A Cameroonian immigrant and his 10,000 fanatical supporters were able paralyze this city of 1 million in December with almost two weeks of bloody violence that left thousands dead.
Holed up in a crowded section of the city, Muhammadu Marwa's followers reportedly killed dozens of policemen while holding them at bay for nine days outside the maze of their walled enclave. The followers finally were brutally crushed by a two-day mortar, rocket, machine-gun and automatic-rifle attack by the Nigerian infantry.
When the 11-day orgy of violence in this ancient Moslem city ended, as many as 7,000 people were reported killed -- including the self-proclaimed prophet, Mohammadu Marwa.
A presidentially appointed tribunal is in its third week here of taking public testimony about the causes of what seems to have been a calculated outbreak of violence against orthodox Moslems by a sect of Islamic zealots drawn from poor, young rural migrants to Kano. Tales told by residents of this northern Nigerian city provide graphic details about the extent of violence that went largely unnoticed by the outside world.
The intensity of the disturbances, which had been building up with recorded incidents of intimidation since 1977, has left the Nigerian government feeling vulnerable to civil unrest and deeply concerned about the efficiency of its own domestic security agencies, several Nigerian and diplomatic sources said.
"These riots caught everyone unawares," said one Nigerian official.
It is clear that the main question the tribunal is trying to answer is why no action was taken against the followers of Muhammadu Marwa before the fighting began, as officials here have had a long history of conflict with him and his followers.
Earlier widespread reports of suspected Libyan involvement in the Kano violence have turned out to be false, said several informed Nigerian sources. The reports grew out of heightened Nigerian concerns at the time of the riots that were simultaneous with the involvement of Libyan soldiers in the fighting in neighboring Chad. The fighting ended in Chad just three days before the Kano riots began Dec. 18.
But aside from Nigerian apprehensions about Libyan troops close to their borders, government officials are also perplexed about how the supporters Muhammadu Marwa were able to paralyze this city.
Sunday Adewusi, assistant police inspector-general, quoted Marwa as telling his followers during the fighting that "as the prophet Mohammed won the war in Mecca so also he would win the war in Kano."
Army Maj. Haliru Akilu testified that the cultists' tactics were bolder than usual guerrilla tactics as "they were ready to kill first or be killed but never to run." His soldiers, Akilu said, soon discovered that the sect's members were not frightened by the Army's firepower and "they were coming out [of their enclave] in their thousands."
There are also grisly tales here of the sect maintaining itself, in part, by killing kidnaped people and selling their body parts, particulary eyes, to be used in ju-ju rites, or black magic. During the fighting, men, women and children were slaughtered on the whimsical orders of Marwa in a special room inside the sect's walled enclave. "The room was covered with blood," said a member of the investigating tribunal, who declined to be identified.
Most of Marwa's followers were northern Nigerians, while some of the sect's members also came from the neighboring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
The maze of congested alleys and cement block houses that once formed the large compound of the sect, is now a wide, open expanse of sand. Most of the houses were blown down by tank fire and the ones left standing were bulldozed by the Army after the fighting was over. The rubble was carted away and the area flattened.
Some of the surrounding houses that still stand, pockmarked by gaping rocket and mortar holes, peppered with the marks of heavy caliber machine-gun bullets, and scorched black by fire, attest to the concentrated fire the Army poured into the crowded area.
The porch of a house near where Marwa's house once stood, hangs from steel reinforcement rods, its cement pillars blasted into piles of chunks at its base.
Large clusters of adults and children wandered around the site earlier this week recounting tales of the fighting. Hawkers were selling pictures of Marwa's corpse either propped up against a wall surrounded by four policemen or with abdominal stitching, eyes open and the skin stretched tight over the skull, following the autopsy. The pictures, including ones of his young widows and an adult son who died before the fighting, sell for $1 each.
Marwa, a man in his 60s, claimed to have lived in Kano since the 1950s but was expelled from here at least three times for preaching the Koran, the Moslem holy book, without a permit. In a region such as this where there have been cyclical religious upheavals since the Fulani holy war or jihad in the early 19th century, local authorities try to keep such self-proclaimed prophets as Marwa to a minimum by requiring them to be licensed.
During one expulsion in 1962, he was returned all the way to his home town of Maroua in northern Cameroon.
But each time he returned to Kano soon and his following continued to grow.
That "people joined the sect in such large numbers and became so committed to it to the extent of being prepared to die for its cause" probably reveals the sense of social and economic deprivation being experienced by the poorer sections of society from which Marwa "so easily recruited his followers," said Y. A. Barango, head of the political science department at Bayero University here. "They joined to compensate for what they lacked from society."
The sect's followers were against such obvious displays of property ownership as the wearing of wristwatches, individual ownership of houses, orthodox Moslem prayer hours or facing Mecca during prayer. Marwa's followers were taught that their excess earnings, anything beyond what they needed for basic necessities the following day, were to be turned over to him each evening.
Aisha Gaya, 23, one of Marwa's several young widows, testified before the investigating tribunal that Marwa had almost $400,000 in cash in the house before the fighting began.
