Nwankwo Tony Nwaezeigwe, PhD, DD
Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
Director, Nigerian Civil War and Genocide Research Network
Odogwu of Ibusa Clan, Delta State, Nigeria
SHEHU USMAN DAN FODIO’S MAHDIST JIHAD CONSPIRACY, POVERTY OF YORUBA ISLAMISM AND THE PARADOX OF FULANI HERDSMEN PAGANISM
You remember Bauchi, a Yoruba woman shouted ‘I am not a Christian O, I am a Yoruba Muslim; yet, she was hacked down! Is that not North versus South and inferiority of Southern Islamic practices to the North? This situation is the same in other spheres of Nigerian life.
The above re-created experience clearly portrays the pathetic predicament of Yoruba Muslims vis-à-vis the contraption of Muslim brotherhood with the Fulani of Northern Nigeria. By Islamic religious strata of ranking and spiritual importance, the Yoruba Muslim is perpetually considered by the Fulani be sitting at the lowest stratum with their other Southern Muslim kinsmen. This was indeed based on Shehu Usman dan Fodio’s characterization of believers and non-believers. According Shehu Usman dan Fodio, the Yarriba (Yoruba) belong to the class of unbelievers defined as: “the one who claims he is a Muslim, while we for our part classify him as a heathen because that which does not occur apart from heathenism occurs with him openly.”
But above all, it takes a critical scholar of historical tradition to read Shehu Usman dan Fodio’s two most important literary works respectively titled, Kitab al-Farq and Bayan Wuyub al-Hejira to understand the true mind of an average Fulani man in the context of the present contest for Nigerian nationality. Indeed as Professor Abdullahi Smith informed us, it was only in 1959 that these two important documents were discovered by learned scholars in Arabic studies of Northern Nigerian origin. As he further noted: “No accurate assessment of Usumanu’s Jihad can ignore these critical documents. As political testaments, they rank with Lugard’s Political Memoranda.”
It is therefore beyond any doubt that a better and critical understanding of Usman dan Fodio’s motives for undertaking the Jihad in 1804 must be predicated on the critical interpretation of his ideological leanings clothed in the trending political and historical circumstances of his time. It is indeed this ideological leaning that arguably defines what is here described as the psycho-political wave-length of his mind. Within this psycho-political wave-length lies the principle of inevitability of Holy War against those described as “infidels” within his vicinity, defined in this context as “External Jihad”—jihad without end.
But since the Holy Quran defines the pattern of relationship the Muslim Umma should impose on the Christian and Jews living under their jurisdiction, the concept of external jihad becomes scripturally questionable. Indeed this was one of the reasons advanced by the Kanembu warrior and first Shehu of Borno al-Haj Muhammad al-Amin el-Kanemi in questioning the scriptural and moral bases of Usman dan Fodio’s jihad against the kingdom of Borno and by extension the Habe Kingdoms of Hausaland.
Under this circumstance, the only explanation for the sustenance of the doctrine of external jihad against the “infidels” readily found explanation in the doctrine of Mahdism, which was conspicuously discernible in the prophetic and intellectual exhalations of Shehu Usman dan Fodio. In other words, the ideological foundation on which Usman dan Fodio constructed his jihad project was Mahdism. Thus to the inner circle of his descendants and followers, he was a Mahdi, even though for obvious theological and political reasons it was never advanced to public knowledge.
Mahdism is an Islamic mystical concept built around the cult of a personality defined in this context as the “Mahdi” or the “Guided One”, of which the Sudanese Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah who lived between 1844 and 1885, was a prominent figure, and whose lieutenants Rabeh and Fadrel-Allah helped to dismember the Borno Empire on the eve of European colonial adventurism. It emphasizes war through the medium of external jihad with the sole motive of wrestling political power from existing authority. Its original scope of operation lies within an existing Muslim Umma or Dar al-Islam and not Dar al-Harb—land of unbelievers, literary defined as the land of war; in which case its major objective was to reform the existing political order rather than to convert non-Muslims to Islam.
Saburi Biobaku and Muhammad Al-Hajj provide a brief historical account of the origin of Mahdism. As they clearly put it:
The term Mahdi (the guided one) occurs neither in the Quran nor in the Prophetic traditions of Muslims and Al-Bukhari which had been acclaimed as authoritative by the consensus of the Muslim community. It does occur, however, in other traditions of doubtful authenticity, i.e., Ibn Maya, Al-Tiraudhi, Abu Daud, and others. In these traditions the Mahdi is described as a descendant of the Prophet who will appear at the end of time and rule the world with equity and justice, i.e. ‘The World shall not pass away until my nation be governed by one of my house whose name agrees with mine.’
