Kano Emirate System

Kano Emirate System


The Kano Emirate System was one of the many changes that happened in Northern Nigeria during Uthman dan Fodio’s Jihad. Prior to the Fulani Jihad, the Kano Emirate was known as the Sultanate of Kano. The Sultanate of Kano dated back to 1349 when Ali Yaji, the King of Kano, who lived from 1849 to 1835 surrendered his pagan Cult of Tsumbubura and accepted Islam. Ali Yaji introduced and taught Islamic practices in Kano and consequently proclaimed Kano a Sultanate.

Kano Emirate System
1850 Steel Engraving of Kano

However, the abolition of the Cult of Tsumbubura was without some opposition. Attendant revolts of the abolishment laced the history of Kano with pockets of tidal revolt that led to a civil war known as the Battle of Santolo. Before the proclamation of Kano as a Sultanate, Kano was known as the Hausa Kingdom as it symbolized the natural home of most Hausas. Kano had gone through many changes including a name change. In the 7th century, Kano was known as Dalla, named after the Dalla Hill; which was the location of a settlement that engaged in iron-working. The name of the settlement, Dalla, will last till the early beginning of the 16th century until it was renamed Kano. By 1804, the Fulani Jihad saw to the fall of the Sultanate of Kano and transformed it to an Emirate subjected to the Sokoto Caliphate.

Jihad and the Kano Emirate System

The 19th century experienced religious surges spearheaded by the popular Fulani Jihad of Uthman dan Fodio. The Jihad captured many cities and kingdoms, one of which was Kano. The success of the Jihad led to the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate with a web of 30 semi-autonomous but subordinate emirates. The Kano Emirate was the most regarded out of the 30 emirates because it was, at that time, regarded as the largest and most economically advanced of the conquered Hausa Empires. The Kano Empire drew its wealth from the slave trade and was identified as one of the predominant slave trade centre’s long after the international slave trade had ceased.

Kano Emirate
Flag of the Kano Emirate

Political Structure of the Emirate (Pre-colonial)

The Kano Emirate system like other emirates under the Sokoto Caliphate had an Emir as both its political and religious head. The Emirate system was a system of government practiced in northern Nigeria during the pre-colonial era. However, unlike some other systems of government during the pre-colonial period, the Kano Emirate system was highly centralised and autocratic. It was a system of government that enjoyed deep loyalty amongst its subject as the Emir, who was the political leader of the people, earned undeniable respect attained from his Islamic authority over the people he led.

Prior to the colonial invasion, the Emir appointed officials to assist in making governing easier. Such a decision by the Emir showed that even with the outright centralisation of power in the Kano Emirate system, there was still some delegation of power similar to a democratic systems of government. Each official in the Emir’s cabinet had a unique role to play. The Waziri was the Prime Minister and was as close to the Emir as any administrative officer. Galadima was in charge of the capital and oversaw matters that pertained to the capital of the emirate. Madawaki was the commander of the army. When an external conflict arose, the Emir summoned the Madawaki through the Waziri. While the Madawaki led the army, Dogari was in charge of the police and the Maaji managed the Treasury department. The three Sarkins of the emirate were also quite close to the Emir. Sarkin Fada saw to the welfare and running of the Palace. The Sarkin Pawa was the head of the butchers in the emirate and kept records of all the butchered cows in the emirate. The third Sarkin, Sarkin Ruwa, oversaw fishing activities in the emirate. Each one of these officials were sought out when it came to running the activities of the province; however, the Emir still had served as the preeminent voice of authority and had the power to relinquish any officer of his position.

Kano Emirate
Gate to the Gidan Rumfa, The Emir of Kano’s Palace

The Kano Emirate system due to its landmass and population was further subdivided into districts. These districts were supervised by officials known as Hakimis. The Hakimis were responsible for the collection of taxes and had the power to appoint village heads who made the collection of taxes easier. The Kano Emirate also had Alkali courts led by Alkali judges. These judges ruled based on the precepts of Sharia law and delivered judgment on issues such as marriage, murder, debt to mention a few. Court cases that were of greater consequence to the emirate were heard in the Emir’s palace with the Emir as the judge.

The Fall of the Kano Emirate

Colonial invasion saw to the decline of Kano Emirate. In late January 1903, the Sokoto-Kano Expedition had set off in Zaria under the British Commanding Officer, Colonel Morland. After many months of recurrent and fierce fighting, the British were able to gain entry into Kano. The Emirate, with its long resistance against the British incursion, became vulnerable and was conquered. This defeat came during the time when Aliyu Babba was away from the city. On his return, he was immediately removed as the Emir of Kano and exiled to Lokoja until his death. This key event marked the end of the early Kano Emirate system as it was restructured by the British government and the name was changed to the Kano Emirate Council. Afterwards, the new Emirate council fell under the governance of the Queen of England.

The British employed to great success the Emirate system for its Indirect Rule and because of the centralised power structure of the Emirate, the British Indirect Rule approach quickly prospered. The Emir of Kano lost some of his power as the Hakimi who had previously been subjected and answerable to the Emir now had almost an equal status with the Emir. The new government structure meant that the Hakimi started reporting to the Queen and the Emir became more or less a ceremonial figurehead during this period. In addition, most of the previously established institutions like the Alkali court remained as key establishments for the newly established British rulers.

Kano Emirate
Inside the palace of the Emir of Kano

In post-colonial Nigeria, the Kano Emirate still wields great power as the Emir is still seen as the foremost religious leader of the people. The Emir is also seen as the political kingmaker of the people. It is not uncommon for political leaders to secure the endorsement of the Emir in order to increase their chances of winning an election. The Emir has also been known to mediate religious conflicts during situations of religious tension between Christians and Muslims.

 Emirs of Kano

 Suleiman 1805–1819
 Ibrahim 1819–1846
 Usman 1846–1855
 Abdullah 1855–1883
 Mohammed Bello 1883–1893
Mohammed Tukur 1893–1894
 Aliyu Babba 1894–1903
Muhammad Abbass 1903-1919
Usman II dan Maje Karofi 1919-1926
Abdullahi Bayero 1926-1953
 Muhammadu Sanusi 1954-1963
Muhammad Inuwa ruled 1963 – he served for 3 months only
Ado Bayero 1963-2014
Sanusi Lamido Sanusi 2014 till date
Kano Emirate
Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (2014 till date)

The 234 Impact

The Kano Emirate was a testament to the fact that pre-colonial Nigeria already had a working system of governance on ground before the arrival of colonialism. Colonialism therefore did not totally bring civilization to the country but rather disrupted the established system of self-governance. It is not surprising that the British were able to utilize some of the political structures and institutions they found on ground to advance their rule.


Political Administration of the Hausa. Retrieved 22 January, 2017. Web. < >

The Kano Emirate Council. Wikipedia. Retrieved 25 January, 2017. Web. < >

The Sultanate of Kano. Wikipedia. Retrieved 25 January, 2017. Web. < >

Kano Emirate. Wikipedia. Retrieved 25 January, 2017. Web. < >