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Kano, my beloved Kano (II)

by Isiyaku Ahmed
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Ahmed Yahaya-Joe

This is the continuation of a June 1 2021 post: https://m.facebook.com/story/graphql_permalink/

Once upon a time, not all “Mastahs” were equal in Kano.

I do not possess any empirical proof for the foregoing presumptuous assertion. Rather, my assessment is based on sufficiency of circumstantial evidence. And careful observation.

“Mastah” was a generic term used by those in the lower rungs in the employ of expatriates. I cannot say with certainty if that noun is still being used to date.

Back then, those Union Jack types predominantly lived in Nasarawa before it was renamed GRA as we shall later see. Nasara is an Arabic loan word to Hausa that means Caucasian.

 The British mainly hung out at the Kano Motor Club when the European Club was renamed Kano Club in the late 1940s. In later years they also set up Kano Flying Club in the pavilion of an existing cricket pitch which also featured a rugby team, Kano Elephants.

The less fortunate French found succor at Le Cercle otherwise known as French Club along Airport Road now Sani Abacha Way where the speciality of the maison was “Bistouille” – Black coffee with Cognac.

They even had their Hotel de France on the southern far end of Maganda Road.

Meanwhile, the Italians were tucked away at Club Tropicana along former Manchester Street that eventually became Niger Street. It was in later years upgraded into an expansive hotel called Royal Tropicana. It has now been demolished.

Alongside well heeled Levantines lesser Europeans than the British mostly lived in Bompai. The Lebanese and Syrian underclass were zoned to the outer perimeters of the central business district concentrated around Bello and Post Office roads spilling over to Civic Center and Beirut Road axis.

Likewise, the private sector Asians from India and Pakistan with their public sector compatriots interlaced with the British in Nasarawa.

The Levantine football field next to the Police HQ eventually became Lebanon Club. The common denominator irrespective of the race was and perhaps still is Kano Club. 

Back then the expatriate medical practitioners in private practice were Dr. Copperstone and Dr. Fahmy.

 The attached August 1960 picture of the Kano Lizards polo team is instructive due to an incidence 12 years prior in Lagos.

Seen here before a send-off match from left are Mallam Sani, Rex Raccah (captain), Robert Longmore, and Mervyn Hiskett.

 After the match in Mr. Longmore’s honor, a retiring British colonial official who had first arrived our clime in 1948 variously serving in Gboko, Sokoto, and so on, a dinner party was held.

So, what happened in Lagos that reverberated in Kano indeed all over Nigeria before national independence?

There are two accounts by Justice Kayode Eso CON CFR (1925-2012) in his 1995 memoirs and that of Chief Alfred Rewane (1916-1995) both merged and edited for brevity;

“In 1948, Mr. Ivor Cummings, a distinguished African-Caribbean national and a top official of the Colonial Office in London was scheduled to pay an official visit to Nigeria. Naturally, his first port of call was Lagos, then our capital. The accommodation was reserved for him at the Bristol Hotel, Martin Street, Lagos, then owned and managed by (Greek) expatriates.

Apparently, the hotel authorities thought, from the name Cummings, that he was a white Anglo-Saxon. But they were shocked when he presented himself at the reception to find that he was black. He was refused a room at the hotel on that ground.

We were dumb-founded, angry, outraged, furious, and bitter…..

By the time we finished, the reception, bar, and restaurant were sacked and the white men in the hotel premises and its vicinity had a sorry tale to tell. The whole place was wrecked and left in shambles. Meanwhile, some police officers arrived on the scene but, surprisingly, did not arrest any of us…….

The Governor of Nigeria, Sir Arthur Richards then declared: “With effect from today, there will be no more European hospital, club, or reservation in Nigeria.” Thus, apartheid was abolished in Nigeria.

The European hospital in Lagos (now Military Hospital) and European Club at Ikoyi was renamed Creek Hospital and Ikoyi Club respectively. The European hospital at Warri serving the then Central Provinces of Ondo, Benin, and Warri, was changed to Maple Annex.

The European hospital at Ibadan was changed to Jericho Nursing Home. Areas otherwise known as European Reservation were renamed Government Reserve Areas (GRAs).”

What Justice Eso and Chief Rewane did not add is that Sir Richards also abolished the 440-yard rule of the minimum distance between the residence of any British expatriate with that of a Nigerian. The concept of Boys Quarters was entirely British ironically carried on to date. They could not stand living under the same roof with their colonial subjects. In our neighboring Francophone countries, there is nothing like that due to the French policy of Association and Assimilation.

Polo might be a game of princes but the after-match dinner and party in honour of Roger Longmore could only have taken place at The Central Hotel, a sister hotel to Bristol of Lagos.

The choice of venue for the valedictory gathering must have been deliberate to accommodate the racial diversity of the polo-playing fraternity. Back then, neither Rex Raccah nor Mallam Sani, a Kano Native Authority official would have felt very welcomed at the renamed European Club or Kano Motor Club where Messrs Longmore and Hiskett were members.

Hiskett, ex-British Army was back then the vice-principal of the School for Arabic Studies in Kano and an accomplished Ajami scholar (Hausa written in Arabic script) who would in 1967 translate Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s Hausa novel, Shaihu Umar into English.

His books include Hausa Islamic Verse: Its Sources and Development Prior 1920 (1969) and, The Sword of Truth: The Life and Times of Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio (1973)

Kano’s polo field was the airport and what is now Club Road was Airport Road. With the relocation of the present Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, the current Air Force Base was Airport Hotel.

The present Bukavu Barracks of the Nigerian Army was the first site of St. Louis Girls Secondary School now in Bompai.

The Central Hotel was renovated and expanded to become Central Hotel before it was upgraded and renamed Grand Central Hotel.

That iconic vault sail dome in the main courtyard of the hotel still stands with all its structural engineering elegance and construction finesse courtesy Nasser Abubakar Ahmed. Kudos, sir.

To be continued…..

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