In 1921, when the British administration of Northern Nigeria decided to site the first institution of higher learning in the region, they chose Katsina as location, one of the original seven Hausa city-states and once a thriving centre of Islamic learning. The school was built in the Kofar Sauri area of the city, with red-baked mud and fired clay.
The problem the Old Katsina College was meant to solve was created by colonialism. A region that was once versed in its multi-ethnic cultures, and absorbed Islamic civilization and Arabic culture, needed again to adapt to British expectations and demands. To spread its educational policy, the British needed teachers and students, and with the 1914 amalgamation came an increased need for intellectual manpower. The then governor-general of Nigeria, Sir Hugh Clifford, delivered an address on the opening of the College on March 5, 1922.
The first of these reasons is that Katsina in ancient days was held in high repute throughout the Northern Emirates as seat of learning and piety (and was also) not as yet so close to the railway and to the commercial centers of Nigeria as to make it unsuitable for that guide and tranquility and that freedom from distractions which are so necessary for young men who were devoting their lives to study.
The College aimed to produce teachers who, in teaching citizens, would shape society. Its first intake was of 50 students. The core subjects were English, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, and Religious Instruction, with space for health, agricultural, and sporting programmes.
Because cooking was not allowed in the College premises, vendors were invited to sell food. It is said that the late Emir of Katsina Aliyu Makaman Bidda, himself a former student, then decide to force food sellers to go and sell near the College, creating a mini market called Kasuwar Dole—Hausa for “forced market.”
The Old Katsina College has produced some of Northern Nigeria’s prominent personalities. They include Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto; Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s first Prime Minister; Alhaji Shehu Ahmed, former Deputy Speaker of the Northern Region Assembly; Alhaji Muhammad, former Nigerian representative at the UN; Alhaji Aliyu, former Finance Minister of the Northern Region; Alhaji Isah Kaita, former Minister of Education of the Northern Region; and Alhaji Nuhu Bamali, a former Regional Minister.
In 1938, the school was moved to Kaduna, and eventually to Zaria, where in 1949 it was renamed to Government Secondary School, Zaria. In January 1949, it was renamed again to Government College, Zaria, and eventually to Barewa College, Zaria.
Thirty-eight years after its founding, on April 23, 1959, on the eve of Independence, the government of the country named the original building of the Old Katsina College a national monument. Today, the premises include the Katsina Museum.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.