KANO - Nigeria has scrapped a centuries-old festival featuring a traditional horse pageant in the days ahead of the advent of `Eid Al-Fitr, amid conflicting reports about the cause of the cancellation.
"Due to His Royal Highness's ill health, he has mandated me to inform you that he has cancelled all Sallah festivities ... but will only attend the `Eid prayers at the mosque," Abbas Sunusi, a senior counselor to the Emir of Kano Ado Bayero, was quoted by Agence France-Presse (AFP) as saying Wednesday, August 15.
The festival was set to begin this weekend in Kano, the largest city in Nigeria's mainly Muslim north.
The centuries-old festival features a horse pageant called a durbar, where riders in colorful robes and turbans pay homage to the local emir.
In the festival, the Emir of Kano, the top traditional and spiritual figure in the area, and his royal entourage tour the city on horseback while dressed in richly ornamented robes.
The festival has been one of Nigeria's few tourist attractions, with stunning photographs of the processions making their way into guidebooks.
The Emir of Kano has been on the throne for 59 years and has been dogged by an undisclosed ailment for some time.
Rumors have spread that the emir is suffering from prostate cancer and has frequently travelled to Britain for treatment.
`Eid Al-Fitr is one the two main Islamic religious festivals along with `Eid Al-Adha.
During `Eid days, families and friends exchange visits to express well wishes and children, wearing new clothes bought especially for `Eid, enjoy going out in parks and open fields.
Kano has played an important role in Islamic culture, positioned on a trans-Saharan trade route.
But residents cited fears of militant attacks as a main reason behind scrapping this year's festival.
"The main reason is the security situation in the city, resident Shitu Nasiru, who has been attending the durbar for 32 years, told AFP.
There are fears that Boko Haram may launch attacks during the `Eid."
Kano has been hit by violence committed by the militant Boko Haram, which says it is fighting enemies who have wronged its members through violence, arrests or economic neglect and corruption.
More than 1,400 people have been attacked in attacks by the militant Boko Haram since 2010.
In January, at least 185 people were killed in coordinated bombings and shootings in Kano.
Nigerian army raided a suspected Boko Haram hideout outside the city on Saturday and discovered a cache of weapons, including guns and explosives.
Authorities said three suspects arrested in the raid confessed that the arsenal was intended for attacks in the city during `Eid.
"We know that the emir has been sick for some years but it did not stop him from holding the durbar, said Nasiru.
We believe there is more to what the palace is giving as reason for cancelling the `Eid festival.Last year, despite having undergone surgery, the emir held the durbar, though he cancelled some parts of the city tour.