The Nigerian economy had lost over $6bn (N1.3 trillion) to the Boko Haram insurgence according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The daily loss of lives is unquantifiable. Two years after the multiple attacks that shook Kano killing over 180 people. ADAM ALQALI, reports on how the insurgency is impacting on the lives of the inhabitants.
Kano’s history is one that is replete with the ancient city’s commercial pre-eminence, traceable to centuries past to the days of the trans-Saharan trade. Even centuries before colonialism, Kano’s business savvy inhabitants were trading with merchants in as far as North Africa and this commercial nerve center maintained trade ties with North African cities of Cairo and Marrakech.
It is a history that speaks volume of the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the people of Kano, and the many migrants from other parts of Nigeria and West and Central Africa who over the years settled in Kano in search of greener pastures. Built in the 12th century – long before cities like Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt gained their names – Kano city walls, a monument of international attraction, is testament to architectural ingenuity of the inhabitants of this ancient city.
With the coming of the British colonialists in early 20th century, Kano’s economic status continued to blossom, and the city continued to play a significant role as a commercial hub of west and even the central Africa. After Nigeria’s independence, Kano became the most industrialised city north of the Niger River – and its sprawling industrial complexes of Sharada, Bompai and Challawa were the envy of other states in the country.
Things began to change from the mid-1990s when a combination of poor economic policies, influx of cheap textiles and other industrial goods from China, and the country’s seemingly insolvable epileptic state of power, led to the closure of almost all the manufacturing industries in the metropolis – which used to be the employers of hundreds of thousands of Kano’s residents – apparently, making the ancient city a shadow of its former self; consequently ending its industrial supremacy in the region.
Prior to January 20, 2012, when the most audacious attacks by the Boko Haram sect, yet, was unleashed on security outfits in Kano including the headquarters of the Zone 1 of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF); the offices of the State Security Services, (SSS) as well as the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Kano, was virtually unaffected by the wave of violence precipitated by the sect.
However, when the crisis hit Kano, it did so in ‘grand style’ such that its devastating consequences effectively crippled economic activities in the city’s major markets and few surviving manufacturing industries – whose customers are drawn from countries as far as Benin, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Mali.
Speaking on the economic fall-out of the insurgency in Kano, Alhaji Liti Kul-Kul, Chairman, Kano State Traders Union (KASTU); the umbrella body of all markets associations in the commercial city, says: “Of course the insurgency has affected business activities in all our markets in Kano. Now that stability is returning to the city, business activities are gradually picking-up, once again. All the same, I want to believe the whole thing has been over-blown in the minds of our customers from within and outside Nigeria – who thought Kano was more or less a war zone.”
“Praise be to God,” adds Alhaji Kul-Kul who doubles as the Chairman of Kano’s popular Kantin Kwari market, arguably, the biggest textile market in West Africa whose daily turn-over is valued at over N1bn, “as commercial activities have almost fully returned to the city and so every Tuesday, here at Kwari market, our customers from different states in the North and South and even outside Nigeria transport out of the city as many as 50 vehicles full of textile materials.”
Also speaking, Tahir Mukhtar, 35, an importer of Chinese-made kitchenware at the famous Sabon Gari market decries the atmosphere of business in Kano today, saying the present state of insecurity in Kano has, no doubt, affected their businesses in immeasurable ways. “If it were before, there is no way I could even have time to speak to you – due to the number of customers trooping into this shop. But you can see that no one has entered to ask for anything since you came,” he tells this correspondent.
“Our last resort,” he adds “is God whom we have been tirelessly telling our predicament and whom we are optimistic will help us.”
The situation at Kano’s Kofar Wambai market famous for the trading of second-hand cloth – imported from Korea, China and America – is not in any way different. Speaking on the precarious atmosphere of doing business in post-January 2012 Kano, Umar Hausawa, 25, a second-hand cloth trader, says “the aftermath of the January attacks on Kano as well as the removal of fuel subsidy, which also happened in the same January, was like a “hell” for us.”
Hausawa adds that their customers from the north-eastern states of Borno and Yobe as well as others from the southern part of the country all stopped coming – for fear of being caught up in the violence. “It was only customers from neighbouring Jigawa State that were coming and those that were selling as many as 100 or even 200 bundles of fairly-used clothes, in a week, could only sell 5 or there about; it was like we should all run away from the market. In fact many of us had to quit the business for other businesses – others eventually lost their capitals,” he complains.
“Now that normalcy has begun to return to Kano, the curfew has been lifted and most of the checkpoints have been removed; customers are no longer afraid of coming to Kano and so business activities have come up once again; though not 100%. We are optimistic that with coming of the cold season, our businesses in Kofar Wambai market will receive a significant boost.”
