’ sinews, and so his ability to produce verisimilitude. Thus the great leader’s script from the nineteenth century lay before me on the prayer boards as though freshly inscribed by the divine reformer,dan Fodio. Whether, when I pressed the point, anyone could be sure that the texts of which my boards held the replicas actually had been written by the holy Fulani scholar wasn’t at all clear. Halilu was quietly, but definitely, pained by my enquiries. But what was sure was that what I held was an exact copy of the originals, known to be very old.

My SRO passed from the prayer boards to what he had to tell me about the problems of a bridge we were constructing, how the road maintenance gangs were performing, whether our target date for re-gravelling the highway would be met, and the rest of his routine report. But he soon came to the main item he was eager to transmit, an eagerness signalled by an especially high ululation. He had seen Blackett, he said. The RWS had been helping one of the road gangs with a bridge near Babura west of Gumel, but in a few days he was going to move his camp back near Maigatari, north of Gumel near the border with the French colony of Niger.

There was an out-of-the-way village near there for which the Madaki, the equivalent of a Mayor in the North’s Native Administration, wanted the RWS to drill a well. Then Halilu paused, and an ululation swung upwards, and he knew that I would listen closely, before he slowly remarked that he had seen a camel caravan that morning, unusual near the main road, a large caravan, a very large caravan. The high frequencies trilled more insistently. Yesterday afternoon, he said, the Madaki and Alhaji Ahmadu Gumel had sat talking all afternoon in the Emir of Gumel’s peacock garden. Into the dusk they had stayed, and several times messengers had come to them with messages which had been read, scribbled upon, returned, and they had gone on talking. Halilu’s phone call was ending, and we turned to the chant of goodbyes which brought it to a close.

‘Mohamma Kisoki 1509-1565

The twenty-second Sarki was Mohamma Kisoki. He was the son of Abdulahi and Lamis, who built a house at Bani-Buki and established a market there, and was the mother of Dabkare Dan Iya. Kisoki was an energetic sarki, warlike and masterful. He ruled over all Hausaland, east and west, and south and north. He waged war on Mirnin N’guru because of Agaidam. When he entered the town Sarkin Kano took his seat beneath the ‘kuka’ tree…and assembling the inhabitants of the town at the Kofan Bai reduced them to terrified submission. He gave orders that no men were to be made prisoners, but that only clothes and horses were to be taken…In Kisoki’s time Saite, Tamma, Buduru, and Koda came to Kano. Kisoki ruled the town with his mother Iya Lamis and his grandmother Madaki Auwa, and Guli the brother of Madaki Auwa. Guli was much respected by the Sarki; he came to have power over the whole country. This is the reason every councillor is called Na-Guli.’

The Kano Chronicle

The Dan Iya of Kano was a scion of one of the longest lineages of the North. His family traced back to the heroes of the 1819 jihad. He grew up surrounded by the symbols and realities of honour, affluence and pomp. As a boy he had been sent under the care of the Emir’s legal adviser, the father of my overseer, Mohammadu Halilu, no less, to the great Islamic school of Timbuktu. This was a centre of fame and respect stretching back many centuries to the Moslem occupation of Spain when it had been a link with the Moorish world and the great European universities.

At that time he was a tall handsome man, wearing pitch black sunglasses with golden rims, and a white turban of finest muslin. As a boy he had been kept away from English or other European forms of modern education, and was given formal Islamic instruction. He had not even learnt the English language in school, and employed aides to translate for him, but now he spoke it fluently enough, with a heavy accent. Grown-up, he had done a series of jobs for the Emir, in and around Kano, went on errands to the Emir of Katsina, a powerful potentate and rival of Kano, stayed some time at Birnin Kudu in the southeast where he could keep an eye on his father’s not always reliable underlingss in the district, and on the road to the east.

For several years he had done the old man’s bidding down in Lagos for the negotiations over Nigerian Independence. And then as a reward for all of this, and as the safest of safe hands, Sarkin Kano had had him made Chairman of the Regional Marketing Board. Through this institution streamed the rivers of cash which flowed from the vast international trade in groundnuts, in which Kano Province was so prolific. It was the juiciest and ripest of plums.

All the policy and administrative work, of course, was done by white civil servants, headed by Graham Edwards, the Board’s chief executive whom he saw often, signing papers, discussing briefing notes, being steered to halting exchanges with appropriate companions at formal cocktail parties. But even Edwards, and certainly few others, knew little of his other activities.

One of those activities, it was rumoured, not least by Sophie at the Club,was that he had underlings scour the city for women and girls. There were rumours that daily he used two of them before lunch in the special room he had had installed below his office in the Marketing Board’s building. And many others at night when, again it was rumoured, he smoked hashish and practised sadisms, indulging violent tastes in his own palace of thick mud walls not far from the Emir’s. But of what went on there, and to what extremes, noone could be sure.

‘Abubakr Kado, son of Rimfa 1565-1573

The twenty -fifth Sarki was Abubakr Kado, son of Rimfa and full brother of Abdulahi. His mother’s name was Auwa. In his time the men of Katsina worsted the men of Kano until they came to the very gates of Kano…the men of Kano went out to fight, but they were beaten and scattered, and had to take refuge in the town. Devastation went on, and the country was denuded of people. The only place where people were found was in walled towns and rocks…Abubakr Kado did nothing but religious offices. He disdained the duties of Sarki. He and all his chiefs spent their time in prayer. In his time eunuchs and mallams became very numerous…Tamma was the greatest of them. When they first came they lived in Katsina land…Afterwards they moved to Kano and settled at Godia. The town was called Godia after a certain woman, a harlot. She and the Sarki reigned jointly over the town. The Sarkin Godia said to Tamma, “Settle at Godia”. So Tamma settled at Godia and married Godia…Abubakr was the Sarki who made the princes learn the Koran…’

The Kano Chronicle

The groundnut trade of Gumel, and especially that from across the border, was largely in the hands of Alhaji Ahmadu Gumel, whom we have already met, in Halilu’s telephone call, talking with the Madaki of Gumel in the Emir of Gumel’s peacock garden. He was one of the most influential merchants of Kano. He had been born in Gumel Emirate, the son of one of the later wives of a minor nobleman, but had lived for many years in Kano.

At first he had busied himself only with the Gumel trade, and especially in groundnuts. His influence there had been useful to the Emir of Kano and, in the early days of the Independence movement, to the Region’s political leaders. Through this, and because of substantial payments to Party funds and to the expenses of several important politicians with whom he developed the sort of client/patron relations which were common in the North, he had been able to extend his business widely in the Province. He had also spread his agents and his stores across the border into French territory and through the long trails north over the Sahara to Zinder and Agadez and Tamanrasset in Algeria.

But Gumel was still his base. The trade there, the contraband crops and other cargoes moving across the border, the alliance with the Emir of Gumel and the local nobles, the political support in the rather independent and very fortunately located Emirate were all essential to him, and through him to the Emir of Kano.

His partner in the conversation, the Madaki of Gumel, was, in effect, the chief minister and administrator of the Emirate. He was also a member of the National Assembly in Lagos. He came from a family which had been slaves of the Emir’s family for centuries, in that long tradition in which the servitor was in a relation similar to that of feudal vassal in medieval Europe.

His position, at the present time, was delicate. As one of the Regional members of the National Assembly in the South he possessed wide influence. But he was a pawn of the Premier, the leader of the Northern Government which had brought the Inquiry into the Emir of Kano’s financial doings. Both he and the Emir of Gumel were heavily beholden to Kano by tradition, blood and law. Sarkin Kano was, as his ancestors had been, the acknowledged suzerain of Gumel, bound to him by mutual ties of feudal relations among the Moslem states, large and small, of Northern Nigeria. So Muffett’s inquiry was a direct threat, for who was to say what the burly Englishman would discover once he started snooping around.

The late afternoon sun lit the haze hanging in the air. The two men sat in verandah chairs with canvas seats, sheltered from the sun’s slanting rays by several lines of dark green citrus trees. More citrus, and tall palms, enclosed the garden in a straggly barricade. In a corner was a well used from time to time by one of the women from the Emir’s compound as she watered the few beds of hardy red geraniums and bright green vegetables. Along one edge of the garden grew tall corn, and the mud wall of the Emir’s palace marked the northern boundary. Under the trees and along the paths peacocks promenaded, a cock and two hens. They would stand for minutes, quietly pecking at the spiky desert grass, and then the cock would start off again on a grand parade, slowly, ritually, head advancing, withdrawing, colours shimmering in the splendid fan.

The two men talked through the afternoon. Occasionally they would stop, as if at an end, and gaze bemused at the peacock’s processional, at the measured step and the slow quiver of the fan, envying perhaps its easy exercise of sovereignty. Beads of their rosaries dripped through their fingers. Turbans were unrolled and rewound, feet slipped in and out of open sandals, toes wiggled in the dusty sand. After the silences, more talk, slow, spare. Sometimes they would gaze, wordlessly, to the north, to where the border ran invisibly through the scrub and across the dunes. Then they would start again, quietly, by turns, nodding in unison as they went, as though setting out a route upon a map.

‘Mohamma Shashere, son of Yakufu, 1573-1582

The twenty-sixth Sarki was Mohamma Shashere…His mother’s name was Fasuma. He was unmatched for generosity among the Sarkis. He was the first to give a eunuch the title of Wombai…He determined on an expedition against Katsina. He said to the Alkali Mohamma, the son of Tanko, the son of Jibril, the son of Mugumi:”Find me an Alkali to take with me to war with Katsina. When I go to war, I shall not return alive unless I beat the Katsinawa.” The Alkali gave him his pupil Musa, whose mother’s name was Gero. The Sarki made Musa Alkali. Now when he came to Katsina, the men of Katsina came out to fight. The armies met at Kankia and fought there. The Katsinawa won because they were superior in numbers. The Kanawa ran away-deserting their Sarki-with the exceptions of San Turaki Mainya Narai, San Turaki Kuka Zuga and Dan Dumpki …these returned home together with their Sarki and entered Kano with him. The Sarki was very grieved. His men said to him, “Lay aside your grief, next year we will defeat the Katsinawa, if Allah wills.”’

The Kano Chronicle

For three weeks after my interview with the Sole Commissioner I entertained in my small office a long line of Emirate officials, politicians from the national and regional parliaments, contractors, Ministry of Works supervisors, bank clerks, truck drivers. I called in people from the Sabon Gari and the City whom I thought, as it turned out in vain, might have an inkling of what had been afoot.

For something, a lot, certainly had been afoot. I had asked Mohammadu Halilu to help me prepare schedultes of all the contracts for recent years: miles of road resurfaced, lengths of kerb and guttering laid, culverts and bridges constructed, cubic yards of gravel dumped, timber delivered, sacks of cement used. All the lists were checked against the work on the ground, rechecked, cross-checked.

