The Arewa House

The Arewa House, locally known as Gidan Arewa, was the home of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the first and former Premier of Northern Nigeria.

The tale of the famous Arewa House begins in a rather bloody fashion in the Northern Nigerian state of Kaduna. Four years prior to Arewa’s founding (1970), Sir Ahmadu Bello the former Premier of Northern Nigeria (1954-1966) was assassinated in 1966. Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, established the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) the same year of his death. Ahmadu Bello’s accomplishments in both education and politics not only ushered Nigeria to independence, but pushed for better higher education.

Arewa House, locally known as Gidan Arewa, was the home of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello. Initially in 1970, a committee known as the “History of Northern Nigeria Committee,” used the Arewa House to write a book on the history of Northern Nigeria. The Arewa House which is presently located underneath the Ahmadu Bello University, is responsible for the acquisition and preservation of a plethora of historical documents. Professor Abdullahi Smith is credited with establishing the Arewa House as a center for historical and cultural research and documentation.

What separates the Arewa House from other historical preservation institutions is the regional materials and documents specific to Northern Nigeria.1 Firstly there are Approximately 1,600 Arabic documents that have been deposited in Arewa. Not only is that evidence of the influence Islamic religion had on Nigeria historically, but also how they’re presently affected. The Arewa House Museum hosts more than a dozen galleries, including one dedicated to the memory of ABU’s founder. One such gallery, the Katsina State gallery, hosts objects pertaining to Northern Nigerian culture including cultural dresses, drums, farming equipment, and a Quran. Sokoto State gallery pays homage to the humble beginnings of Nigeria and how far they advanced with displays of the first beds used in Northern Nigeria.2 Secondly what truly is amazing about the Arewa House is not just the emphasis on historical knowledge, but the side goal of peace and leadership. Putting aside the goals and practices, what Arewa House Museum represents is a newly independent nation's pursuit of knowledge and cultural understanding.

Presently, the Arewa House Museum is overseen by Professor Idris Shaaba Jimada, who’s work primarily consists of national and international studies on political/social movements. Similarly. museum director Idris Shaaba Jimada of the Arewa House is known for the discussions on current national and international events/issues. On top of Nigeria gaining national freedom, they began to play a part in the global connections made around the world by increasing the knowledge of relevant topics. While the importance of Arewa’s necessary discussions should not be ignored, the main purpose is historical preservation. Many documents come from private collections, some are donated, and certain weathered documents that need replication. For instance, roughly six hundred manuscripts were given to the Arewa House by the late Modibbo Ahmadu Fofure of Yola (1889-1960). As was the case for most Northern Nigerian residents, Modibbo received a heavily Islamically influenced education. His collection of manuscripts is considered one of the most important storehouses of Northern Nigerian culture and Islamic documents (333). Modibbo Ahmadu’s collection is praised not just for its impressive size, but for the diversity of subjects covered throughout the documents. Some included are exquisite calligraphy, the Holy Qur’an, lexicography, astronomy, traditional medicine, Qur’anic sciences, etc (334). Other smaller, but could be argued equally important, collections include the Shaykh Musa Ganan Deji Manuscripts containing more than 220 original Arabic texts written between the 19th and 20th centuries. These manuscripts include subjects in astrology, poetry, Sufism, political economy, etc. Another highly regarded collection, the Shaykh Illiyasu Dalhat Katsina Manuscripts, which is a series of roughly 30 original texts were written between the 18th and 20th centuries. Such fields of study are the tenets of Tijaniyyah, Sufism, theology, and Islamic law. One could argue that a crucial part of historical document acquisition is the proper preservation of the materials obtained, including the ones that have lasted centuries. Sadly, the Arewa House runs into the problem of naturally caused material decay, such as insects and strong levels of humidity. The current solution for the problem is not a very strong one, with only certain manuscripts being chosen for mass duplication and translation.3

Unfortunately, the Arewa House’s problem is not an uncommon one in the field of history. It is almost impossible to gather enough information to get 100% of the whole picture, with large portions of evidence escaping the grasps of scholars across the world. However, this shouldn’t negate the fact that the working being done by scholars in the Arewa House are quite important in terms of cultural understanding. Hopefully in the near future funding from the Ahmadu Bello University will clear and better preservation practices can be performed. The cultural heritage site marks the desire that residents of Northern Nigeria have for properly recording their rich history, both culturally and religiously.