Construction of Roads and Railways and its Impact on Central and Northern Senatorial Districts of Zamfara

Cite this article: Kurah, I. S. (2022). “Construction of Roads and Railways and its Impact on Central and Northern Senatorial Districts of Zamfara”. in Sokoto Journal of History Vol. 11. Pp. 120-133.


Roads and railway lines are two colonial infrastructures that have great impact on the colonial economy as well as the indigenous people. Roads and railways were established and constructed by the colonialist, principally for the exploitation and easy evacuation of the needed resources to the coast for onward shipment to Europe. The paper examines the impact of roads and railway on the economy and society of Zamfara area in the colonial and post-colonial periods. Historical approach of inquiry was used in which both primary and secondary sources of information were used. The paper revealed that, roads and railway networks was used as a means of exploitation and evacuation of agricultural resources by the colonialist. Other impacts of roads and railways in the area include migration, population increase and physical expansion. It also led to the emergence of companies/industries which led to the increase in commercial activities and urbanization among others.

Keywords: Roads, Railways, Construction, Impact, Zamfara

DOI: 10.36349/sokotojh.2022.v11i01.001


Idris Salisu Kurah

Zamfara State College of Education, Maru 


Roads and railway lines are two colonial infrastructures that have great impact on the colonial economy as well as the indigenous people. Roads and railways were established and constructed by the colonialist, principally for the exploitation and easy evacuation of the needed resources to the coast for onward shipment to Europe. The paper examines the impact of roads and railway on the economy and society of Zamfara area in the colonial and post-colonial periods. Historical approach of inquiry was used in which both primary and secondary sources of information were used. The paper revealed that, roads and railway networks was used as a means of exploitation and evacuation of agricultural resources by the colonialist. Other impacts of roads and railways in the area include migration, population increase and physical expansion. It also led to the emergence of companies/industries which led to the increase in commercial activities and urbanization among others.



Gusau, Tsafe and Kaura-Namoda are located in the Central and Northern Senatorial Districts of Zamfara. Just like other states in Nigeria Zamfara State also has three Senatorial Districts (North, Central and Western Senatorial Districts). Gusau and Tsafe are located in the Central while Kaura- Namoda in the Northern Senatorial Districts, all of which were districts during the colonial period.1 It is important to note that between1903 and 1966, Zamfara Land was part of Sokoto Province as well as Sokoto Division. This is because in 1903 Northern Protectorate was organized under 16 Provinces which was later pruned to 13 in 1911. However, in 1926 the protectorate system was reorganized across the whole of Northern Region which produces 11 Provinces and 42 Divisions. Remarkably, by 1966 the Northern Region had 13 Provinces Sokoto inclusive.2 It is also important to note that the area of study fall within Sokoto Province. The transformation of the political structure of the country in 1966 and subsequently the creation of 12 states structure by General Yakubu Gowon on 27th May, 1967 led to the creation of North-Western State with Sokoto as its capital in which Zamfara land was a part. Further restructuring that followed up subsequently during the regime of Late General Murtala Ramat Muhammad led to the structuring of the Federation into 19 States including Sokoto State. On 23rd September 1987 two additional States were created namely, Katisna and Akwa Ibom by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida with additional 9 states


1            For more information on the geography and boundary of both Gusau Tsafe and Kaura-Namoda as Districts, see NAK/SOK Prof: 222/1920: District Assessment Chafe, Kwianbana, Gusau, Kotorkoshi and Bungudu by Mr. Saxon, A.D.O. 1920.

2            K. S. Chafe, Zamfara State: It‘s Challenges and Prospects in the Nigerian Federation‖, Being a Public Lecture at the 20thAnniversary of the Creation of Zamfara State, 1st October,2016. pp.16-19.

in the same year.3 Similarly, in 1996, the regime of late General Sanin Abacha saw creation of additional 6 states in which Zamfara was carved out from Sokoto State.4

Roads and railways were the major and necessary means of transportation introduced and maintained by the colonial masters. They were established and constructed principally for the exploitation and easy evacuation of the needed resources to the coast for onward shipment to Europe. There were quite a number of roads that were constructed that linked the production centres and villages with the railway stations. So also there were roads constructed from Zaria through Tsafe to Gusau up to Sokoto which are parts of the study area except Kaura-Namoda which was not located along that axis. However, the Kaura-Namoda road was given much consideration by the colonialist due to fact that it was one of the areas that produced the needed farm products notably groundnuts and cotton. The issue of groundnut and cotton production, stands out as one of the important reasons that which attracted the extension of railway to the area.

Walter Rodney categorically spelt out the motives of building roads and railways.5 He said that, they were meant for the benefit of the Europeans. He emphasized that the means of transportation were not constructed in the colonial period so that the Africans could visit their friends. More important still, they were not laid down to facilitate the internal trade of African commodities. There were no roads connecting different colonies and different parts of the same colony in a manner that made sense with regards to Africa‘s need and development. They were built to extract gold, manganese, coffee or cotton. They were built to make business possible for the timber companies, trading companies, and agricultural concession firms etc.6 Despite above arguments by Rodney, the roads and railway had equally significantly contributed towards development and expansion of the areas. Gusau, for example, has been ranked second only to Sokoto in terms of development and Kano in terms of trade. Similarly, as a result of trading activities, migrants were provided with opportunities to move to the town as a result of the presence of the railway. The extension of railway to Kaura-Namoda also made it possible for migrants from far areas including Niger Republic to come, settle and tap various opportunities.

