Y. Z. Ya’u
As a child, one of the popular games we enjoyed was rolling over the pyramids of groundnut husks, itself a sign of a much groundnut had been harvested in the community. Of course we knew that the groundnuts left for Kano, from where they formed part of the famous Kano groundnut pyramids. These pyramids were the distinctive landscape of Kano. They adored every promotional document about Kano and became in reality the signpost of the city. We marveled at the orderly way in which they were arranged and thought there was no any other architecture that had better aesthetics with a surreal appeal.
While we took it as the sign of the prosperity of Kano, we never associated it with colonial economic architecture. We were too young for this. This could only happen years later at the university. Of course by then the pyramids had disappeared. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was the feeling that industrialization would now replace agriculture. Afterall, nationally we were experimenting with import substitution industrialization.
Thus, additional industrial layouts were opened up in Kano and many new industries and companies sprang up in the city. Trade unions became a feature of the city and it became easy to bestraddle students’ union activism with solidarity organizing for workers. Industrialization added more to the commercial activism of Kano and it was this vibrant commerce dominated economy of Kano that made the Governor of Kano State at the time, Abubakar Rimi, to initiate what for years we have been referring to in Kano as the Investment building. Originally planned to be a 14-storey building to be used as a commercial complex, this was later reduced to 10 storeys.
Soon we found that rather than enforcing the right to unionism, we had to organize to protect the jobs of the workers who were being thrown out to the streets as the boom of the 1970s gave way to the crisis that entered in the 1980s. By the time the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) was introduced in 1986, the signs of the collapsed of attempted industrialization in the country were visible everywhere.
Kano of course suffered greatly for this. Thousands workers lost their jobs as many factories and companies closed down. Much of the de-industrialization of the later period had to do with the crisis of power, inconsistency in economic policies nationally and a political class that was still steeped at the level of primitive accumulation. The collapse of industrialization was further compounded by the seeming crisis of commerce based economy that has characterized Kano. One of its major strains was a set of communal conflicts that were to a large degree associated with the rise of a new ethnicity that was the product of a state that failed to justify itself following the rapacious attack on the fabrics of the welfare state in the country by SAP.
The investment building was abandoned and for years virtually everyone forget its original concept. Of course successive regimes attempted to complete the building but with no clearly defined purpose. Now this build is coming to life as the first information and communication (ICT) Park not only in Kano but also in the country. Already, the interior of the building had been redesigned to meet the new purpose for which it would now be used. World class IT infrastructure is being deployed so that companies would have access to internet and other IT facilities with speed and reliability that will match any where in the world.
The transformation of the building into an ICT Park itself is a long story. It started with the adoption of an ICT Policy for the State in 2005. In 2006, the office of the then Special Adviser to the Governor on Education and Information Technology, which was charged with the responsibility of implementing the state ICT Policy, gathered another group of ICT professionals and scholars to brainstorm of how the policy could be implemented. Out of this brainstorming, it was decided that following the footsteps of leading developing countries that have taken ICT seriously such India and Malaysia, the state government should opt for a perspective that sees ICTs more as an economic sector that can generate wealth and create jobs as well as provide access to IT products and services. This requires the establishment of ICT Parks, the types that dot India, Singapore, among others.
The ICT Park is to be commissioned soon. When in operation, it will initially house over 300 ICT business and companies of different sizes. It is also expected that within the first five years of its operation, it would create thousand of jobs. Without doubt, it is both an ambitious and challenging project, ambitious because it requires resources and commitment to pull, challenging because to make Kano a preferred destination, especially for global outsourcing would require not just proactive and aggressive marketing but also the capacity to establish and implement a regime of incentives, with a long term consistency, that can attract companies elsewhere to relocate to the park while ensuring a ready market for their products and services.
The transformation of Kano from an agricultural-based commercial city symbolized by the groundnut pyramids to an ICT enclave represented by the ICT Park, is not just symbolic. It is both structural and historical. Historically, because we are moving into the information age, which is ICT mediated and dependent. In such an era, virtually all business interactions and transactions could be conducted through the internet. While the network is thus a necessary condition to which every country must have to respond to, capitalizing on the ICT sector as an economic sector is a structural choice which many countries have taken. India today, it is reported, earns more from export of ICT services and products than Nigeria does from oil.
A single high-rise ICT park building of course cannot on the popular imagination compare with the vast grounds pyramids of the 1960s of Kano. But its potential to transform the economy of the state is enormous. If properly harnessed, Kano would be on its way to an economic renewal that would make it a major a hub of the cyber space globally.
In a highly dynamic knowledge world of today, those who make the early start are always more likely to remain at the head of the race. It is this early state that Kano State must actualize. It is possible in this little piece of land, the national may learn lessons that would inform its repositioning in the information age.