Many more contracts had been written than had been delivered. The scams ran into millions of pounds. But all the documents were in perfect order. All had the right signatures, the appropriate disclaimers, the signatories were a very few senior officers, both Bature and Nigerian, who upon examination were beyond reproach. Yet the signatures, and any written amendments, were all perfect. Perfect forgeries. Where was the forger?

I had the tale from Mohammad Musa. During the third week after I had been interviewed by David Muffett the young Nigerian officer and I met at the Provincial office and we went off to a nearby bar to swap notes. I pulled at a beer while he sipped an orange Fanta. Like me, he had searched for a break in the chain. Some of his suspects were recalled several times, questions repeated, materials sifted, new checks made: brick walls. Brick walls of ignorance, fear, impregnable alibis, silence.

At last, he got the clue, from a lowly headman in the Emirate’s Works Office, and it came from an act of kindness. Musa had heard some time previously that this man, of good reputation, and whom we had no reason to suspect, was the father of a nubile young woman. Halila was her name, and she was one of those abducted by the Dan Iya’s thugs. She was later left broken and bleeding back on her father’s doorstep.

As part of a normal line of questioning Musa had told the father that we suspected that the Dan Iya and others were involved in the frauds, and asked him if he knew anything: but to no avail. Nothing could budge him. As the headman was leaving yet another fruitless interrogation, which he had endured with courtesy, restraint and fear, he and Musa fashioned the exchange of courtesies which marked a departure and, as part of it, Musa asked him, almost without thinking, “How is Halila now?”

The mood of submission shifted, the stress of the long interview brimmed, the fear denied, the anger suppressed. He looked at Musa sharply. “She has died. You knew about Halila?” He went once more to the door and, as he passed through it, turned back and said, “Allah be praised-you must see the gifts of God.”

I was puzzled but it was clear at once to Musa. The calligrapher, and his nickname, were very well known in the City. Like many others he had a day job. He worked as a clerk in the Native Affairs Administration but no-one had thought to question a deaf mute who could neither read or write. But, of course, he could copy. This was his gift from God.

Musa went to the dusty wooden building with narrow verandahs, peeling paint and bulging manila files in red-taped bundles standing high on pine tables where this man worked by day. No matter what the main occupation by which they earned their livelihood many people tried to find a ‘respectable’ job, one which sounded worthy to the ears of Batures and other powerful persons. ‘Part-time calligraphic artist’, even if very famous, was not such a title, and he was on the books of the Works Office as a clerk, a much more acceptable address. Musa gave him some hand written notes and indicated to him to copy it, a quite usual chore in those days without photo-copiers. He took the paper, inspected it intently for some time, and commenced to write. When he had finished he handed it back to the goggle-eyed Musa. The copy was an indistinguishable facsimile of the original.

‘Mohamma Zaki, son of Kisoki 1582-1618

The twenty-seventh Sarki was Mohamma Zaki…The name of his mother was Hausatu, the daughter of Tamma. When Mohamma became Sarki, Tamma came to live at Kano together with his men, the Kartukawa… The Sarki’s men kept saying to him,” Sarkin Kano, if you leave the Katsinawa alone, they will become masters of all Kano and you will have nothing to rule but a little”. The Sarki said, “I will conquer the Katsinawa if Allah wills.” At this time the Sarkin Kwararafawa came to attack Kano. The people of Kano left the city and went to Daura, with the result that the Kwararafawa ate up the whole country and Kano became very weak. The men of Katsina kept on harrying Kano. If it had not been for the sake of the mallams in Kano, they would have entered and destroyed the city. There was a great famine which lasted eleven years…’

The Kano Chronicle

The Dan Iya was gone. Noone knew how he had gone or to where. Disappeared one night shortly after the discovery of the gifts of God. It was kept quiet for awhile but before long it came out. There was much consternation in the Club. There were many theories but only Sophie knew for sure.

She had been quiet lately, much quieter than usual. There were rumours she was having it off with Barratt, the new executive at Barclays Bank DCO. He had turned up recently, riding his camel all the way on transfer from Kaduna, the Regional capital. Tall, fair, good-looking in the English way, he would tie up his camel at the Club where others would park their cars, and, dressed in his tuxedo, would walk confidently in. But whatever about all the charms of that, a good mystery was too much for Sophie.

As usual she was in no doubt. She had been speaking to a friend of hers, she told me one evening as we were hanging out the decorations for the following Saturday’s South Seas night at the Club. This friend was a French businessman who came and went and had, Sophie said, good reason for maintaining connections on both sides in Algeria. He had seen the Dan Iya in Cairo, in a restaurant which the FLN were known to use, and he had been with-Boumédiène. And that was all.

Noone in the Administration believed it-”Sophie’s fumes have gone to her head, we all know that”, the PAO had tartly said, with pitying shakes of his head, when I passed on the piece of gossip: Sophie and her husband were rumoured to have brought with them strange practices and misty potions from the souks of the French-held north and the settlements of the Ouled-Nail. That was all we ever heard.

Mohamma Nazaki, son of Zaki 1618-1623

The twenty-eighth Sarki was Mohamma Nazaki. His mother’s name was Kursu. When he became Sarki he sent messengers to make peace with Katsina. Sarkin Katsina refused his terms and invaded Kano. The Kanawa came out and a battle took place in which the Kanawa defeated the Katsinawa….Next year the Sarkin Kano went to Kalam. He left the Wombai Giwa behind at Kano because he was sick. When the Wombai recovered he said,”What can I do to please the Sarki?” His men said,“Add to the city.” He said, “Very well.” So he built a wall from the Kofan Dogo to the Kofan Gadonkaia, and from the Kofan Dakawuyia to the Kofan Kabuga, and to the Kofan Kansakali. He spent an enormous amount of money on this improvement. Every morning he brought a thousand calabashes of food and fifty oxen for the workmen till the work was finished. Every man in Kano went to work…He slaughtered three hundred cows at the Kofan Kansakali and gave the mallams many presents. When the Sarkin Kano returned from war, the Wombai gave him a hundred riding horses. Each horse had a mail coat. The Sarki was very pleased. He said, “What shall I do for this man, to make his heart glad?” His men said, “Give him a town.” So the Sarki gave him Karayi. Hence the song, “Elephant Lord of of the town, Abdullah foe of the bull hippopotamus, whose chains for taking captive women are hoes and axes.”

The Kano Chronicle

I had finished the draft of my report and it was with Celestine, my Ibo typist. It was just over four weeks since that briefing with the Sole Commissioner, a Monday, always a busy day, and there was a rush on to get the report finished in time to hand it to the great man that afternoon.

The phone burred. It was Halilu. There had been an accident in Gumel Emirate. Blackett had blown himself up on Sunday while down at the well site at the village near the border to which he had moved his camp. “It must have been an accident”, the overseer said.”I saw him last week and he was very cheerful”.

Two of the Madaki’s men had been in the village and when they had got to him there was just a hole in the ground where the drill rig had been. He was on the ground. His hands and his mind had gone. It was hours to the nearest hospital and he bled to death on the way. They said he had been drinking hard that weekend. Halilu was fond of Blackett, known him for years, but he, being a good Moslem and strict teetotaller, was mystified how the Army man, the old sapper, always careful of his tools, could have brought himself to such a pass. “I am very sad, Mr McDonell, this Bature was a good man, he was my friend”.

They didn’t hold a wake at the Club, but the next Saturday night the DO Gumel, who had come to town for the funeral, got up after dinner and said what a good officer of the Northern Service Blackett had been and what a good war he’d had, and how much the colony owed to men like him, with a quick double-take, sorry, it’s now Independence, and then gave a toast to the dead man. And everybody stood and drank to the lonely figure few had even known. “A great RWS”, they said. It was a night for Red Sea rig, and all the men looked very well in their monkey-suits, black ties and red cummerbunds, with the women all in long dresses and pearls and jewellery. “He would have liked that “, Bob the Bull murmured, remembering his days also in the Army and the RWS. “If he’d been here, he would have thought it looked just like his Regimental Mess.” Everybody said what a terrible accident it had been.

Except Sophie. She had been sceptical from the beginning, as soon as she heard the news and the talk of an accident. It was a plot.

“Zis ingénieur des eaux, zis guerilla of the RWS, ‘e was an expert in the maquis, oui? Zis, ‘ow you say, bushman, zis ingénieur, ‘ow ‘e ‘ave zis accident”, she asked, “’e was lighting ‘is cigarette with ze dynamite stick?” But even Sophie thought the little ceremony at the Club was sympathique.

Kutumbi, son of Mohamma Nazaki 1623-1548

The twenty-ninth Sarki was Kutumbi, the son of Mohamma Nazaki, otherwise called Mohamma Alwali. His mother’s name was Dada. He was a great Sarki. He had a friend whose name was Kalina Atuman, to whom he entrusted great power. No one would believe the extent of this power except one who saw it. He ruled over town and country of Kano until his power equalled that of the Sarki, while the Sarki was like his Wazir (prime minister). This Kalina Atuman was in power twelve years and then he died…Kutumbi was the father of Bako. No prince could compare with him. In everything, in doing good, in doing ill, in courage, anger, generosity he was like a Sarki, even while he was only a prince. He had six hundred horses and ninety mailed horsemen. He went to Kurmin Dan Ranko to war and took much spoil…When he returned to Kano he was given the title of Jurumai for this exploit. Afterwards he pray to die and died, for f ear of civil war after his father’s death….The next year Kutumbi went to war with Katsina. He was victorious and took much spoil. He camped at Dugazawa for nine months, during which time no one could venture out of Katsina. From this siege came the song:”Alwali shutter of the great gate, Kimbirmi, shutter of the great gate”…He was the first Sarki of Kano who collected the Jizia from the Fulani…He collected a hundred cows from the Jafunawa, the chief clan of Fulani, seventy from the Baawa, sixty from Dindi Maji, fifty from the Danneji, and others too numerous to mention….Whenever Kutumbi went to war or to Salla, he was followed by a hundred spare horses. Forty drums were in front of him, and twenty five trumpets, and fifty kettle-drums. He was the first Sarki to create a ‘Berde kererria’. He was always followed by a hundred eunuchs who were handsomely dressed and had gold and silver ornaments…As regards Sarkin Kano some people say he was killed in Katsina, others say that he died in Kano. The latter is the better account…..

The Kano Chronicle

Sallah, the festival held at Id el Fitr, the commemoration of the birth of the Prophet at the end of Ramadan, fell some months after the Inquiry began, after the eruption of the police onto the streets, the impeachment of the Emir, and all the dramas that had followed.

