Looming Environmental Catastrophy: Avoiding future calamities in Kano metropolis, by Muritala Uba Mohammed (PhD)

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Population and land are arguably the most important resources for development. Population is a catalyst for production, particularly in the provision of labour for production, agriculture and servicing. It also extends in the provision of the market for finished products.

Land is the platform for human dwelling and a ground for erecting the edifice for housing, industry, commerce and other uses too numerous to mention.

Recognizing the importance of these resources since antiquity, the struggles and wars between human societies are overwhelming, if not wholly in trying to control them.

In modern times, the level of progress and advancement of any state is measured by its ability to manage the lands and population efficiently, such that they are geared towards its advancement. Thus, the most developed human societies are those that invest so much in building their human resources through education and in managing their land properly so that the environment will not only look captivating and liveable but resilient in case of calamities that may befall.

Kano City is one of the most blessed city’s in the world having a large population and abundant land. Located in the Northcentral Highland, Hausa plain covers the trio of Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states and is the most extensive plain in the country. The City houses nearly six million people which makes it the second-largest city in the country and the most important commercial centre north of River Niger.

The City, since the 15th Century has been an important route for the Trans-Sahara Trade, serving as a port between the relatively wetter Sudan and Guinea savannas and a drier Sahel Savanna. Because of this and other important reasons such as peace, fertile soils that sustainable agriculture and food demand, mild climate and receptive nature of its old inhabitant, the city continue to attract people from far and near places which make its population to not only grow but to accommodate people of all extraction. It is not strange to hear -especially for those in touch with history- that Kano is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in black Africa. Deep into the history of the city and even now, many localities in the inner part of the city are not only bearing the names of location and ethnic nationalities but were also known to historically evolved as a result of the settling of people originated from these areas that were assimilated and integrated into the city cultural landscape. Some of these area localities include Tudun Nufawa (for Nupe), Danadalin Turawa (for Arabs) the Yola (Yolawa), Zangon Bare-bare (for Kanuri People, Riman Auzinawa (for Tuaregs), Alfindiki (for Arabs), Yakasai (originally from Jukun word), Ayagi (for Yoruba) among others.

One good feature of a sustainable city is its commitment to maintaining a good environment through planning and land-use balancing. As explained by some writers such as Frishman, Liman and Adamu and Gambo, Kano is always known to keep aside half or more of its area as green, wetland and open spaces. Kano has attended the ideal ‘garden city’ status three centuries before Howard’s proposal. Since the fifteenth century, Sarakuna Kano had recognised the importance of green and reserves based on Khaldun’s principle of humran and hima, which make them keep a larger part of the city open. These areas serve not only as means of improving the city’s beauty but also as protection to the city’s ecosystem. Some of the functions of these reserved areas include serving as a sink for the collection of the city’s stormwater, maintaining air quality and sound level, soil protection, preserving nature and biodiversity as well as carbon sinking functions. The open areas are also means for ensuring social justice in urban area as it provides playing facility for inner-city children whose parent are largely poor. Also, the city maintains some of its ancient ponds that collect the rain and wastewater to minimize the chances of flood occurrence and ensure recharge of the underlying aquifers which provide the groundwater that remains the most important water source for the public. While Kano City contains many green areas since its pre-colonial time. the colonial government had added to the city’s green and open spaces by making good plantations outside the city walls to serve as a boundary between the new colonial areas and the areas of the natives. Till the of end colonialism and even up to the 1970s, the western part of the city remains largely in its natural setting containing green and forested areas with doted farmlands owned by the urban folk. Towards the end of the colonial period, the then regional government of Northern Nigeria sees the need to plan the city and its region for future development.

This conceptualization resulted in the creation of a twenty years Metropolitan Kano Master Plan in 1962. This master plan which is popularly known as Trevallion was supposed to guide the development of the city, specifying what to be done where including the apportioning of many areas for urban greening and maintaining the existing ones. With the creation of Kano State in 1967, the plan met a serious setback as the city experienced a serious influx beyond what the plan anticipated. The review of the plan after its expiration indicated a serious deviation, distortions and flaws in the capital of the newly created Kano State.

Despite many attempts, including the 1969 establishment of the Metropolitan Planning and Development Authority (KMPA) that metamorphosed into the current Kano Urban Planning Development Authority (KNUPDA), the city remains in a state of poor planning in all its facets of sustainable urban development. It Is important to note, since, the expiration of the Trevallion in 1983, there was no comprehensive planning guide for the development of the City. Although the government always prepare the layout of different housing densities, the development in the city remains largely informal.

