Neonatal morbidity and mortality still poses a serious challenge in developing countries. Low level of obstetric care, unsupervised home deliveries and late referrals lead to poor outcome even in special care baby units (SCBU). To identify the common causes of neonatal morbidity and mortality among babies admitted to the SCBU in Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH) the case-notes of all admitted neonates from January 1998 to December 2004 were retrospectively reviewed. A total of 2963 (98.3%) babies had complete records. There were 1455 (49.1%) in-born (delivered in AKTH) and 1508 (50.9%) out-born (delivered elsewhere) babies. The sex ratio was 1.25:1 in favour of males. A total of 1868 (63.0%) were of normal birth weight, while 951 (32.1%) and 134 (4.5%) were low birth weight and macrocosmic, respectively. The leading diagnoses were birth asphyxia (27%) (severe birth asphyxia 18.1%, moderate asphyxia 8.9%), neonatal sepsis (25.3%) and prematurity (16.0%). Out of the 2963 babies, 501 (16.9%) died. The risk of dying was significantly higher (20.5%) among out-born babies compared with those delivered in AKTH (6.4%) (odds ratio = 1.71, 95% confidence interval = 1.4-2.1). In conclusion, the causes of neonatal morbidity and mortality at this centre are similar to those reported from other units. They could be prevented through effective antenatal care, supervised delivery and appropriate care and early referral of sick neonates.