The Man, Dr Muhammadu Uba Adamu (Kantoma), 1935-2020

The man, Dr. Muhammadu Uba Adamu, was one of the last men standing in the traditional northern Nigeria in the three areas of public service, scholarship and the arts. A historian, poet and ethnographer, he died suddenly at dusk in a Kano hospital on Monday, 27th April, 2020 as a result of age-related complications. A family member told me that he had been hale and hearty until that last day when he fell ill in the morning. He was 85 years old.

Best known as Kantoma, Dr. Muhammadu Uba Adamu had enjoyed a remarkably good health all his life, having been hospitalised only four times in his eight and a half decades, including this last one. His death came at a time when Kano was passing through a difficult time, with prominent and not so prominent people dying in comparatively large numbers as reports of a devastating attack of the coronavirus pandemic on the city were rampant.

Kantoma is survived by two wives, 17 children and 54 grandchildren. His eldest son is Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, the Vice-Chancellor of National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN).

He was born in the old quarters of Daneji in Kano on 10th December, 1935 at house number 147, which is now number 97. He was the third of the five surviving children of his parents. He and his younger brother, Alhaji Danbala Adamu, were male, the other three were female. Dr. Adamu was the last surviving child of his parents, who were of royal blood.

The deceased began his western education at the Judicial School in Shahuci, after which he proceeded to the famous School for Arabic Studies (SAS), and then on to Abdullahi Bayero College, which became the Bayero University, all in Kano. He obtained a BSc in Political History in 1968. He also attended the University of Ife at Ile Ife (today’s Obafemi Awolowo University) for a short course in Public Administration.

Malam Muhammadu had an artistic streak in him, having developed a keen sense of scholarship and literature. He was bitten by the writing bug at an early age. As a young academician, he was interested in history and poetry even though his calling was in administration. His first academic paper, titled “Some Notes on the Influence of North African Traders in Kano”, was published in the journal ‘Kano Studies’ in 1968. In it he analysed the cultural and religious encroachment of Arab traders (Libyans, Egyptians and Moroccans) residing in Kano at the time on the locality, especially their Islamic Tariqa values, food practices and dressing codes, which many of the indigenous Hausa people adopted and turned into their own cultural and religious identity.  

He was appointed as the District Officer for the nearby Dambatta town in 1969, under the military administration of Governor Audu Bako. A year later he was promoted to the post of Kantoman Kano Da Kewaye (Mayor of Kano and Environs). In this position, he was the Local Authority official in charge of infrastructure and sanitation. He embarked on urban renewal, which involved the construction and or renovation of roads, water works, the sanitation system, etc.

His vision was for the modernisation of the ancient metropolis. So impactful was his intervention that the government asked him in 1970 to head the committee that computed and returned the property abandoned in Sabon Gari (Strangers’ Quarters) by Ibo traders at the onset of the Nigerian Civil War that had raged for three years. Many of the Ibo returnees after the war were, however, compensated for their loss.

The people of Kano took note of Kantoma’s work. Apart from having the ear of the powers that be, including the emir Alhaji Ado Bayero, the ordinary people he faithfully served were palpably so enarmoured of him. The famous poet, Malam Akilu Aliyu, was so impressed that he penned a panygeric for him in 1971 titled ‘Zan Je Ziyarar Shugaba Dattijo Kantoma Uba’ (I’m Paying a Homage to the Kindly Leader the Mayor Uba). The poem, which was written in the Ajami script, the primary vehicle of writing by the Hausa poets in those days, was personally delivered to Malam Muhammadu at his house by the poet himself three years later.

Kantoma left the mayoralty in 1975 when he went to the University of Pennsylvania in the United States of America for postgraduate studies. He obtained a MSc in 1976. Back home, he was appointed as a Senior Lecturer in Public Administration at the School of Management (today’s Kano State Polytechnic) in January, 1979. While teaching, he registered for his PhD in Political Science at Bayero University, which he completed in 1995. He retired from work shortly after at the age of 60. He had pursued that third degree not for the purpose of gaining promotion but to expand the frontiers of his knowledge.

In retirement, he embarked on a writing career. His first and most prominent work was titled ‘Confluences and Influences: The Emergence of Kano as a City State’. When the book was published in 1999, it became an instant hit and sold out pretty quickly. I learnt that a reprint is currently being sponsored by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu.

So significant was the book to the history of Kano that some officials appreciated its worth. The state Commission for Societal Reorientation, a.k.a. Hukumar A Daidaita Sahu, requested Kantoma to translate it into Hausa, with the intention of sponsoring its publication. He embarked on that onerous task immediately, infusing his translation with additional notes for deeper insight. The result, a five-volume magnus opus titled ‘Kano Kwaryar Kira Matattarar Alheri’, was published in 2007.

The five volumes of the book were subtitled as follows:

Vol. 1: Kano Daga Dutsen Dala;

Vol. 2: Kano Daga Kwazazzabon ‘Yar Kwando;

Vol. 3: Kano Da Makwabtan Ta;

Vol. 4: Kano Daga Garko;

Vol. 5: Kano Daga Dutsen Bompai.

Following the success of this work, one day Kantoma stumbled upon the poem written in his praise by the late Alhaji Dr. Akilu Aliyu. He at once decided to do something with it. First, he wrote a background volume on the Herculean task he carried out as Kantoman Kano, which had inspired the poet. The printing of the book, titled ‘Tuna Baya’ (Recollection), was sponsored by the Kano Urban Planning Development Authority (KNUPDA) in 2009.

His next book was a decidedly controversial one. Titled ‘Sabon Tarihin Asalin Hausawa’ (A New History of the Origin of Hausa People) was published in 2011. In it, he traced the origin of the Hausa people to a pharaoh called Housal who migrated with his people from Egypt to the present day Hausa land. He further debunked and discredited the widely held notion that Hausa people originated from a marriage between a prince of Baghdad and a queen of Daura.

In 2001, Dr. Muhammadu Uba Adamu had a chance meeting with the popular Hausa singer Aminu Ala at Zoo Road, Kano. Their meeting led to a unique collaboration. After they exchanged pleasantries, Kantoma informed Ala that he was also a songwriter, for he had written a number of songs in the past which he could not put to music because he lacked the right voice. Ala obliged to do the voicing. They promptly went to Kantoma’s house where the writer gave the singer the poems he wrote many years earlier on the beautification of Kano and other themes. Subsequenly, Ala composed the songs to music in a studio. A limited edition album was burned to CD, titled ‘Duniya Makaranta’ (The School of Life) with the following songs:

1. Bolar Kano (Dumpsite of Kano; 24:34) 

2. Hassada (Envy; 10:47) 

3. Badar (Battle; 20:59)

4. Dan Maraya (Orphan; 12:49) 

If there was anything that gladdened Kantoma and always brought a smile to his face, it was those songs, which he often listened to on his MP3 player. The songs used to take him down memory lane to his active years in service, and Ala’s sonorous renditions were all the more captivating and enlivening.

Thus it is obvious that the demise of this grand old man was a huge loss not only to his family but also to the people of Kano and humanity in general. It is sad that he has not been properly celebrated by those that should do so, considering his immense contributions to the growth of Kano as a modern metropolis and to the area of letters. However, his works will always speak for him, forever.

May his soul rest in peace.

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