I had been to the great day the year before. It was the largest event and the most joyful occasion in the Kano calendar. On the flat ground outside Kofar Nassarawa used for military parades and grand displays hundreds of horsemen had disposed themselves in groups according to their leaders: the nobles holding the named titles of Kano-Galadima, Madaki, Waziri, and others; the rural principalities beholden to the Emir of Kano as their leige lord, such as Kazaure, Gumel, Hadejia; the traditional rulers of important towns and groups of villages; the aristocratic families and their retainers.

Thousands of people, brightly dressed and jubilant, crowded around the City walls, on roofs of buildings, on vehicles, or stood in dancing lines edging this large space where the Sallah procession was traditionally held. Surrounded by nobles and officials, at the far end on a dais, wearing the ostrich feather shoes, sat the Emir, in regal vestments and the distinctive white muslin turban with the rabbit ear peaks of the Sanusi family.

The procession was led by the Emir’s guard brandishing muskets, in royal scarlet and green livery, with the shantu, the trumpeters, and the kuge, the horn blowers, blasting boisterously. The kakali, the special silver horns which had announced the Emir since Rimfa’s day, came next and then the dokin zage, the Emir’s led horse. The bowmen entered, and the horsemen in chain mail, with mounts agleam in caparisons of green, yellow, brown and red leathers, bridles studded with silver and precious stones, silver bells attached to halters and breastplates, saddles richly embossed. The nobles and leaders wore silks and velvets, muslins, and cottons in vivid colours., scrolled embroideries of white and silver, gold and scarlet, elegant capes, jewelled sandals. Finally, shouting and surging, arrived the guards on foot. Tumultuous sounds-the shantu, the kuge, the kakali, the smaller horns and trumpets, the large drums carried by horses, the kettle drummers marching in file, songs and cries, high spirits, the hilarity of thousands.

At the end, after, it seemed, the cavalcade had ended, and the tension was ebbing away, there was a breathtaking display, the high point of the afternoon, the thrilling final act. Far away, perhaps about a mile distant, groups of horsemen in full regalia appeared. With shouts that resounded even from such a distance, they set out at full gallop across the open space towards the Emir’s throne firing muskets, waving spears and yelling war cries. And when each group at thundering pace drew level with their lord they reined back their horses, reared them onto back legs so that the riders stood in their saddles, and with ululating shouts punched their right arms into the air in triumphant salute.

This year, though, there had been rumours that Sallah wouldn’t be held at all. But in the end it was-the powers must have decided that not to have it would be too big an insult to the Kano people themselves. The Emir didn’t appear. The procession was thin, but all the main groups were there. No shouting, no drums, no trumpets, no riveting final salute. Silence, total silence, except for the tinkle of silver bells on the bridles as the horses slowly paced the length of the grounds, and the chink of harness. Many of the rural dignitaries didn’t come: each just sent his horse, fully decked out like the previous year, but with its saddle reversed, and one after another the riderless mounts were led past the Emir’s vacant throne, their hooves sloughing sadly in the sand.

The end of my contract came up not long afterwards. I left Kano, though I didn’t go east through the Sudan to Khartoum and the Nile. That idea had always been a bit of a pipe-dream. Just as well, probably-with wars and unrest along the way that road was no longer safe. Instead we flew home and before long Kano and the North all seemed far, far away.

I didn’t catch up with what happened for months until a former Senior DO, who’d taken the golden handshake and was now looking for a life in Australia after the colonies, came to Sydney and we got together. Muffett’s report wasn’t published. But they’d sacked the Emir and exiled him to Azare, east past the Kano Province border in Bauchi Province. He was replaced by a relative from another branch of the family, but the newcomer died after only three months on the throne.

A CITY OF THE SUDAN
A Memoir

by

Gavan McDonell

A CITY OF THE SUDAN

‘This is the history of the lords of this country called Kano. Barbushe, once its chief, was of the stock of Dala, a black man of great stature and might, a hunter, who slew elephants with his stick and carried them on his head about nine miles. Dala was of unknown race, but came to this land and built a house on Dala hill. There he lived, he and his wives. He had seven children-four boys and three girls-of whom the eldest was Garageje. This Garageje was the grandfather of Buzame, who was the father of Barbushe. Barbushe succeeded his forefathers in the knowledge of the lore of Dala, for he was skilled in the various pagan rites. By his wonders and sorceries and the power he gained over his brethren he became chief and lord over them…’
The Kano Chronicle

I first came to the city of Kano from the south, driving on the main bitumen highway for several hundred miles through the scrubby orchard bush. This highway, commencing at Lagos, the biggest city of Nigeria, on the coast, stretched for thousands of miles from the edges of the rain forest in the south through the Sahara desert in the north all the way to the Mediterranean, and east-west across West Africa, in fact right across Africa, in parts only a mud track. In the past the name Sudan was given to the whole expanse of this broad zone, the mixing bowl of Africa, not, as at present, only to the Republic of the Sudan in the east of the continent.
It was late in the rainy season of 1961. Nigeria had won its Independence the previous year. Tall, stiff, green fronds of corn thwacked the brisk breeze like the feathered hafts of flung spears. Small mountains of groundnuts, stacked in beige hessian bags and covered by shiny blue tarpaulins, were growing, like swelling scarabs, at each rail station as dusty labourers slowly slung the hemp sacks from the trays of trucks queued at sidings. In the far, flat fields of rich loam spreading to the horizon, white-capped peasants were breaking sods with steel hoes and wooden digging sticks. At every creek and river tall Hausas in long, patched kaftans swung the shadoof, like a long-handled wooden spoon, to empty dousings of water onto the traceries of irrigation channels which flowed among vegetable patches and groundnut fields.
In late afternoon Kano rose up before us. Shadows cut crisp edges on its high mud walls, and poured dark pools into the obscurities of its narrow streets. We passed through the southwest gate, through the lanes of mud-brick buildings and burnt-umber plastered walls, past vegetable gardens and stagnant ponds. Out through Kofar Nassarawa, the southern gate, to the Provincial Headquarters, the office of the Resident, built near the Emir’s summer palace.
Around us was the old City, with high mud walls, home to the native Hausas and the town Fulani and other northerners; to the north were the corrugated iron shacks of the Sabon Gari, where the people from the South, from Iboland and Yorubaland and the River provinces, dwelt; and to east could be seen the Township with its tidy streets of the neat bungalows and villas of the Europeans and most senior Nigerian officials.
The day’s hot journey had started at early light and now at dusk we had reached the old metropolis, as many thousands of other caravans had done over the centuries, from the south and north, the east and west, to visit its mosques and schools, its offices and bazaars, to buy its goods, to sell and be sold, to slay and be slain. If regions, rather than states, had capitals and possessed souls, then Kano City was surely the capital of the Sudan. Other cities of the north were older and holier, but Kano was its beating heart, the source of its soul.
There has probably been a settlement in the vicinity of Kano, the southern city terminus of the old trans-Saharan caravan trade, for several thousand years. The Kano Chronicle, a unique document in the history of this part of Africa, records the reigns of forty eight kings, Emirs, as they were later called, or, in Hausa, Sarkin Kano, the head of Kano. For nearly a thousand years they reigned, from the time when the town emerged from prehistoric dust and mud at the close of the first millennium till the end of the nineteenth century. There is still an Emir of Kano, much reduced in power.

‘Bagoda, Son of Bauwo: AD 999-1063
Then came Bagoda with his host, and was the first Sarki of this land. His name was Daud. His mother’s name was Kaunasu. He began by occupying Adirani fro two years. Thence he moved to Barka, and built a city called Talutawa, where he reigned two years.
The names of the pagan chiefs whom Bagoda met were Jankare, Biju, Buduri (who had many children-about a hundred) and Ribo. Bagoda overcame them and killed their leader Jankare. Then he came to Sheme, and found Gabusani, Bouni, Gazauri, Dubgege, Fasatoro and Bakin Bunu there. He conquered them all, and built the city, and reigned at Sheme sixty six years…..’
The Kano Chronicle

“EE Roads. Fyi. Pls spk. SRE”
The summons from the Senior Roads Engineer, scrawled in a slant, downwards-sloping script on the bottom right of the foolscap memorandum, a wandering line of pale-blue fountain pen ink running off the page, sketched so well the personality of the writer. There mightn’t be too much to graphology, I had often thought, but this writing was the SRE to a tee-weak, evasive, sluggish, indecisive. I would have to go and talk with him.
Above the first inscribed minute at the bottom of the page was another in the now familiar bureaucratic short hand, done with a broad-shovel nib, a direction from the Provincial Administrative Officer (PAO), but with an added call to action:
‘SRE. We spoke this afternoon. Fyi & a. PAO’
And above that again was the direction to the PAOvfrom God Himself, the Sole Commissioner, in a florid, well-formed, gentian red, written with a ballpoint.
‘PAO. Pls initiate the action as outlined this pm. SC’

Not ‘begin’, but ‘initiate’-this was the language of power. And the ballpoint. From what we had heard of him-lofty, confronting, sharp-you might well have guessed that the Sole Commissioner, scion of a born-to-rule English colonial family, would be the only one of the officers toiling in the off-cream Headquarters building to have broken with the fountain pen. The announcement of his coming, specially appointed by the Government of the Northern Region of Nigeria, had shaken all the people of the city, from the spacious dwellings of the expatriates in the Township to the last dusty hovel in the old City. And it looked as though I was to be initiated into action.

‘Gajemasu. AD 1095-1134
The Sarki consulted the people about building a city. The people agreed. “Come”, they said, “let us build, for we have the power and the strength”. So they began to build the city. They began the wall from Raria. The Sarki slaughtered a hundred cattle on the first day of the work. They continued the work to the gate of Mazugi, and from there to the water gate and on to the gate of Adama and the gate of Gudan; then past the gates of Waika, Kansakali and Kawungari, as far as the gate of Tuji. There were eight gates.’
The Kano Chronicle

The Sole Commissioner had appeared in the Provincial Headquarters three days before. It was a Monday. Kano had awakened early that morning to find squads of screeching motor cycle police outriders manoeuvring on its streets. Platoons of police sitting in the back of blue riot vans, their rifles upright between their knees, were driving at speed around all of the three precincts which made up the whole city. There was a stir of alarm. Then at seven a.m. came the news, a statement on the radio from Kaduna, the administrative centre of Northern Nigeria where sat the Regional Government. The Premier, the Sardauna of Sokoto, had set up an inquiry into the financial affairs of the Kano administration. It was to be conducted, said the mellifluous Nigerian announcer, by a Sole Commissioner, a very senior official of the Northern Region Ministry of the Interior, David Muffett.
The city surveyed the motorcycles and inspected the personnel carriers; gawked at the logo painted on the their sides-a rampantly erect, blue police baton contained within the arms of a laurel crown, like wings. The occupying squads immediately became the Flying Pricks. Wondering eyes considered the gas masks and the rifles and the occasional machine gun. There were mutterings and fear. But by the middle of the morning the city had resumed its pace.
Kano had been attacked and occupied many times in its long history-from the desert to the north, from the forests to the south, from its sister states to east and west. But always its trade went on, its workshops hummed, its crafts expanded, its merchants grew rich. Attacked and occupied but never conquered, the city remarked the presence of its gaolers and went about its business…..

‘Tsamia, son of Shekkarau. AD 1307-1343
When he came to the throne he assembled the pagans and said to them, “love transmits love, and hate transmits hate; there is nothing between us except bows and spears and swords and shields; there is no deceit and no deciever except he who is afraid.” Tsamia excelled all men in courage, dignity, impetuosity in war, vindictiveness and strength…When the morning broke Tsamia, Sarkin Kano, came forth from his house, and went to the place of the god. In front of him were seventy men, each with a shield made of elephant’s hide. When Sarki came near to the place of the god he prevented the pagans entering. As the fight waxed hot, the Sarki cried, “Where is Bajeri?” Bajeri heard the words of the Sarki and took a spear and rushed into the battle, cutting his way until he reached the wall of the sacred place, near the Tchibiri tree…The Sarki returned to the tree, and destroyed the wall together with all else connected with Tchibiri which was beneath the tree. All the pagans had in the meantime fled…In the time of this Sarki long horns were first used in Kano. The tune that they played was “Stand firm, Kano is your city”. He reigned thirty years.’
The Kano Chronicle

Not long after I had received the minute from the Senior Roads Engineer I had a call from the Principal Administrative Officer, now in the gleaming new role of the Inquiry’s executive officer, to attend on the Sole Commissioner. When I walked into his office, the SC was sprawled across and around the desk which was set on the opposite side from the door, looking like a groper in a cave.
The office, formerly a conference room, was bare of furniture except for his desk and swivel chair, a straight backed wooden chair in front of the desk, and a table in the left hand corner on which many files were stacked. The blinds on the windows were drawn, and light within was dim. On the desk were two black telephones, a few files, and, very conspicuously in the centre, a tape recorder.
The SC’s forearms were thrown loosely forward on the desk, the hands showing out from the cuffs of a white shirt fastened with engraved gold links. Shoulders hunched, he looked up with brown eyes in confident confrontation as I walked, it seemed for minutes, across the length of the office. I was not guilty of anything of importance to the Sole Commissioner, as far as I knew. But by the time I had reached the straight-backed chair, and accustomed my eyes to the gloom, I noticed that the tape recorder was gently whirring, I was uncertain. I hoped it did not show in my voice.
“I had a message that you wished to see me, Mr Commissioner.”
“Mr McDonell, please sit down,” he commenced, without introduction,” you know what this Commission is about, you read the local rag. I’m sure you have the benefit of the latest briefings.”
What he was referring to was that famous hub of intelligence gathering, the bars and surrounds of the Kano Club, the social gathering place to which all expatriates repaired. And he was right there. For the last few nights the Club could hear of nothing else. Talk over beers after work of plans for the next Open Night, the local polo team’s recent visit to the championships in Zaria, the case of the English trader and the disappearing Lebanese girl, which had the ladies around the swimming pool agog-all these and more were stilled and replaced by rumour, charge and counter charge about the Inquiry, and what the Sole Commissioner was really up to. “Oh, of course, they want to get the Emir, that’s obvious, and they will too, but what is the real reason?”, they asked. “It’s not what it seems, you know, if they’ve brought him up here”. Powerful impressions of inscrutable ruthlessness lingered from Muffett’s previous postings in the Province.
And so they went on, scurrying, perplexed, peering under every stone, turning each new story, each freshly suspected motivation, on its head, spinning sticky webs of fascinated paranoia. There always had to be a real reason, some reason beyond all other reasons. “You can’t know what these new bastards are up to. Of course, the Sardauna”, they said,” he wants to get the Emir. We know that. But what else is there?” The Sardauna of Sokoto was the long-standing title of the civil leader of Sokoto, the holy city of the North, where lived also the most senior of the Region’s Islamic clerics, the Sultan of Sokoto. Now the bearer of the title was the first elected premier of the Northern Region of the independent Nigeria, located hundred of miles to the south in Kaduna.
Only Sophie, the tall, radiantly tanned, French-Arab woman from Algeria, to be found of an afternoon in a bikini, propped on an elbow along a deck-bed under a palm tree, stroking her flank, watching the splashings of her children in the pool, retained her hauteur and her assurance that she saw to the heart of things. “The tawny beast of the glorious buttocks”, Cartwright, the local expert on Arab literature and sexual preferences, used to call her in impotent admiration,” heavy like twin hills of sand”, painstakingly adding that it was a quote from The Perfumed Garden. If you asked Sophie what was up she gazed with cool penetration into your eyes and breathed, easing herself a little higher on the deck-bed, “ it is de Gaulle”, with a stiff twitch of her shoulders and jaw, as if it could be no other.
The War of Independence in Algeria to our north was drawing to a long drawn out and painful close. After years of what came to be recognised as one of bloodiest of the era’s struggles between the European colonisers and their colonised natives, the War, begun in 1954, had reached a stage where isolated skirmishes and assassinations still occurred. But creaking negotiations had begun and sputtered from detente to detente with outbreaks of hostilities in-between. Above it all stood General Charles de Gaulle, President of France, who had masterminded a change of direction and moves towards an independent Algeria which led to the Evian Agreements in April 1962 and thus to Independence. In Algeria, and elsewhere by people like Sophie, he was profoundly distrusted by those patriots who would have preferred the future of Algeria to be as a province of France.
Among the leaders of the Independence movement perhaps the most famous were Ahmed Ben Bella,who in 1963 became the first President of an independent Algeria, and Houari Boumédiène. At that time in 1961 Boumédiène was the chief of staff of the ALN, the national liberation army, the military wing of the national political movement, the FLN. He subsequently deposed Ben Bella in a bloodless coup and was President of Algeria from 1965 till his death in 1978.
But I had more immediate concerns than Sophie’s imaginings.
“By instrument of authority issued by the Premier of Kaduna four days ago I am empowered to elicit any information, and obtain the cooperation of any person, I judge to be of relevance to the Inquiry’s objectives. “
The overblown language was numbing.
“I have very good information-some of it, incidentally, from that little rat you passed on your way in”, the small man in a stained kaftan had looked sad and worried,” that there has been corruption and malpractice from top to bottom of the Emir’s administration in the letting of public works contracts. I impress upon you that the Regional Government regards the deficiencies of the Emir and his administration, and the possible ill-effects upon the good name of the Government of open and flagrant corruption in one of its principal cities, as a matter of the utmost seriousness.
Flagrant, I have no doubt, I thought to myself, but open I’m not so sure.
The Sole Commissioner had spoken as though reading from Standing and Daily Orders. The light from the lamp behind him cut a circle on the desk, shrouding his face. From outside came the scurry of petty contractors, and mammy traders with their baskets of betel nut and sweets and perfumes waiting for the offices to close at noon, two hours early today, being Friday, mosque day.
“As Executive Engineer in charge of road works for the Township, the City and the Province you are to be responsible- responsible, directly to me as Sole Commissioner-for the complete investigation of all contracts let in the last three years. You will use whatever methods you think necessary, subject only to clearing anything unusual with me, and, of course, no extortion. You may not pay for information, you will refer anything like that to me. As you do not know Hausa, the local language, you may consult on a need to know basis with Mallam Mohammad Musa, the Nigerian administrative officer who is assisting the Inquiry.”
I knew Musa well, a sociable young man connected by family to one of the royal houses of the North. He had gone to University in Lagos and now, in the push for Nigerianisation which had come with Independence, was one of the comers.
“You will be briefed from time to time by the Principal Administrative Officer. You will no doubt hear that there are international plots and ploys involved, that all of this here is tied up with the situation in Algeria and what’s going on in what used to be the Congo. Ignore all that, it is the product of sodden brains, unused wombs and too many spy novels in the Kano Club’s library. Folly and nonsense.”
He paused for emphasis.
“Make no mistake-Kano leaves a great gaping hole in the Region’s coffers. .We have reason to believe that one of the largest sources of corruption for the slush funds of the Emir and his minions has been the public works programme, especially all the road works for Kano City which are directly under the Emir’s control. As the Executive Engineer it is easy for you to gain access to all the paperwork concerned with Kano roads. You are to examine personally, personally,” he repeated,” all the contracts for road works for the last three years and check the details on the contracts with the works that have actually been carried out. You are to come back to me with a written report in one month from today. Good afternoon.”
What a game, what big, shiny toys, he, and we, had to play with. I laughed at the theatre of it all, at the grand guignol touches, the heroics of the darkened room; but just below my navel I felt the first small gnaw of a grub of anxiety. It took an extra munch when I noticed, sitting on the bench outside the door waiting to enter after me, a blue-robed Hausa man whom I had known as an austerely composed and aristocratic member of the Regional parliament and chair of several committees. He looked up with a flare of eye-white as I came out. He was composed no longer. Now he was fidgety, eyes closed, fingers telling his rosary at speed, jaw grinding, composure drained.
Would it also be a dangerous game?

