In the old Kano Emirate, it was Sarki Abbas who introduced the distinctive current uniform of the Dogarai. / Photo: AFP

By Abdulwasiu Hassan

Traditional palace guards have been integral to monarchies worldwide, embodying unquestioning loyalty and an unfailing sense of duty to safeguard the grandeur and power of the throne.

In their flowing red-and-green robes and turbans, the entourage of guards seen accompanying emirs in northern Nigeria wherever they travel represents an institutional tradition that has endured for centuries.

The dogarai, or the emir's guards, are more than just bodyguards. They function as custodians of Hausa heritage and traditions, ensuring that the protocol of how the emir should be seen and regarded in public is always preserved.

In the palace or at public events, they are hard to miss because of their unique attire and unruffled presence as they go about their duties like clockwork—be it bowing to the emir, praising him, or shielding his mundane actions like drinking water or taking a seat from public glare.

In the emir's shadow

The dogarai were meant to be employed for life and provided with special housing quarters on the palace premises.

The Dogarai cadre are also the bodyguards of the Emir.

While their primary role was to maintain order and secure the palace, the dogarai's influence often extended beyond the palace walls back in the day, especially during the period leading to Nigeria's independence.

Nasir Wada Khalil, an expert on dogarai history, has documented how this unique system of palace policing has evolved over time and adapted to the changing needs of the emirates.

The dogarai are led by the "sarkin dogarai", or the chief of the palace police.

"They are officially responsible for patrolling the palace premises and arresting any offender within the compound. They are also the emir's trusted bodyguards, ensuring he is safe and cared for when he is in transit or attending campaigns and public events," Khalil tells TRT Afrika.

Official employment

In 1909, during the reign of Sarkin Kano Abbas, 283 dogarai were officially put on the rolls as soon as the Kano treasury was founded. This was a significant step, marking the formal recognition of their role in the emir's court.

Abbas also introduced the distinctive current uniform of the dogarai.

"The red signifies power, and the green represents prosperity. These are the basic requirements of governance and control," explains Khalil.

The introduction of a uniform for the palace police was initially met with resistance. Only when the emir himself donned the attire did the dogarai feel encouraged to adopt it.

Evolving responsibilities

As Kano expanded and the city grew, some among the dogarai were drafted into internal policing.

Dogarai form part of the Emir's courtiers.

"By 1925, the emirate's growth brought more law-and-order challenges, necessitating reorganisation of the dogarai," says Khalil.

"About 200 of them were selected for special training in traffic control and other policing duties."

Today, the dogarai uniform is synonymous with palace guards in Kano and other Hausa-speaking states.

Despite their ceremonial role, these guards are known to be trained and capable of responding to any potential threat, much like their counterparts in other monarchies.

The dogarai tradition provides a fascinating starting point for anyone interested in exploring the intersection of tradition and transformation in Nigerian history.

TRT Afrika