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Nigeria-Usman dan Fodio and the Sokoto Caliphate





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By the late eighteenth century, many Muslim scholars and teachers had become disenchanted with the insecurity that characterized the Hausa states and Borno. Some clerics (mallams) continued to reside at the courts of the Hausa states and Borno, but others, who joined the Qadiriyah brotherhood, began to think about a revolution that would overthrow existing authorities. Prominent among these radical mallams was Usman dan Fodio, who with his brother and son, attracted a following among the clerical class. Many of his supporters were Fulani, and because of his ethnicity he was able to appeal to all Fulani, particularly the clan leaders and wealthy cattle owners whose clients and dependents provided most of the troops in the jihad that began in Gobir in 1804. Not all mallams were Fulani, however. The cleric whose actions actually started the jihad, Abd as Salam, was Hausa; Jibril, one of Usman dan Fodio's teachers and the first cleric to issue a call for jihad two decades earlier, was Tuareg. Nonetheless, by the time the Hausa states were overthrown in 1808, the prominent leaders were all Fulani.

Simultaneous uprisings confirmed the existence of a vast underground of Muslim revolutionaries throughout the Hausa states and Borno. By 1808 the Hausa states had been conquered, although the ruling dynasties retreated to the frontiers and built walled cities that remained independent. The more important of these independent cities included Abuja, where the ousted Zaria Dynasty fled; Argungu in the north, the new home of the Kebbi rulers; and Maradi in present-day Niger, the retreat of the Katsina Dynasty. Although the Borno mai was overthrown and Birni Gazargamu destroyed, Borno did not succumb. The reason, primarily, was that another cleric, Al Kanemi, fashioned a strong resistance that eventually forced those Fulani in Borno to retreat west and south. In the end, Al Kanemi overthrew the centuries-old Sayfawa Dynasty of Borno and established his own lineage as the new ruling house.

The new state that arose during Usman dan Fodio's jihad came to be known as the Sokoto Caliphate, named after his capital at Sokoto, founded in 1809. The caliphate was a loose confederation of emirates that recognized the suzerainty of the commander of the faithful, the sultan. When Usman dan Fodio died in 1817, he was succeeded by his son, Muhammad Bello. A dispute between Bello and his uncle, Abdullahi, resulted in a nominal division of the caliphate into eastern and western divisions, although the supreme authority of Bello as caliph was upheld. The division was institutionalized through the creation of a twin capital at Gwandu, which was responsible for the western emirates as far as modern Burkina Faso--formerly Upper Volta--and initially as far west as Massina in modern Mali. As events turned out, the eastern emirates were more numerous and larger than the western ones, which reinforced the primacy of the caliph at Sokoto.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, there were thirty emirates and the capital district of Sokoto, which itself was a large and populous territory although not technically an emirate. All the important Hausa emirates, including Kano, the wealthiest and most populous, were directly under Sokoto. Adamawa, which was established by Fulani forced to evacuate Borno, was geographically the biggest, stretching far to the south and east of its capital at Yola into modern Cameroon. Ilorin, which became part of the caliphate in the 1830s, was initially the headquarters of the Oyo cavalry that had provided the backbone of the king's power. An attempted coup d'├ętat by the general of the cavalry in 1817 backfired when the cavalry itself revolted and pledged its allegiance to the Sokoto Caliphate. The cavalry was largely composed of Muslim slaves from farther north, and they saw in the jihad a justification for rebellion. In the 1820s, Oyo had been torn asunder, and the defeated king and the warlords of the Oyo Mesi retreated south to form new cities, including Ibadan, where they carried on their resistance to the caliphate and fought among themselves as well.

Usman dan Fodio's jihad created the largest empire in Africa since the fall of Songhai in 1591. By the middle of the nineteenth century, when the Sokoto Caliphate was at its greatest extent, it stretched 1,500 kilometers from Dori in modern Burkina Faso to southern Adamawa in Cameroon and included Nupe lands, Ilorin in northern Yorubaland, and much of the Benue River valley. In addition, Usman dan Fodio's jihad provided the inspiration for a series of related holy wars in other parts of the savanna and Sahel far beyond Nigeria's borders that led to the foundation of Islamic states in Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, and Sudan. An analogy has been drawn between Usman dan Fodio's jihad and the French Revolution in terms of its widespread impact. Just as the French Revolution affected the course of European history in the nineteenth century, the Sokoto jihad affected the course of history throughout the savanna from Senegal to the Red Sea.

Data as of June 1991











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