Establishment and Expansion of Road Infrastructure

The history of road construction by the British Government in Nigeria went as far back as 1885 when measures to construct roads took serious action, and that was the time when ordinance was passed by the British government which made her to take positive measures to construct roads. Following the passage of the ordinance in 1885, few roads were constructed and maintained by the chiefs. Four years later, by 1889, an estimated number of 250 miles laterite roads were constructed in Lagos and its environs. The British government further decided to embark on the construction of feeder roads, which heralded the transformation of road transport in Nigeria.7 So also, these roads

3.          This happened on August 21st bringing a total number of 30 States. Yet, Zamfara Land was under Sokoto. Since 1996 when General Sani Abacha announced the creation of six additional states in Nigeria, Zamfara state was detached from Sokoto state with its headquarters at Gusau, while Tsafe and Kaura-Namoda served as Local Government headquarters under Zamfara State.

4.          K.S. Chafe, ―Zamfara State: It‘s Challenges and Prospects…pp.18-19.

5.          W. Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, London, Bogle L ‗Ouverture Publications, 1972. p. 228

6.          W. Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

7.          Y. U. Madugu, ― A Historical Overview in the Changing Nature of Transport and Trade in Kano , C. 1900-1960‖ in M. T. Usman and M. A. Rufa‘I, (eds), Social and Economic History of Northern Nigeria Since 1500 A.D.

must be built if British really want to achieve her aim of evacuating the needed raw materials to feed her industries. Therefore, one may ask at this point that, what were the avenues used in the construction of these roads, out rightly through labour provided by the indigenes of the areas particularly where it was constructed, what Madawaki called colonial labour.8

The road construction was given greater emphasis as the colonial officials capitalized under the Road Proclamation Act (RPA) of 1903 in the recruitment of labour. As a result of the Act, the Sultan directed all the district and village heads to embark on the cutting of trees and grasses to construct feeder roads. The labour for the construction was made compulsory to the extent that failure to comply will be met with a fine of an amount not exceeding £50.9 The second pattern of labour recruitment for the construction of roads was the payment of ten shilling (10/-) per mile each per each headman to pay the labourers the completion of their work.10

By 1926, the Government has built about 2,950 miles of road maintained by the Public Works Department (PWD) and between £20 to £40 a mile was spent on them. In the same year roads were divided into trunk ‗A‘,‘B‘ and minor roads.11 The trunk ‗A‘ comprised of the roads constructed and maintained by the Public Works Department. These were the major roads, usually laterite or gravel roads supporting large concrete bridges and culverts. The trunk ‗B‘ category were built and maintained by the Native Authority. These were usually narrow interred roads. By 1933 an estimated 762 miles of motarable roads existed in Sokoto Province.12 By 1936, there were nearly two thousand miles of motarable road within the Province, but admittedly many of these roads were of poor standard and it became a policy that these roads should be gradually improved.13 It was believed that building of the culverts will be important as they solidify the roads. Therefore, government assisted the Native Administration by granting funds for two major bridges constructions at Kaura-Namoda and Zurmi respectively.14 Despite this laudable effort however, the two bridges were not constructed till 1938 in which the one at Kaura-Namoda was completed and opened for traffic in the same year and the other one at Zurmi was at completion stage.15 In order to link up Sokoto and Katsina Provinces, the third bridge at the border was jointly financed by the two Native Administrations (of Sokoto and Katsina).16

Makurdi, Aboki Publishers, 2015, p. 221. See also, R. O. Ekundare, An Economic History of Nigeria, 1860-1960, London, Mathiuen & Co. Ltd, 1973. p.142.

8            See M. A. Madawaki, British Colonial Labour Policies in the South-Eastern Districts of Zamfara, 1903-1960‖ M. A.History Dissertation, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, 2012.

9            NAK, SNP, 2089/1907-Compulsory Native Labour in the British Colonies.

10        Ibid.

11        I. A. Akinjogbin and S. A. Obasi, Topics on Nigerian Economic and Social History, Ile-Ife, Ife University Press, p.104.

12        NAK/SNP., 17/2. Sokoto Province Annual Report. 1933.

13        AHK/, 19/1/ A.7, AR/2/7: Annual Report on the Northern Provinces of Nigeria 1936, by Resident, Commander J.

H. Carrow. p.46.

14        Ibid.

15        AHAK/, 19/1/ A.9, AR/2/9:Annual Report on the Northern Provinces  of Nigeria 1938, by Senior Resident, Commander J. H. Carrow, p.56.

