Arts and Culture

Everything To Know About Kanuri People

The Kanuri people constitute the majority in Borno State, Nigeria. The people of Kanuri are subcategorized into several groups and dialects.

They have the major occupation of fishing, farming, engaging in salt processing and trade, traditionally.


The Kanuri people can trace their origins back to the Kanem-Bornu Empire, which existed in areas which are now part of Chad and Nigeria. Kanem-Bornu lasted from the 8th century as the independent kingdom of Bornu until 1900. Bornu is now officially called Borno.

The early history of the Empire which once covered Chad, Northern part of Nigeria and Libya, expending larger to reach Sudan and Cameroon, is mainly known from the Royal Chronicle or Girgam which was discovered in 1851 by the German traveler Heinrich Barth.

Kanem comes from amen, meaning south in Teda and Kanuri languages, hence a geographic term. During the first millennium, as the Sahara underwent dissection, people speaking the Kanembu language migrated to Kanem in the south. These group of people contributed to the forming of the Kanuri people.

The dissection of the Sahara caused two split settlements; those speaking Teda-Daza northeast of Lake Chad, and those speaking Chadic west of the Chade lake in Bornu and Hausaland.

The specific origins of the Kanem are unclear. However, the first historical sources show that the kingdom began forming around 700 AD under the nomadic Tebu-speaking Kanembu.

Socio-Political Structure Of the Kanuri People

The Kanuri social organization is the compound. It has a domestic unit that may go through a series of cycles, an economic unit and a political unit.

The people who live near the couple are the husband’s father, his father’s brothers and male siblings. The household can expand and develop through additional wives, children, clients, son’s wives, children, divorced wives, and so on.

This organization grows into closely linked households that have split off from the original. If successful, they can come to resemble a ward of the town and the senior amongst them becomes the head.

The entire political system in its basic outlets is (was) a series of links between household heads. From the monarch down to the lowest peasant has a link. Each household had an occupation that it focused on, be it trade, farming or fishing. Others who wanted to take another occupation had to find someone to teach them.

Notable Kanuri People & Their Achievements

Sani Abacha

A Nigerian military general and dictator who served as the de facto President of Nigeria from 1993 until his death in 1998. He is also the first Nigerian soldier to attain the rank of a full star General without skipping a single rank.

He led the coup that brought Major-General Muhammadu Buhari into power. Married a woman from Borno State and had 6 children.

His supporters describe him as a good economic manager who stabilized the exchange rate at N22/$1, though the unofficial rate was N80/$1. Following his death, many corruption allegations still float till date.

Zannah Bukar 

Mr. Zannah Bukar Mustapha abandoned his 20-plus years in law to focus on education after realizing the scale of the damage done to the youngest generation of Nigerians in Maiduguri.

Over the years, Mr. Mustapha has fearlessly acted as mediator between the government and Boko Haram insurgents that led to the release of the Dapchi girls in captivity. He has procured awards for his education of displaced children through his career.

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