Nigeria election: Kano's Christian exodus

A coach at the bus station in Sabon Gari in Kano, Nigeria

An exodus from the mainly Christian quarter of Kano, the commercial centre of northern Nigeria, is taking place ahead of elections this weekend, because of fears of violence.

The main bus station in the Sabon Gari suburb is chaotic as thousands of people cram onto coaches heading to the east or south-west of the country.

"Kano is now closing for business because of the fear of the unknown," says the chairman of the bus station.

They are anxious to avoid a repeat of the communal violence that followed the vote in 2011 when those from different ethnic or religious groups were singled out for attack, while many northerners in the south are also heading home.

This year most residents of the mainly Muslim city are supporters of opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner; the people of Sabon Gari are regarded as supporters of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian southerner.

The Igbo community, who make up the majority in the Kano suburb set aside for non-Muslim residents, has already shrunk considerably in the last few years because of an Islamist insurgency in the north-east.

A motorised tricycle passes the wreckage of burnt out busses in Kano, Nigeria The burnt-out carcasses of buses blown up by Boko Haram are visible in Sabon Gari
Inspector Garba Jibrin Fagge at Sabon Gari bus park in Kano, Nigeria Inspector Garba Jibrin Fagge says he witnessed all three bombings at Sabon Gari's bus station
Sabon Gari bus station, Kano, Nigeria Some bus companies now choose to not park in Kano - they drop passengers and leave

Originally from the east of Nigeria, they are an important part of the city's economic success, dominating sectors such as the trade in spare vehicle parts.

"Before, we had up to 50 bus companies working here but due to this insecurity some have decided to withdraw - there are less than 10 now," says Chairman Rufus at the Sabon Gari Motor Park, which has been targeted three times by Boko Haram militants.

He says the same is true in the suburb's market as people have left fearing further attacks.


"Business is not flourishing; many have sold their sheds and gone down to areas in the east to do their business."

But some feel it is not necessarily the fear that has driven traders away, rather the lack of custom.

A church in Kano, Nigeria Sabon Gari has many churches; one was targeted in a bombing last year
A church sign in Kano, Nigeria Many Christian denominations in Sabon Gari have elaborate names
Kano's Central Mosque in Nigeria Kano's Central Mosque also came in for attack at the end of last year

For Odum Onuigbu, who trades in iron and steel and will be staying in Kano to vote, this has been the biggest problem.

"Igbos are hustlers, we go to many states and countries to invest," he says.

"Now businessmen from other countries, like Niger, Chad, Sudan and Cameroon, are no longer coming to Kano, this is why trade is down - because of the insurgency."

Telecoms engineer Ike Adiba says the security situation has also made life more expensive.

"A lot of 'strangers' have left Kano," he says, using the widely used word for people whose origins do not lie in Kano.


Kano city population:

Map showing Kano, Abuja and Lagos
  • It is hard to get official figures - the last census was in 2006, which gave a population of 2.8m
  • It is estimated to be about 5m now
  • Estimates for Sabon Gari also vary wildly - but up to 1m is thought probable

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"What is keeping me in the north is my job and my wife's job. If I'm a businessman I would have left this town," Mr Adiba says, refusing to have his photo taken because of security fears.

Community leaders in Sabon Gari agree that many have left because of Boko Haram, but say other people also come to try to Kano their luck.

'Not religious'

Linus Okoroegbe, a businessman and secretary to the head of Kano's Igbo community, says this is because there are generally "cordial relations" between the majority Hausa community and those in Sabon Gari, where Sharia law does not apply.


Patrick Ayelangbe, Sabon Gari community leader

Dr Patrick Ayelangbe, the leader of Kano's Non-Indigenes Community Leaders Association (Nicola)

Our area is never taken care of and we pay so much tax


Things may have been fractious when the insurgency began and Sabon Gari came under attack, but now all parts of the city have been targeted, including the Central Mosque.

"Now I think everybody has understood that Boko Haram is not religious and it is just as against Hausa Fulani as it is against Igbos or Yorubas," says Dr Patrick Ayelangbe, the leader of Kano's Non-Indigenes Community Leaders Association (Nicola), which represents all the city's residents who originally come from other parts of Nigeria.

He believes the outspoken position of Kano's new Muslim leader, or Emir, Lamido Sanusi, has helped.

"He has come out to call a spade a spade and say: 'Listen these people are bad… they are not preaching the true Islam.' That has been a very beautiful contribution - it has been reassuring."

Peace pacts

Nonetheless he says that the residents of Sabon Gari can feel like second-class citizens as the area pays more tax than the rest of the city, because of its many businesses, but sees little benefit.

Sabon Gari may boast a multitude of churches with elaborate names like the Later Glory Assemblies - The Relevant Church of the Hour and The Covenant Cathedral of the Locust Army International Dwelling in Gethsemane, but many of its buildings are dilapidated.

A man asleep on a cart in Sabon Gari, Kano, Nigeria Sabon Gari has been much quieter than usual, some residents have stayed away since Christmas
A man riding a bicycle past a bar in Sabon Gari in Kano, Nigeria The elections were supposed to be held in February but were delayed by six weeks

The shop fronts and flats flank roads, some with little tarmac left that are full of pot holes and gullies.

"Our area is never taken care of and we pay so much tax… the infrastructure is atrocious," says Dr Ayelangbe, who in the nearly 40 years he has practised at his clinic, has seen the area change from a majority Yoruba to a majority Igbo area.


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"In politics you tend to satisfy those who vote for you… and Sabon Gari being a non-Hausa Fulani environ, they are not too sure where their loyalty is… so invariably Sabon Gari gets nothing," he says.

People who are not from Kano are also not entitled to free education in the state, which also rankles - and Igbo parents with children born in Kano say they struggle to get their offspring "indigene certificates", which would allow them scholarships.

Emmanuel Nwude, who runs a non-governmental organisation promoting Nigerian unity, wants to do away with the term "stranger" and "non-indigene" altogether as he sees this as part of a mindset that fuels divisive relations.

He is hopeful that peace pacts signed this year between rival parties will stop a repeat of any post-poll violence.

A street in Sabon Gari, Kano - Nigeria Most streets in Sabon Gari are not well maintained
A road in Sabon Gari in Kano, Nigeria However there are a couple of well constructed roads in the suburb

The tension in Kano has been eased by the six-week delay to the poll, but Mr Adiba says during election season "people throw away their cordiality".

The Sabon Gari resident says he escaped attack in February from opposition supporters because he took the precaution of carrying a small broom - the symbol of Muhammadu Buhari's All Progressives Congress.

"There is nobody from the east who is going to stay in the north during the elections. Anyone who loves his life would have to leave town."

But like others he will return afterwards: "Kano is a very good place to stay and make your living if we can be assured of security."

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