London. Ibadan. Nairobi: Oxford University Press. 1967. 312 p.
By the time that Bello died it had come to be recognized that any legitimate male descendant of Shehu was eligible to succeed as Sultan of Sokoto and Commander of the Faithful. Furthermore, to regulate the succession and to make the final choice between those who put themselves forward as candidates, an Electoral College had been evolved. It was presided over by the Waziri Giɗaaɗ0, who was to live for another fourteen years, and one of its most prominent members was Sarkin Yaki Aliyu Jaidu, who was also still alive and active. The Chief justice was of course a member too, as were the four Councillors whom we have already met the Magajin Gari, the Galadima, the Magajin Rafi, and the Ubandoma. The remaining members, who may not have been admitted to the college until a later date, were Sarkin Kebbi of Yabo and three other territorial magnates from the home districts. While all were Fulani, none belonged to the ruling family.
When Bello died there were three serious contenders for the succession. The first two were his younger brothers Abubakr Atiku and Muhammadu Buhari and the third was his eldest son, Aliyu Babba. Among them Atiku, who was then about fifty-three, was the most senior. He was a full brother of Bello 1, which should have been an advantage to his candidature, but against this was the fact that neither Shehu nor Bello had ever confided to him an important command or a major post. It must have been known to many that Bello had distrusted him 2 and it was rumoured that he had a streak of avarice and cruelty. Indeed, there were some who prophesied that, if ever he became Sultan, heads would roll 3. In the event, as we shall see, the prophecy was fulfilled not in him but in his son, Abdur Rahman.
Buhari, by contrast, was a strong candidate. Not only was he highly respected but possession of the great fief of Tambawal in the south-west of the Sultanate gave him a firm base 4. Another factor that must have weighed in his favour was his fine record as a commander. Ten years previously he had led the Sokoto contingent in the suppression of the rising of Sarkin Kebbi Muhammadu Hodi, whom he had finally run down and killed 5. More important perhaps, because much more recent, he had again commanded the Sokoto forces in the war in Borgu and Yorubaland that had led to the destruction of Old Oyo and the consolidation of Ilorin as an Emirate in the Dual Empire, albeit under Gwandu's suzerainty 6. However, strong though his claims undoubtedly were, the awkward fact remained that he could only be appointed if Atiku were first passed over.
The genial Aliyu Babba was probably the most popular of the three candidates and when the Waziri Giɗaaɗ0 had asked the dying Bello to designate his successor he may well have been hoping that Aliyu would be nominated. But Bello's refusal to do so doubtless reminded the Electors that at thirty Aliyu was still comparatively young and inexperienced. In effect, therefore, the field was narrowed to Atiku and Buhari. After seven days' deliberation the Electors at length chose Atiku, who was thereupon proclaimed as the new Sultan and Commander of the Faithful.
In appearance, Atiku was small of stature and slight of build. His face was full, his complexion reddish, and his voice soft. He used to keep his eyes lowered and, even in conversation, did not look his companion in the eye. One of his eccentricities was always to go about armed and he was seldom seen without a sword at his hip or a spear or a bow in his hand 7.
On becoming Sultan, Atiku immediately started making changes. He began by abandoning Wurno, which during the last ten years of Bello's reign had virtually become the capital, and returning to Sokoto. In Sokoto, moreover, he did not install himself in the house that Bello, had built for himself, which was of course regarded as the Sultan's Palace, but preferred to convert his own town-house into a new Palace 8. At the same time he recalled his eldest son Ahmadu Zaruku, whom Bello had sent to Bakura as commander of one of the fortresses in the defensive chain set up against the Gobirawa, and restored to him, under the important title of Sarkin Zamfara, the office of Governor of the City which he had previously enjoyed 9.
Atiku was much narrower in his outlook than Bello and had in his character a touch of puritanism and bigotry. He next set himself to stamp out the music, drumming, and dancing which Bello had tolerated but which he regarded as vicious and immoral. He did this by having a drummer arbitrarily put to death in the middle of his performance 10. The capricious ruthlessness of this action seems to have been characteristic and helps to explain the doubts that had previously been entertained about his suitability to be Sultan.
In reversing so many of Belle's measures Atiku was not only giving expression to a different character and outlook but probably also trying to assert himself against the weight of his brother's memory. But in fact his changes were less momentous than they may have seemed at the time and only affected matters of secondary importance. On the major issues he had no choice but to continue to pursue Bello's policies. The problems, after all, were unchanged and the standpoint from which he judged them, that of a devout Moslem and of a Fulani who intended to preserve his heritage, was exactly the same as Bello's. In any case, radical changes would not have been easy to institute because the Council was by this time firmly established and among those whom Bello had originally appointed, apart from the Waziri and Sarkin Yaki, the Galadima Muhammadu Deshiru and the Ubandoma Muhammadu were still alive and now had twenty years of authority behind them 11.
