Shekarau: Speaking The Language Of The People

Governor Ibrahim Shekarau of kano State

It may sound strange but is real when the newly re-elected governor of Kano State Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau had to address the mammoth crowd during his inauguration in the local language, Hausa, instead of the lingua franca, English. While other languages and their cultural values are relegated to the background, the Kano gathering witnessed colorful cultural display and traditional effigies that reinforce those values they so much cherished.

The popular Abacha Stadium witnessed a motley crowd of the old, women and children from different ethnic backgrounds chanting praises in Hausa language and in fact almost all the programmes and proceedings were in Hausa. The chaotic environment due to the unprecedented gathering made the service of ambulances inevitable in reviving and evacuating the exhausted persons to the nearest hospitals. They endured the scorching sun in honour of the first reelected governor of Kano State who had provided their want through job creation, regular payment of salary, pension, scholarship, provision of health facilities, free school meal, refreshment during religious festivities and provision of other social amenities.

The politicking and electioneering were not contentious and acrimonious but not devoid of some melodrama. Kano people like most northern states, are very proud of their local languages so that during the political campaigns, even in areas of predominant non-indigenes like Sabon Gari and Unguwa Uku, campaigners and supporters of most of the political parties spoke Hausa widely. The campaign kits and publicity materials were mostly in the local language too. In fact there was this young Igbo man, in didactic prose who chanted some local proverbs in very fluent Hausa to the admiration of local people.

It should be noted that the Igbos, Yorubas and other ethnic groups who have successfully assimilated into the societal life of the city, have some of their members appointed into Mallam Shekarau’s cabinet. It is a cabinet where Hausa, in addition to English, is officially encouraged as language of communication likewise it is permissible on the floor of the State House of Assembly. Notwithstanding, their passion for their language, state has a record of highly educated and talented indigenes that the nation can boast of; the likes of late political sage Mallam Aminu Kano and erudite orator of international repute Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule just to mention but a few.

The election pattern has always been dynamic in Kano where electorates have consistently demonstrated uniqueness on the choice of their leaders. They know how to chop free money from politicians but vote purely on their convictions. They have this radical and progressive ideology as the capital of Talakawa (masses) politics promoted by late Aminu Kano of blessed memory. Money doesn’t influence electoral victory in the state, once one speaks their language, respects their culture and convinces them with sincerity of purpose. All the past elected governors and Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau deployed those strategies. The governors were the charismatic Abubakar Rimi in 1979, the maverick Sabo Bakin Zuwo in 1983 who was alleged to be unlettered by the press, Kabiru Gaya in 1992 who was never in contention but sprung surprises to win gubernatorial seat in 1992, the young politician Dr. Musa Kwankwaso in 1999 and lastly poor Mallam Shekarau’s emergence in 2003 without spending a penny from his pocket.
To retain the office or break the jinx over the second term, ardent supporters and fanatical opposition to the aspiration of Mallam Shekarau were engaged in fierce battle of wit, songs, parables, comedies, poetry and folklores rendered in Hausa language.

Though some messages can be derogatory against the opponents they were more of comic relief. They also pass coded messages to describe unfolding events. For instance when Federal government changed the resident electoral commissioner and the police boss in the state, just a week to the election, the catchy word is an kau da kai… kafa ke tafiya (literarily meaning they touch the head but it’s the leg that works) because field electoral officers and divisional police officers were not affected. When a popular Islamic cleric, Sheik Adam Jaafaar was also assassinated that week, the traditional rulers, religious leaders and government officials rose to the task. They simultaneously went round to pass a single message Ba’a amfani damu don kazamar buri (we can’t be used for evil game). That was to douse the impression that the people of the state are fanatical.

The elections in the state were peaceful not even on the day imported thugs were seen in some places like Giginyu Ward of Mallam Shekarau where yandabas (Kano version of areaboys) had a field day ranting, Chanji dole, (change of the administration is a must) against that of the youths of the area chanting Babu Chanji sai tazarce (no change, only continuity). But the elders kept their cool with munsan nagida ba’a yaudararmu (we know our own nobody can fool us).

The message I am trying to pass here is that while we accept foreign language as the main official language, we can develop strategies to make our local languages very popular. Today while other Nigerian languages are heading for extinction, the Hausas are very proud of their language that their educated emirs only speak it in their domains and even on visits by highly important dignitaries. Emir Ado Bayero of Kano, for instance, spoke Hausa to the Queen of England and President of United State of America on their separate visits to his palace.

As they proudly promote their language through interaction and communication, today Hausa services are provided in foreign broadcast stations like British Broadcasting Corporation, Deuchwelle of Germany, Voice of America, China Radio International, RFA of France, Egypt Radio amongst others. That is the reason why an illiterate Hausa listener addicted to those foreign broadcast stations can easily disappoint students of international relations in a debate/quiz on global politics. Today at Bayero University Kano where Hausa language is studied to Phd level people from outside the country, troop in to study the language. In fact early scholars in Hausa language were/are Britons and so far there are many foreign professors in Hausa language and culture than any other indigenous languages in West Africa.

So what happen to other vernaculars in Nigeria? They simply have lackadaisical attitudes to their dialects. Some of their elites detest speaking their language in public and scornfully respond to their people who speak to them in their native language. They view those who engage them in the local language as cheats and too local for their liking. I think the Ohaneze, the Afenifere, the Ijaw and other ethnic group should work towards promoting their languages like the Hausa and Swahili people in Africa.
It is a welcome development that a renowned ifa scholar and former Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Prof. Wande Abimbola recently raised alarm over the relegation of some Nigerian languages and their cultural values. At a lecture organized by the Olaniwun and Adunola Foundation for the promotion of Yoruba languages, the scholars and traditional rulers at the event criticized the elite for promoting English and western values at the expense of our local languages. They noted that unless concrete steps were taken to reverse the trend, Yoruba, Igbo and other local languages might become extinct. They noted that is a pity that our children are being brought up with English language, English songs and related literature.

They are right, but I think they can take the cue from the Hausa elites and ordinary people who start their day with Ina Kwana, instead of the ‘good morning’ and akwana lafiya instead of the ‘goodnight’ in their daily communication routine.

Back to Malam Ibrahim Shekarau. Since it is obvious that, in the first tenure, he has squarely addressed the WANTS of his people through his popular and welfarist programmes, he should ensure that the breaking of the jinx on his second tenure is to address other NEEDS through capital development, investment and industrialization in line with speaking the economic language for the people. It worth the sacrifice of all.

This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Leadership June 11, New Nigerian June 13, Vanguard June 14, Weekly Trust June 16, Sunday Tribune June 17 And Daily Sun July 12, 2007

About the author


Yushau A. Shuaib is an award winning public relation professional. He is popularly called Idiagbon during his university days, He has distinguished himself with several credible awards in the field of public relations. Notable amongst them are Campus Writer of the year, Alhaji Sabo Mohammed Best Student in Public Relations, Delta State NYSC Merit Award, Automatic Scholarship for the Best Corps Writer, Head of State National NYSC Honours Award, NIPR Public Relations Person of the year in Kano/Jigawa State and the Young Achiever of the year from a Business, among others

1 Comment

  • Actions speak louder than words that was what Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau did when was Governor of Kano State until towards the end of his tenure that he started to speak out in his presidential ambition when speaking eloquent proved that even talking can win you supporters if you started early

Leave a Comment