16        Ibid.

Between 1939 and 1945, a considerable programme of roads construction took place under the Colonial Development Welfare Scheme (CDWS).17 Another noticeable change took place in 1952 when the Regional Public Works Department (RPWD) was established and charged with the responsibility of trunk ‗B‘ roads. The Federal Government constructed and maintained trunk ‗A‘ roads. Minor roads still carried out local traffic and therefore acted as feeders to the trunk ‗A and B‘ roads.18 The colonial government had spent about £ 14 million on road construction from 1955- 1960.19 From 1953 to 1960 also, most of the major roads were improved and modern concrete bridges were built. From 1945 to 1960, road transport became more important than the railway because it penetrated almost every nook and crannies of the cities.20

Despite the fact that reasonable number of roads were not constructed during the early colonial rule, the existing ones were maintained and improved. Tibenderana had provided more clarification on the above statement that, shortly after the establishment of colonial rule the colonial state made efforts to improve and maintain some of the existing roads in the different parts of metropolitan Sokoto Caliphate which was now re-designated as Sokoto Province. These roads included old trade routes (of Trans-Sahara trade) which already linked up towns and villages within the area.21 As such, the motor service in form of private enterprises started operating between Zaria and Sokoto provinces, mainly between Zaria and Gusau. This service comprised modern lorries.22

Zaria-Gusau road was among the roads maintained by the British and it was completed in 1926, thereby linking Sokoto and its districts to the other parts of the country. The completion of this road no doubt facilitated motor transport from other parts of Nigeria to Sokoto through Zaria and Gusau. By 1927, a regular motor transport service between Zaria and Sokoto had become operational. Usman elaborates that, the colonial administration constructed motarable roads to facilitate the transportation of cotton to Gusau, then to Lagos for export. By 1928, the Sokoto-Zaria road was completed which linked Sokoto with other parts of the Northern Nigeria and by extension the South of the country..23 So also, the cotton buying stations in eastern Sokoto emirate were linked by motorable roads which allowed for easy evacuation of crops to ginnery in Gusau.24

The traffic was made busier in 1930 when the Railway motor service was introduced.25 So also, these roads have been classified into two, the all-weather roads and the dry-season roads. In our area of study, there were the existence of the all-weather (dry and raining season) roads and the dry-

17        R. O. Ekundare, An Economic History of Nigeria 1860-1960... pp. 264-267.

18        Ibid.

19        D. O. Eweza, ―A History of Transport System between Asaba in Delta State and Onitsha in Anambra State from 1954-1996‖ M. A. History Dissertation, Bayero University, Kano, 2001. pp. 21-23.

20        Ibid.

21        P. K. Tibenderana, Sokoto Province under Colonial Rule, 1903-1939: A Study in Institutional Adaptation and the Culturalization of Colonial Society in Northern Nigeria, Zaria, Ahmadu Bello University Press limited, 1988. pp. 426-427.

22        AHAK/, 19/1/A1, A. R.2/2: Annual Report on the Northern Province of Nigeria, 1926. p. 21

23        M.T.Usman, Commerce and Industry in the Former Sokoto Province, C. 1903-1990‖ in M. T. Usman and M. A. Rufa‘i, (ed), Social and Economic History of Northern Nigeria Since 1500 AD, (Makurdi, Aboki Publishers, 2015). p. 46.

24        Ibid.

25        NAK, SNP, 17/2/1667, Sokoto Provincial Annual Report No. 28, 1931.


season roads (use in the dry season only). The Zaria- Gusau- Sokoto road that was discussed belongs to the all-weather roads,26 while Anka, Bukkuyum and Gusau-Kaura-Namoda which involves the construction of two major bridges at Anka and Kaura-Namoda were the dry season roads that were included in the Sokoto Province development plan in 1935.27 There were some roads that were constructed mainly to connect railway station. In 1932 for example, in readiness for groundnuts season, dry weather roads were to be rehabilitated to link Kucheri, Chafe, Karazau and Nahuce rail stations.28 It should be understood that all these roads constructed in the above mentioned villages were located between Faskari, Tsafe, Gusau and Kaura-Namoda where railway passed. These feeder roads served quite a number of purposes some of which were meant to provide enough passengers and cargo traffic for the new railway. 29 For migration of people to the prosperous areas where railways were constructed for greener pasture, and of course for the benefit of the colonialist for easy movement of troops to area of riots.

The Impact of Road Construction during the Colonial Period

One of the reasons behind the road construction according to the British officials was in order to enhacing communication with all District head-quarters.30 The other benefit was to provide the means of evacuating cotton produced in some areas. For instant, the conversion of Gusau- Kaura- Namoda- Moriki road and Gusau-Anka, Gummi road was because, ‗Gusau ginnery had been good for ginning in 1935 in which about 9   tonnage was ginned and that it was necessary to install another ginnery for more production around Gusau-Kaura-Namoda, Jibia Trunk Road and heavy weight machineries were transported, and also ginning continues beyond the end of the dry season and baled cotton as well as bagged seeds were produced and carried to rail head for export.31

Another importance attached to these roads network is that it cuts across both the colonial government and the natives which mean the two parties benefited from the road construction. One of its importances was that it reduced labour demands on the peasants, especially as carriers for British Towering Officers (BTO) provision as observed by Tibenderana.32 He went ahead to reveale that, quite a number of people in the cotton growing areas in Sokoto Province like Gusau and Kaura-Namoda, Tsafe, Moriki, Bungudu etc benefited from the new transport system simply because they no longer travel long distance using the traditional method of Donkeys and Camels before they could sell their products.33

The advent of motor vehicles and motor transport has been a turning point in the history of colonialism. It predated railway transportation which served almost the same purposes but with some differences. Of course this transport system was not introduced at the early period of


26        RDS 13/1/9/- Gusau-Kaura-Namoda JibiaTrunk Road. p.9.

27        Ibid, p.18.

28        Ibid. p.19.

29        R.O. Ekundare, An Economic History of Nigeria, 1860-1960…p. 142.

30        NAK Prof. 4410 vol. Handing Over Note. p. 44.

31        Ibid,..See also RDS 13/1/9/- Gusau-Kaura-Namoda JibiaTrunk Road. p.. 17., and  AHK/,19/A. R., A.R. 2/2: Annual Report on the Northern Provinces of Nigeria, 1929. p. 30.

