Nigeria on Wednesday cancelled a centuries-old Eid festival known for its elaborate horse pageant, officially due to the emir’s health, but residents suspected worsening violence was to blame.
The festival has taken place in Kano; the largest city in Nigeria’s mainly Muslim north, for five centuries, featuring a horse pageant called a durbar, where riders in colorful robes and turbans pay homage to the local emir.
Over five days at the end of Ramadan, the Emir of Kano, the top traditional and spiritual figure in the area, and his royal entourage tour the city on horseback while dressed in richly ornamented robes.
It has been one of Nigeria’s few tourist attractions, with stunning photographs of the processions making their way into guidebooks. Kano has played an important role in Islamic culture, positioned on a trans-Saharan trade route.
But the festival, set to begin this weekend, will not take place this year. Some said it was the first time it had been cancelled outright, though it has been held in reduced form previously.
“Due to His Royal Highness’s ill health, he has mandated me to inform you that he has cancelled all Sallah festivities ... but will only attend the Eid prayers at the mosque,” the emir's senior counselor Abbas Sunusi told reporters.
The emir, Ado Bayero, has been on the throne for 59 years and has been dogged by an undisclosed ailment for some time. Rumors have spread that he is suffering from prostate cancer and has frequently travelled to Britain for treatment.
But the city has also been badly affected by violence committed by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, whose insurgency has killed more than 1,400 people since 2010.
Its deadliest attack yet occurred in Kano in January, when coordinated bombings and shootings left at least 185 people dead.
On Saturday, soldiers raided a suspected Boko Haram hideout outside the city and discovered a cache of arms including guns and explosives.
Authorities said three suspects arrested in the raid confessed that the arsenal was intended for attacks in the city during Eid.
“We know that the emir has been sick for some years but it did not stop him from holding the durbar. We believe there is more to what the palace is giving as reason for cancelling the Eid festival,” resident Shitu Nasiru said.
“The main reason is the security situation in the city. There are fears that Boko Haram may launch attacks during the Eid,” said Nasiru, who has been attending the durbar for 32 years.
Other residents expressed similar opinions.
Last year, despite having undergone surgery, the emir held the durbar, though he cancelled some parts of the city tour.