The last statement explains why the Mahdi on profession is bound to adopt the names—“Muhammad” and “Abdullahi” in order to be associated with the Prophet. Besides the fact that Usman dan Fodio’s eldest son was named Muhammad Sambo, his younger brother was named Abdullahi, while his second son and successor originally named Bello later adopted and added Muhammad goes to explain the Mahdist inclination of the family.
In fact, both men by adopting those names had envisioned the time when Usman dan Fodio would declared himself the Mahdi with the patronymic name of “Abdullahi” which would make it easy for them to respectively emerge as his successive successors as Mahdi; although they did eventually emerge but concurrently on different stead of authorities—Muhammad Bello succeeding his father as the Sultan in the new Capital of Sokoto, while Abdullahi succeeded as the Emir of Gwandu.
One of the principles of Mahdism is the demonization of their fellow Muslims as a means of wrestling political power from them. That was the principle adopted by Shehu Usman dan Fodio to justify his attack and consequent overthrow of the Habe kingdoms of Hausaland and the series of attacks against the Kanuri Kingdom of Borno. Indeed one can further explain this technique of demonization in the context of Fulani inferior perspective of Yoruba Islam. Abdullahi H. F. C. Smith, D. M. Murray Last and Gambo Gubio jointly commenting on the moral basis of Usman dan Fodio’s jihad against the Muslim Kingdom of Borno stated:
From 1806 or thereabouts, the Fulbe uprisings in Hausaland were accompanied by revolt among the Fulbe population living in Western and Central Borno. But here the religious setting was different from the Hausa pattern. The Sefawa dynasty was the oldest Muslim dynasty in the whole Sudan, and the Kanuri were well known for their Islamic learning. The Fulbe of Borno, however, were a discontented minority and claimed that polytheistic practices were widely tolerated in the empire of Borno.
In advancing his reasons for undertaking jihad against the time-tested Muslim people of Borno Empire as embodied in his book: Infaq al-Mansur, Shehu Usman dan Fodio’s second son and successor Muhammad Bello accused the Borno leadership, using the same Mahdist theory of demonization of fellow Muslims to accuse the Borno leadership of anti-Islamic practices. It is instructive to note that this was the same technique employed by Askia Muhammad of Songhai Empire against Sonni Ali of Mali Empire. As he put it:
But we have been told that their rulers and chiefs today have places to which they ride where they offer sacrifices and then pour blood on the gates of their towns. They have great houses containing snakes and other things to which they offer sacrifices. They performed rites to the river just as the Copts used to do in the Nile in the time of ignorance.
But quite unlike the cases of Sonni Ali of Mali Empire and the Hausa Kingdoms, as the saying goes, “ iron sharpeneth iron,” the Kingdom of Borno being far more advanced in Islamic history and scholarship than both Shehu Usman dan Fodio and his Fulani kinsmen, had an equal intellectual and military strategist in the person of al-Haj Muhammad al-Amin ibn el-Kanemi—the Kenembu scholar-warrior, to confront the presumptuous intellectual and military arrogance of Shehu Usman dan Fodio and his Torodbe kinsmen. In a series of correspondences which formed much of the contents of Muhammad Bello’s Infaq al-Maysur, el-Kanemi was able to confront letter to letter, word to word the Mahdist demonizations of Borno people by Shehu Usman dan Fodio and his son Muhammad Bello in the same fashion he stoutly confronted them militarily in battle field. There is therefore no gainsaying the fact that the jihad of Shehu Usman dan Fodio was a clandestine political movement of Fulani Islamic scholars under the cover of social reformation and Islamic religious propagation within the framework of Mahdism.
Deriving from their historical traditions in the regions of Futa Toro and Futa Jallon in the present Republic of Senegal, they sought to create elsewhere the jihad tradition of their place of origin. Both Futa Jallon and Futa Toro were the first indigenous States of West Africa where jihad was applied to overthrown a political leadership. Ironically, the Fulani were the pagans and victims while the Tukulor were the Muslims and jihadists. It was indeed that jihad which drove many Fulani away from their ancestral lands that motivated Usman dan Fodio. As John D. Hargreaves succinctly put it:
The jihad in Futa Toro seems to have had some influence on the more spectacular movement led by ‘Uthman dan Fodio in Hausa country in 1804; and he in turn influenced Sekou Ahmadu Hammadi Boubou of Mecina who between 1816 and 1818 began an armed drive to create a new theocratic State in the Middle Niger Valley.