‘Yaji, son of Tsamia. AD 1349-1385
The eleventh Sarki was Yaji, called Ali. His mother was Maganarku. He was called Yaji because he had a bad temper when he was a boy, and the name stuck to him. He drove the Sarkin Rano from Zamma Gaba, went to Rano and reigned at Bunu for two years…In Yaji’s time the Wangarawa came from Melle (now known as Mali) bringing the Mohammadan religion. The name of their leader was Abdurahaman Zaite. When they came they commanded the Sarki to observe the times of prayer. He complied and made Gurdamus his Liman, and Luaul his Muezzin…the Sarki commanded every town in Kano country to observe the times of prayer. So they all did so. A mosque was built near the sacred tree facing east, and prayers were made at the five appointed times in it.’
The Kano Chronicle

I had discovered that Sole Commissioner David Muffett was well known in Kano. A few years earlier he had been one of the most senior officers in Kano Province. He had spent his whole career in the Nigerian service and stood high in that elite whose members had never moved from the Northern Region. He and his like in the Northern service were fluent in the languages and the lineages, the traditions and intrigues, of the areas they were posted to. Some were acknowledged scholars of Sudanese and Muslim history and law, necessary expertise for a colonial administration meeting the challenges of long traditions of religious learning and legal doctrine. Some of them were experts in specific regions, spending most of their careers there and becoming intimately familiar with all the leading figures of the colonised communities.
Above all, the elite of the elite, there were those who had spent their years among the old walled cities, Kano, Katsina, Sokoto and others in the north. Here were the families of the conquering Fulani, the pale-skinned people of mysterious origin who had come from the north. Their ancestors had been the revered priests and savage warriors, who, under the famous Sheik, Usman dan Fodio, had swept across from the western plains in a great jihad early in the nineteenth century. They established dynasties in all the major cities, in the area which came to be called Hausaland, after the local people. These dynasties, even in the nineteen sixties, still wielded great power, religious and political, across the north, in that broad zone of savannah, between the jungle and the desert.
These top officials came to be friends of the Sultan of Sokoto, known as the Sarkin Mussulmi, the spiritual head of all the Muslims, and of the Emirs of the northern cities and provinces right across the north, even of the Premier of the Northern Region, Alhaji Alhmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. He was, since Independence had come to Nigeria, the most powerful figure in the north. Many of them had been at school or university in England with the new African leaders with whom they now shared power, and polo once a week, and the princely sons had visited their homes and families in England during vacations.
When Independence came men like Muffett had stayed on under the new black government and scarcely noticed the difference. For some years there was, in any case, little transition to be made. The senior British officers had for decades run the place as a colony with scarce a let or hindrance, and continued to do so under the indigenous regime. But this Kano Inquiry was one of the first signs that the old state of affairs was ending. That the new politicians were beginning to call the shots.
The elected members of the Northern government, who were the traditional lords of the Hausa states dressed up in democratic masks and modern play-clothes, had decided that the Emir of Kano, the richest and most lordly of all the chiefs of the northern cities, the least inclined to bend the peaked turban towards the new boys in Kaduna, had to go. The financial housekeeping of his administration, corrupt and messy, as were all the provincial administrations, was to provide the chopping block and in Muffett they had chosen a very keen hatchet.

‘Bugaya, son of Tsamia. AD1385-1390
The twelfth Sarki was Bugaya, called Mohammed. He had the same father and mother as Yaji. …after Zamnagawa killed Tsamia, he made ovdertures to his widow, Maganarku, but she said, “I am with child.” So Zamnagawa gave her drugs, without her knowledge, to procure an abortion. In spite of this, however, she gave birth to a living child and gave him the name Bugaya. It was this Sarki who ordered the Maguzawa to leave the rock of Fongui and scatter themselves through the country. He then gave all power into the hands of the Galadima (senior official), and sought repose.”
The Kano Chronicle

There had been a Sarkin Kano for a thousand years. The Emir’s forefathers had multiplied their gold and slaves, their jewels and harems and palaces, from the trade north across the Sahara and south through the rain forests, and from the skills and industry of their people.
In more recent times the Sarkin Kanos had enlarged their fortunes and strengthened their hold over the millions who acknowledged their feudal lordship. Their thorny independence was achieved from the harvests of the wide networks of good fields and waterchannels which produced the many pyramids of groundnuts exported each year, from the largest area of production in the world. They had cultivated, too, the networks of lineage and the channels of intelligence which linked the old cities of West Africa right up to the seaboard of the Mediterranean, through Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, even Egypt.
It was these connections, also, which guided trans-Saharan camel caravans, still persisting in the modern age, winding in and out of the many modern nations of west and northern Africa . Shadowy fleets with shadowy cargoes, they wound through old desert pathways and unmarked tracks in derisory disregard of the official frontiers on maps, mere paper inventions of the colonial powers in the nineteenth century when they sat around European tables and divided Africa up.
The Emir raised his own taxes, kept his own army, held his own courts, appointed his own spokesmen as elected members in the National Assembly, attended each Friday at his own city mosque, the finest in the north, kept his own harem in the dark depths behind the thick mud-walls of his palace: for the new masters of an independent Northern Nigeria, he was much too big a nut to be left uncracked.
What to do, to bring this crusty autarch down from his ancient citadel? An open attack was out of the question. An embargo on his trade? Tricky, difficult to pin down, rich city revenues would be lost. An enquiry into his finances? Much better. The men behind the Regional Government, the Emir’s titular peers, were themselves city potentates who knew that any one of them could be seized for corruption. What was corrupt to modern European law was ancient custom and feudal privilege here in the North. They had practised it in all its subtle and unsubtle forms for centuries, and where more so than in Kano, the most successful in the slave trade, in the traffic in gold, in the trades of the caravans, in the vigour of its modern industries. Corruption? By almost any definition it would be found somewhere in the administration of the City of Kano, if one knew where and how to look. The Emir’s time was up.

‘Kanajeji, Son of Yaji AD 1309-1410
The thirteenth Sarki was Kanajeji. His father’s name was Yaji. His mother’s name was Aunaka. He was a sarki who engaged in many wars. He hardlhy lived in Kano at all, but scoured the country around and conquered the towns….He sent to the Kwararafa and asked why they did not pay him tribute. They gave him two hundred slaves. Then he returned to Kano and kept sending the Kwararafa horses while they continued to send him slaves. Kanajeji was the first Hausa sarki to introduce “Lifidi” and iron helmets and coats of mail for battle….He remained at Betu two years. The inhabitants, unable to till their fields, were at length starved out, and had to give in to him. They gave him a thousand male, and a thousand female slaves, their own children. They also gave him another two thousand slaves. Then peace was made.’
The Kano Chronicle

The small grub of anxiety had not detained me long as I soon had images of agreeable escapes to occupy my fantasies. I had been spending time in the evenings preparing for travels during my end-of-tour leave, due in a few months, and thinking of travelling overland to Egypt. Gumel and Hadejia in the north east had been on my mind for it was in that direction that I would probably go: east to Maiduguri and then south of Lake Chad, through Chad and across Central Africa and southern Sudan to El Obeid, thence to Khartoum and up the Nile to Cairo.
I had recently ridden a survey of a line of proposed new road out along the Hadejia River and watched the local men, naked, dark-brown, intent, silent, floating on large calabashes as though on great balloons in the water. They were throwing nets in graceful arcs to catch the giant Niger perch, giwan ruwa, the elephant of the river. It was intensely hot, and further on I was given water from a brown clay pot by a woman who knelt beside my horse and raised the pot to her shoulder, eyes averted, for me to drink, as she would for any man. Beyond that I had come on to the main Gumel road and my overseer Mohammadu Halilu had met me with the office pickup and taken me to the eastern border. I had thought then of what it would be like to travel on, and on, across Africa.
The man who came to my house after I returned from polo that evening was announced by Audu, our new cook-steward. He was a trader from Khartoum who drove his truck and organised convoys from Gao in French Territory to the north on the Niger River down to Kano and then across the savannah, the orchard bush and deserts to the markets of East Africa, the Nile and the Red Sea coast, as far as Djibouti.
One evening in the Club, talking to a District Officer who had come only the previous month from a posting in the eastern Provinces, I had asked about the condition of the roads in that area. The man from Khartoum was the one to talk to, I was told, he knows the way, trades backwards and forwards every month while the weather holds. What does he carry, I asked. Salt, skins, civet cats from Chad (Europe used them for perfumes), camel hair rugs from Timbuktu, carvings from Upper Volta, bronzes from Benin, pilgrims for Mecca, slaves, they say, for the sheikhs in Zanzibar, some gold, maybe some diamonds, local produce to and fro, what else?-that sort of thing.
The trader had fine features, lightly brown, with a genial smile. He wore a long cream turban raised in an elegant and commanding roll on his brow, and a long cotton gown, the riga, of purest white. This he arranged precisely and solemnly around his knees and buttocks as he prepared to sit cross-legged on my parquet floor. He took his rosary of brown wooden beads from his pocket, laid it on his left knee , and fixed me with a direct look, as though alerting an orchestra. A still space formed around him. He spoke excellent English in clear, short sentences
At the end of each speech he would rise slightly on his haunches and adjust his riga, unwind the scroll of turban from his head in a measured arabesque, and rewind it slowly as if tracing a calligraphic phrase. Yes, he could take me, the rains would be past, though the roads could still be up in places. But any delays would be brief. Are there motor roads all the way? Of course, I and my brothers go back and forth every month except in the rains. Lake Chad, south Sudan, the Congo? Ah, yes, there are some no good men there-quick, sociable, understanding smile-yes, further south there is Congo and Katanga and though Lumumba was killed not long ago, there are still wars in the Provinces and there is this Mobutu that nobody knows about, and there is Tshombe and many no good men.
He was obviously well up on the many troubles of Central Africa and the Congo and the savage wars that had ravaged the region. Who knows? But he, himself, he was a trader, he said with a relaxed smile, and his father, too, had been a trader, yes, Mr McDonell, my father was a famous trader in Khartoum, and a great scholar, too, even the mallams used to ask him for his opinion on the law, and he came many times to Kano and to Gao, but, of course, he is retired now and lives with his wives and children.
Yes, he said, there have been some problems in some places, but they are further south, very much south , but we don’t go near there. Anyway, he and his brothers and his father know many people and many roads. Through all those areas they know many good people they could trust. There would be no trouble, no trouble, and certainly not for the Bature McDonell who was known and liked among all the gravel traders and works contractors and repair shops in the City and the Sabon Gari. And many of his brothers, brothers of him, the man from Khartoum, knew the Bature McDonell, too. And is not Mr McDonell a good friend too of the Sole Commissioner, too? Is he not now a special friend of the Inquiry?
My interview in the darkened office had been only that afternoon. Already the word was out.
Even my wife was impressed by the man from Khartoum and began to think that the whole scheme to go home via Egypt might not be as harebrained as it sounded. So he must have been persuasive because at the time she was especially sensitive to any hint of danger, what with all the police around since the Inquiry had begun. And, further, she had been exposed to Sophie’s dark thoughts more than I had been.
Most afternoons she took the three boys to the Club to play in the swimming pool and there the handsome Algerian woman would hold court in her wobbly Frenglish. And Sophie was convinced that the Inquiry was not just some local squabble among the Northern Nigerian traditional chiefs. No, the tang of high politics was in the air.

