The Spy who “Loved” Nigeria

By Ahmed Yahaya Joe

Sir Hanns Vischer

As they say; “An Englishman’s home is his castle.” Sir Hanns Vischer, was an agent of His Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service in Nigeria. He was referred to as “Dan Hausa” due to his mastery of the Hausa language which he helped in standardizing. He was also prolific in Arabic, Fulfulde and Kanuri in addition to Greek, French and German. Based in Kano from 1907 to 1919, his cover was head of the Education Department.

Gidan Dan Hausa, now a national monument was his official residence. The building had being in existence for about a hundred years before Kano was conquered by the British in 1903. It had previously served as the base of the overseer of the royal farming plantation outside the ancient city walls known as Rumada. Vischer rebuilt it from scratch making improvements in 1907.

The spymaster first came to Nigeria in 1901 and was based in Lokoja before he was reassigned to Maiduguri in 1903. By 1906, he crossed the Sahara Desert. He recounted his journey in a 1911 book entitled; “Across the Sahara from Tripoli to Borno” Another book he wrote is; “Rules for Hausa Spelling” printed in 1912.
Kano was crucial to the British in two aspects. First, in creating an elite that would oppose national independence. Second, it was a crucial cross roads in monitoring Francophone territories and the German colony of Kamerun.

According the historian, Dr. Yusuf Bala Usman;
“The Hausa-speaking people, not only do they have dialects, which were barely mutually intelligible, but they have no tradition of a common origin.” Hausa as spoken and written today was therefore a British project. Vischer was one of the arrow heads.

Vischer’s residence also served as a school for sons of emirs from all over the North. With his wife who joined him in 1912, the couple moulded the young aristocrats teaching them how to read and write in English and Ajami (Arabic in Roman script) The school started with 30 pupils in 1909. Their hostel was within the Nasarawa palace of Kano emirate nearby.

Enrollment increased to over 200 princes by 1913 from the 11 provinces of the Northern Protectorate. It produced the first Western educated elites in the North that eventually became the first members of the House of Chiefs and Assembly both in Kaduna. Vischer’s school relocated becoming Katsina College in 1921, which is now Barewa College in Zaria.

The Vischers had two children at Gidan Dan Hausa. Their photographs including that of their house maid still adorn the main living room of the historic house to date.

The British did not come to the colonial contours of what became Nigeria for sightseeing – they came to plunder.
To pull that off they needed to apply “divide et impera” – divide and rule. They ensured no level of national consciousness could develop eventually preparing us for national independence without economic freedom.

The likes of Sir Vischer were instrumental to Pax Britannica. Such people are described as “capax imperii” – capable of ruling an empire by understanding and study of languages;
“One had only to watch him in his daily avocations in those early days to realize how completely at home he was with every class of society—whether he was engaged in grave deliberations with emirs, viziers and other high personages of the ruling hierarchy, or whether he was chaffing the hucksters at the market stalls as he rode through Kano city. No less revealing was it to see him in his own home pick up a native drum and, squatting on the floor, croon local Hausa songs to his own accompaniment. So inimitably did he do it that, if he had been hidden behind a screen, one would have said that an African musician had been engaged to entertain his guests”

At Gidan Dan Hausa, Vischer reorganized traditional Hausa building materials of “Tubali” and “Azara” by creatively using “Chafe” for plaster and “Makuba” for relieve motifs retaining “Zankwaye” (the horns at the top) and “Dakali” (the horizontal platform at the base)
Vischer used local labor sourced within the ancient city of Kano from “Unguwan Gini”

The original inhabitants of Kano are the “Abagawa” of the Nok Civilization. The “Wangara” from present-day Mali conquered and incorporated Kano into the Songhai Empire. Eventually the Habe held sway before the Hausanization process that followed the formation of the Sokoto Caliphate.

It has been the southern entrepôt of the Trans Saharan trade for millennia. Arabs and Tuaregs have been part of Kano’s mosaic for centuries.

It provided the perfect cover for Sir Hanns Vischer, a spymaster par excellence according to Nigel West in; Historical Dictionary of World War I Intelligence (2014)

St. George’s: Old grand Church that will not be killed.