The Futa Toro origin of Usman dan Fodio has always been a subject of debate among historians. Generally defined in Nigerian context as Fulani and in Hausa traditional context as Toronkowa or Torodbe, i.e. a native of Toro, the debate often centres on the constituent definition of the term “Torodbe” as a collection of many ethnic groups order than the Fulani. According to Trimingham, Usman dan Fodio was either a Tukolor or Pulo—Fulani term in Futa region.
Trimingham would therefore appear to be unsure of the true origin of Shehu Usman dan Fodio. In the same vein, writing on the connectivity between the successive Fulani jihads in West Africa, Abdullahi M. G. Smith stated:
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Western Sudan experienced a succession of these jihads. Beginning in 1725 at Futa Toro, this wave of militant Islam was halted only by the French occupation. The leaders of all these recent West African jihads were Torodbe clerics from Futa Toro, who are usually classed as Fulani. Perhaps the most successful of these Torodbe jihads was that which Shehu Usumanu Dan Fodio (also called Sheikh ‘Uthman ibn Fodiyo) launched against the Hausa chiefs of Gobir, Kano, Katsina, Zaria, Daura, their allies and congeries, in 1804.
However, it was B. G. Martin that actually brought us closer to what appears to be the root of the true identity of Shehu Usman dan Fodio. As he put it: “To the surrounding Hausa population then, the words Torodbe, Toronkowa, and Torodo were virtually identical with Fulani.” Going further in detail, he defines the term “Torodbe” in a more striking form:
Usually the word Trodbe is derived from Futa Toro, a region in Senegal, but there are other explanations for the term. One of them is that Torodbe means those who ‘go begging in company.’ Another theory suggests that the Torodbe were a social catch-all category, including slaves and ex-slaves from Futa Toro and adjoining regions, remnants of peoples ground up in wars, or individuals who wished to rise socially and politically. Many of them accepted Islam, taught it, and spread it. By doing so, they turned themselves into a class of Muslim learned men. Through their Muslim interests, it is alleged, the Torodbe found a way out of their social isolation and political subordination.
From the above account one can objectively trace not only the ethnic identity of Usman dan Fodio, but also the psycho-historical basis of the peripatetic character of his devotion to Islamic learning, as well as the tendency to stir up conflicts with constituted authorities. For instance, Murray Last noted that Usman dan Fodio’s great grandfather Muhammad Sa’d was driven out of Konni, a settlement situated on the borders of Songhai and Borno for what they described as persistent persecution.
The question however is, what persecution and for what reason? Professor Last did not explain further. But it appears that Shehu Usman dan Fodio’s ancestors were imbued with anti-order culture of Islamic scholarship which often created grounds for conflict with constituted authorities, a culture he later transplanted on the soil of the Kingdom of Gobir from which point it was spread to the length and breadth of the Hausa Kingdoms and which has come to stay in contemporary Nigerian State.
The origin of this anti-order culture could no doubt be traced to the political ferments that occurred in the two regions of Futa Toro and Futa Jallon. B. O. Oloruntimehim observed particularly the existence of numerous ethnic groups of which the major ones were the Fulani, Tukulor, Wolof, Moors, Bambara and Sarakole, who were vigorously competing for grazing and farmlands, in which the Fulani dominated politically for a long time under the Saltingi dynasty, until they were overthrown by the Tukulor in the eighteenth century. It is therefore assumed from every probability that it was after the overthrow of the Fulani Saltingi dynasty by the Tukulor that the process of their migration from the Futa regions began.
The irony of this episode in Futa Toro history which cannot be unconnected with Martin’s conception of Torodbe is that, at that point of contest for political supremacy among these Futa Toro groups the Saltingi Fulani dynasty was the unbeliever, while the opposing Tukulor group constituted the devout learned Muslim clerics. As Oloruntimehim further observed:
But the period of Saltingi domination was marked by political and religious conflicts which were tied to agrarian question. The Denyanke Fulani were non-Muslim, and because of this the Tukulor, who were ardent Muslims, resented their domination. Partly for religious reasons, therefore, the Tukulor worked for the overthrow of the Denyanke political power. In the seventeenth century, the Saltingi rulers tried to solve the land problem, but failed…. These efforts failed and conflicts continued to divide the population until Tukulor revolution, which began c. 1769.
Oloruntimehim’s account readily provides us the clue for further validation of Martin’s description of the origin of the term “Torodbe” as well as its connection with the culture of mendicancy— religious begging for alms, which up till date forms a major feature of West African Islam and associated traditions of Islamic scholarship.
This tradition of Islamic begging for alms does not seem to have been part the Hausa tradition of Islam since the average Hausa was and still industrious in character either as a trader or farmer, including artisans of crafts of different types and dimensions. Against the Hausa situation however, one could notice that outside cattle-rearing the average Fulani seems have no other means of subsistence. This explains why the Fulani saw Islamic scholarship as their alternative means of sustenance through the practice of begging for alms through the manipulation of their listeners to attain their political end.