‘Mohamma Rimfa, son of Yakubu. AD1463-1499
The twentieth Sarki was Mohamma, son of Yakubu, commonly called Rimfa. His mother’s name was Fasima Berana. He was a good man, just and learned. He can have no equal in might, from the time of the founding of Kano, until it shall end. In his time the Sherifa came to Kano. They were Abdu Rahaman and his people…Abdu Rahaman lived in Kano and established Islam. He brought with him many books. He ordered Rimfa to build a mosque for Friday, and to cut down the sacred tree and build a minaret on the site. And when he had established the Faith of Islam, and learned men had grown numerous in Kano, and all the country round had accepted the Faith, Abdu Karimi returned to Massar…Rimfa was the author of twelve innovations in Kano. He built the Dakin Rimfa. The next year he extended the walls …the next year he entered his house…He established the Kurmi Market…He was the first Sarki who used “Dawakin Zaggi” in the war with Katsina…He appointed Durman to go round the dwellings of the Indabawa and take every first-born virgin for him. He was the first Sarki to have a thousand wives. He began the custom of “Kulle”. He began the “Tara-ta-Kano”. He was the first to have “Kakaki” and “Figinni”, and ostrich-feather sandals…In his time occurred the first war with Katsina. It lasted eleven years, without either side winning. He ruled thirty seven years.’
The Kano Chronicle

Rodney Thomas Geoffrey Blackett was a member of the Rural Water Supplies branch of the Ministry of Works. This group lived rough out in the bush, putting in and maintaining the precious water supplies for remote villages and sometimes deputising on other engineering works. Years before, like many an ‘RWS’, as they were called, he had been in the Army, in the Royal Engineers. During the War he had been in the Middle East, rarely in the action, usually before it or after it had passed, preparing the way for the infantry and armour, or clearing up after them. Long practice in many postings had taught him how to keep his head down and his arse out of trouble. The men of the RWS liked living and working on the fringe, on the edge, on making do, on beating the system, your friend’s system, your enemy’s system, any system. In short, to survive, where survival itself was beating the system.
He came from a lower middle-class family on the outskirts of London, had been to a middling grammar school and at the end of it faced the job queues of the lingering Depression. The War provided an escape. He joined up as a sapper and went into a unit of the Royal Engineers. After the stifle of the suburbs, the open air life, building Bailey bridges, rigging up water supplies, setting long chains of dynamite, it all agreed with him. He had some women in Italy and, after long spells smoking kif in misty hammams in the Middle East, a boy or two, but in the end he had stayed alone and learnt to drink. He didn’t take a social beer, or carouse regularly at the Kano Club, or tank up on alcohol day to day. He went on benders, sharp and savage bouts when the world was dark while the sun shone. He was eaten within by a growling rage, tearing, biting-but instead of lashing out he hit the bottle.
After the War he found he had a touch of the sun and couldn’t bear the English fogs. He worked with a contracting company in Libya for a while, but he didn’t like the constant change from project to project, from team to team. He preferred his own company and he found the RWS. He was among his peers.
At the time I was there, Blackett was one of only two Bature, Europeans, living in the Emirate of Gumel which covered much of the far northeast of Kano Province. Here the orchard bush petered out and the Province’s northern border, which it shared with the French colony of Niger, flattened into the dusty plains of sand and rocky desert of the Sahara which stretched without a bound across Africa until it reached the shores of the Mediterranean.
The other Bature, also an Englishman, was the District Officer for the Emirate, the DO Gumel, as he was known, who was responsible for all the administration and law-keeping in that vast Emirate. By education, training and position he should have known more of what went on in the area than the RWS. In some ways-generally unimportant ways, from the point of view of the local native powers-he did, busily writing down in his report each month to headquarters in Kano all the things the local nabobs let him know. They were happy to keep him chained to his desk in the District Office and he was never let out of sight of at least one servant of the Emir of Gumel, a subordinate of the Emir of Kano.
Blackett, though, knew many things they would rather he didn’t. But they were reluctant to interfere with him, because he was so useful. Besides water supply he was also responsible for all the local roads in Gumel Emirate. He would turn up with his small gang of African tradesmen in out-ot-the-way villages mending pumps, or organising labour to push through new feeder roads or dig new wells up around the border or out towards the rivers where the groundnuts were struggling. In practice, the budget of the Rural Water Supplies Branch was a honeypot of patronage from the Northern Government Ministers to the local Emirs and other chiefs, and they dropped dollops of it around the region as their interests dictated and the villages supplicated.
So, in Gumel, Blackett had pretty much free rein. He lived in a Rest House in a small village near Gumel township, he travelled all over the Emirate and was welcome. He kept the wells full, the roads open, and his mouth shut. He saw some things that he didn’t want to, many things that he didn’t need to, and much that he wasn’t supposed to. He wrote no reports about them, and said not a word. In fact, he scarcely thought of them.
One of the things he did ponder, though, from time to time, as, like ghosts, they appeared and disappeared among the sands and the dusty gloom of a falling night, were the scruffy caravans of camels. There were sometimes one dozen, or two dozen, but lately there had been several occasions when he had seen scores of the grunting, awkward beasts, ambling through the patchy scrub, laden with hessian sacks. Even more surprisingly, those hessian sacks sometimes contained large wooden crates with numbers and letters painted on them. No trace would be left of their passing which would not be blown away in a day or so by the wind.
So had the camels come and gone for centuries, carrying the cargoes of the day. But why now, when there was plenty of modern transport-bitumen roads and large trucks and railway waggons waiting at railheads?
As the lurching rumps faded in the haze, he would wonder what consignments they might carry. Ammunition? Rifles? But he never enquired, certainly not of those silent turbanned figures he would always spot gazing at him from the shade of nearby trees when he turned around to go to his pickup. In the African bush, as Karen Blixen said in “Out of Africa”, you are never alone.

‘Abdulahi, son of Mohamma Rimfa 1499-1509
The twenty-first Sarki was Abdulahi. His mother’s name was Auwa. Her influence was very strong among the rulers of the day. She built a house at Doseyi, hence its name, “Gidan Madaki Auwa”. In his time Ahmedu, who was afterwards Liman of Kano, arrived. Abdulahi conquered (the city of) Katsina. He advanced as far as Katsina itself and encamped on the river near Tsagero. He remained four months at Tsagero and then went to Zukzuk and made war there.’
The Kano Chronicle

The voice on the telephone of Mohammadu Halilu, my Senior Roads Overseer, was bright. It had the light overlay of high frequencies, brief ululations and slight crowdings of the rhythms which signalled, I had come to learn, that he had a special message to impart. But he started off with the ritual string of solicitations and salutations which among the Hausa and the Fulani preface any conversation-thoughtful, caring questions about my family, my health, my recent doings. And then banter about the prayer boards he had given me a few days before, inscribed with propitious suras from the Koran for health, prosperity, many children, for averting dangers in travel. The verses had been brushed in ink with a flowing Arabic-style script in a style said to be exactly the same as that used by the great scholar and leader, Usman dan Fodio himself.
The occasion had been my birthday, and he had had the boards prepared as a mark of special favour by a man famous in Kano as the greatest calligrapher of them all. He lived in the City, Halilu said, and was frequently called upon by the mallams, the holy men, to write scrolls from the Koran. This man, moreover, was both deaf and dumb, and couldn’t read. The gift of great drawing skills was one directly from Allah in recompense for his disabilities, a sign of God’s mercy and magnificence. Halilu said this man was widely known, consequently, as ‘him with the gifts of God’, or simply ‘the gifts of God’-for his unerring sight and perfect command of his fingers’ sinews, and so his ability to produce verisimilitude. Thus the great leader’s script from the nineteenth century lay before me on the prayer boards as though freshly inscribed by the divine reformer,dan Fodio. Whether, when I pressed the point, anyone could be sure that the texts of which my boards held the replicas actually had been written by the holy Fulani scholar wasn’t at all clear. Halilu was quietly, but definitely, pained by my enquiries. But what was sure was that what I held was an exact copy of the originals, known to be very old.
My SRO passed from the prayer boards to what he had to tell me about the problems of a bridge we were constructing, how the road maintenance gangs were performing, whether our target date for re-gravelling the highway would be met, and the rest of his routine report. But he soon came to the main item he was eager to transmit, an eagerness signalled by an especially high ululation. He had seen Blackett, he said. The RWS had been helping one of the road gangs with a bridge near Babura west of Gumel, but in a few days he was going to move his camp back near Maigatari, north of Gumel near the border with the French colony of Niger.
There was an out-of-the-way village near there for which the Madaki, the equivalent of a Mayor in the North’s Native Administration, wanted the RWS to drill a well. Then Halilu paused, and an ululation swung upwards, and he knew that I would listen closely, before he slowly remarked that he had seen a camel caravan that morning, unusual near the main road, a large caravan, a very large caravan. The high frequencies trilled more insistently. Yesterday afternoon, he said, the Madaki and Alhaji Ahmadu Gumel had sat talking all afternoon in the Emir of Gumel’s peacock garden. Into the dusk they had stayed, and several times messengers had come to them with messages which had been read, scribbled upon, returned, and they had gone on talking. Halilu’s phone call was ending, and we turned to the chant of goodbyes which brought it to a close.

‘Mohamma Kisoki 1509-1565
The twenty-second Sarki was Mohamma Kisoki. He was the son of Abdulahi and Lamis, who built a house at Bani-Buki and established a market there, and was the mother of Dabkare Dan Iya. Kisoki was an energetic sarki, warlike and masterful. He ruled over all Hausaland, east and west, and south and north. He waged war on Mirnin N’guru because of Agaidam. When he entered the town Sarkin Kano took his seat beneath the ‘kuka’ tree…and assembling the inhabitants of the town at the Kofan Bai reduced them to terrified submission. He gave orders that no men were to be made prisoners, but that only clothes and horses were to be taken…In Kisoki’s time Saite, Tamma, Buduru, and Koda came to Kano. Kisoki ruled the town with his mother Iya Lamis and his grandmother Madaki Auwa, and Guli the brother of Madaki Auwa. Guli was much respected by the Sarki; he came to have power over the whole country. This is the reason every councillor is called Na-Guli.’
The Kano Chronicle

The Dan Iya of Kano was a scion of one of the longest lineages of the North. His family traced back to the heroes of the 1819 jihad. He grew up surrounded by the symbols and realities of honour, affluence and pomp. As a boy he had been sent under the care of the Emir’s legal adviser, the father of my overseer, Mohammadu Halilu, no less, to the great Islamic school of Timbuktu. This was a centre of fame and respect stretching back many centuries to the Moslem occupation of Spain when it had been a link with the Moorish world and the great European universities.
At that time he was a tall handsome man, wearing pitch black sunglasses with golden rims, and a white turban of finest muslin. As a boy he had been kept away from English or other European forms of modern education, and was given formal Islamic instruction. He had not even learnt the English language in school, and employed aides to translate for him, but now he spoke it fluently enough, with a heavy accent. Grown-up, he had done a series of jobs for the Emir, in and around Kano, went on errands to the Emir of Katsina, a powerful potentate and rival of Kano, stayed some time at Birnin Kudu in the southeast where he could keep an eye on his father’s not always reliable underlingss in the district, and on the road to the east.
For several years he had done the old man’s bidding down in Lagos for the negotiations over Nigerian Independence. And then as a reward for all of this, and as the safest of safe hands, Sarkin Kano had had him made Chairman of the Regional Marketing Board. Through this institution streamed the rivers of cash which flowed from the vast international trade in groundnuts, in which Kano Province was so prolific. It was the juiciest and ripest of plums.
All the policy and administrative work, of course, was done by white civil servants, headed by Graham Edwards, the Board’s chief executive whom he saw often, signing papers, discussing briefing notes, being steered to halting exchanges with appropriate companions at formal cocktail parties. But even Edwards, and certainly few others, knew little of his other activities.
One of those activities, it was rumoured, not least by Sophie at the Club,was that he had underlings scour the city for women and girls. There were rumours that daily he used two of them before lunch in the special room he had had installed below his office in the Marketing Board’s building. And many others at night when, again it was rumoured, he smoked hashish and practised sadisms, indulging violent tastes in his own palace of thick mud walls not far from the Emir’s. But of what went on there, and to what extremes, noone could be sure.