32        Op. Cit, P. K. Tibenderana, Sokoto Province under Colonial Rule…p. 243.

33        Ibid.

colonialism but continuation of pre-colonial transport system was maintained until certain period. Sifawa lamented this and asserted in an elaborate form that:

Although up to the early 1920s, the pre-colonial transportation system remained the major means of public transportation not only among the natives, but including the expatriate firms, the situation started changing in the late 1920s. The period witnessed the gradual increase in the number of vehicles owned by government and individuals.34

The number of motor vehicles increased from 1934-35 when there were 9 motor drivers dwelled at Sabon Gari Gusau and 12 at the railway quarters (Yarloko). There were also 16 railway motor employees at Railway quarters and 72 at railway station.35 There were also 8 road labourers who were pulled to work at the construction site of roads as it result of the increase in the demand of roads because of the increase in the number of motor vehicles at the railway motor quarters as well as 23 casual labourers at Sabon Gari.36

Ekundare observed that, throughout the 1920s and 1930s the motor transport services continued to develop as more people could afford to buy lorries, which were used mainly for carrying agricultural export produce from the interior to the coast.37 This increase in the number of people that owned vehicles continue to increase by 1953, when there were over 38 lorry owners operating in Gusau with total number of 56 trucks.38 It was in 1927 that private motor operators began regular transport services with lorries that conveyed passengers between Sokoto and Zaria and those that could not make it through the Niger-Nigeria cattle routes to Kaura-Namoda conveyed their agricultural commodities to Sokoto for transport to Gusau.39 Transport and its business have not been given much attention in Tsafe unlike in Gusau. Yet the earliest people to own motor vehicles in Chafe were Alhaji Bahadeje and Ahaji Sule who both had one lorry each.40 The former engaged himself in different businesses including cattle trading of which he was the most famous in that business in the whole of Tsafe district.41

The Extension of Railway Line to Zamfara Area

Precisely the extension of railway line started as early as 1924 when surveys were carried out between Jebba and Zungeru up to Sokoto, and between Zaria and Sokoto to construct railway. In October, 1925 approval was given to construct 107 miles from Zaria to Gusau.42 The work started in the same year and completed in January, 1929 and was extended to Kaura-Namoda in October, 1929, covering a distance of 137 miles of rail line from Zaria. Centrally, the desire to extend the

34        A. A. Sifawa, Colonial State and Urbanization in Sokoto Metropolis…p.74.

35        NAK/Sok Porf. 3176: Gusau District-Sokoto Division Re-assessment of. 1934-35.

36        Ibid.

37        R. O. Ekundare, An Economic History of Nigeria 1860-1960… p. 146.

38        Gusau District Note Book/26/ History Bureau Sokoto, 1553. p. 35.

39        A.  Sani  and  M.  Bello,  ―The  Impact  of  the  Collapse  of  Kaura-Namoda  Railway  Terminus  on  Nigeria-Niger Economic Relations, in A. M. Ashafa et-al (ed),…pp. 465-466.

40        WJHCB/DBN/93/5/13: Chafe District Note Book, 1950. p. 139.

41        Ibid. Also, Oral interview with Alh. Isiya Sanusi, 72 Years, Politician/Farming, at his Resident Sauri Area Tsafe. 42          Ibid. p.280.

railway to Kaura-Namoda was to tap the vast resources of cotton and groundnuts as well as to get access to some areas in Sokoto province linking them up with the provinces of Katsina, Zaria and other areas in the Northern protectorate as well as with areas down to the coast in southern Nigeria.43

The railway scheme in Northern Nigeria as a whole was largely constructed through what Lugard devised as ‗local‘ method, where by the construction was organized by the Native Authority and not by the Resident Engineer.44 Abubakar quoting Tamuno testified that, the colonial state used its administrative and military personnel, local chiefs and labourers in executing the railway scheme.45

Mentioned has been made that the Native Authorities were given the responsibility of organizing the labour for the construction. The Native Authorities were assigned to get the specific number of men which emirs  were expected to contribute to the labour pool of the colonial state. The emirs in turn delegated the task of mobilizing of forced labour to district and village headmen. Each village within the districts were assigned specific number of men which their village heads must supply to the railway construction sites within their areas of jurisdiction failure for which they could be dethroned.46

Concerning the number of labourers utilized in the construction site, at one point a large numbers of labourers were steadily maintained, in fact, up to 10,000 labourers were involved in railway construction line.47 However, the Annual Report of the Sokoto Province of 1922 revealed that, the Sokoto N. A. supplied 2,000-2,500 able bodied men to the labour pool of Colonial State at a short notice. Also during construction of Tsafe-Gusau-Kaura-Namoda railroad and more particularly the extension to Kaura-Namoda from Gusau, the Colonial State made claim to the right to use male in forced labour in emergencies or in undertaking some urgent work for the benefit of the community as ‗duty‘ which the law imposed upon the people without remunerations.48 Since labour for the various colonial undertakings was mobilized through the system of levy in which districts and village heads were directed to supply certain quota as the single most important colonial infrastructure on which forced labour was used, railway construction became responsible for the creation of full time labourers in towns and villages with no skills to offer than their physical energy. Such labourers were mobilized in towns and villages close to the construction sites. District and village heads were not only involved in the mobilization of labour, but also in the supervision of

43        Ibid.  See  also  M.  N.  Abubakar,  ―Colonial  Economy  and  Colonial…p.  122.  Abubakar  added  beside  the  above reasons that among the objectives of extending the railway to Kaura-Namoda was to have access to the area for easy movement of stores, personnel as well as troops of the colonial state for easy infiltration of under-cover operatives for the purpose of spying on the neighbouring   French territories and of luring trade from these territories. (French territories here refers to Niger Republic which in no longer distance bordered with Kaura- Namoda).

