A year in Katsina

23.12.2016 // Cecilie Baann, a 26-year-old student from Norway, has spent the last 11 months in Katsina in North Western Nigeria, were she has conducted fieldwork for her master’s degree in social anthropology. The student has a few days stopover in Abuja before returning to Norway, and the embassy grasp the opportunity to hear about her experiences in areas most diplomats do not get the chance to travel.

Cecilie, tell us what brought you to Katsina in the first place?

C: I came to Katsina to conduct fieldwork in social anthropology. My thesis is focused on how people in the community experience and relate to state institutions and other authorities in their everyday life. My original plan was to go to northeast Nigeria, but due to the circumstances there, I had to revise my plan. Which I am happy about now, looking back at it.

How did you go forth to get insight in these issues?

C: I started by reaching out to the Umaru Musa Yar’adua University in Katsina, and I enrolled in a language course there. I stayed on as a student of Hausa language for a few months, and through my time at the university, I started getting to know people in town and through them, I got access to everyday life. I became close friends with a lady who offered me to live with her, and so I moved in with her and her family and stayed with them for about eight months. 

I am sure you had many expectations to your research project and your stay as a whole. Looking back, what did you find challenging, and what surprised you in a positive way?

C: That is a hard question. There were of course some challenges when it came to accessing different institutions, especially as a foreigner not knowing the cultural codes. Nevertheless, it was not hard to get to know the people themselves. The state motto of Katsina is Home of Hospitality, and my experience is that the state most definitely lives up to its saying. People are interested in sharing their experiences, their thoughts on the future, and their life there.

You have now lived in northwest Nigeria, not far from the boarder with Niger Republic for quite some time. I suspect the area is affected by the situation further east. How did you experience this, and how did the community reflect around that?

C: The area is by far much safer than people might think. Moreover, daily life is not especially affected by the conflict in the northeast. In some ways, of course, the situation in the northeast has had an impact on how people perceive their nation and society, and people talk about either events or aspects concerning insecurity daily. About a year ago, the people of Katsina were somewhat worried that the conflict might spread further west, but as the military seem to have gained more ground in the north-east, people regard a spread of the Boko Haram insurgency as less likely, although there is talk about the influx of militants into other more localized conflicts in the state. Katsina is geographically situated in a way that makes it an easy transit town for people wanting to go from Niger to northeast Nigeria, and there have been some sympathisers of BH that has come through this route. However, Katsina has not been made a home by them. As far as I know the border control in the area has also been tightened over the last year.

One thing that has affected the north as a whole acutely is problems with access to food and water. Excluding this year, the last years' rainy seasons have been poor, and drought has made for poor harvests. In addition, the areas in north-eastern Nigeria have not been farmed properly for several years because of the conflict there, so there is a chronic shortage of food in the whole northern Nigeria and Niger, especially in the rural areas. Salaried workers in the cities are to a larger extent more influenced by the rising inflation owing to the economic recession in the country, but rural subsistence farmers have for several years seen less and less available food, especially staple grains, in their communities. I am therefore saddened to hear about the national and international response, or lack of it, to the on-going hunger crisis in north-eastern Nigeria, because it has been a warned crisis for several years now, and again we see there being too little, too late, in a too concentrated geographical area.

Lastly, I want to add that I think it is a shame for the north western parts of Nigeria, how the whole of the north is made somewhat unreachable for the expat and diplomatic community due to their self-inflicted security restrictions. The safety in North West is in general good, and certainly incomparable to the conflict-affected areas in the north-east.  The region is beautiful, the people friendly, and it has an interesting history and traditions, which to some degree are still kept alive today. The region, and of course country as a whole, would benefit greatly from more tourists, and it deserves an improved reputation.

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