H.A.S. Johnston.
The Fulani Empire of Sokoto

London. Ibadan. Nairobi: Oxford University Press. 1967. 312 p.

Previous Home Next

Chapter Twelve
Sultan Bello — The Second Ten Years

It will be remembered that when the Fulani overran the State of Kebbi during the jihad they allowed the Chief, Muhammadu Hodi, to slip through their fingers. They seem to have thought that he no longer had any political significance, for they made little or no effort to pursue and capture him. He and his followers were therefore able to withdraw to the south of the Zamfara River and establish themselves in the town of Gindi 1, where for the next fifteen years they lay low and gave no trouble.
Meanwhile, in about 1820, the followers of Abdu Salami, having made their submission to the Fulani after their defeat at Kalembaina, had been allowed to return to the Zamfara Valley where their previous settlement of Gimbana had been. There they proceeded to found the new town of Jega which soon began to grow in size and commercial importance. Among their former adversaries, Abdullahi had all along taken a more lenient view of their defection than either Shehu or Bello and had maintained, contrary to the views of the others, that by supporting infidels in disobedience, as distinct from supporting them in unbelief, they had not themselves become infidels 2. For this reason, perhaps, he succeeded in winning their loyalty where Shehu and Bello had failed.
As Gindi and Jega face each other across the Zamfara Valley, it was not long before hostilities broke out between the reclaimed followers of Abdu Salami on the north bank and the still rebellious Kebbawa on the south bank. The Kebbawa suffered an early reverse when they lost their base at Gindi, but they recovered promptly by occupying the neighbouring town of Kimba 3. After that the fighting became indecisive. Nevertheless, in 1824 it was still sufficiently serious for Bello to have told Clapperton that an army was ravaging the country through which the direct road between Sokoto and Yauri ran and that, consequently, it would be impossible for him to take it 4.
In the following year, when Bornu again declared war on the Empire and El-Kanemi launched his invasion, the Fulani leaders were nervous that the Hausas might rise against them in sympathetic rebellion. This anxiety no doubt brought home to them how dangerous it was to allow a man like Muhammadu Hodi, who still styled himself Sarkin Kebbi, to go on living on the very frontier of the Empire.
In the dry season of 1826-7, therefore, a combined force drawn from Gwandu, Jega, and Sokoto besieged Hodi in Kimba. Though the assault failed, the attackers managed to fire the town by shooting flaming arrows into the thatch of the houses. Later the inhabitants, fearing for their lives and property if there should be a second assault, turned Hodi and his followers out of the town. Soon afterwards he was run down by the Fulani and killed 5. If Usuman Masa is counted as the first (though in fact the Kebbawa have never recognized him as a legitimate Chief), Hodi thus became the second of five successive Chiefs of Kebbi to fall in battle.
Even then, however, the resistance of the Kebbawa was not extinguished. A year or two after Hodi's death, his younger brother Karari was proclaimed Sarkin Kebbi in Argungu and was supported not only by the neighbouring towns of Kebbi but also by the Arewa and Zabermawa in the west 6. Three times he was called upon to submit, but each time he returned a defiant answer.
The Fulani, recognizing that they had a serious rebellion on their hands, at last bestirred themselves. In 1831 Bello mustered an army in Sokoto and himself led it down the Rima Valley to support the Gwandu force which was already in the field. One by one the Fulani reduced the Kebbi towns on the east bank until only Argungu remained. For a time Karari succeeded in holding out but, as at Kimba, the Fulani at length managed to set fire to the houses and at this the inhabitants, led by the women, insisted on capitulation. The gates were thrown open and so to avoid capture Karari and his followers had to flee 7.
After this success Bello returned to Sokoto and left it to the Gwandu forces to stamp out the last embers of the rebellion. Meanwhile, after escaping from Argungu, Karari had crossed the river and taken refuge in the town of Zazzagawa 8. Before long he was again closely invested. Despairing of withstanding another siege, he and his son Yakubu Nabame now decided to make a dash for safety in the hope of escaping to the west beyond the reach of their enemies. They were spotted, however, and the hunt was up.