Atiku's first military expedition was against a league of Zamfara and Burmi rebels who were defying him from Birnin Dantri on the upper Gawan Gulbi 12. Having subdued them, he next turned his attention to the resurgent Gobir and Katsina diehards. Like Bello, he realized that to break their power it would be necessary to strike a decisive blow against their twin capitals in the north, Tsibiri and Maradi.
In about 1840 he therefore summoned the eastern Emirs to assist him in another expedition. The diehards got wind of what was afoot, however, and called on the help of Damagaram, a kingdom which was tributary to Bornu, and of those Tuaregs who had not thrown in their lot with the Fulani. When Atiku marched north at the head of his army, therefore, he found himself opposed by strong forces. A battle was fought near Tsibiri, but it was indecisive, and the Fulani had to fall back without capturing either of their objectives 13.
After repulsing the Fulani, the Gobirawa seem to have counterattacked. Certainly, at about this date they drove Bello's son Fodiyo out of the fortress of Lajinge and again made themselves masters of the northernmost segment of the bend of the Rima Valley. Fodiyo was compelled to fall back to another fortress on a site near the present town of Isa 14. His death soon afterwards marked the final failure of the attempts that the Fulani made between about 1820 and 1840 to conciliate the Gobirawa by giving them a measure of autonomy.
In the dry season of 1841-2 Atiku again summoned his Emirs and mounted another expedition against Tsibiri. But the Fulani had now been fighting for nearly forty years and the zest for battle had gone out of them. Already in Clapperton's day an Arab had said that their leaders no longer fought with the same disregard of danger and death as they had displayed in the jihad 15. At Gawakuke, it is true, Bello had succeeded in rousing them to one last supreme effort, but Atiku was unable to kindle the same spark. When he realized that his army had no stomach for the fight, he abandoned the enterprise and turned his face towards home. He fell ill on the way, however, and died at Katuru, in Zamfara, in the year 1842 16.
As a man, Atiku lacked the qualities of intellect and personality that had distinguished Bello. He had character, certainly, but its foundations were narrow and it had obvious flaws. The most charitable verdict, passed by Haji Said some time after his death, was that he was a staunch upholder of the right 17. As a Sultan, his reign of five years was really too short for him to be judged either a success or a failure. The most that can be said is that, though he was clear-headed enough to perceive what his problems were and incisive enough to tackle them, yet he lacked the powers of organization and the spark of leadership to achieve any real success.
As Muhammadu Buhari had died during Atiku's reign, Aliyu Babba was left as the only candidate from the previous election still alive. He had no serious rivals and the Electoral College seems to have had little difficulty in deciding in his favour. He was now about thirty-five, of medium height, stout in build, dark in complexion, and having good features and a fine black beard which, unlike his father , he did not conceal with a veil 18.
As a man, Aliyu was intelligent and very well informed about current affairs. In religious matters he was so learned and eloquent that no one could match him in argument and disputation 19. But with all this he was genial, good-natured, and fond of laughter. He treated all men alike, from the greatest to the lowest, and had a happy gift of remembering the names of those whom he had previously met.
As a ruler, too, Aliyu had many good points. He did not allow criticism to deflect him from the right course and he ignored those who denigrated him. He was devoid of malice and he remained uncorrupted by power. He did not stand on ceremony and he was always accessible to his subjects. In a violent age he was unusually ready to show mercy. As an example of his aversion to violence it is related that, when a renegade Fulani who had been fighting with the Gobirawa was captured, he overruled his advisers and spared the man's life 20. Nevertheless, his love of justice was stronger than his impulse to be merciful and on another occasion, when a slave had allowed some of the young princes to commit acts of injustice and oppression in the market, he had the man executed on the spot 21.
Because of Aliyu's rare personal qualities Fulani historians have dealt kindly with his memory. The truth is, however, that as a Sultan he was not a success. He ruled the Empire for seventeen years and in that time he might have completed all the tasks that his father and his uncle had left unfinished. Instead, because of some want of steel in his character, he allowed the grip of the Fulani on their turbulent subjects to weaken and slip.
