Nigeria: Kano reels after emir attack

The emir’s car seconds before gunshots

"We suddenly saw them running towards the convoy, shooting again and again," says Muhammad Dalatu, remembering the recent attack on one of Nigeria's most revered Muslim leaders, the emir of Kano.

"There were about eight of them. They were not wearing masks and they looked young - between 25 and 30 years old. We got down under the seats of the bus," recalls the journalist who was in the convoy just a few vehicles behind the emir's blue classic car.

Emir Al Haji Ado Bayero survived but his driver and three bodyguards were killed, apparently valiantly shielding him from the gunmen.

"I was very scared and I couldn't sleep for two days because I was wondering what condition the emir was in," says Mr Dalatu.

His comments reflect the high regard many here have for the religious leader.

'Respect declined'

At the emir's offices near the palace in Kano, there are plenty of worried-looking faces.

For many it was unthinkable that gunmen would attack the man seen as the second most important Muslim leader in the country, after the sultan of Sokoto.

"We are shocked. They shot at him from all sides just like hunting animals in the bush," says Abbas Sanusi, the emir's senior counsel.

He says that they have no idea who might have been responsible for the attack.

The words are chosen carefully. Even though many analysts suggest this was the work of the Islamist militant group popularly known as Boko Haram, palace officials do not draw this conclusion.

It may be safer not to mention the Islamist militants at all.

However, there are some in northern Nigeria who were not surprised at the assassination attempt.

"The masses have found out that the emirs and chiefs are now stooges of the political class and this must stop," says a former military governor in north-western Nigeria, Usman Faruk.

Image caption The emir of Kano is revered in Nigeria and seen by many as above politics

He says that the budgets of these rulers are largely paid by politicians - and as a consequence traditional and religious leaders are caught up in politics and have lost their independence.

"He who pays the piper dictates the tunes," says Mr Faruk, who chairs the Northern Development Focus Initiative.

"Their respect has declined and will continue to unless they stick to their own jobs.

"The Muslim and Christian leaders should not rely on goodies given to them."

'Drastic consequences'

In July and August 2012 suicide bombers tried but failed to kill the shehu - or traditional ruler - of the Borno emirate in north-east Nigeria as well as the emir of Fika in Yobe state. Those attacks were widely blamed on Boko Haram.

The majority of Boko Haram's targets have been linked to the government - either police, military or other local officials. So could it be that Boko Haram sees religious and traditional leaders as legitimate targets?

"We do not think the attack happened because of religion or politics," says Mr Sanusi.

"The emir is over 80 years old and has been on the throne for 50 years and you can't say he's been involved in politics," the adviser explained.

The attack has had drastic consequences for tens of thousands of young men, who face losing their means of earning their living.

Because the gunmen are reported to have fled on the back of motorbikes, Kano state has banned such machines, known as "achaba", from being used as taxis.

"One person, one bike" is the rule.

"This is the only job we have. We depend on it to get something to eat and to look after our families," says Muhammad Sani Hassan, chair of the Kano branch of the Commercial Motorcycle Owners and Riders Association of Nigeria.

He says that no members of the association have given lifts to gunmen carrying out attacks.

"The only thing you can blame some of our members for is recklessness on the road," Mr Hassan says.

"By banning us you are now opening another door of criminality," he said, urging the state government to provide alternative jobs or training.

Kano Governor Musa Rabiu Kwankwaso disputes the idea that banning the bikes is only going to deepen poverty and drive recruits into the hands of criminal groups, including Boko Haram.

He says that Kano's government is creating jobs.

"We decided to buy 1,000 taxis, which we are giving to young men on hire purchase," he said.

"There are also 500 buses and we have 250 brand new Toyota Corollas which will be used as luxury taxis."


The fact that all these vehicles are exclusively earmarked for diploma and degree holders says a great deal about the lack of job opportunities in Nigeria.

Image caption Governor Kwankwaso says that the taxi ban will reduce road deaths

Mr Kwankwaso also argues that motorbike taxi riders have been told to register with the local government and that a return to the streets of two-wheeled taxis has not entirely been ruled out if security improves.

But he suggests the high rate of accidents involving these bikes - more than 10,000 in 2012 with 2,000 deaths - means Kano would be better off without them.

For the tens of thousands who are suddenly out of work, the ban is a crisis.

"We are begging. We are borrowing money from people as most of us doing this job spend what we earn each day," says Mr Hassan, who had been riding his taxi for 20 years.

Compared to other parts of Nigeria, the north is severely underdeveloped.

In parts of it as many as 70% of the children do not get any education beyond studying the Koran.

While the Boko Haram name roughly translates as "Western education is forbidden" many experts would argue that education is the key to lifting the area onto a more stable footing.

"The main source of recruitment is people who are illiterate. You give them naira and they will go and kill for you. It's happened here in Kano for 30,000 naira ($190, £120)," says Mr Faruk.

He says that for many years a lack of education has been a major contributor to insecurity in Nigeria.

"If a boy is trained up to secondary school or diploma level even if there's no job in the government, by virtue of the education he has been enlightened and he will find a job for himself," he says.

"If you leave him untrained he is ready fodder for any insecurity in this country. To prevent insecurity we have to go back to school."

It will take at least a generation before any investment in education yields results.

Right now for so many people in northern Nigeria the focus is on short-term survival - how to feed the family and how to stay safe from the guns and bombs.

As one resident of Kano put it: "If the emir of Kano is not safe then who is?"

Around the BBC