For centuries architecture in Northern Nigeria has been a professional practice by northerners, more especially the Hausa ‘master-builders’ who have acquired and practiced their highly skillful craft in building houses for the people and royal inhabitants of the north.
Predominantly, they use their professional skills and intelligence in using local building materials such as mud (‘Tabo’), heavy rigid timbers (‘Azara’), sun dried bricks (‘Tubali’), adobe brick-blocks (‘Bulo’) and thatches in designing royal palaces, city walls and gates across the north.
Arrangements are often made for building culture and social structure that is hierarchical ranging from a base level to the completion. Each has its own standard and classification.
Royal palaces are spaces where authority and majesty are displayed, where art and symbolism are integral aspects of communicating authority and royal grandeur. This symbolic role of art as conveyer of royal power will strike any individual in any of their quest to decode what has been and what it is. One then may encounter the aesthetic, spiritual, and political significance of palace art more especially if one has been opportune to access one.
The function of the architecture is often bound up with conceptions of leadership, authority, and the exercise of power. The aesthetic elements of visual artistic objects reinforce and are reinforced by the function of art as a communicator of political value. The paintings, drawings, etchings, and inscriptions that adorn its walls have evolved together over several centuries. Though the artistry has since evolved, one still in this sense will depict that the art is a vital connection between the past of any of the palaces and its present, between the spiritual–aesthetic preoccupations of the past and the romanticized nostalgia of the present.
The historically elegant palaces of some of the emirs in Northern Nigeria owed its architectural masterpiece to one man, Mallam (Babban) Goni Muhammadu Durugu who reigned in the 1830s.
Durugu was legendary in the northern architectural designs to the extent that he became the most sought after throughout the northern emirates between 17th – 18th century. He has been one of the most celebrated architects up till this moment. An account reported that, most times he can work with almost hundred labourers at a time.
The Royals paid heavily for his service. Prominent amongst his works are the palaces of the Emirs of Bauchi and Zazzau (Zaria), Kano, Kafin Madaki, Birnin Gwari and so many others. The Emirs and royals were so fierce in their demands of the services of Babban Goni. One special feature of his works is the unique nature of the palace to the other. For instance, the palace to the Emir of Bauchi has a particular chamber that is remarkably different from all the chambers of the palaces built by the master. History has it that the master piece he delivered to the one of the Emirs came with a price. It was an agreement between the then Emir that such design will not be repeated anywhere.
However, afraid that the master may replicate the master piece elsewhere led to his death in mysterious circumstances, sometimes around 1830 A.D. Till date, the master piece of the legendary Mallam Muhammadu Durugu in one of the emirates i.e Bauchi is called ‘Babban Goni’ and it remains a very special place that the Emir receives very important personalities.
Indeed, a visit to the ancient city of Bauchi will offer visitors first-hand view of Babban Goni Muhammadu Durugu’s works. Of course, there is also the famous Galadiman Bauchi maje Wase Palace which carries a lot of history that is full of wonders.