Indeed from historical accounts as supported by Oloruntimehim, many of the idolatrous Fulani population of Futa Toro were forced to convert to Islam by the Tukulor after the overthrow of their Saltingi kingship. Following this conquest some of these once idolatrous Fulani groups who later became Muslim scholars, of which Shehu Usman dan Fodio’s ancestors formed a part, in order to elevate their social status to the level of their Tukulor conquerors began to engage on systematic adoption of Tukulor identity. And out of the need to shed off the stigma of inferiority complex they sought to out-do even the same Tukulor Islamic scholars who taught them and had longer tradition of Islamic scholarship.
Therefore, that Usman dan Fodio descended from the pagan Denyanke Fulani of Futa Toro seems more probable than being of Tukulor descent. This is because the original indigenous Tukulor Islamic scholars rarely traveled outside their traditional Futa Toro land for Islamic propagation. Thus it becomes an irony of history that the Jihad in Futa Toro—the ancestral home of Shehu Usman dan Fodio was indeed a revolt against his pagan Denyanke Fulani kinsmen by the Muslim Tukulor led by a Tukulor scholar named Sulayman Ba.
This pagan root of Shehu Usman dan Fodio seems to offer us the unquestionable explanation for the unbreakable kinship link between Usman dan Fodio and the pagan Fulani herdsmen, most of who were his foot-soldiers during the jihad of 1804 and, thereafter have constituted till date the foot-soldiers of the Fulani oligarchy of Sokoto Caliphate, masquerading as the murderous Fulani herdsmen currently terrorizing the Nigerian population through frequent kidnappings and mass killings.
Quoting Muhammad Bello the second son and successor of Usman dan Fodio in part, Professor M.G. Smith wrote:
But in most areas as well as Katsina some of their Fulani kindred (the pagan nomads) joined our folk, the followers of the Faith’. From Futa Toro, Sidi al-Mukhtar al-kunti, the Qadirigya Sufi, sent others, Fulani and Torobe to swell Shehu’s jihad.
The above account-in-chief clearly clears the doubt on Usman dan Fodio’s origin from Futa Toro and further explains the current upsurge of foreign Fulani bandits masquerading as herdsmen in Nigeria. It also tends to support the argument, which will be treated in detail in subsequent section, that the jihad was one case of a power-hungry Usman dan Fodio clinging on the cheap saddles of religion and social justice to seize power. More importantly is the fact that the jihad is intentionally a covert imperial conquest by the Senegalese Fula of Northern Nigeria.
The question then is why are these people still maintaining their pagan status in the sea of assumed Fulani Muslim population under the protection of the same Fulani Muslim leadership whose ancestor claimed to have launched the jihad against Hausa and Borno heathens? Plainly put, why did Shehu Usman dan Fodio and his descendants decide to exclude these pagan Fulani herdsmen from the rights and privileges of Prophet Muhammad’s Paradise?
The Hausa kingdoms were Islamized long before the Fulani were partly converted to Islam, yet Usman dan Fodio accused them of being unbeliever-Muslims and for that reason overthrew them, using his pagan Fulani kinsmen to fulfill his imperial objectives. Indeed as C.K. Meek rightly put it: “The easy-going Hausa has done more to spread Islam than the fanatical Fula.”
Borno Kingdom was accused by Usman dan Fodio and his son Muhammad Bello of mixing Coptic Christian rites with Islamic practices and for that reason they needed to be replaced by the so-called pious Fulani Muslim rulers, yet those employed to undertake the same battle against Borno were unrepentant Fulani pagans. What were then the moral basis of Usman dan Fodio’s Jihad and the continued claim of spiritual supremacy over other Nigerian Muslims by the Nigerian Fulani Muslim umma?
This is one of the fundamental questions the teaming Nigerian non-Fulani Muslim umma have failed to ask themselves, particularly among the legion of Yoruba, Hausa, Nupe, Kanuri, Ebira, Igala and other indigenous Nigerian Muslims, who seek to even out-class one another in their subservient spiritual mentality towards the Fulani ruling class under the blind-folded notion of one Islamic brotherhood. None of these people had attempted to summon even the slightest animal boldness to question the audacity of the Sokoto Caliphate’s overt support and protection of their pagan Fulani herdsmen kinsmen, while at the same time branding them as inferior Muslims, as in the case of the poor Yoruba Muslim woman murdered in cold-blood in Bauchi during anti-Christian riots.