Karari was no longer a young man and when he saw that he could not escape he commanded Yakubu to save himself in order to preserve their posterity. He himself then dismounted and seated himself on his shield in the posture of prayer to await his pursuers. By sacrificing himself in this way he enabled his son to escape 9.
For a year or two Yakubu Nabame remained in hiding in the west among the faithful Arewa who concealed him from his enemies. In the end, however, he decided to throw himself on the mercy of the Gwandu Fulani. After some debate they agreed to spare his life, but, fearing that he might again lead the Kabbawa into rebellion, they banished him to Sokoto 10. There we shall meet him again.
In the latter part of this campaign the Gwandu forces were led by the new Emir Muhamman 11, for the great Abdullahi had died in 1828. In age, Abdullahi stood half-way between Shehu and Bello. In character and outlook, no less than in years, he also occupied a position between them. He shared with Shehu a distrust of worldly affairs and a bent towards mysticism. Equally, however, when the occasion demanded it, he could show talents as a soldier and administrator which did not fall far short of Bello's. If Shehu and Bello were the complements of one another, then Abdullahi was supplementary to both of them. Moreover, being a poet and a jurist as well as a mystic and a man of action, he was the most versatile of the three and incidentally the most complex in character 12.
The major events in Abdullahi's career, such as his victory at Tabkin Kwatto and his capture of Birnin Kebbi, are so familiar that they hardly need recapitulating. It may be, however, that the greatest service which he rendered to the Fulani cause was his unspectacular but painstaking work as a jurist. His three main legal works 13 became standard textbooks for later generations on the conduct of the state and the duties of the ruler. If Shehu inspired the jihad, and Bello became the architect of the Empire, Abdullahi's great though less spectacular contribution was to build up the body of theoretical knowledge necessary for the conduct of government based on principle and precept 14. Possessing as he did a marked strain of humility and self-abnegation, this is the tribute which he himself would probably have appreciated more than any other as his epitaph.
While Abdullahi was still alive, his great personal authority and Prestige helped to balance the preponderance of Sokoto over Gwandu and preserve the conception of a dual Empire. After his death, however, even though his successors were very active in Nupe and llorin, as we shall see in the next chapter, the primacy of Sokoto became more marked, particularly as Bello still had nine years of life ahead of him.
Though Bello was a successful general and a prolific author, his fame rests mainly on his ability as an administrator. Shehu, as we have seen, had aspired to create a theocratic community and had always been deeply mistrustful of worldly power, its essential bureaucratic framework hardly less than its pomp and trappings. It had therefore been left to Bello to create the machinery for administering the Sultanate and governing the Empire. To do so he had to abandon Shehu's ideal of simplicity.
As we shall see in a later chapter, the Fulani in other parts of Hausaland were able to take over a feudal system that was already in existence and adapt it, without many changes, to their own needs. For Bello, however, the task was more complicated because the metropolitan Sultanate was made up not of a single state but of two Gobir and Zamfara — with part of a third — the Chafe-Gusau-Kanoma area of Katsina — added on to them. Geographically, moreover, the task was rendered more difficult by the fact that the almost waterless Gundumi Bush, in the passage of which Clapperton and afterwards Barth suffered so much, tended to divide the eastern and western parts of the Sultanate from one another. Nor was this all. While Shehu had still been alive, his authority and prestige had been so great that there had been little or no disposition on the part of the conquered Hausas to rebel, while the Fulani and their allies, in their disputes among themselves, had been ready to accept his judgements. With Shehu's death, however, as the revolt of Banaga dan Bature, the defection of Abdu Salami, and the rising of the Kebbawa had shown, this complaisance had disappeared. For most of his reign, therefore, Bello had to carry out his difficult administrative reforms with only one hand, as it were, in order to keep the other one free for military action.
He began straight away in the capital. Having first made Giɗaaɗ0 his Waziri, he went on to create other posts and, in spite of what Shehu had said to the contrary, to dignify them with titles. The most important of the new offices, in their order of precedence 15, were those of :

At the same time, with the death of the second of the two Chief justices appointed by Shehu, this office also fell vacant and Bello was therefore able to make a fresh appointment 16.