By Ahmed Yahaya Joe

St. George’s: Some Historical Perspectives and Fundamental Issues
The recent furore over a reported notice for the demolition of a 111 year old Church building in Sabongari, Zaria is not only a direct consequence of the residential segregation that started during the colonial era but part of the collateral damage caused by the religionalization of politics in contemporary Nigeria. A Sabongari is defined as “strangers quarters” or literally new town in an emirate. It is normally a designed layout populated by persons not indigenous to the host community and predominantly from the Southern Protectorate and other West African colonies whether Christian or Muslim. Sabongaris blossomed with railway development. That of Zaria is no different. It fitted into the master plan of segregation to maintain inter communal harmony by the British.
What eventually became St. George’s Church started in 1907 at the private residence of Mr. CA Kasumu an employee of Loco (Railways) located at 22 Yoruba Street. He was a tally clerk in the construction of the Baro-Kano and Bauchi light railway lines. Services were conducted in English and led by Mr. J Mcla Slove and Mr. CH Crabb, a Sierra Leonian and Ghanaian (then Gold Coast) respectively. The growing congregation moved to its present site in 1908 but it was not until 1912 that an ordained priest Revd Victor Johnson from Sierra Leone was sent over to take charge. By then Igbo and Yoruba services were included. The Igbo however relocated to what is today known as St. Michael’s also in Sabongari in 1946. But before then a primary school was built by the Church in its vicinity in 1930. It is now known as Ja’afaru Primary School owned by the Kaduna State govt. That school was expanded in 1949 to become the Northern Nigerian Archdeaconry Teachers Training Center with an initial intake of 23 students. It was renamed St. Peter’s Teachers College and moved to Samaru. It eventually formed the nucleus of the Nigeria College which is now ABU, Zaria. St. Peter’s relocated to Kaduna and St. Faith’s for girls opened near. Both institutions are now owned by the Kaduna state located in Kawo behind the WAEC Secretariat
St. George’s Church is an integral part of the Church of Nigeria. From 1932 to 1980 it was the District Church Council seat of what is now known as Kaduna Province of the Anglican Communion covering the 7 states of the North West geopolitical zone current headed by an Archbishop Most Revd Dr. Ali Buba Lamido from Wusasa also in Zaria.

The Mission hospital in Wusasa was the first Teaching Hospital of ABU at inception.
The religionization of politics in the North started in 1953. This was when the first four Lagos ministers and the three in Kaduna were appointed. They were all Muslims. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa vehemently resisted entreaties by the North’s Governor, Sir Bryan Sharwood Smith for a more balanced and equitable representation (See ‘But Always As Friends’ page 237) Eventually an agreement was reached and Mr. Peter Achimugu, Mr. Micheal Audu Buba and Mr. George Ohikere became Parliamentary Secretaries. It was not until 1955 the first Christian minister was appointed in person of Pastor David Lot. He was however in office without a portfolio. By 1950 there were only 3 colleges in the entire North. Government College Zaria (Barewa) Government College Keffi and St. John’s College Kaduna (now Rimi College) There were however 12 Middle Schools owned by government. The Missionaries owned the rest such that by 1962 there were a total of 8995 learners in these schools. Only 3227 were in government schools. As far as teacher training was concerned as at 1956 there were a total of 540 teachers of Northern origin: 224 in govt and 316 employed by the Missionaries.

What is the way forward? Permit me to quote from Sir Ahmadu Bello’s assurances given when he became Premier of the North in 1957 – “I want to emphasize one thing our Government is a government of Northerners, both Muslims and Christians…..I am pleased to know too, that the relationships between Government and the Missions have been cordial, cooperative and friendly. We cannot deny that there have been differences from time to time, but such differences in our religions need be no bar to our continuing to work together for the good of our people”
Next Governor Nasir el Rufai must live up to his own words. One expects with his quest for national assignment in view he should have outgrown “body bags” grandstanding by showing the kind of maturity commensurate with being called His Excellency.

At 12.40 pm the Kaduna Governor’s official Twitter on Thursday, 11th April 2019 declared “In Kaduna State, the Indigene/Settler dichotomy has been abolished. Every person resident in Kaduna State would be accorded all rights as citizens and indigenes of the state”
Then all Missionary Schools seized without compensation under the Public Education Act of 1971 must be returned to their rightful owners. Under such circumstances the issue of demolition of St. George’s Church would be moot. All states in the South have returned such schools. None have been so far returned in the North. Worthy of mention are those returned by then Muslim governors of Lagos and Ogun states, Bola Tinubu and Ibikunle Amosun respectively. The objectives of the takeover was to not only standardize but accelerate educational developed against the backdrop of an Oil Boom. The exercise woefully failed as it enabled moral degeneration giving rise to widespread exam malpractices and scandalous spike in diverse immoralities. The rest is now living history.