It is therefore instructive to note under the present circumstance, that being a Muslim is not a requirement to be considered a true Muslim by the Fulani Muslim leadership of Sokoto Caliphate, because even their kinsmen Fulani Herdsmen who are overtly employed to cause mayhem among indigenous Nigerians are not Muslims by tradition, historical experience and in practical terms, but unrepentant practicing pagans. Indeed, no one could rightly say at which point in time a Fulani Herdsman was ever seen standing in the midst of his herds of cattle to say the daily Muslim prayers.
It is the opinion of the present writer that it is necessary at this stage of Nigeria’s history that the Nigerian Muslim umma demand to know from the Sultan of Sokoto as the amir al-muminin of the unending Fulani tradition of Jihad, why his pagan Fulani herdsmen have remained idolatrous under his protection with no effort being made since the time of Shehu Usman dan Fodio, to convert them to Islam? It is the added opinion of the present writer that, as the common saying goes, charity should begin at home, and for that reason the Fulani herdsmen should be converted to Islam first before the Sokoto Caliphate could claim the unquestionable right to the overall leadership of the Nigerian Muslim umma. The reason is obvious.
Shehu Usman dan Fodio had classified the heathen into three categories in the following order:
There are three classes of heathen; first those who are clearly heathen by desent;… second…the man who has been a Muslim, and then openly apostatized, returning to heathendom and abandoning Islam. His apostasy is quite open and he declares it with his own mouth;…third, there is the one who claims he is a Muslim while we for our part classify him as a heathen because that which does not occur apart from heathenism occurs with him openly.
Although the above classification was directed mainly at the non-Fulani indigenes of geographical Nigeria at the time, in its strictest sense of interpretation, except for the second category which is obvious under normal situation, both the first and third have remained an all-time feature of Fulani Islamism from the time of their proclamation by Shehu Usman dan Fodio to the present day, in the same manner the Fulani associate them to Yoruba Islamism.
On the other hand, the second category would appear to be somewhat fluid and thus difficult to pin down to a particular group, since there have been pockets of Muslim Fulani converts to Christianity, including those Fulani who secretly and occasionally relapse to their ancestral paganism in their bid to achieve certain political and economic objectives.
However, for the third category, there is no doubt that Shehu Usman dan Fodio, right from the point of mobilization of his supporters for the jihad, was part of the same same category of heathenism. This is because by associating with his pagan Fulani herdsmen as the keepers of his cattle and ardent foot-soldiers for the actualization of his jihad objectives, he automatically found himself in the third category of heathenism. Suffice it therefore to state that right from the time of Shehu Usman dan Fodio to the present day, all his successors, descendants, agents and supporters have remained part of the third category of heathenism.
It is instructive to note that Professor Murray Last informed us that on the eve of British invasion of Sokoto in 1903, the reigning amir al-muminin Sultan Muhammadu Attahiru dan Ahmadu, in his logistic preparations against the British forces, instructed his warriors to prepare protective charms against bullet penetration. The question here is, who prepared the protective charms against bullet penetration, if not the same heathens of the first category who were condemned to die by Shehu Usman dan Fodio—the founder of the Caliphate? Furthermore, by seeking the aid of the heathen native medicine-men to prepare anti-bullet charms, was Sultan Muhammadu Attahiru dan Ahmadu not putting himself, his household and the entire members of the Caliphate in the third category of heathendom?
Against the background of the foregoing points of contention one can then go further to take a critical examination of the official Fulani position on the subject matter of the jihad within its moral and religious contexts. According to the most celebrated descendant of Shehu Usman dan Fodio in contemporary Nigerian history— the late Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello:
The Shehu Usumanu was a Fulani leader…a great preacher and man of the utmost piety…he was among a people who were norminally Muhammadan;… the religion had become very corrupt, and many pagan practices had crept in and had taken firm hold even in the highest quarters. The Shehu Usumanu declared a Holy War against the polluters of the Faith. In 1804 he started by attacking the Chief of Gobir, one of the worst offenders, in whose territory he was living…. Meanwhile, to clean the religion, the Shehu had organized revolts in all the great Hausa States; the Fulani living in them rose and overthrew the Hausa kings. The Shehu appointed new rulers, either from among the victorious generals, or from among other important Fulani.