All the men chosen to fill these posts were Fulani. One of them, Muhammadu Ali, who now became the Ubandoma, was the son of Shehu's elder brother, Ali, and therefore Bello's first cousin 17. The others were not related by blood but were all connected to Bello or Giɗaaɗ0 by marriage. Although they possessed fiefs in the home districts, they habitually lived in the capital and indeed wards of the city grew up round their town houses. They were never formally appointed as Councillors but, as they were always on hand to advise the Sultan or receive his instructions, they gradually came to constitute the Council of both the Sultanate and the Empire 18.
The only non-Fulani who occupied a major post in Sokoto at this time was Sarkin Adar Ahamat. He seems to have been the younger brother of the Agale, whom we have already met, and was certainly the leader of the only group of Tuaregs who had remained staunch throughout the jihad. They were already semi-sedentary and, as a reward for their loyalty, they had been allowed to settle in Sokoto where they had populated the northern quarter of the city. By virtue of this background, Sarkin Adar seems to have been admitted to the Sultan's confidence, though not to the innermost Council 19.
During Shehu's lifetime there had been no Court, but now, with these Councillors as its nucleus, a Court came into being. Most of the Fulani, coming as they did from very different backgrounds, were unschooled in these matters and ignorant of how they should comport themselves. But one of them, the new Galadima Muhammadu Deshiru, had in his earlier days attended the Gobir Court at Alkalawa. He therefore became a kind of Court Chamberlain and gave his less sophisticated colleagues instruction in protocol and punctilio 20.
In the districts of the Sultanate, Bello's first problem, as Abdu Salami's defection had revealed, was to win and hold the loyalty of the great feudatories. His second task was to establish between them and the capital an efficient channel of communication which would bring to him the information and revenue that he required and take to them the specific orders or general instructions that he would need to give. The achievement of the first end depended in the last analysis on the Sultan's personality, prestige, and wisdom. Bello was strong in all these qualities, but he nevertheless deemed it prudent to reinforce the ties that bound the great territorial magnates to him by conferring honours upon them. The titles were often, though by no means always, taken from the vanquished Hausas. Muhammadu Moyijo, for example, whose early conquests round Yabo had provided Shehu with his first base when hunger had compelled him to abandon Gudu, was honoured with the style of Sarkin Kebbi 21. Similarly, although Namoda himself had been killed in 1810 while besieging the stubborn fortress of Kiyawa, Bello now conferred the titles of Sarkin Zamfara on the senior branch of his family and of Sarkin Kiyawa on his brother Mamudu, who had finally succeeded in capturing the place 22. Within a short time of Bello's accession, therefore, titles had become as common among the Fulani as they had previously been among the Hausas.
The second problem, that of maintaining an effective channel of communications between the centre and the periphery, Bello solved by adopting the kofa system which had probably been evolved in earlier times. The word in Hausa means ‘gateway’ and the ‘Kofas’ were the intermediaries at Court through whom the Sultan dealt with his vassals-in-chief. Their role was part-political, part-administrative. They were responsible for keeping themselves informed about the affairs of the fiefs concerned and for advising the Sultan on them. The Sultan's orders and instructions were transmitted by them and conversely any favours that the vassals wished to beg or representations that they thought to make had to pass through the Kofa. One of their main duties was to collect and check the tribute from the fiefs for which they were responsible and they were rewarded by being given a share of the revenue.
Under this system the Ubandoma in Sokoto served as the Kofa for two of the great feudatories mentioned earlier, namely Sarkin Zamfara of Zurmi and Sarkin Kiyawa of Kaura Namoda, while the Galadima was responsible, among others, for Gusau and Chafe 23. The system had its drawbacks, particularly the case with which it could be abused, but it possessed certain solid advantages. In the districts it gave the vassal a friend at Court whom he could consult and on whose influence he could rely. At headquarters it provided the Sultan with a source of information and advice on each of his fiefs and an officer of state to whom all matters of routine could safely be delegated. In a land where distances were great and communications poor, it was probably as effective a link as could then have been devised. Certainly, it worked satisfactorily and indeed, as we shall see in a later chapter, it was soon extended to cover the Emirates of the Empire as well as the fiefs of the Sultanate.