In the early years of his reign, Aliyu was faced with a number of scattered revolts, mainly in Zamfara. These were no more than bushfires, however, and he extinguished them without much difficulty. He then led an expedition against the Gobir capital of Tsibiri, but was unable to take the place or achieve any decisive success 22.
Aliyu's first great mistake was his failure to appreciate that the presence of the unsubdued diehards on his northern frontier, who kept up an incessant guerilla war on Zamfara and Katsina, was the cause of most of the internal and external troubles that he afterwards encountered. He should have returned to the fray, mobilized all his forces, including those of the Eastern Emirates, and crushed them as Bello and Atiku had both planned to do. Instead, after the first failure, he feebly abandoned the task. This must have been interpreted as a sign of weakness. At any rate, it put heart into his enemies, who grew much more daring, and encouraged some of the Zamfara towns to side with them. By about 1852 his authority in Zamfara had become so diminished that even the pagan villages of Kotorkoshi revolted against him 23.
In the following year the explorer Barth made the journey to Sokoto and followed more or less the same road that Clapperton had used almost a generation earlier. By comparing their narratives it is possible to gauge the extent to which the supremacy of the Fulani had declined during the interval. In Clapperton's day the danger that they had had to guard against was no more than an ambush or a tip-and-run raid in which a caravan might have become dispersed and suffered some casualties 24. But a generation later the perils of the road had obviously grown much more menacing. On leaving Katsina, for example, Barth's caravan, for the first part of its journey, was escorted by the Emir in person and, instead of heading west on the direct road, was first obliged to make a detour to the south. What the Gobirawa now had in the field was not just a few parties of raiders but a force capable of holding up even the most important and well-guarded convoys.
The hostile army of the Gobirawa being in this neighbourhood, the danger of the road further on was very considerable; and the Kanawa and Zazzawa, of whom the latter carried 2,000,000 shells, 500 tobes 25, and 30 horses as tribute, were too much afraid of their property to accompany us 26.
It is, in fact, clear from Barth's narrative that the whole of the eastern part of the Sultanate was in a state of turmoil.
Zurmi is an important town even at present but, being under the dominion of the Fulani, it is only capable of preserving its existence by a constant struggle with Gobir and Maradi.... It is difficult to know which towns are still dependent upon the dominion of Sokoto, and which adhere to their enemies the Gobirawa 27.
The countryside was no longer safe in this part of the Sultanate and the population had been compelled by the constant raids to seek the protection of walled towns.
Thus we reached, a little past noon, the town Sansanin Isa 28 which was originally a mere fortified encampment or Sansani. But its advanced and in some respects isolated position, as an out-lying post against the Gobirawa and Maradiyawa, rendered it essential that it should be strong enough by its own resources to offer a long resistance; and it has in consequence become a walled town of considerable importance 29.
Barth's account shows that eighteen years after Gawakuke all the advantages of Bello's great victory had been lost and that the Fulani were on the defensive again.
In 1853 Aliyu did, it is true, suppress the revolt in Kotorkoshi. He has been remembered for the subjugation of its ninety villages, but it was a hollow victory, for their inhabitants were no more than refractory pagans. With the real enemy, the Gobirawa, he did not again try conclusions. Barth put his finger on this failure when he wrote:
As long as the Fulani do not defeat the host of the Gobirawa, who take the field every year and offer them battle, the state of this empire will become daily worse and worse.
Another comment of Barth's shows how demoralized the Fulani had now become.
In scarcely any place in Negroland, he wrote, did I observe so little true military spirit as in Wurno; and almost all the leading men seem to be imbued with the melancholy conviction that their rule in these quarters is drawing to an end 30.
Disinclination to get to grips with his enemies in the north was Aliyu's first great failing. The second, which was to have equally serious consequences, must be attributed to his easy-going nature. The surrender of Yakubu Nabame, the Pretender to the throne of Kebbi, and the reason why it was thought necessary to banish him to Sokoto, have already been related. Since 1832 Yakubu had been living at the Sultan's Court as a prince in exile and Kebbi had enjoyed fifteen years of peace. But in 1847, in circumstances which will be described in a later chapter, Aliyu relented and gave Yakubu permission to return to his native land.
This act of clemency was to have disastrous consequences, because two years later Yakubu renounced his allegiance and raised Kebbi and Zaberma against the Fulani. Aliyu now did his best to extinguish the fire that he had permitted Yakubu to kindle, but he was no more successful against the Kebbi rebels than he had been previously against the Gobir diehards. The result of his generous but misguided gesture was that for the whole of the second half of the century, except for one period of truce, the Sokoto Fulani had to contend with a guerrilla war on their western as well as on their northern frontier.
