‘Lockdown made everything gloomy’: Ramadan in Nigeria’s Kano

Residents largely restricted to their homes, with mosques shut and festival marking end of Ramadan likely cancelled.

A manwalks between rows of beds inside the male section at a COVID-19 coronavirus isolation centre at the Sani Abacha stadium in Kano, Nigeria, on April 7, 2020. The centre is being built with donatio
Rows of beds inside the male section at a coronavirus isolation centre at the Sani Abacha stadium in Kano [File: Aminu Abubakar/AFP]

It is 4.42am of day 16 of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and Ismaila Alhassan wakes up by the call to prayer broadcasted by loudspeakers outside. 

Rather than heading to his local mosque metres away from his house in Kano, Nigeria’s second-most populous city, the 47-year-old and his four sons walk to their prayer spot inside their home. They will repeat this throughout the day as they perform their five mandatory daily prayers.

Alhassan’s decision to carry out the religious obligations at home is in line with strict measures put in place on Kano state to curtail the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This Ramadan is clearly different from previous ones. We can’t go to the mosques again, we can’t break our fast with friends, hand gifts out to the needy. We are locked inside our houses, almost like prisoners, but we have to comply with the government directives,” Alhassan told Al Jazeera.

“We pray for Allah’s intervention because this coronavirus [pandemic] has to end soon so that we can live our normal life and move about freely,” he said on Monday.

Lockdown measures

Kano, the commercial hub of northern Nigeria with an estimated population of some 13 million, was placed on lockdown by President Muhammadu Buhari on April 27 following the “unexplained deaths” of 640 people within two weeks.

It came as local reports quoted gravediggers at cemeteries in the city as saying that they were burying a bigger-than-usual number of bodies in recent weeks, prompting concerns among residents.

The state government denied claims the deaths were related to the coronavirus pandemic, while the federal government deployed a fact-finding team to Kano to investigate the “rapid increase in mortality” as authorities enforced the lockdown.

Under the measures, schools, mosques and offices were closed while public gatherings were banned and residents were ordered to remain in their houses.

On May 2, state Governor Abdullahi Ganduje announced a partial easing of the measures for two days of the week, every Monday and Thursday from 10am to 4pm“to enable people move out and make some purchases”.

However, places of worship in the Muslim-majority city remained closed. Islamic scholar Umar Bawa told Al Jazeera this was not received well by some worshippers during Ramadan.

“So many complaints, particularly with the lifting of the lockdown on some days,” he said, adding that some worshippers were asking him, “Why not open the mosques for only 30 minutes for Jumaat prayers?”

However, Bawa said he, as others, complied with the order to remain home and not jeopardise public health.

Gifts collected

Ramadan is a period when Muslims are encouraged to support the less privileged with donations and charity work – but this year this is a tough task.

“People use this opportunity to distribute alms but now they are scared,” said Rabiu Bashir, a 23-year-old banker in Kano. “No communal relationships and exchanges like before,” he told Al Jazeera. “The lockdown has made everything gloomy.” 

Still, the two-day easing of restrictions has opened a window for people to rally support for those in need, according to Bawa. “Gifts and contributions are being collected on the days when the lockdown is lifted,” he said.

Nigeria Ramadan
Traditional performers during the annual Durbar festival held at the end of Ramadan in Nigeria’s northern city of Kano [File: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters]

This time of the year is also when Kano residents would usually be looking forward to the Durbar festival marking the end of Ramadan, one of the most colourful cultural events in Nigeria that attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

This year’s event, however, may not take place due to the coronavirus containment measures – less than two weeks before its supposed start, preparations have yet to commence.

“A lot will be missed about the Durbar – from the extravagant display to the huge turnout of people,” Bashir said. “It’s one that makes spending Eid [-al Fitr] in Kano special.”

The festival is usually overseen by the influential emir of Kano, who is seen as the second most senior Islamic ruler in Nigeria. On March 11, Aminu Ado Bayero was installed as the new traditional ruler following the removal of the former Emir Lamido Sanusi after a running argument with the state government.

“I’m sure a lot of people will want to see how the newly-installed emir will perform his own Durbar, which is something we have to wait a bit longer to see,” Bashir said.

Nigeria woman
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks past a public bus in Lagos, the epicentre of the crisis in Nigeria [File: Temilade Adelaja/Reuters] 

To date, Nigeria has registered 4,787 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 158 related deaths.

Lagos remains the epicentre of the virus in the country, with 1,990 registered cases, while Kano state has the second-highest number, with 693 recorded infections.

With no end in sight for the total easing of lockdown restrictions, residents are bracing for a different Eid this year.

“The only thing on our minds is to dress up, take pictures, eat and spend time as a family,” Bashir said, referring to his family’s celebration plans.

Despite this year’s obstacles, however, Alhassan is confident Kano will “bounce back to normal life again”.

“This is just a temporary setback,” he said. “We will soon gather again for prayers in mosques, share food, visit families and hold another Durbar next year Insha Allah,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera