Zaria has remained one of the largest traditional emirates in Nigeria. Also, according to research, Zaria is endowed with basic infrastructure as well as modern facilities and flamboyant economic potential that have ensured that the city is ranked as one of the oldest and most developed cities in Nigeria.
In Kaduna State, northern Nigeria, Zaria, previously Zazzau or Zegzeg, is a historical kingdom, traditional emirate, and local government council with its administrative centre in Zaria city. According to legend, King Gunguma created the kingdom in the eleventh century as one of the original Hausa Bakwai (Seven True Hausa States).
The task of collecting slaves for all Hausa Bakwai, especially for the northern markets of Kano and Katsina, fell to the southernmost of the seven states. Saharan camel caravans made their way south to Zazzau to trade salt for slaves, goods made of fabric, leather, and grain.
In this piece, Naijabiography explores the history and culture of Zaria, as well as the economy and political structure of the Zaria people.
The Hausa kingdom of Zazzau had Zaria as its capital, which was first known as Zazzau. Thought to have been established in or about 1536, Zazzau was renamed after Queen Zaria in the late 16th century. The region, like several of its neighbours, had a history of sedentary Hausa habitation, with institutional market exchange and farming, hence human presence before the development of Zazzau.
The Hausa city-state Zaria was the furthest south. It served as a hub for the Saharan caravan trade and was a significant hub for the Hausa slave trade. Islam made its entrance to Zaria in the late 1450s via its sister Habe cities of Kano and Katsina. Along with the spread of Islam, trade between the cities grew as merchants sent camel caravans carrying salt in return for slaves and grain.
Meanwhile, Queen Amina, the monarch of Zazzau, expanded her territory via various conquests, including those of the kingdoms of the Nupe and the Jukun; even the strong realms of Kano and Katsina were obliged to pay tribute.
But at the end of the century, Zazzau—now known as Zaria—became governed by Kororofa (Kwararafa), the Jukun kingdom centred to the southeast in Ibi. Zaria was compelled to join the Bornu kingdom in the northeast as a vassal state from roughly 1734 to 1804, not long after the fall of Kororofa.
History has it that under Queen Amina, whose military conquests created a tributary realm that included the kingdoms of Kano and Katsina, the city-state reached its height of dominance.
After Queen Amina’s demise at the end of the 16th century, Zaria came under the control of the Jukun Kingdom and finally turned into its own vassal state. The kingdom joined the Songhai Empire as a tributary state between the 15th and 16th centuries. During the Fulani Jihad in 1805, the Fulani took control of it. Thus, Frederick Lugard-led British soldiers seized control of the city in 1901.
The Zaria emirate was established in 1835 and kept some of its former vassal kingdoms (such as Keffi, Nasarawa, Jemaa, and Lapai to the south); it was ruled by the local emir and a delegate of the sultan in Sokoto (216 miles northwest of Zaria city).
Zaria, therefore, requested British protection against Kontagora’s slave raids in 1901. The British deposed the emirate of most of its satellite states following the 1902 assassination of Captain Moloney, the British resident at Keffi (154 mi south), by the Zaria magaji (representative).
However, a French hostage kidnapped by the Islamist organization called Ansaru in Zaria escaped in 2013 and made it to a local police station. History has it that about 300 Shia Muslims were reportedly slain by the Nigerian military in December 2015, and their bodies were then interred in a mass grave. Although the administration disputes the incident, a bloodbath has been called for.
People and Culture
Zaria’s population was estimated at 736,000 according to the 2006 census. There, you can find the Zazzau Emirate. Thus, Zaria is still one of Nigeria’s biggest traditional emirates, nonetheless.
Zaria has four main areas today: the township for the non-African population, the early colonial residential neighbourhoods of Tudun Wada and Sabon Gari, which handle the overflow from the ancient part, and the old walled town, which is home to Hausa and Fulani peoples and has several Islamic schools. There are eight gates on the original walls, which have a combined length of 15 miles (24 km), and a huge market is still conducted there.
The walls and fortress that once encompassed the historic section of the city, also known as Birnin Zazzau or Zaria-City, have been mostly dismantled. The old city is home to the Emir’s palace. Most residents live in traditional adobe compounds in the ancient city and the nearby Tudun Wada neighbourhood. Native Hausa people predominately live in these two communities.
However, Nigerians with southern ancestry, like Igbo, predominately live in the Samaru and Sabon Gari communities. The colonial era saw the formation of these neighbourhoods. In Sabon Gari, there is a huge market. Danmagaji/Wusasa, PZ, Kongo, GRA-Zaria, Hanwa, Bassawa, Lowcost Kofan-Gayan, and Shikka.
According to research, in Zaria, the majority of the population is made up of Muslim Hausa and Fulani people.
Agriculture is the major occupation of the Zaria people. Thus, guinea corn and millet are staple foods, as well as tobacco, groundnuts, and cotton are examples of cash crops planted by the people. Furthermore, Zaria serves as both a market hub and a haven for local craftsmen, who engage in fields ranging from traditional crafts like leatherworking, cap making, and dyeing to tinkering, printmaking, and furniture making.
In addition, Zaria is home to a textile industry that has produced beautifully hand-embroidered robes used by men across Nigeria and West Africa for more than 200 years. However, the main crops are sorghum, millet, and cowpeas; for meat, cattle, chickens, goats, guinea hens, and sheep are farmed. Also, tin mining has long been significant at the western edge of the Jos Plateau in the south.
According to research gathered, Zaria has equal rail access to the seaports of Lagos and Port Harcourt because it is located north of the rail junction at Kaduna. The eastern line of Nigeria’s rail network is not operational, hence the only railroad that runs is between Lagos and Kano. This, however, indicates that Port Harcourt is not now accessible by rail from Zaria, but Lagos and Kano are.
Furthermore, Ahmadu Bello University, the largest university in Nigeria and the second largest on the continent of Africa, is located in the city of Zaria. In the sectors of agriculture, science, finance, medicine, and law, the institution is well regarded.
Other institutions such as the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology, the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Barewa College, and numerous illustrious secondary schools have their headquarters in Zaria.
There are some prominent people in the country who are from Zaria; such as Umaru Dikko (minister in the second republic), D’banj (musician/Artist), Namadi Sambo (former Vice President of Nigeria), Ibrahim Zakzaky (Islamic cleric, founder, Islamic Movement in Nigeria), and Apostle Joshua Selman (founder and senior pastor of the Eternity Network International), among others.