The inability of the Sultan to master the enemies at his own gates inevitably undermined his prestige in the Empire. Furthermore, the disruption of his communications with the north and east hampered him in his attempts to deal with other troubles which arose. In Hadeija, for example, as will be described later, the deposed Emir Buhari usurped the throne in 1851, provoked a civil war, and afterwards caused havoc in the whole north-cast of the Empire by raiding the neighbouring Emirates of Katagum and Kano. In Air a similar palace revolution took place at about the same time. In this the Emir Abdul Kadir, apparently without Sokoto's consent, was driven out and supplanted by Ahmadu Rufa'i 31. These two episodes reveal the extent to which the Sultan's grip on the Empire was slipping.
Like Bello, Aliyu preferred Wurno to Sokoto and during his long reign Wurno again became the capital of the Empire. He died there in 1859, his troubles still thick about him, and was buried near his father.
The key to Aliyu's character lies perhaps in the fact that his mother was a Hausa concubines 32 and that in certain important respects he seems to have taken after her rather than after his father. He possessed many virtues and in times of peace, or in almost any other walk of life, he would have earned success as well as respect. Unfortunately, however, his easy-going amiability did not befit him to carry the very heavy burdens which he had inherited. As a Sultan, though not as a man, he must be counted a failure.
On Aliyu's death, Ahmadu Zaruku, the son of Atiku, was elected Sultan. This appointment established a pattern because, with one exception, all subsequent Sultans were selected from the houses of Bello and Atiku. The exception was Ahmadu Rufa'i who, as we shall see, was made Sultan in the 'sixties when he had become the elder of Shehu's only two surviving sons.
Although in his younger days he had governed Sokoto city for nearly twenty-five years 33, Ahmadu seems to have had no love for the place because when he became Sultan he removed the Court to a town called Chimmola, which was situated in the Rima Valley a few miles west of Wurno. During his reign, therefore, Chimmola became the seat of government just as Wurno had been during the latter part of Bello's reign and the whole of Aliyu Babba's.
Ahmadu's original intention in making this move was probably to establish an advanced headquarters from which he could watch the Gobirawa. In the early 'sixties, however, there was a development which greatly reduced the menace from this quarter. Sarkin Gobir Bawa na Gwanki, who was recognized as their Chief by all the diehard Gobirawa living beyond the frontier of the Empire, accused one of his kinsmen, the Dan Galadima Dan Halima, of trying to encompass his death by deliberately leaving him in the lurch in battle. Finding himself banished, Dan Halima made his peace with the Fulani. Ahmadu for his part was glad to give him permission to found a new town, Sabon Birni, near the ruins of Alkalawa and to recognize him as the Chief of all the Gobirawa in that part of the Sultanate 34. The arrangement that had been destroyed in 1835 by the treachery of Sarkin Gobir Ali was thus restored, and a buffer State of Gobirawa loyal to the Sultan was again interposed between the Sultanate and the diehards of Tsibiri. From then on, though the diehards continued to harry the south and east, their raiding of the western districts of the Sultanate virtually ceased.
This respite enabled the new Sultan to concentrate his attention on a different objective altogether. At that time the sandy plains that stretched away northward from the Rima Valley round Wurno and Chimmola to Birnin Konni were only sparsely inhabited. Ahmadu Zaruku realized that they were capable of supporting a large population and set about peopling them. This he did by encouraging Hausas from the south in search of land and Adarawa from the north in search of rainfall to settle there 35. In this way he laid the foundations of Gwadabawa which, a generation later, was to rival Zurmi and Tambawal as one of the great fiefs of the Sultanate and to provide the backing of wealth and men that was to help two of his sons to succeed as Sultan.
Apart from the partial settlement that he achieved with the Gobirawa, Ahmadu Zaruku did not attempt to tackle the major problems of the Empire. In the west he was content to try to contain the Kebbawa and in the east he simply waited for death to remove the rebellious Buhari from Hadeija. Within his limitations, however, he was a good Sultan and his reign is remembered as a period when roads and markets were safe for travellers and trade flourished 36.
When Ahmadu died in 1866, the electors went back to the house of Bello and appointed Aliyu Karami, the younger brother of Aliyu Babba. He gave promise of developing into a just and merciful Sultan, but in the following year he fell ill and died.