In fact, nearly half of the city is informal in nature. Many factors cannot be overruled for this informal development. Primary among the factors is the government’s nonchalant attitude by leaving urban development at the mercy of the private individuals who acquired farmland in the peri-urban, partitioned and sold it to the teaming population with little or no government involvement. These urban land marketers were mainly interested in what to get from the land business. As such, plots are developed in a very rough and haphazard way as their sizes are not only small but irregular in shape; access is is always the last issue to consider less the provision for infrastructure and essential services.

This resulted in very unhealthy development that is lacking in what is considered as the minimum requirement for a liveable settlement. The present disdainful nature of building and life pattern of the most prosperous city in northern part of Nigeria is worrisome and utterly unhealthy not only to the state populace but to any visitor to the state.

Thanks to top bureaucracy in formal land acquisition in the country as significantly contribute in depriving poor and low educated from accessing the right to acquire land. There is also an issue of land speculators as people discovered the land transaction a very lucrative business, many buy plots, not with an intention to develop it, but to make the price get higher and fetch the bigger profit.

It is important to note this systematic exclusion that prompt the people to discover that it is easier to acquire land in a less formal way. This, in the case of Kano, resulted in making nearly half of the city’s landmass informal and more of a shanty settlement.

While it is difficult to exonerate most administrations, the recent ones should be blamed most as they did not the only seat and watch the city’s plan been distorted, rather contribute significantly to its distortion through their deliberate and selfish development.

A case of building on and in front of the ancient city’s wall is just one out of thousands. Since, the return of democracy in 1999, the Kano state government’s have made it habitual to allocate land for commercial development on and in front of the wall. This may not only block the view of the ancient relic but a trigger of disaster because these areas were the main collector of city drainage and during rain, they play a significant role in minimizing the run-off and overland flow.

In addition, they contribute to the provision of groundwater, which is the main source of water in the city as the public supply remain a nightmare. It is therefore not surprising that we are witnessing cases of floods and serious overland flow whenever it rains heavily. Ironically, in dry season drought is now a regular visitor to the most city as the water table keep own depleting due to poor recharge attributed to poorly managed urbanization which is not only blind to see and deaf hear the call of concerned voices.

Although it is legitimate for the state government to search for revenue especially now that the allocation coming from the centre is dwindling, the metropolitan administrator should not turn mad.

One needs to remind the city administrator that “talauci ba hauka ba ne” (to be poor is not insane) to bring them to come back to their senses. The deliberate favouring of one land use over the other is one of sad development in the city. The city handlers are only interested in commercial land uses as such any open, green and water space is now converted into a commercial plot, leading to a skewed and stunted growth. While the open spaces provide help in socialization and harmonic environmental balancing.

Sad to note, the state government did not care to preserve them. The recent conversion of historical Eid ground which is not only a sacred place to a recreation site for the neighbouring communities is one of the most unfortunate development. Thanks to the pressure from many civil societies, academics and other commentators, the city might have lost another valuable treasure, Kano Zoological Garden just the way its lost other green areas like the plantations along Maiduguri Road in the eastern part of the Metropolis.

Rather than maintaining the city ponds and other blue areas, the city government use security as a smokescreen to convert all the green areas and wetlands by the city wall along BUK road to commercial plot. This was done despite all the warnings from concerned specialists and over a hundred academics that signed a partition warning the government of the consequences of its action as the place is the main collector of the city’s drain.

Therefore considering the above, one can infer as to why the floods is becoming a regular visitor in the city. After every heavy rain, the metropolitan road turns into channels connecting running water, carrying waste and other hazardous materials that end up in the public dwelling making the society vulnerable. In fact, like Gwarzo Road and many others including Dorayi area along Jaafar Mahmoud Road, one may wait for an hour or two after it rains to get access to the localities around.

This, unless action are taken and healthy development is embrace, may throw the city into a serious problem.

As the world is facing changing climate trends which triggers many uncertainties and extreme events, sustainable development is seen as a magic wand. The recent floods that heated China and some European countries is just one example of how flood disaster look like in the current period. The level of destruction was high, although these societies have better planning. One cannot imagine what will happen if Kano (Allah forbid) is affected by the same. While sane societies are taking good measures to address this issue through creating adequate waterways, greening the city and planning the environment ours is a reverse where people and government care little about the situation.

Although some three to four years back the state government initiated a Master Plan for the city, the Master Plan is yet to be made a legal document. Even though the government is silent on the issue, I heard from a reliable source that the main reason why the Master Plan has not been released and fully documented for the operation was that the government did not pay the consultants for three years after the work. The state administrators need to be reminded of the word of noble African, Professor Ali Mazrui that the essence of power is to build the nation. The earlier we realize this the better. Let the state commits herself to plan and know that government business is to serve and save society. After all, when the society is destroyed you have no one to govern. People need to be healthy and protected before the state government can generate good revenue.

Muritala Uba Mohammed (PhD) is an Urban geographer lecturer at Bayero University, Kano and can be reached
via murtalamuhammadu@gmail.com

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