On the Exhibition at Arewa House Museum

I got to confess that I have only been to the Arewa House museum once, years ago … and honestly, all I remember is that that air condition was working extremely well and, having just come in from a hot August day, I was freezing … and in fact, two days (literally two days, not your Hausa kwana biyu) later I came down with a badass cold. But certainly, this is a worthwhile reminder to go next time I come to Nigeria … which, considering the current unrest in particularly in the places I’d like to go again and where have my friends (anybody getting through to Maiduguri? - feels like the network is completely down!) I don’t really know when that will be. Not that I want to go into any politics here … apart from this article by Salisu Suleiman in Next I haven’t yet come across any piece seriously analysing the reasons behind the recent violence, so would be grateful for any advice on that matter. I’m always a bit reluctant when it comes to these instants and condensed opinions that are expressed in the news articles reporting the events. Curiously enough, there are already Wikipedia articles on Boko Haram, which I think is a little bit dubious considering the freshness of events and what I perceive as a lack of unbiased information in the news. (also, cf. Al-Jazeera’s profile of the group here and Reuter’s attempt here but after all these are not claiming lay encyclopaedic status) Sure, that might be a bit prejudiced but … well, I guess that’s the academic background which encourages you to always consider and reconsider every of a multitude of opinions on a subject and most importantly explain your sources and research methods – all these opinions that the northern Nigerian public consider Boko Haram this or that, how many people have you spoken to?, whom have you spoken to? If you know what I mean: … Personally, I’m still trying to piece together an idea of, beyond the surface of violent battles and labels such as ‘Islamists’ vs. ‘Western education,’ ‘Western educated elites’ etc, from various news sources and … not that am considering myself particularly successful. Well, if I come across any more analytical piece I will let you know. But back to the primary topic of this blog, arts in the northern region, and this entry, Arewa House in Kano … or rather Akintayo Abodunrin’s article about the museum in Next Magazin:

Treasures of the North

The Museum of the Centre for Historical Documentation and Research, better known as Arewa (Northern) House (Gidan Arewa), is perhaps the only museum in Nigeria situated within the residence of a former politician. The Arewa House is located at No. 1, Rabah Road, Kaduna State.

Arewa House was home to the late premier of Northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello.

The museum is part of the facilities including an archive, library, and conference hall at the Arewa House, established in 1970 when a committee was tasked to write a book on the history of Northern Nigeria.

The first director of the Centre, the late Abdullahi Smith, a professor and founding member of the Department of History, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, is credited for the status of the Arewa House, as a foremost centre for research, and for documenting the history and culture of the people of Northern Nigeria.

I had not planned to visit the museum but because I was turned back at the Kaduna Museum due to an ongoing strike by the Radio, Television, Theatre and Allied Workers Union which the museum staff belong to, I decided on the Arewa House on the advice of a friend who gave me the contact of Emmanuel Abu, the resident artist.

Abu, an academic staff of the university, who has been running Gidan Arewa since 1975, turned out to be a helpful and willing tour guide. "[Ahmadu Bello] actually met his end here in Arewa House, in this compound. The historical aspect of this place is something we have been keeping over the years; we are trying to put back some of his personal effects in his house. The house is right here in the compound.

We have few of his personal belongings in the open gallery of the museum. Our archival collection is very big. We have all the publications in Nigeria since the beginning of time in our archive," Abu says enthusiastically as we commence the tour.

The galleries

The location of the museum is not its only unique feature. It is the only Nigerian museum containing relics from a defined region. It comprises a central hall dedicated solely to the late Sardauna; and 12 adjoining galleries containing objects reflecting the civilisation and culture of each of the 19 northern states.

The central gallery contains the memorabilia of Bello, who was premier of the Northern Region from 1954 until his assassination in the 1966 coup. A platform on which some personal effects of the late politician are arranged, is the first thing one sees on entering the central gallery.

There are two velvet chairs, which the Sardauna had earlier given as presents but which were subsequently donated to the museum. There are also rugs, babarigas (flowing male attire worn in the North), caps and portraits; a battery operated wireless radio, which Bello used in his office and a mat.

Behind the platform is a case containing items including wristwatches, drivers' licence, religious articles Bello wrote and which he used for prayers and a ceremonial key presented to the statesman by the Housing Corporation on the occasion of his opening of the Central Bank of Nigeria branch in Kano, on January 13, 1963.

Abu leads the way into the smaller galleries. "The museum complex is part of Arewa House and the house has been in existence since the 50s. The museum was incorporated around 1994," he says as we enter the gallery shared by Jigawa and Benue States. Artefacts and crafts from the two states share a gallery because of space constraints.

The Katsina State gallery has, among others, photographs of all the governors who have ruled the state; dresses, drums, farming implements, a Quran, attesting to the premium Katsina people place on Islamic religion, beautifully decorated horse saddles and a painting of Bawo Bayajidda, killing the snake that prevented people from drawing water at the well in Daura.

A painting of a peacock depicting the symbol of Kwara people, drums, soup pots and hunting traps are displayed in the gallery of Kwara and Yobe States. Also on display is Usman Dan Fodiyo's family tree, listing the descendants of the jihadist and the periods they ruled the caliphate. An image of the late Sardauna who hailed from Sokoto and other items are in the Sokoto State gallery.

Probably because of its status as host of the Arewa House, Kaduna State has a gallery to itself. The first set of beds used in the North number among the interesting objects here.

Bello's office and residence

"That's the office of Sir Ahmadu Bello. He constructed it though he never used it before he met his death," Abu says as he leads the way to the entrance of the ‘Marble Office', another important historical site within the premises of Arewa House.

"This was the house of the Sardauna himself," Abu says, pointing to a one-storey building with a lush garden where the premier relaxed in the evenings. We can't enter the building because it is locked; Abu says it has just two bedrooms on the top floor while the ground floor is taken up by the sitting rooms where the Sardauna received his guests. Another locked door leads to a passage that connects the building to the quarters of the Sardauna's wives at the back.

"When the coup plotters came on January 15, 1966, they came in from the rear and started shooting. They were unable to find him [Bello] immediately until they shelled the top part of this structure which was renovated by the Sokoto State government. He went to meet his wives at the back.

After leaving his wives, the Sardauna came out from the door at the back; he met with (Major Kaduna) Nzeogwu and his boys before he was shot," Abu says at a spot outside the wives' quarters. "The first wife died with him here." He points to a portion of the grass that has been cemented over.

Although it has been able to record some success in its quest, the Arewa House is not relenting. "The project originally kicked off here as proper historical documentation (centre) in 1970, up till date, we are updating. We are sourcing files from offices that have something to do with the Sardauna himself," says Abu as he bids me bye at the gate of the Gidan Arewa.

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