The succession had now alternated four times between the houses of Bello and Atiku, and, if the pattern was to be maintained, it had again become the turn of the Atikawa. But among them the next in line was Abdur Rahman, generally called Abdu, who at this time was only thirty-eight years of age. Had he been a man of outstanding personality this would have been no bar, for both Bello and Aliyu Babba had been younger when appointed. As it was, however, the electors were rightly dubious about Abdu's suitability for the highest responsibilities. There was, therefore, a strong movement in favour of breaking the tradition of alternation and of appointing Abubakr na Rabah, the younger brother of the two Aliyus, who was a more mature man of fifty-one and an eminently suitable choice. But the Atiku faction, naturally enough, were opposed to this move and tried to block Abubakr's appointment. To resolve this difficulty the electors turned to Shehu's surviving sons and chose the senior of the two, Ahmadu Rufa'i, to be the new Sultan 37.
As a man, Ahmadu Rufa'i resembled his father Shehu. He was modest, soft-spoken, accessible to people, sympathetic to their troubles, and generous to rich and poor alike. If he lacked the administrative gifts and strength of personality that the office of Sultan demanded, he was at least a man of compassion, humility, and good sense 38. He seems to have realized that it was not in him to lead the Empire to victory over the Kebbawa, who were now the worst thorn in the sides of the Fulani, and so he did the next best thing and made peace with them.
Thanks to this peace, which lasted till after his death, the reign of Ahmadu Rufa'i was probably the golden age of the Fulani era. The inherited troubles of the past had at last been largely overcome. Within the boundaries of the Empire the Hausas were now reconciled to Fulani rule and no longer broke out in sporadic revolts as from the time of Bello's accession they had been inclined to do. In the north, thanks to Ahmadu Zaruku's settlement, the Gobir and Katsina diehards were less troublesome than they had been. In the west the Kebbawa were observing the terms of the truce. In the east, Hadeija had been brought back into the fold. In the south even Nupe was at last enjoying peace. At home the Sultanate was tranquil and relations with Gwandu were close and friendly.
In the world beyond Hausaland, moreover, the influences which were to present the Empire with a new set of problems in the last two decades of its existence had not yet taken shape. Rabeh was a name which was still unknown and the Royal Niger Company had not yet been formed. In Europe the powers were preoccupied with the Franco-Prussian War and had not begun to concern themselves with Africa.
In this period, then, when the great conquests of the early years had at last been assimilated and before the pressure of external events had become acute, the Empire of the Fulani reached its zenith.
1. Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. p. 401. For the family tree, see Table 2 in Appendix II.
2. Clapperton, on his first visit to Sokoto, had been advised by the Waziri Giɗaaɗ0 to avoid calling on Atiku during Bello's absence from the city lest his visit should be misconstrued. See Travels, vol. II, pp. 355-7.
3. Clapperton, Travels, vol. II, pp. 355-7.
4 .This fief was subsequently split up into the Districts of Tambawal, Dogondaji, and Sifawa.
5. Hiskett, Introduction to TW, pp. 20-21.
6. Gazetteer of Sokoto Province, pp. 38-39.
7. Hajji Said, loc. cit.
8. Sokoto DNBs, History of Sokoto City.
9. Sokoto DNBs, History of Sokoto City.
10. Hajji Said, loc. cit.
11. Sokoto DNBs, Histories of Durbawa and Hamma'ali.
12. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 31.
13. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 32.
14. Sokoto DNBs, History of Isa.
15. Clapperton, Travels, vol. II, p. 239.
16. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 32.
17. Haji Said, loc. cit.
19. Hajji Said, op. cit.
20. Barth, op. cit. vol. V, p. 340.
22. Alhajji Junaidu, op. cit. pp. 30-35.
23. Alhaji Junaido, op. cit. p. 30. See also Barth, op. cit. vol. IV, pp. 183-4.
24. Clapperton, Travels, vol. II, pp. 324-7.
26. Barth, op. cit., vol. IV, pp. 116-17.
27. Ibid. pp. 120-1.
28. This town is now known simply as Isa.
29. Barth, op. cit. vol. IV, pp. 128-9.
30. Ibid. p. 162.
31. Barth, op. cit. vol. IV, pp. 185-6.
32. Barth found Abdul Kadir living in Wurno and hoping that the Sultan would restore him.
33. Ibid. p. 154.
34. Sokoto DNBs, History of Sokoto City.
35. Sokoto DNBs, History of Sabon Birni.
36. Ibid. Histories of Gwadabawa and Gada.
37. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 55 and Gazetteer of Sokoto Province, p. 35.
38. Sokoto DNBs, History of Gandi, and verbal information given to the author by Mallam Sa'id b. Hayatu.
39. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. pp. 56-57.