Counting the economic cost of the insurgency in Kano, Abdulrauf Usman, 48, the Managing Director of Usmaniyya Investments, importers of drugs and cosmetics at the Abubakar Rimi Market describes the situation as “pathetic”. “It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves in such a pathetic situation,” he says. “Customers coming from other states like Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, and even neighbouring Niger Republic are not coming anymore.”
“Prior to the insurgency,” he adds “we were making as much as N200, 000 daily. Today, even with improvement in security, we hardly make more than N50, 000; it is so difficult that many had to relocate to other places like Abuja.”
For foremost Kano textile industrialist, Alhaji Saidu Dattijo Adhama, the situation is “Kano’s share of Nigeria’s insecurity”. “I believe the Boko Haram insurgency was not the beginning of the crippling of Kano’s economy. However, it had taught us a lesson as people are now conscious of Kano’s decline, economically,” says Alhaji Adhama, Chairman, Adhama Textile and Garments Limited.
“Kano’s economy has been on the decline since about 15 years ago,” he adds “due to several factors chief among them lack of electricity – which has today forced about 400 industries into closure. Those of us that are still managing to operate are doing so not at full capacity and at high cost!”
Adhama also linked Kano’s decline economically to the invasion of the city’s markets by the Chinese as well the poor condition of the 83 –year-old Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) which is the oldest in West Africa, and which he said, used to be second only to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) in Nigeria.
In the last few months, the city of Kano has recorded very few incidences of shootings and bombings, which have led to the removal of many of the stop- and-search Joint Task Force (JTF) checkpoints spread across the metropolis. These has, no doubt, led to a great boost in commercial activities in the metropolis as commercial visitors from other parts of Nigeria and even beyond are, once again, continually trooping into the city.
Commenting on the relative peace Kano has enjoyed in the last few months, Alhaji Adhama (who is also the convener of the newly-formed Kano Economic Think-tank, whose vision is to resuscitate Kano’s ailing economy), says “Of course, Kano has achieved relative peace and stability in the last few months and most of the numerous JTF check-points that were hindering the free flow of people and goods in the metropolis are gone. For this, we must commend the efforts of the Kano state government, the military, the police as well as the SSS.”
The consequences of the January 2012 sporadic attacks on Kano’s business environment have continued to attract the attention of scholars, civil society organisations as well as the media. For which, in the aftermath of the attack, the Kano-based Centre for Research and Documentation (CRD) – with the support of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) – conducted a survey on the implications of the January 2012 bombings as well as shootings incidents on the city’s business environment.
“The January 2012 attacks as well as subsequent attacks had adversely affected Kano’s business environment which consequently crippled economic activities in the city. The effect varies across different sectors of the economy including manufacturing, commerce, hospitality and individual craftsmen and women,” says Umar Ibrahim Yakubu, Executive Director of CRD.
Yakubu says their study revealed that, as a result of Boko Haram attacks, beginning from January 20, 2012; 97% of businesses in Kano city were negatively affected; the earnings of 80% of businesses in the city had gone down, considerably. And that 80% of businesses in the city had either sacked some of their workers or cut down on operating hours and expenses in order to adjust to the current situation.
The hospitality sector has been hit hard by the violence, with hotel occupancy rates hitting a record low and tourists avoiding the state, much like other parts of the region.
“The hospitality industry was the worst hit by the security problem in the city as 100% of hotels in the city had low earnings at the aftermath of the January 20, 2012 series of bombings,” says CRD’s report. “This forced many of them to cut down their staff strength and other operating costs. The study also showed that 50% of the manufacturing industries in the city had low financial turn-over because of the security problem. Likewise, many businesses in the commercial sector had to cut down on their staff strength and operating hours to adjust to the situation.”
The now 4-year long Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria has cost the nation thousands of lives as well as billions of Naira worth of properties across the worst-affected states (by the Boko Haram crisis) of Borno, Yobe, Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Niger and Gombe; yet, the consequences of the insurgency on the region’s business environment – and consequently economy – appear to be the most grievous.
Though the Joint-Task Force (JTF) has, to a large extent, succeeded in overpowering the insurgents including at the epicentres of Borno and Yobe, fears abound that the relative peace in parts of the state is only temporary. Many believe that the Boko Haram fighters have only gone down to regroup and re-arm to wreak more havoc for a much bigger fight.
For now, industrialists and traders in Kano as well as other commercial cities in the region will continue to live with the fear of the outbreak of a fresh insurgency; whose devastating economic fall-out, no one, can predict.
This article has been published earlier by Blueprint Newspaper.