A number of fundamental questions seem to arise from the above sensationally-crafted narration of Fulani political escapades under the cover of a jihad constructed on the principles of Mahdist demonization of existing political leadership. However, answering these questions in detail at this moment, much of which are predicated on the questionable moral basis of the jihad would amount to cutting the snake at its half. Perhaps the most reasonable approach to these questions at this stage is for us to compare Sir Ahmadu Bello’s moral thesis of the jihad of his forefathers with Lord Lugard’s impression of the same Sokoto Caliphate on the eve of its conquest in 1903:
We are dealing with the same generation, and in many cases with the identical rulers, who were responsible for misrule and tyranny which we found in 1902. The subject races near the capital were the serfs, and the victims of constant extortion. Those dwelling in the distance were raided for slaves, and could not count their women, their cattle, or their crops their own. Punishments were most barbarous, and included impalement, mutilation, and burying alive.
Lugard’s view, when placed on the same scale of conquest theory with that of Ahmadu Bello would appear to assume in situ the status of the conqueror defining the moral basis for his conquest, as in the case of Usman dan Fodio. But whereas Lugard’s impression can be factually tested in the context of the present feudal dispositions and autocratic tendencies of successive contemporary Fulani leadership of Sokoto Caliphate, that of Ahmadu Bello is constructed on an irreconcilable sentiment of a proud historical past which lacks objectivity of judgment. Indeed Ahmadu Bello was merely telling us the state of moral decadence and spiritual bankruptcy of the Hausa Kingdoms the same way his forefather Usman dan Fodio recorded for their historical consumption and application to the purpose sustaining the legacy of the jihad without any collaborative and concurrent accounts from the defeated Hausa Kings and their chroniclers.
Perhaps it would be necessary for present Nigerian historians and scholars to fish out the surviving descendants of the former Hausa kings and hear their own side of the story as well at this point of Nigeria’s history in order to have a balanced historical judgment. This is necessary because much of what we describe today as the unity of Sokoto Caliphate under the Fulani rulers were indeed unity enforced by the British conqueror under their colonial Indirect Rule policy. Indeed on the eve of British conquest, Sokoto Caliphate was already in a state of political precipice awaiting its final collapse. For instance Zaria Emirate was in a state of antagonism with Sokoto Caliphate and it was for that reason that the Emir readily invited the Anglican Missionaries led by Bishop Tugwell and Dr. Walter Miller, who in turn invited Lord Lugard to offer the Emir the needed protection against a possible attack by the Caliphate.
Like in the case of Zaria, Katsina clearly made it known to the British that they were not ready to fight but to welcome them. Thus, all that Frederick Lugard did, after the conquest of Sokoto, was to march triumphantly into the waiting arms of the Katsinawa and their Emir, who immediately reaffirmed their friendship with Britain. Subsequently, Lugard had to re-invest the Emir of Katsina with a new authority, this time not emanating from Sokoto but the King of England.
Indeed, by the time the British intervened it was clear that the Caliphate was living out its time, which was only saved by the timely intervention of the British colonial power. For instance, just shortly before the British invasion of the Caliphate, Kaura Namoda, destined to become the Northern Terminus of the Western Railway route, had assumed the terminal bulwark against the Caliphate in the northwest. In fact, it was during the Sokoto military attack against Kaura Namoda that Sultan Umar died, prompting his successor, Abdulrahman dan Abubakar Atiku to be elected within the vicinity of the battle.
Similarly, the Hausa Kingdom of Argungu, the cultural symbol of the Caliphate through its Fishing Festival, situated not very far from the Capital of the Caliphate remained invincible before the entire forces of the Sokoto Caliphate. Professor Murray Last informed us that in 1892, the Sokoto Caliphate in a bid to deal finally with the constant menace of the forces of the Serikin Kebbi of Argungu mobilized a massive force across the Caliphate destroy the Kebbawa. As Last further pointed out: “The expedition against Argungu C. 1892 was a disaster… In the event, the besieging army was routed and the Sokoto drums were lost.”
Indeed, the significance of this defeat of the almighty Sokoto Caliphate by the tiny Hausa State of Argungu in which all the eastern Emirs with their forces— comprising Gwandu, Kontagora, Bida, and Ilorin, among others, in addition to the Kano contingent led by Tukur, its Galadima is that it led to Sokoto Caliphate entering the twentieth century without its most coveted War drums, a symbol of the Sultan’s power, authority and splendour.
Whether the Caliphate manufactured another set of royal war drums to replace the ones captured by Argungu forces, or were in the consequence of British aided Indirect Rule later to retrieve the drums from Argungu, is not yet to our knowledge. But the fact that the Sokoto Caliphate lost its royal war drums in defeat tends to question the prevailing high falutin pride of an invincible and all-conquering Sokoto Caliphate.