44        T.  Tamuno,  The  Genesis  of  Nigerian…pp.  123-124.    in  N.  M.  Abubakar,  ―Colonial  Economy  and  Colonial Infrastructure … p. 124.

45        Ibid. N. M. Abubakar, Colonial Economy and Colonial Infrastructure quoted . in N. M. Abubakar, Colonial Economy and Colonial Infrastructure … p. 124.

46        M.A,  Mamman,  ―The  Role  of  the  Native  Authority  in  the  Agrarian  and  Pastoral  Economy  of  Katsina  Emirate, 1903-1960” Ph D Thesis,    History Department, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 2004. pp. 131-145. See also NAK SNP, 17/1094. Vo. I: Eastern Railway Extension-Zaria-Gusau Branch. p. 1.

47        A. Shoyebi, ―Railway as a Factor for British Colonial Domination… pp.121-124.

48        NAK Sokprof. 44/1922 Province Annual Report 1922.

the construction work at the site.49 Sometimes the work comes in the form of clearing tracks for the laying of telegraph as well as maintenance of and repairs of the rail lines and tracks.50

The Impact of Railway Line on Zamfara Area

The extension of railway line to the specific areas of in the present day central and northern senatorial districts of Zamfara State and more particularly to Tsafe, Gusau and Kaura-Namoda respectively has been very important in our discussion. Its establishment and extension had benefited both the principal actors (colonialist) and the indigenes of the affected areas in so many ramifications.51 Obiakor and Agajelu have summarized the motives behind the introduction of railway which concurred with the roles of railway lines in the following:

Curiosity in Britain about the interior areas of Nigeria, the desire to expand British trade, the British manufacturers desired the opening up of the Nigerian interior as new markets for their goods to reach the produce centres where the water ways cannot reach, development of railway was necessary to help the colonial merchants

49        Ibid.

50        NAK Prof, 3/2 Acc. No. Agency, 275, 320 Vol.1. Telegraph Communication Sokoto Province.

51        See Lugard‘s assertion as regard to the mutual and reciprocal importance and reasons behind the establishment of the colonial infrastructure in Africa in the introduction of this chapter.

in moving cash crops and extractive minerals from where they were produced inland to the harbour for export. 52

The bulky nature of both import and export commodities as well as the absence of good roads unavailability of heavy haulage road vehicles, were the reasons that encouraged the Colonial government to establish railway transport. There was also the need to establish a more flexible movement of colonial administrative personal in the vast colony especially after the amalgamation of 1914.53

Our studies have shown that, Gusau Tsafe and Kaura-Namoda have been areas blessed with the fertile land which gave these areas the opportunity to produce the needed farm products in abundance. Agricultural products like cotton and groundnuts were available most especially in these areas under review. Unlike in Sokoto according to Sifawa which was very significant politically as the administrative headquarters of both the defunct Sokoto Caliphate and the newly established province of which no attempt was made to extend the railway line, and the reason according him was simply because there was small quantity of raw materials like cotton and groundnut there.54 Hannatu provided an elaborate explanation on the role of railway creation and extension that, it was constructed to promote the exploitation of the Nigerian by the colonialist (British colonial government); thus its construction and expansion was done to meet the need and demand of the colonial administration. It therefore served the purpose for which it was created and more because it resulted in increase and growth of the agricultural sector within the colonial period.55 Usman was categorical on this issue where he revealed that the extension of the railway line from Zaria to Gusau and Kaura-Namoda in 1929 was yet another infrastructural facility developed by the colonial administration which contributed to the growth of commercial activities between Sokoto Province and other parts of Nigeria. The railway extension provided direct and efficient means of evacuating cotton and other goods from Sokoto Province to Lagos for export to Europe.56

It was generally assessed that, no type of transportation offer cheap services with added value on the net gains than railway in Nigeria.57 Givan and Oyemakinde looked at the role of railway on the point that it set up a massive upsurge in the production of export crops and mining in Nigeria.58 To Crowder, the railway stimulated the transport of commercial goods, likewise it played the role of transporting the British administrative personnel. A system of telegraph communications essential

52        N.  J.  Obiiaka  and  A.  C.  Agajelu,  ―British  Colonial  Economic  Policies  and  Infrastructure  in  Nigeria:  The  Rail Transport Example, 1898-1996‖ in EGWUBUKE: An African Journal of Arts and Humanities, Vol. 2, No. 3, August, 2016. pp. 18-19.

