How Arewa House Was Founded

Arewa House

December 18, 2020

Arewa House, the Centre for Research and Historical Documentation under Ahmadu Bello University Zaria recently clocked 50 years. The event was marked by an elaborate ceremony attended by many dignitaries, including former Vice President Namadi Sambo, His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University Professor Kabir Bala, Governors of Kaduna, Jigawa, Sokoto, and many others. The anniversary lecture titled; Unfinished Greatness: Towards a More Perfect Union was delivered by the Governor of Ekiti State and the Chairman of Nigerian Governor’s Forum Dr. John Kayode Fayemi.

Even though Arewa House has been in existence for 50 years, not many in Northern Nigeria know of its existence and the duties it discharge. So what is the history of the center? How was it formed?

History and Formation of Arewa House

Originally called the Northern History Research Project, Arewa House is based in the official residence of the former Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, at Kaduna. It is charged with the responsibility of collecting and preserving documents relating to Northern History in the 20th Century. Arewa House has been part of Ahmadu Bello University since 1978.

Arewa House was originally the residence of the first and only Premier of the Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardaunan Sokoto. The residence was built sometimes around 1950, but only became the Center for Historical Documentation and Research—commonly called Arewa House— in 1970, some four years after the assassination of the Premier in the January 1966 coup.

Read: The Life and Death of Major Kaduna Nzeogwu

In 1970, the now-defunct Interim Common Service Agency (ICSA) agency saddled a committee made of eminent Northerners with the duty of recounting the history of northern Nigeria. The committee consisted of Alhaji Ali Akilu, Alhaji Liman Ciroma, Sunday Awoniyi, Yusuf Gobir, while the duo of Mallam Adamu Fika and Mallam Gidado Idris served as co-secretaries. Ali Akilu chaired the committee, and later Malam Liman Ciroma when the former died.

Professor Abdullahi Smith, the then Head of the Department of History, was seconded to the committee, along with three Research Assistants, including late Dr. Mahmud Modibbo Tukur, Dr. George Kwanashie, and Mallam Abdullahi Musa. 

When ICSA was scrapped in 1975, Arewa House was transferred to Ahmadu Bello University and has since then continued to be a Center for Historical Documentation and Research under the University.

Duties and Functions

Apart from being a Center for Historical Documentation and Research responsible for keeping historical files and archives about Northern Nigeria and Nigeria at large, Arewa House also serves as a museum. The personal residence of the Premier has long been converted into a museum showing his pictures, achievements, and even his original table and some of the files he treated on it!

The museum also shows pictures of the establishment of the popular Hamdala Hotel and Arewa textile industries in Kaduna, a Sugar company in Kano, as well as the coffee farms in Mambila.

The late Sardauna laying the foundation of Hamdala Hotel in Kaduna

Other important things found at the center include relics—like a flag presented to the Premier by the King Hassan of Jordan— and many other artifacts.

Pictures range from milestones in the establishment of the Hamdala Hotel in Kaduna and Arewa textile industries to coffee farms in Mambila Plateau and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in Kano as well as the ginnery and sugar company in Kwara State.

The Arewa House is made up of a museum, galleries, library, an archive, as well as an auditorium, restaurant, and event halls. It has become the custodian of northern heritage with satellite galleries housing artifacts that portray the diverse and unique cultural heritage of each northern state.

Arewa House also conducts the Sardauna Memorial Annual lecture in honor of the Premier, which started in 1994 and has so far held 10 editions. Important national issues are normally discussed in these lectures.

Arewa House was also responsible for publishing historical books, including one on some selected speeches of the Sardauna.

One of the numerous books published by Arewa House

Past Directors

The pioneer Director of the Research Center was Professor Abdullahi Smith, the then Head of the Department of History. He was assisted by Mahmud Modibbo Tukur, Dr. George Kwanashie, and Mallam Abdullahi Musa. Dr. Bashir Ikara served as the director of the center in the late 1980s.

Professor Abdullahi Smith, the first Director of Arewa House delivering a lecture sometime in the 1970, while the Vice Chancellor Professor Ishaya Audu looks on

Arewa House celebrated it’s 25th anniversary in 1987 while then Dr. Bashir Ikara, a former Federal Permanent Secretary was the Director.

Other directors include Professor Sule Bello, a former Head of History Department ABU Zaria, and Professor Idris Shaaba Jimada, and Professor Abdullahi Mahadi, a former Vice-Chancellor of the University. Dr. Kabir Chafe, a former Minister of State for Petroleum during Abacha’s regime also served as a Director of the Center between 2010 to 2015.

Professor Abdullahi Mahadi, former Director of Arewa House. He went on to become the Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria as well as Gombe State Univsersity, Gombe state.

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