In the Sultanate and Empire alike, Bello proved himself to be a strong ruler. Near home, his suppression of the local revolts of Abdu Salami, Banaga dan Bature, and Karari have already been described. Further afield, when the Emir of Kano Sulimanu had died in 1819, he had not hesitated to change the dynasty by recognizing Ibrahim Dabo as his successor. Likewise, in Zaria, first in 1821 and again in 1834, he passed over the sons of the Emirs who had died and appointed men without hereditary claims. Again, in order that the family of the conqueror of Ngazargamu should not remain unrewarded, he insisted in 1831 on the Emirs of Bauchi and Katagum surrendering in favour of Gwani Muktar's son, Mamman Manga, their conflicting claims to a town and its surrounding districts 24. In this way he created the new Emirate of Misau. Similarly, in 1835, in order to reward a Fulani called Sambolei who had distinguished himself in battle, he brought the new Emirate of Jama'are into being 2.5 From his Emirs, in short, he expected and indeed received unquestioning obedience. It will be remembered, for example, that at the time of El-Kanemi's invasion he sent the Waziri Giɗaaɗ0 to take supreme command over all their heads. Later, as we shall see, when he needed their support for another major enterprise, he did not hesitate to call them and their feudal armies out again.
In every sector but one Bello's statesmanship, which was compounded of firmness, patience, and magnanimity, proved successful. Even the Kebbawa were quiescent and the Empire as a whole enjoyed a period of tranquillity and good government. In spite of all his efforts, however, which included some liberal and imaginative measures, Bello achieved no lasting success with the Hausa diehards in the north.
It will be recalled that, after the defeat of Katsina and Gobir in the jihad, the great bulk of the common people had submitted but that many of the ruling classes had fled north to the borders of the desert. Since then these irreconcilables had been maintaining a precarious existence round Maradi, their new capital, but as the rainfall was sparse and the soil sandy, it was hardly possible for them to support themselves there. Necessity as well as inclination therefore prompted them to live by raiding across the borders of the Empire.
Bello's policy was to contain these raids and prevent them from reaching the populous parts of the Sultanate. To protect the home districts of Sokoto he first set up the war-camp of Magariya, which Clapperton often mentioned, and then in about 1828 replaced it by the fortified town of Wurno, which he founded in the same part of the Rima Valley 26. Later, by building Gandi in the neighbouring valley of the Sokoto River and installing his brother Atiku with a garrison in the Burmi town of Bakura, he created a chain of fortresses facing north-east 27.
In the east he pursued the same policy and, to protect Zamfara, founded the town of Lajinge in the Valley of the Upper Rims. The command of this fortress he gave to a young man called Fodiyo, his own son by a woman of the Gobir ruling family called Katambale, who had become his concubine after the capture of Alkalawa 28. If Fodiyo had not turned out to be a libertine 29 this imaginative move, with its strong hint of conciliation, might have been more successful.
As for the Gobirawa who had remained within the borders of the Sultanate, Bello sought by another liberal gesture to reconcile them too. Ali, a member of the old ruling family, was appointed to be their Chief. Moreover, he was made directly subordinate to the Sultan, paying his allegiance in Sokoto, and was permitted to retain the title of Sarkin Gobir 30.
For ten or fifteen years Bello's experiment in Indirect Rule worked satisfactorily. Sarkin Gobir Ali remained loyal and the submissive Gobirawa acted as a buffer between the Fulani and their unreconciled cousins over the border. Ali, however, was under constant pressure from the diehards to throw off the yoke of Sokoto. For a time he ignored their threats and taunts, but in 1835 they at last succeeded in goading him into rebellion by sending him, it is said, a set of butcher's knives to signify that he was no better than a Fulani slave 31. Certainly, in that year he renounced his allegiance and joined a coalition which had been formed by his kinsmen in exile with the Tuaregs and the diehard Katsinawa.
After eight years of comparative peace Bello now suddenly found himself facing another dangerous crisis. He reacted with all his old vigour. First he sent messages to his Emirs, calling on them to join him in a military expedition, and then he collected his own forces and led them to the rendezvous which he had appointed. The majority of the Emirs also commanded their contingents in person and the host which gathered at Isa was probably the greatest that the Fulani ever assembled for any campaign 32. Moreover, before setting out, they all swore a solemn oath to conquer or die 33.
Bello now marched this army northward in search of the enemy. They left the Rima Valley at the top of its great bend and entered the featureless semi-desert which lay beyond. Here, before long, they were painfully afflicted by thirst, and the shortage of water was so great that it seemed doubtful whether they could go on. Go on they did, however, until they reached a place called Bulechi. After staying there for two days they pressed on with a double forced-march. While they were resting between these marches, Bello forbade the kindling of camp-fires, because he wanted to take the enemy by surprise 34 and in this he seems to have been completely successful.
The result of the battle which now took place at Gawakuke 35 was an overwhelming victory for the Fulani. Ibra, the Tuareg chieftain, made his escape, but the leaders of the two diehard factions, Sarkin Katsina Rauda and the turncoat Sarkin Gobir Ali, were both killed with thousands of their followers. Bello was usually generous in victory, but on this occasion he had no mercy and, while women and children were spared, about a thousand combatant prisoners were put to death 36. In its completeness, as well as in its sequel, Gawakulte was a Cromwellian victory.
After this disastrous defeat those of the Gobir diehards who had survived fell back to the north-east on the Maradi area where the Katsina diehards were already concentrated. There they founded a new town, Tsibiri, which was to be their headquarters for the rest of the century 37. When he heard of this, Bello decided to lead another joint expedition against both places with the object of finally subjugating the diehards and pacifying his northern frontier. Had he had time to carry this plan into effect he would have crowned his life-work and bequeathed to his successors a realm that was united within and unchallenged without. Before he could do so, however, he suddenly fell mortally ill.
During his last illness Bello sent for his eldest son Akyu and warned him not to attempt to make himself Sultan by unconstitutional means. Later the Waziri invited him to nominate his successor by saying:
— In whose hands do you leave us ?
But Bello refused to make any choice.
— I leave you, he said, in the hands of God 38.
On the following day he died. By his own wish he was buried in the town of Wurno, which he himself had founded and made his capital.
The nature of Bello's qualities and achievements have already been described. He was exceptionally well endowed with a wide variety of talents-a good brain, a strong personality, and a sound and uncomplicated character. These assets were fostered by the kindly influence of his father and uncle and at the same time fortified by his rigorous education and austere upbringing. The jihad gave him his opportunity and, though he was not Shehu's eldest son, he soon came to the forefront. At the start he was a young man fighting hand-to-hand under the walls of Alkalawa. At the end he was in supreme command of the combined forces that took the place and so brought the war to an end.
As a soldier, Bello took part in forty-seven battles and sieges 39. As a writer, he produced over eighty works in prose and verse 40 and, though he lacked Abdullahi's sense of style, he wrote in Infaku'l Maisuri the best account we have of the jihad. As a religious leader, he made a worthy successor to his father. Finally, as a secular ruler, he was easily the greatest of all the Sultans of Sokoto.
There was only one other man of this generation in the central Sudan whose stature and attainments approached those of Bello. That was El-Kanemi. In intellect, learning, ability, and strength of character these two towered over the rest of their contemporaries. They were born at about the same time, they died within a year or two of one another, and during much of their lives they were destined to be in conflict.
Bello, though devout, had none of Shehu's mysticism and never experienced Abdullahi's revulsion from the world and its ways. On the contrary, he obviously had a taste for power and enjoyed wielding it. Nevertheless, he never allowed it to cloud his vision or tarnish his standards. That for twenty years he was the most powerful man in the whole Sudan, and yet remained completely uncorrupted, must be counted among the greatest of all his achievements.