53        Ibid.

54        A. A. Sifawa, Colonial State and Urbanization in Sokoto Metropolis… p. 70.

55        K. A. Hannatu, The Railway Factor in the Economic Transformation of Nigeria Since 1914‖ in M. T. Usman and

M. A. Rufa‘I (ed), Social and Economic History of Northern Nigeria Since 1500 AD, Makurdi, Aboki Publishers, 2015. p. 236.

56        M.T. Usman, ―Commerce and Industries in the Former Sokoto Province, C. 1903-1990,‖ in M. T. Usman and M.

A. Rufa‘I (ed), Ibid. p. 46. See also AHAK/, 19/1/A1, A. R.2/2: Annual Report on the Northern Province of Nigeria, 1926. p. 21

57        A. L. Mabongunje, Urbanization in Nigeria, London, University Press, 1968. p. 87.

58        R. J. Gavin and W. Oyemakinde, Economic Development  in Nigeria Since 1800,‖ in O. Ikime  Groundwork of Nigerian History, (ed), Ibadan Heinemann, 1999.  pp. 488-500.

to commercial exploitation as well as administrative control spread across the country side, following the track of the said railway.59

Also, the number of passengers who travelled on the railways increased from 1,923,000 in 1924-5 to 3,851,000 in 1929-1930; and the tonnage of goods hauled increase from 560,000 in 1924-5 to 1,002,000 in 1927-8. Despite the fact that, both passengers and cargo were affected by the economic depression of the early thirties, yet by 1934 the number of passengers who travelled on the railways had increased, and the tonnage of the goods equally increased.60 As a result of the opening up of the Zaria- Gusau-Kaura Namoda extension of the railway, an estimated tones 10,000 tons of farm produce as well as imports were carried over the Gusau- Zaria section in the same year of the railway extension.61 By 1936, there was a gross increase in the number of agricultural products evacuated from Sokoto province which were mostly groundnuts and cotton from Gusau Tsafe and Kaura-Namoda axis. It was estimated it was 12,000 tons of cotton, 36,000 tons of groundnuts, and 550 tons of hides and skin were exported using the railway line extended in 1929.62

Migration, Population Increase and Physical Expansion

The coming of railway to these areas had in no small amount attracted people from both within and outside the country especially clerical staff, artisans, traders and farmers from southern Nigeria and more particularly from the neighbouring Republic of Niger as in the case of Kaura-Namoda.63 Such economic migration has no doubt led the physical expansion of the towns. In Gusau for example, it led to the establishment of a settlement called ‗Yarloko‘ which was a place or quarters reserved for railway workers. That was the beginning of extension in Gusau as a result of the emergence of railway.64 Another notable development that was recorded as a result of the emergence of railway in Gusau was the establishment of more settlements otherwise known as Gusau Town Wards (GTW). This must be connected to the fact that as more migrants were coming so also expansion and extension was taken place.

Thus, Gusau witnessed the influx of large number of migrant groups Katsina have the highest number of migrants in all the newly established wards as a result of the railway extension. Migrants from Kano also came to tap the new opportunities provided by railway. Other migrants communities reasonably found in the wards were Bare-Bari, Buzaye, Zazzagawa, Kabawa, Daurawa etc. But Yoruba were the largest number of migrants from the southern part of Nigeria who concentrated much in Sabon-Gari with about 146 people against Ibo having 34. As a result of the railway extension, some of the migrant communities that came to Gusau were of different professions who helped in no small measure towards the expansion of the town. For example, in terms of building

59        M. Crowder, West Africa Under Colonial Rule, London, Huchinson, 1976, p. 278.

60        R. O. Ekundare An Economic History of Nigeria 1860-1960… pp. 138-139.

61        AHAK/, 19/1/A.R, 11. A.R. 2/2: Annual Report on the Northern Provinces of Nigeria, for the Year 1929. p. 30

62        AHAK/, 19/1/A. A.R/2/7: Annual Report on the Northern Provinces of Nigeria, for the Year 1936. p. 46.

63        A.  Sani  and  M.  Bello,  ―The  Impact  of  the  Collapse  of  Kaura-Namoda  Railway  Terminus  on  Nigeria-Niger Economic Relations, in A. M. Ashafa et-al (ed), Readings in Post-Colonial Boarders and Economy in West Africa, Kaduna, Plymak Services Ltd, 2018. pp. 465-466.

64        See  A.  F.  Usman,  ―Inter-Group  Relation  in  Gusau:   A  Casa  Study  of  Yoruba  and  Hausa  C.  1920-1996‖  Ph  D Thesis, History Department, Usmanu Dan Fodiyo University, Sokoto, 2003.pp. 26-27. See also I. Salisu, Igbo Migration and Inter-Group Relations in Gusau Town: C. 1927-1996. M. A. Dissertation, Department of History, Usmanu DanFodiyo University, Sokoto. 2012. p. xii. and 26-27.

which is the number one factor that signifies physical expansion, there were as at 1934 about 20 mud-builders and bricklayers as well as 2 thatchers in Gusau particularly domiciled at Sabon-Gari.65 These categories of people participated in the construction of modern buildings which almost replaced the indigenous mode of building in the area.66