However what cannot be further denied is the fact that the Caliphate was unpopular among the generality of the people in the same manner it appears today, only sustained only by the coercive force of Islamic religion woven in the false contraption of Islamic brotherhood powered by their vicious Mahdist principle of demonization. Sir Charles Orr, one of the original harbingers of British subjugation of Sokoto Caliphate observed this perennial unpopularity of the Sultan among the masses through the easy manner under which the mighty Fulani Empire collapsed like a pack of woods before a handful of British officers, as well as the manner the general population accepted the overthrow of the Caliphate leadership with equanimity and subdued joy. Sir Orr noted that right from Kano to Sokoto through Katsina after the lightening dispersal of the Kano Emirate rag-tag forces who were returning from Sokoto with their Emir, the British forces never encountered any threat on their route:
The expedition, meeting with no further opposition and being well received by all the villages en route from which supplies were readily purchased, resumed its march to Sokoto, and on nearing the town was reinforced by a company of the West African Frontier Fore, which had been garrisoning an independent State north-west of Sokoto.
Earlier Orr had observed his impression of the popularity of the British conquerors when they entered the city of Kano:
No looting whatever took place, and three days after the occupation of the town the market presented its usual appearance, except that the quarter set aside for the sale of slaves was deserted, the latter having been liberated on the arrival of the British force. The fact that the whole inhabitants settled down at once to their usual avocations showed plainly that they realized that the expedition was directed against their rulers and not against themselves, and that its object was to replace the tyranny of an autocrat by a just and liberal administration.
Perhaps we might as well compare the above reaction of the Kano population to the overthrow of their tyrannous Fulani king with the British account of similar situation in Benin City after the British conquest and the Omo n’Oba n’Edo Uku Okpolokpolo Oba Ovonramwen’s decision to surrender to the British forces:
On the 5th August, 1897, having become sick of his unaccustomed roaming bush life, King Overami came into Benin City with a large following, amounting to about 700 or 800 people, all unarmed, headed by messengers with a white flag in front. He was supported in the usual way by chosen men holding him up by each arm. Some twenty of his wives, who accompanied him, were of a very different class from those seen previously. They had fine figures, with their hair worn in the European chignon style of some years ago, really wonderfully done in stuffed rows of heir, the head not being shaved on the top like that of the lower classes, and they wore coral necklaces and ornaments and hairpins galore. About ten chiefs came with him, including Aro a big chief, arriving by the Sapoba road, not by the water road as expected. For obvious reasons, all the White men kept out of sight on his arrival. He was preceded by a native band using a sort of reed instrument, and took up his abode at the house of Chief Abeseke , a member of the new Native Council established by the Resident. The King’s Party had a great ‘pow-pow’ that night, and kept it up very late.
The striking contrasting scenario of the reaction of the Benin population to their estranged Oba not only proved the popularity of the King among his subjects, but equally the strong sentimental attachment of his people to him as their lord and king quite beyond the wild comprehension of the British conquerors who had expected the opposite. The Oba of Benin was their king, their father, and their leader even in defeat and utter humiliation. It was for this reason that the British conquerors resolved to thread with utmost caution in their dealings with the Oba of Benin. This explains why no successor to the throne was installed in place of the supposedly deposed and eventually exiled Oba; for even though he was, so to say, physically removed from the throne and rendered politically impotent by the British, he remained both de jure and de facto Oba of Benin in customary and spiritual terms for the whole period of his eighteen years of exile in Calabar till he joined his ancestors.
Perhaps once again we might compare the succession stalemate engendered by the exile of Oba Ovonramwen, in which nobody could ascend the throne, not even his heir-apparent or any other person assuming the garb of a regent while he lived, with the easy and ignominious manner Lord Lugard treated the succession to the Sultan of Sokoto throne, after Sultan Muhammadu Attahiru dan Ahmadu fled and refused to return. On March 20th, 1903, Lugard addressed the leaders of the conquered Sokoto Caliphate led by the Waziri instructing them to get immediate replacement for the fleeing Sultan:
I have come to you now that the fighting is over to settle your country so that all can settle down in peace. But that can’t happen till there is a Sarikin Muslimin, therefore it is necessary at once either to find and reinstate Attahiru or to appoint a new Sarikin Muslimin. I want you to talk it over and let me know this evening what you think, whether Attahiru will come back or whether it is best to appoint some one else, and if so whom? The Marafa then asked leave for the headmen to go out and discuss and settle the matter at once. Permission was granted. After an interval a message was sent to say that the whole Council was of the opinion that Umaru Sarikin Gobiri should be appointed Sarikin Muslimin; and that they were all ready to follow and obey him.
