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  Babban Zaki also known as Jan Rano was a Sultan of Kano who reigned from 1768-1776. One of the most significant rulers of the House of Kutumbi, he solved the puzzle of Kano’s complex structure and provided the blueprint for its successful administration which would survive even after the fall of the Kutumbawa.
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Through the utilization of force and espionage, he created order out of chaos by pitting government officials against each other and disrupting communication channels between chiefs in the State to avoid organized revolts. He was also the first King to arm the Kano royal guard with muskets.


“He was an able Sarki, of great strength, renowned for his memory and eloquence, He was called Babban Zaki….Hence he was called Jan Rano, well named the disturber of elephants” He was the Eldest son of Yaji II’s three infamous sons. His mother’s name was Yerduna. The Kano chronicle omits his birth name, his epithet Babban Zaki, which means “Great Lion”. He was also praised as “Jan Rano, Gasa Giwa”, which translates to “The three-pronged fork who roasts elephants” in attribution to his mastery over the chiefs of Kano.
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While Kutumbawa’s reign was characterized by the dispersion of power among State officials, in Babban Zaki’s reign, he crippled the influence of his officials to avoid rebellions which became common in the reign of his predecessors. He emphatically crushed two of such rebellions against Birnin Auyau and against Burum Burum. He was said to pillage his own chiefs and coerce them into fighting wars using his strategies against their will. He further cut off communication channels between them and ensured communication lines directly led to him through his slaves. In his time, no one was allowed to see him, not even his family, except through his slaves and in times of war, he rarely took to the battlefield himself. He also instituted state-sponsored espionage. Amongst his most trusted men, he was able to maintain a balance in their treatment such that each one thought himself to be the Sultan’s favourite.


He was the first Sarki who had a guard of musketeers at Kano, a practice which has been obtained ever since. He imitated the Arabs of Kano in almost everything. His war captains were 5—Sarkin Sankara Nagerki, Sarkin Bebeji Dembo, Sarkin Majia Kimfirmi Makama Bobawa, Sarkin Jarumai Achukur, Sarkin Dawaki Maina. The great men in his time were 42: Dawaki Tokara, Bawa, Madawaki Dundurusu, Lifidi Gabjin, Galadiman Shamaki Alwali, Tunku, Yakufu, Berka Wuta, Bagarami, Berka. These were all slaves. Among the mallams were: Alkali Abbas, Alkali Makam, Limanin Kano Aburauf and his sons, Abubukr Dan Mallam Bohari from Yandoto, and Husaini from Tarkai.
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The great men among the Arabs were: Sherif Hassan, Hajariki, Sherif Hamad, Sherif Dahab, and others. Among the Sarki’s sons were: Dan Iya, Mallam Osnman, Choka, Daka and Nafata.  Among his eunuchs were: Sarkin Dawaki Muradi, Turaki Mainya Munaga Allah, Turaki Kuka Kasan Allah, Turaki Kuka Ka-nem-Kiwo, Gwoninka Jephar, who was of the same people as Sherif Hassan and others. The chief of these was Dan Maji Babba, Hangaza and Dan Zanko Jibril. In all, there were 42. Each of them thought he was greater than the rest in the Sarki’s eyes. Thus the Sarki planned. Babban Zaki ruled Kano for 8 years. References Last, Murray (1980). “Historical Metaphors in the Kano Chronicle”. History in Africa. 7: 161–178. Palmer, Herbert Richmond, ed. (1908), “The Kano Chronicle”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 38, pp. 58–98. Featured Image Source: Gidan Labari
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This article was first published on 10th July 2022 and updated on July 14th, 2022 at 3:49 pm


Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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