‘Abubakr Kado, son of Rimfa 1565-1573
The twenty -fifth Sarki was Abubakr Kado, son of Rimfa and full brother of Abdulahi. His mother’s name was Auwa. In his time the men of Katsina worsted the men of Kano until they came to the very gates of Kano…the men of Kano went out to fight, but they were beaten and scattered, and had to take refuge in the town. Devastation went on, and the country was denuded of people. The only place where people were found was in walled towns and rocks…Abubakr Kado did nothing but religious offices. He disdained the duties of Sarki. He and all his chiefs spent their time in prayer. In his time eunuchs and mallams became very numerous…Tamma was the greatest of them. When they first came they lived in Katsina land…Afterwards they moved to Kano and settled at Godia. The town was called Godia after a certain woman, a harlot. She and the Sarki reigned jointly over the town. The Sarkin Godia said to Tamma, “Settle at Godia”. So Tamma settled at Godia and married Godia…Abubakr was the Sarki who made the princes learn the Koran…’
The Kano Chronicle

The groundnut trade of Gumel, and especially that from across the border, was largely in the hands of Alhaji Ahmadu Gumel, whom we have already met, in Halilu’s telephone call, talking with the Madaki of Gumel in the Emir of Gumel’s peacock garden. He was one of the most influential merchants of Kano. He had been born in Gumel Emirate, the son of one of the later wives of a minor nobleman, but had lived for many years in Kano.
At first he had busied himself only with the Gumel trade, and especially in groundnuts. His influence there had been useful to the Emir of Kano and, in the early days of the Independence movement, to the Region’s political leaders. Through this, and because of substantial payments to Party funds and to the expenses of several important politicians with whom he developed the sort of client/patron relations which were common in the North, he had been able to extend his business widely in the Province. He had also spread his agents and his stores across the border into French territory and through the long trails north over the Sahara to Zinder and Agadez and Tamanrasset in Algeria.
But Gumel was still his base. The trade there, the contraband crops and other cargoes moving across the border, the alliance with the Emir of Gumel and the local nobles, the political support in the rather independent and very fortunately located Emirate were all essential to him, and through him to the Emir of Kano.
His partner in the conversation, the Madaki of Gumel, was, in effect, the chief minister and administrator of the Emirate. He was also a member of the National Assembly in Lagos. He came from a family which had been slaves of the Emir’s family for centuries, in that long tradition in which the servitor was in a relation similar to that of feudal vassal in medieval Europe.
His position, at the present time, was delicate. As one of the Regional members of the National Assembly in the South he possessed wide influence. But he was a pawn of the Premier, the leader of the Northern Government which had brought the Inquiry into the Emir of Kano’s financial doings. Both he and the Emir of Gumel were heavily beholden to Kano by tradition, blood and law. Sarkin Kano was, as his ancestors had been, the acknowledged suzerain of Gumel, bound to him by mutual ties of feudal relations among the Moslem states, large and small, of Northern Nigeria. So Muffett’s inquiry was a direct threat, for who was to say what the burly Englishman would discover once he started snooping around.
The late afternoon sun lit the haze hanging in the air. The two men sat in verandah chairs with canvas seats, sheltered from the sun’s slanting rays by several lines of dark green citrus trees. More citrus, and tall palms, enclosed the garden in a straggly barricade. In a corner was a well used from time to time by one of the women from the Emir’s compound as she watered the few beds of hardy red geraniums and bright green vegetables. Along one edge of the garden grew tall corn, and the mud wall of the Emir’s palace marked the northern boundary. Under the trees and along the paths peacocks promenaded, a cock and two hens. They would stand for minutes, quietly pecking at the spiky desert grass, and then the cock would start off again on a grand parade, slowly, ritually, head advancing, withdrawing, colours shimmering in the splendid fan.
The two men talked through the afternoon. Occasionally they would stop, as if at an end, and gaze bemused at the peacock’s processional, at the measured step and the slow quiver of the fan, envying perhaps its easy exercise of sovereignty. Beads of their rosaries dripped through their fingers. Turbans were unrolled and rewound, feet slipped in and out of open sandals, toes wiggled in the dusty sand. After the silences, more talk, slow, spare. Sometimes they would gaze, wordlessly, to the north, to where the border ran invisibly through the scrub and across the dunes. Then they would start again, quietly, by turns, nodding in unison as they went, as though setting out a route upon a map.

‘Mohamma Shashere, son of Yakufu, 1573-1582
The twenty-sixth Sarki was Mohamma Shashere…His mother’s name was Fasuma. He was unmatched for generosity among the Sarkis. He was the first to give a eunuch the title of Wombai…He determined on an expedition against Katsina. He said to the Alkali Mohamma, the son of Tanko, the son of Jibril, the son of Mugumi:”Find me an Alkali to take with me to war with Katsina. When I go to war, I shall not return alive unless I beat the Katsinawa.” The Alkali gave him his pupil Musa, whose mother’s name was Gero. The Sarki made Musa Alkali. Now when he came to Katsina, the men of Katsina came out to fight. The armies met at Kankia and fought there. The Katsinawa won because they were superior in numbers. The Kanawa ran away-deserting their Sarki-with the exceptions of San Turaki Mainya Narai, San Turaki Kuka Zuga and Dan Dumpki …these returned home together with their Sarki and entered Kano with him. The Sarki was very grieved. His men said to him, “Lay aside your grief, next year we will defeat the Katsinawa, if Allah wills.”’
The Kano Chronicle

For three weeks after my interview with the Sole Commissioner I entertained in my small office a long line of Emirate officials, politicians from the national and regional parliaments, contractors, Ministry of Works supervisors, bank clerks, truck drivers. I called in people from the Sabon Gari and the City whom I thought, as it turned out in vain, might have an inkling of what had been afoot.
For something, a lot, certainly had been afoot. I had asked Mohammadu Halilu to help me prepare schedultes of all the contracts for recent years: miles of road resurfaced, lengths of kerb and guttering laid, culverts and bridges constructed, cubic yards of gravel dumped, timber delivered, sacks of cement used. All the lists were checked against the work on the ground, rechecked, cross-checked.
Many more contracts had been written than had been delivered. The scams ran into millions of pounds. But all the documents were in perfect order. All had the right signatures, the appropriate disclaimers, the signatories were a very few senior officers, both Bature and Nigerian, who upon examination were beyond reproach. Yet the signatures, and any written amendments, were all perfect. Perfect forgeries. Where was the forger?
I had the tale from Mohammad Musa. During the third week after I had been interviewed by David Muffett the young Nigerian officer and I met at the Provincial office and we went off to a nearby bar to swap notes. I pulled at a beer while he sipped an orange Fanta. Like me, he had searched for a break in the chain. Some of his suspects were recalled several times, questions repeated, materials sifted, new checks made: brick walls. Brick walls of ignorance, fear, impregnable alibis, silence.
At last, he got the clue, from a lowly headman in the Emirate’s Works Office, and it came from an act of kindness. Musa had heard some time previously that this man, of good reputation, and whom we had no reason to suspect, was the father of a nubile young woman. Halila was her name, and she was one of those abducted by the Dan Iya’s thugs. She was later left broken and bleeding back on her father’s doorstep.
As part of a normal line of questioning Musa had told the father that we suspected that the Dan Iya and others were involved in the frauds, and asked him if he knew anything: but to no avail. Nothing could budge him. As the headman was leaving yet another fruitless interrogation, which he had endured with courtesy, restraint and fear, he and Musa fashioned the exchange of courtesies which marked a departure and, as part of it, Musa asked him, almost without thinking, “How is Halila now?”
The mood of submission shifted, the stress of the long interview brimmed, the fear denied, the anger suppressed. He looked at Musa sharply. “She has died. You knew about Halila?” He went once more to the door and, as he passed through it, turned back and said, “Allah be praised-you must see the gifts of God.”
I was puzzled but it was clear at once to Musa. The calligrapher, and his nickname, were very well known in the City. Like many others he had a day job. He worked as a clerk in the Native Affairs Administration but no-one had thought to question a deaf mute who could neither read or write. But, of course, he could copy. This was his gift from God.
Musa went to the dusty wooden building with narrow verandahs, peeling paint and bulging manila files in red-taped bundles standing high on pine tables where this man worked by day. No matter what the main occupation by which they earned their livelihood many people tried to find a ‘respectable’ job, one which sounded worthy to the ears of Batures and other powerful persons. ‘Part-time calligraphic artist’, even if very famous, was not such a title, and he was on the books of the Works Office as a clerk, a much more acceptable address. Musa gave him some hand written notes and indicated to him to copy it, a quite usual chore in those days without photo-copiers. He took the paper, inspected it intently for some time, and commenced to write. When he had finished he handed it back to the goggle-eyed Musa. The copy was an indistinguishable facsimile of the original.

‘Mohamma Zaki, son of Kisoki 1582-1618
The twenty-seventh Sarki was Mohamma Zaki…The name of his mother was Hausatu, the daughter of Tamma. When Mohamma became Sarki, Tamma came to live at Kano together with his men, the Kartukawa… The Sarki’s men kept saying to him,” Sarkin Kano, if you leave the Katsinawa alone, they will become masters of all Kano and you will have nothing to rule but a little”. The Sarki said, “I will conquer the Katsinawa if Allah wills.” At this time the Sarkin Kwararafawa came to attack Kano. The people of Kano left the city and went to Daura, with the result that the Kwararafawa ate up the whole country and Kano became very weak. The men of Katsina kept on harrying Kano. If it had not been for the sake of the mallams in Kano, they would have entered and destroyed the city. There was a great famine which lasted eleven years…’
The Kano Chronicle

The Dan Iya was gone. Noone knew how he had gone or to where. Disappeared one night shortly after the discovery of the gifts of God. It was kept quiet for awhile but before long it came out. There was much consternation in the Club. There were many theories but only Sophie knew for sure.
She had been quiet lately, much quieter than usual. There were rumours she was having it off with Barratt, the new executive at Barclays Bank DCO. He had turned up recently, riding his camel all the way on transfer from Kaduna, the Regional capital. Tall, fair, good-looking in the English way, he would tie up his camel at the Club where others would park their cars, and, dressed in his tuxedo, would walk confidently in. But whatever about all the charms of that, a good mystery was too much for Sophie.
As usual she was in no doubt. She had been speaking to a friend of hers, she told me one evening as we were hanging out the decorations for the following Saturday’s South Seas night at the Club. This friend was a French businessman who came and went and had, Sophie said, good reason for maintaining connections on both sides in Algeria. He had seen the Dan Iya in Cairo, in a restaurant which the FLN were known to use, and he had been with-Boumédiène. And that was all.
Noone in the Administration believed it-”Sophie’s fumes have gone to her head, we all know that”, the PAO had tartly said, with pitying shakes of his head, when I passed on the piece of gossip: Sophie and her husband were rumoured to have brought with them strange practices and misty potions from the souks of the French-held north and the settlements of the Ouled-Nail. That was all we ever heard.

‘Mohamma Nazaki, son of Zaki 1618-1623
The twenty-eighth Sarki was Mohamma Nazaki. His mother’s name was Kursu. When he became Sarki he sent messengers to make peace with Katsina. Sarkin Katsina refused his terms and invaded Kano. The Kanawa came out and a battle took place in which the Kanawa defeated the Katsinawa….Next year the Sarkin Kano went to Kalam. He left the Wombai Giwa behind at Kano because he was sick. When the Wombai recovered he said,”What can I do to please the Sarki?” His men said,“Add to the city.” He said, “Very well.” So he built a wall from the Kofan Dogo to the Kofan Gadonkaia, and from the Kofan Dakawuyia to the Kofan Kabuga, and to the Kofan Kansakali. He spent an enormous amount of money on this improvement. Every morning he brought a thousand calabashes of food and fifty oxen for the workmen till the work was finished. Every man in Kano went to work…He slaughtered three hundred cows at the Kofan Kansakali and gave the mallams many presents. When the Sarkin Kano returned from war, the Wombai gave him a hundred riding horses. Each horse had a mail coat. The Sarki was very pleased. He said, “What shall I do for this man, to make his heart glad?” His men said, “Give him a town.” So the Sarki gave him Karayi. Hence the song, “Elephant Lord of of the town, Abdullah foe of the bull hippopotamus, whose chains for taking captive women are hoes and axes.”
The Kano Chronicle

I had finished the draft of my report and it was with Celestine, my Ibo typist. It was just over four weeks since that briefing with the Sole Commissioner, a Monday, always a busy day, and there was a rush on to get the report finished in time to hand it to the great man that afternoon.
The phone burred. It was Halilu. There had been an accident in Gumel Emirate. Blackett had blown himself up on Sunday while down at the well site at the village near the border to which he had moved his camp. “It must have been an accident”, the overseer said.”I saw him last week and he was very cheerful”.
Two of the Madaki’s men had been in the village and when they had got to him there was just a hole in the ground where the drill rig had been. He was on the ground. His hands and his mind had gone. It was hours to the nearest hospital and he bled to death on the way. They said he had been drinking hard that weekend. Halilu was fond of Blackett, known him for years, but he, being a good Moslem and strict teetotaller, was mystified how the Army man, the old sapper, always careful of his tools, could have brought himself to such a pass. “I am very sad, Mr McDonell, this Bature was a good man, he was my friend”.
They didn’t hold a wake at the Club, but the next Saturday night the DO Gumel, who had come to town for the funeral, got up after dinner and said what a good officer of the Northern Service Blackett had been and what a good war he’d had, and how much the colony owed to men like him, with a quick double-take, sorry, it’s now Independence, and then gave a toast to the dead man. And everybody stood and drank to the lonely figure few had even known. “A great RWS”, they said. It was a night for Red Sea rig, and all the men looked very well in their monkey-suits, black ties and red cummerbunds, with the women all in long dresses and pearls and jewellery. “He would have liked that “, Bob the Bull murmured, remembering his days also in the Army and the RWS. “If he’d been here, he would have thought it looked just like his Regimental Mess.” Everybody said what a terrible accident it had been.
Except Sophie. She had been sceptical from the beginning, as soon as she heard the news and the talk of an accident. It was a plot.
“Zis ingénieur des eaux, zis guerilla of the RWS, ‘e was an expert in the maquis, oui? Zis, ‘ow you say, bushman, zis ingénieur, ‘ow ‘e ‘ave zis accident”, she asked, “’e was lighting ‘is cigarette with ze dynamite stick?” But even Sophie thought the little ceremony at the Club was sympathique.

Kutumbi, son of Mohamma Nazaki 1623-1548
The twenty-ninth Sarki was Kutumbi, the son of Mohamma Nazaki, otherwise called Mohamma Alwali. His mother’s name was Dada. He was a great Sarki. He had a friend whose name was Kalina Atuman, to whom he entrusted great power. No one would believe the extent of this power except one who saw it. He ruled over town and country of Kano until his power equalled that of the Sarki, while the Sarki was like his Wazir (prime minister). This Kalina Atuman was in power twelve years and then he died…Kutumbi was the father of Bako. No prince could compare with him. In everything, in doing good, in doing ill, in courage, anger, generosity he was like a Sarki, even while he was only a prince. He had six hundred horses and ninety mailed horsemen. He went to Kurmin Dan Ranko to war and took much spoil…When he returned to Kano he was given the title of Jurumai for this exploit. Afterwards he pray to die and died, for f ear of civil war after his father’s death….The next year Kutumbi went to war with Katsina. He was victorious and took much spoil. He camped at Dugazawa for nine months, during which time no one could venture out of Katsina. From this siege came the song:”Alwali shutter of the great gate, Kimbirmi, shutter of the great gate”…He was the first Sarki of Kano who collected the Jizia from the Fulani…He collected a hundred cows from the Jafunawa, the chief clan of Fulani, seventy from the Baawa, sixty from Dindi Maji, fifty from the Danneji, and others too numerous to mention….Whenever Kutumbi went to war or to Salla, he was followed by a hundred spare horses. Forty drums were in front of him, and twenty five trumpets, and fifty kettle-drums. He was the first Sarki to create a ‘Berde kererria’. He was always followed by a hundred eunuchs who were handsomely dressed and had gold and silver ornaments…As regards Sarkin Kano some people say he was killed in Katsina, others say that he died in Kano. The latter is the better account…..
The Kano Chronicle

Sallah, the festival held at Id el Fitr, the commemoration of the birth of the Prophet at the end of Ramadan, fell some months after the Inquiry began, after the eruption of the police onto the streets, the impeachment of the Emir, and all the dramas that had followed.
I had been to the great day the year before. It was the largest event and the most joyful occasion in the Kano calendar. On the flat ground outside Kofar Nassarawa used for military parades and grand displays hundreds of horsemen had disposed themselves in groups according to their leaders: the nobles holding the named titles of Kano-Galadima, Madaki, Waziri, and others; the rural principalities beholden to the Emir of Kano as their leige lord, such as Kazaure, Gumel, Hadejia; the traditional rulers of important towns and groups of villages; the aristocratic families and their retainers.
Thousands of people, brightly dressed and jubilant, crowded around the City walls, on roofs of buildings, on vehicles, or stood in dancing lines edging this large space where the Sallah procession was traditionally held. Surrounded by nobles and officials, at the far end on a dais, wearing the ostrich feather shoes, sat the Emir, in regal vestments and the distinctive white muslin turban with the rabbit ear peaks of the Sanusi family.
The procession was led by the Emir’s guard brandishing muskets, in royal scarlet and green livery, with the shantu, the trumpeters, and the kuge, the horn blowers, blasting boisterously. The kakali, the special silver horns which had announced the Emir since Rimfa’s day, came next and then the dokin zage, the Emir’s led horse. The bowmen entered, and the horsemen in chain mail, with mounts agleam in caparisons of green, yellow, brown and red leathers, bridles studded with silver and precious stones, silver bells attached to halters and breastplates, saddles richly embossed. The nobles and leaders wore silks and velvets, muslins, and cottons in vivid colours., scrolled embroideries of white and silver, gold and scarlet, elegant capes, jewelled sandals. Finally, shouting and surging, arrived the guards on foot. Tumultuous sounds-the shantu, the kuge, the kakali, the smaller horns and trumpets, the large drums carried by horses, the kettle drummers marching in file, songs and cries, high spirits, the hilarity of thousands.
At the end, after, it seemed, the cavalcade had ended, and the tension was ebbing away, there was a breathtaking display, the high point of the afternoon, the thrilling final act. Far away, perhaps about a mile distant, groups of horsemen in full regalia appeared. With shouts that resounded even from such a distance, they set out at full gallop across the open space towards the Emir’s throne firing muskets, waving spears and yelling war cries. And when each group at thundering pace drew level with their lord they reined back their horses, reared them onto back legs so that the riders stood in their saddles, and with ululating shouts punched their right arms into the air in triumphant salute.
This year, though, there had been rumours that Sallah wouldn’t be held at all. But in the end it was-the powers must have decided that not to have it would be too big an insult to the Kano people themselves. The Emir didn’t appear. The procession was thin, but all the main groups were there. No shouting, no drums, no trumpets, no riveting final salute. Silence, total silence, except for the tinkle of silver bells on the bridles as the horses slowly paced the length of the grounds, and the chink of harness. Many of the rural dignitaries didn’t come: each just sent his horse, fully decked out like the previous year, but with its saddle reversed, and one after another the riderless mounts were led past the Emir’s vacant throne, their hooves sloughing sadly in the sand.
The end of my contract came up not long afterwards. I left Kano, though I didn’t go east through the Sudan to Khartoum and the Nile. That idea had always been a bit of a pipe-dream. Just as well, probably-with wars and unrest along the way that road was no longer safe. Instead we flew home and before long Kano and the North all seemed far, far away.
I didn’t catch up with what happened for months until a former Senior DO, who’d taken the golden handshake and was now looking for a life in Australia after the colonies, came to Sydney and we got together. Muffett’s report wasn’t published. But they’d sacked the Emir and exiled him to Azare, east past the Kano Province border in Bauchi Province. He was replaced by a relative from another branch of the family, but the newcomer died after only three months on the throne.

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