At Kaura-Namoda, the most glaring example of such physical expansion was the establishment of Sabon-Gari, a settlement, according to Sani and Bello, that is a kilometer away from the main ancient town of Kaura-Namoda. Though the settlement is situated at the main railway terminus, the development of the inter-group relations among over fifteen ethnic tribes at Sabon-Gari symbolizes how effective transformation brought by the railway touched the lives of the people of Kaura- Namoda and the entire northern Nigeria by extension.67 The estimated population of the major towns of the former Sokoto province in 1911 was given by Nadama as Gusau having 8,612 while Kaura-Namoda had 13, 067,68 but with the coming of railway and the establishment of Sabon-Gari Kaura-Namoda, as a result of influx of people from different areas for a greener pasture, so the long years of the socio-economic interaction in this new settlement remain one of the most outstanding legacies of the railway to the people and community of Kaura-Namoda as asserted by Sani and Bello.69 They added that, today the population of the people of Sabon-Gari represent between 15- 18% of the total population of Kaura-Namoda Local Government.70 While the population of Tsafe at that time was not all that significant because the town was not railway terminus, only that the railway stopped there sometimes before it passes to Gusau and Kaura-Namoda 71. In 1931, an increase in population of both native and the Europeans has been witnessed in Gusau and Kaura- Namoda. This has been attributed to the increase of the number of immigrants as a result of the different opportunities brought by the railway. The total population of Gusau as at October, 1931 was 14,850 and 21 Europeans, while Kaura-Namoda had a total number of 13,185 people respectively.72 In fact, most of the immigrants that came as a result of the railway construction to Tsafe , Gusau and Kaura-Namoda were labourers of southern Nigerian origin especially Igbo and Yoruba who were mostly unskilled labourers working on the rail line. There was also quite a number of them who were clerks and other administrative personnel associated with the colonial administration.73

65        NAK Prof.: Gusau District-Sokoto, Division Re-assassement of. 1934-35.

66        The reason for this assertion is because most of the buildings done in the railway quarters, ‗Yarloko, Sabon-gari, the schools, hospitals, government reserve quarters, the post-office, headquarters and other building of the business companies available at Gusau then and perhaps other buildings by the Native Authority were done by these category of people instead of indigenous builders who used local method in the process of their construction.

67        A.  Sani  and  M.  Bello,  ―The  Impact  of  the  Collapse  of  Kaura-Namoda  Railway  Terminus  on  Nigeria-Niger Economic Relations, in A. M. Ashafa et-al (ed),…pp. 465-466.

68        A.G. Na-dama,Urbanization  in the Sokoto Caliphate: A Case of Gusau and Kaura-Namoda‖ in Y. B. Usman (ed), Studies in the History of the Sokoto Caliphate, Sokoto Seminar Papers, Logos, Third Press International, 1979. pp.158-159.

69        A. Sani and M. Bello, ―The Impact of the Collapse of Kaura-Namoda Railway Terminus…p.447.

70        Ibid.

71        Oral Interview with Mal. Ali Tsohon Soja, 69 Years, Rtd and Farming, interviewed at Yar yara Tsafe, He added that yet, people especially from neitghbouring villages used to come to Tsafe more especially the day that railway arrives for them to carry out one business or the other and probably go back home till next time.

72        NAK/ SOK Prof. 5176: Gusau Hospital, Policy, 1931-39. pp. 2-3.

73        M. N. Abubakar, ―Colonial Economy and Colonial…p. 186.

It should however be noted that before the extension of railway to both Gusau and Kaura-Namoda, there existed about five European Trading companies operating around our area of study. In Gusau and Kaura-Namoda, in particular, these companies were the BCGA, John Holt ltd., GB Ollivant London and Kano and Merss Ambrosine.74 With railway extended there was increase in the number of companies in these areas that came for trading purposes. The increase necessitated for the demand of plots by the companies which would be developed and use as their headquarters and offices. To this effect therefore, after the necessary formalities have been concluded, the secretary Northern provinces wrote many memos 75 to the Resident of the Sokoto Province requesting for the approval of the plots allocation to these companies as well as other important offices to be used by the colonialist like post office and Telegram as well as European Reservation Area.76 There were also other plots that were specifically allocated for trading activities, and they can be seen in the table below:

Table 1: Trading Plots in Gusau



Name Companies/Holders

Plots’ No.

Cert. of Occ. No.

Nature of Plot


British Cotton Growing Association




Vacant. Reserved for Sokoto Native Authority


For Native Authority‘s use


G. Gottschalck & Co.




M. Antone




G. B. Ollivant & Co.




Compagnie Francaise de I‘ Afrique Occidentale




―                      ―








Shell Company








United African Company




G. B. Ollivant








Companie      Francaise      I‘      Afrique Occidentale







Source: NAK/Sok prof. 207 Vol. II: Gusau Lay-Out. 1933-38. p. 191.

74     Ibid. pp. 186-187.

75        For examples of such Memos for the plots to both companies and offices, see NAK/SOK Prof. 207. Vol, II: Gusau Lay out. 1933-38. pp.146, 156,159, 160, 161, 164, 172, 190, 239, 250, 254, 286, 288 and 289.

76        Ibid.

From the above table, all these companies applied for the plots and when approval was given to them by the N. A., the plots were allocated to them to build as their headquarters to perform their businesses. The company serial number 10 was given 2 slots which were vacant. Then serial number 15 was given slots 39-76 which were equally vacant with the total number 37 vacant plots. The reserved or vacant plots were either given to other companies or used by the Native Authority. Plot number was not properly issued as plot number was not given, so also certificate number was not issued to plots number 25, 31, 33, 34, 37 and 39-76 totaling to 40 plots. That is to say 45 plots were not issued with the certificate number. All others don‘t have any problem with either allocation number or number of certificate of occupancy.