The above decision was however not final, for within moments of presenting Umaru as the Sultan-elect to Lugard a u-turn was made with the former being dropped in favour of Attahiru who, although bearing the same name with the fleeing Sultan, was not related to him. As Lugard noted:
“Later, when Attahiru (the present Sultan, not the ex-Sultan of the same name) came to salute me the elders reversed their choice and begged for him as Sultan. I would not agree until they had fully thought it over and discussed. They retired again for the purpose and came back unanimous. I therefore agreed.”
It is therefore reasonable to state that the throne of the Sultan of Sokoto and the associated Emirs lack the kind of traditional sophistication which directly connects them to their subjects with sublime sentimental attachment common with similar traditional institutions in southern part of Nigeria. Under such a circumstance the only means of sustaining their hold to power is by autocratic means mainly through the manipulation of the religion of Islam on the ideological fulcrum of Mahdism, creating false impression of unity among the Muslims of the Caliphate and applying the same technique to manipulate the Southern Muslims into a perpetual state of servile submission.
Indeed through this manipulated sense of Muslim unity the Fulani leaders tend to create a further sense of invincibility, whereas history has shown that the Fulani as a people are not warriors in the strictest sense of the word but seem to have had their recorded successes in warfare through the tactical dislodgment of the unity of their opponents by creating willing tools as saboteurs. Instances of this tactics of creating disunity among their prospective enemies in order to have victory abound in legions.
Beginning with Usman dan Fodio’s Jihad of 1804, it is instructive to note that without the support of the Hausa leader Mikaila Abdulsalami who mobilized the Hausa population against their kings in support of the jihad there would not have been anything like Sokoto Caliphate today. Indeed he was fifth on the line of seniority after Usman dan Fodio, his younger brother Abduullahi who became the first Emir of Gwandu, Muhammad Sambo his first son, and Muhammad Bello his second son who eventually succeeded him at Sokoto.
Unfortunately, when the distribution of the spoils of the Jihad through the sharing of political offices came, not a single Emirate was given to him. He was later killed in his bid to contest his alienation. One could therefore notice with historical precision that the virus of nepotism common with every Fulani political leadership in Nigeria is a customary inheritance from Usman dan Fodio.
The same applied to Afonja when he revolted against his Alafin and supported the Fulani in their destruction of the Old Oyo Capital City of Oyo-Ile. Like Mikaila Abdulsalami, Afonja later perished in the hands of his newly won Fulani Muslim friends who thereafter appropriated his kingdom and confined his descendants to a state of perpetual slavery. Both Mikaila and Afonja would therefore appear to have been solicited victims of what could be described as Fulani principle of “manipulate and destroy.”
In contemporary times we have come to witness the same Fulani principle of manipulate and destroy among some Yoruba leaders. In 1962 Samuel Ladoke Akintola was encouraged to revolt against his leader Chief Oobafemi Awolowo and the result was massive destruction of Yorubaland in human lives and resources. Chief Akintola did not escape the final consequences of the Fulani inspired conflict; although in his case he went down with his manipulators. From the moment the Fulani-born Murtala Ramat Mohammed took power in a military coup in 1975, he began to groom Chief M. K. O. Abiola as a potential Afonja of Yorubaland. Ironically, both Samuel Akintola and Mosshood Abiola took Afonja’s title of Aare Ona Kakanfo.
Believing that as a Muslim he would be trusted to the letter of Islamic brotherhood Abiola did everything possible within his personal capacity and wealth to advance the interest of Sokoto Caliphate in Yorubaland at the expense of the collective interest of his people; of which one was the destruction of the Christian symbol of Cross at University of Ibadan. He was even elevated to the toothless status of the Vice President of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), making him titularly next to the Sultan of Sokoto in rank in Islamic matters. But all these did not count when the issue of his political ambition came on board. He was consumed in the process.
The newest born-again Afonja in this line of Yoruba political stooges of the Fulani Caliphate is Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who although denied the title of Aare Ona Kakanfo still had himself invested with two warrior titles of Asiwaju and Jagagban, all in preparation to play Afonja for the Fulani Caliphate against the will of Yoruba people and their ancestors. He had spearheaded the formation of the present political monster called APC with the spirit of common Muslim brotherhood against a fellow southerner President Goodluck Jonathan, with the promise of succeeding President Muhammadu Buhari in the manner of Afonja and Abiola were promised.
But how far Ahmed Tinubu will go in this thoroughfare of political Afonjarism remain to be decided by the unfolding events of Fulani herdsmen invasion of Yorubaland. If the events of the End#SARS demonstration have not taught him the lesson of his rejection by his people, the herdsmen imbroglio will tell him that the people of Yorubaland both Muslims and non-Muslims have renewed their age-long resistance against Fulani Islamic-driven imperialism.
Interplay of Fulani Islamic Religious Conspiracy and Yoruba Military Invincibility