By 1978, Marwa's followers had outgrown the original enclave and they began to take over the houses of their neighbors, including an Islamic primary school, by threats, without any action being taken against them by local authorities. Marwa's widows have testified that he was visited by Kano State's governor, Muhammed Abubakar Rimi, shortly after the military government in Nigeria handed power over to the civilians in 1979 following 13 years of military rule. A spokesman for Rimi said the governor would not comment on the reports.
Nightly for three months Inuwa Bako, his three wives and nine children cowered inside their home as the crowd -- brandishing guns, swords, clubs and pipes -- banged on his front door calling his name and shrieking that the kafiri (unbeliever must come out to face true followers of Allah. Bako and his family fled in mid-November, before the violence started.
"They were harassing everyone here," said Bako, who had just returned to his house in the enclave on Feb. 12. "They considered us unbelievers because we owned property and threatened to kill us all," he added.
Bako's two-story, six-room house is just three houses up a narrow dirt street from the now destroyed entrance to Marwa's enclave. He said he decided to flee his house with his family after a mid-November 1 visit when the zealots, while they screamed "kafiri, kafiri" at him, began to pound on his brother's white Volkswagen beetle, to them a symbol of wealth, parked in front of his house. The car, which still sits there, was crushed down into its seats.
"They disconnected all the street lights in the neighborhood the same night," Bako continued, "and when they left, I took my family and fled. The darkness hid us."
He and his neighbors, Bako said, had been reporting the sect's increasing boldness and harassment of the community since 1977 first to the military authorities and then the newly elected civilian government. "The military government did not take us seriously even when we told them in 1978 that they had begun to buy guns and do military training in their compound," Bako added.
After he fled, the sect took over his house and he went to the police five times to complain. "They said they were afraid to come," he recalled. "They told me, "Those people will kill us'," he added.
"This is a Moslem community," explained a Kano journalist, "and if so many people were thinking Marwal was a prophet then they were careful about offending him."
Finally the governor sent Marwa a letter Nov. 26 giving him two weeks to leave Kano because of his and his sect's violations of the law. Police inspector Adewusi said Marwa messaged all of his followers in northern Nigeria to come to Kano and protect him. As they gathered over the two-week period, Marwa "began to prepare for war," Adewusi added.
On Dec. 18, during the traditional midday Moslem prayers, Marwa's followers poured out of the narrow streets and alleys of the enclave and went a mile away to the prayer grounds outside the city's grand mosque to confront the praying orthodox Moslems. The police intervened, the enraged cultists reportedly killed four policemen and then retreated to their enclave, killing unwary kafiris indiscriminately in the street and kidnaping others.
The police followed them into the enclave but were unable to penetrate it because of the gunfire and ferocity of the attacks mounted by the sect. About 10 police trucks were burned beyond repair. Marwa's followers went out into the city on raiding and kidnaping forays, bypassing the police through an intricate network of deep sewage ditches.
Dorothy Ngozi testified that she was captured on one of those raids with her twin two-year-old boys on Dec. 20 and dragged back to Marwa's house with a group of captives. Marwa ordered all the male captives, including her sons, killed immediately. A woman who had come into the house wearing her shoes was also ordered slain. The other woman captives and she were forced to cook for his followers as Marwa's wives laughed at them and the men went in and out of the compound between battles with the police.
Three suspected informers among the sect's members were killed in front of their wives, she continued, and Marwa and his men danced a ritual-like dance in celebration after they won each battle with the policemen.
On Dec. 28, she, 65 other surviving adult captives and about 500 children who had been kidnapped over a period of several years, managed to escape when the Army began to shell the enclave, Ngozi added.
Before the Army was called in, the police reportedly turned a blind eye as Kano citizens sought out and killed the cultists. The sect's followers are said to have an Arabic script mark tattooed on their abdomens and those who were stripped and found with the mark were immediately set on fire,; clubbed or stabbed to death on the spot by the orthodox Moslems. A number of people who had nothing to do with the sect were also killed after being falsely accused by people who had old scores to settle, a knowledgeable Nigerian said.
When the Army began the attack, the troops purposely kept two exits through the drainage ditch network open to allow the sect members and their hostages to escape. Maj. Akilu said the enclave was like a fort. "I think it was selected with some degree of military appreciation," he said.
Even after the first 24 hours of battle, the cultists were still going strong and were using a drainage channel to envelop his soldiers from behind, hitting them with poisoned arrows shot from crude bows. As the troops moved into the enclave much of the fighting was hand-to-hand and room-to-room. While many of his soldiers were being picked off by snipers, Akilu said he did not release the numbers of soldiers killed but did give a casualty list to the tribunal.
The bulk of Marwa's followers, taking the apparently wounded leader with them, used the drainage ditches to escape, the major said. They left behind 500 diehards sworn to defend the enclave to the death. At a village called Rimin Auzunawa on the outskirts of Kano, the cultists continued to fight "with ferocity," said a Nigerian civilian. Many of the villagers joined in the fighting on the side of the soldiers.
Marwa apparently died on the way to the village. A well-informed source said the cult leader died from smoke inhalation suffered in the fires in his enclave. The Army reportedly recovered his body from a shallow grave outside the village.
Although the Army action ended on Dec. 29, firing in the city continued until Jan. 3, witnesses said. There were also reports of executions on the grounds of the Kano police headquarters after Dec. 29. There are about 1,100 of the cultists being held in two Kano prisons today.