Similarly, colonial administration directed roads and railways to the area producing crops for overseas markets. Nadama summarizes the role of the railway in bringing about transformations in Gusau and Kaura-Namoda which he refers to as urbanization. He showed how these towns that were connected with the railway replaced the old commercial towns as well as the replacement of the local crafts with the new colonial trade that introduced new and cheap goods to the areas. It was summarized in the following:

The extension of the motorable roads from Zaria to Sokoto passing through Gusau and linking up town and Kaura-Namoda the North-Western terminus… But gradually these crafts such as weaving lost ground to the new colonial trade based on the import of cheaper machine produced articles. With the new pattern of transport, traditional urban centres which were not on the rail line or other major routes gradually lost their position as centres of commercial activity, while those like Kaura-Namoda and Gusau prospered attracting new type of immigrants – Yan cirani (seasonal immigrants). It was because of this new commercial activity that Gusau town was nicked named ta Sambo Dandin Hausa and Kaura ta Namoda Kano yan isa.77

The increase in the commercial activities is glaring in Gusau as buying and selling manifested in all nooks and corners of the town and especially in the markets shown above as well as Sabon Gari area. Some Nigerians derived their daily earnings from the services of the railway trains in the country since inception. Abdulsalam provided an estimated figure of employee with Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) which covered around 42,000.78 To Alli, railway afforded employment for people who were not able to engage themselves in farming activities. He added that it could be said that railway was the first major wage labour provider in Nigeria. In furtherance, it also provided some revenue to the government.79

Employment opportunities became more prevalent some years after the extension of railway to Gusau, more particularly in Sabon Gari which came into existence as a result of the railway line. As at 1934, there were 88 railway employees at Sabon Gari Gusau, 29 N.A. road labourers, 21 messengers and 23 casual labourers with 3 contractors. This does not mean that there wasn‘t these group of people in other areas in Gusau. There were, of course, only that the concentration was

77        A.G. Na-dama,Urbanization  in the Sokoto Caliphate: A Case of Gusau and Kaura-Namoda.. pp. 157-158.

78        M. Abdulsalam, The Development of Railway System and its Impacts on Offa, Kwara State: 1912-1955, in Global Journal of Human and Social Sciences, Vol. 14, Issue 5, Version 1.0, online. pp. 1-8.

79        A. D. Alli, Trade and Transport in Lower Niger, 1830-2011, Lagos, Adenuga Concepts. 1982. pp.134-138.

higher in Sabon-Gari. All the railway workers were found in Sabon Gari, but 5 messengers dwelled at Sarkin Fada while 3 at Mayana. 8 N. A. road labourers at Sarki Fada ward and 1 at Mayana. So also as for casual labourers, their number is higher at Sarkin Fada ward with 93, 32 at Mayana and 3 at Galadima ward respectively.80 No one will deny the fact that ever before the coming of railway there were a number of artisans in our area of study,81 but, some of them might not be all that important compared to the time when railway was extended to these areas. Butchers and Barbers for example, were and are still necessary as people need their services occasionally, as such they were available. But the study confirmed that, more professional ones migrated to the area.82 By 1934-35, the number of these crafts increased. For example Barbers increased to 19, drummers 20, 32 Butchers, Calabash makers 19, rope makers 18, potters 18, tanners 10, leather workers 32, confectioners 2, makers of kola nut bags 3.83


The study established that both roads and railways were constructed by colonialist with a view to siphon the riches of Africa and northern Nigeria in particular. It also elaborated that roads were the first infrastructure constructed followed by the railway in 1929 which was extended to Gusau and Kaur-Namoda in 1929 through Tsafe. The construction of the roads led to the emergence of automobiles by both government and private individuals in our study area. The major roads constructed in the area included the one from Zaria that passed through Funtua, Tsafe, Gusau and finally to Sokoto. So also another notable one was the one from Gusau that passes through Kaura- Namoda to Zurmi- Jibia up to Katsina and that, two types of roads were in existence during colonial era, the Trunk A and Trunk B roads which all served the same purpose. The railway on the other hand though served many purposes but it was principally constructed with the sole aim of evacuating both agricultural and other available resources in the area. Thus the essence of colonialism.

80        NAK/Sok Prof: Gusau District-Sokoto Division Re-assessment of. 1934-35.

81        See  Nadama  A.  G.,  Urbanization  in  the  Sokoto  Caliphate:  A  Case  Study  of  Gusau  and  Kaura-Namoda‖  in  B. Usman, (ed), Studies in the History of Sokoto Caliphate Sokoto Seminar Series, Publish by Department History, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 1979. p.156. Nadama categorically pointed out that as the Gusau and Kaura- Namoda towns developed, other occupations were attracted and some of them included the indigenous crafts emerged like smithings, weaving and dying and also specialists in iron-ore mining and smelting. All these crafts were attracted before the coming of railway but with the coming of railway, the number of the craft and thecraftsmen and women increased.

82        Oral Interview with Mal. Musa Dan-Fanta, 68 Years, Farmer, Interviewed at Sabon Fegi Tsafe, on 11/2/2019.

83        NAK/Sok Prof. 3176: Gusau District-Sokoto Division Re-assessment of. 1934-35.

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