As a man, he could sometimes be inflexible, as he was with Clapperton, and occasionally ruthless. These were but the defects of his virtues, however, for the hall-mark of his character was magnanimity. In his career we encounter this magnanimity again and again — in the objectivity of his historical works, in his forbearance under Abdu Salami's provocation, in his reconciliation with Abdullahi, in his avoidance of bigotry 41, in the great sweep of his own achievements, and in the sense of personal humility before God which, in the moment of his greatest triumph at the taking of Alkalawa no less than on his death-bed, never deserted him. It is well illustrated in the words which he himself wrote at the height of the theological conflict with El-Kanemi:

May God be gracious to us in our end and to El-Kanemi in his end. May He keep us both upon the straight way and show us mercy.

In company with his father Shehu, though in a wholly different way, he proved himself to be one of the most remarkable men whom Africa has ever produced. As a Sultan, Sokoto was not to look upon his like again.

1. Sokoto DNBs, History of Kebbe.
2. Hiskett, Introduction to TW, pp. 13-20.
3. Gwandu DNBs, History of Jega.
4. Clapperton, Travels, vol. II, p. 342.
5. Gazetteer of Sokoto Province, p. 16, and Sokoto DNBs, History of Kebbe. For his share in this exploit Buhari clan, Abdu Salami was given the title Sarkin Kebbi, which the Chiefs of Jega still bear.
6. Gazetteer of Sokoto Province, p. 17. For the family tree, see Table 6 in Appendix II.
7. Gazetteer of Sokoto Province, p. 17.
8. This was the town which Muhammadu Kanta had founded three hundred years earlier as a settlement for prisoners captured in his wars with Zazzau.
9. Johnston, op. cit. pp. 127-8. In the Moslem tradition his gesture signified that to refused to surrender but was ready to die.
10. Johnston, op. cit. pp. 128-9.
11. For the family tree, see Table 3 in Appendix II.
12 See Note 10 in Appendix I.
13. Diya'al-Hukkam, Diya'al-Sultan, and Diya'al-Siyasat. See Hiskett, Introduction and Appendices to TW, pp. 22 and 134.
14. Hiskett, Introduction and Appendices to TW, pp. 22 and 134.
15. Sokoto DNBs, History of Durbawa.
16. Sokoto DNBs, Historical Note on the Chief Alkalis.
17. More than thirty years later he was to receive with great kindness the explorer Barth, who described him as a cheerful old man of about seventy-five with pure features and a noble demeanour (Travels, vol. IV, pp. 173-4). He must therefore have been about forty when first appointed.
18. Sokoto DNBs, Histories of Hamma'ali and Durbawa Districts and of Sokoto City.
19. Ibid. Histories of Dundaye District and Sokoto City.
20. Ibid. History of Durbawa.
21. Sokoto DNBs, History of Yabo.
22. Ibid. Histories of Zurmi and Kaura Namoda.
23. Ibid. Histories of Hamma'ali and Durbawa.
24. Gazetteer of Kano Province, p. 33.
25. Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. pp. 492-3.
26. Sokoto DNBs, History of Wurno.
27. Ibid. Histories of Gandi and Bakura.
28 Ibid. Histories of Sabon Birni and Isa. Confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
29. Hajji Said, loc. cit.
30. Sokoto DNBs, History of Sabon Birni.
31. Ibid. The Fulani, being devoted to their cattle, always left butchering to their slaves.
32. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 28.
33. Ibid.
34. Ibid. p. 29.
35. Earlier historians often confused it, quite wrongly, with the village of the same name near Sokoto.
36. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 29. In 1903 a British officer was shown a mound about twenty feet high and was told that it contained the remains of the 20,000 men who had fallen in this battle. The figure is probably an exaggeration, but the size of the mound shows that the casualties must have been extremely heavy. Major-General C. H. Foulkes, article in the Royal Engineers' Journal, vol. LXXIII, no. 4, 1959, pp. 429-37.
37. Sokoto DNBs, History of Sabon Birni.
38. Hajji Said, loc. cit.
39. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 30.
40. Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. p. 397.
41. A comparison of Denham's account of life in Kuka and Clapperton's account of life in Sokoto suggests that El-Kanemi's rule was stricter, and his punishments more Bevere, than Bello's.

Previous Home Next