London. Ibadan. Nairobi: Oxford University Press. 1967. 312 p.
The events of 1901-2 had produced a decisive shift in the balance of power between the Fulani and the British.
On the Fulani side the loss or defection of all the southern Emirates meant that the Empire had now been reduced to little more than Sokoto, Gwandu, Kano, Katsina, Hadeija, Katagum, Daura, Kazaure, and Yauri. Given strong leadership their forces could still have been welded into a powerful combination. It was the misfortune of the Fulani, however, that at a time when they sorely needed another Bello to lead them out of their difficulties they were saddled instead with an incompetent and now senile tyrant.
On the British side Lugard, in the summer of 1902, was faced with the most serious decision that he had yet had to take, whether to treat with the Sultan as before or to force the issue. The whole problem was bedevilled by the vagueness of the treaties. When the Protectorate had been declared, Lugard had written to Abdu saying that the Government had assumed all the Company's obligations under the treaties and would honour them. This letter had never been answered, however, and so it was not even certain that the Sultan still recognized them 1.
In 1902 Lugard sought the advice of his Chief Justice on the validity and scope of the treaties. He was advised that under the third treaty the Sultan had surrendered his independence and that, having once done so, he had also surrendered his power to repudiate the treaty which was therefore still valid and binding 2. As it was very doubtful whether Abdu had ever signed the treaty, which in any case made no mention of sovereignty or its surrender, this advice appears today to be astonishingly tendentious. Lugard himself seems to have recognized that there was too much casuistry in the argument and that he could place little reliance on the treaties in persuading the Sultan to accept British protection and guidance.
For Lugard the need to reach a satisfactory settlement was becoming increasingly urgent. First of all there was the awkward fact that an Anglo-French Boundary Commission was about to demarcate the international frontier between the Niger and Lake Chad; as things were, he could not guarantee their safety and yet if he asked for the work to be deferred it would be a public admission that the British were not in control of the territory which they had so insistently claimed.
In addition to this, however, there were other considerations that probably weighed more heavily with Lugard. He was a man of principle and he held strong views about the moral obligation of Great Britain to bring peace, order, and good government to the Protectorate. Being a creative idealist as well, he was also understandably impatient to settle the political and military problems so that he could buckle down to the tasks of reconstruction and development which interested him most.
All these factors doubtless played their part in persuading Lugard that he would have to send an expeditionary force against Kano and Sokoto to overawe and if necessary subjugate them. Abdu's defiant letter of May 1902 seems to have finally convinced him that this was the only possible course. He was still doubtful whether the British Government would agree with him, however, and so he pressed on with his arrangements without divulging his intentions to the Colonial Office. Nevertheless, by mid-summer it was common knowledge among the officers who were closest to him that in the coming dry season he intended to march against Sokoto.
As the year wore on the Fulani leaders got plenty of warning that the British were preparing for a fresh move. The Emir of Kano, for example, received the following letter from a correspondent in Zaria.
The purpose of my letter is to inform you of the coming of the Christians. They have increased in numbers and established themselves more firmly than before. As for the others, they have come to Kwaba and are busy collecting stores for war. They declare that when they have finished what they are doing they will go on to Kano. It is to give you this news that I am writing 3.
In a second letter he informed Aliyu that the British had started work on improving the road, or rather track, from Zaria to Kano and that they were expecting reinforcements from Bauchi 4. In a third and final letter he wrote with a plain note of urgency.
This is to let you know that the Christians who were said to be coming from Bauchi have now arrived…. They are mustering here and intend to go on to Kano. May God remember and protect us… 5
The gist of this and similar intelligence reaching the Emir of Kano was passed on by him to Sokoto 6. In addition, though the letters have not survived, it can be taken as certain that the Sultan and the Waziri were kept informed by other correspondents of Lugard's preparations.
There is no doubt, therefore, that by the late summer or early autumn of 1902 the Fulani leaders were fully aware of the danger that threatened them. Unfortunately for their cause, however, they could not agree on how they should meet it. To Lugard there seemed to be but two alternatives to fight or to negotiate but to them there were three: to fight, to negotiate, or to emigrate en masse 7.
To the Fulani, who had only ceased to be nomads in comparatively recent times, the idea of a mass migration was perfectly feasible. Indeed, a belief was current that Shehu himself had foretold that one day such a migration would take them to the Hejaz and the holy places of Islam 8. After the defeat at Yola, this was the course that the Emir had called on his people to adopt. Now the policy found a new advocate in the Emir of Kano, who wrote to the Waziri Buhari in the following terms:
I have received your letter and I understand from it that my advice commends itself to you. Both of us are seeking what will serve our religion best in the long run. As I said in my last letter, I still believe that, as these dogs have surrounded us and now threaten to overwhelm us, the best plan is for all true Moslems to abandon this country. That is my firm conviction and I pray that your eyes too may be opened to this reality. May God help us and lighten our burdens 9.
There were others, however, who considered that it would be calamitous for the Fulani cause if the Hausa population ever got an inkling that the possibility of migration was so much as being considered. Later in the, year, for example, the Marafa Maiturare, the hero of the Fulani counter-attack at the battle of Argungu, wrote to the Sultan in the following terms:
I earnestly beseech you, in God's name, let no-one in this land hear from your lips any hint of our departure for this would mean the ruin of our cause. On hearing such news the people would certainly throw off their allegiance to us and we should get none of the help which they have promised. Let us therefore wait and see how things turn out. Help lies with God alone …. 10
In the Fulani camp this debate continued throughout the rest of the year 1902 and into the early part of 1903. It was one of the factors that brought about the paralysis of will which now seemed to afflict them when their whole future was in jeopardy.
As the dry season approached, tension between the Fulani and the British gradually mounted until early in October when there were two important developments which affected the future course of events.
The little Emirate of Keffi, lying south-west of the Plateau and only fifty miles from the Benue, has already been mentioned. It belonged to the second generation of the Fulani family of States and owed allegiance through Zaria to Sokoto. During the latter part of the century the Emirs of Zaria had adopted the practice of maintaining one of their own officials at the Court of Keffi to watch their interests 11. This post was now occupied by the Magaji Dan Yamusa, an intrepid warrior, a redoubtable slave-raider, and a man of dynamic personality. Though in theory he was only the power behind the throne, he was in fact more powerful than the Emir himself 12.
Keffi, however, was also one of the Emirates that had made treaties with the Royal Niger Company 13 and on the strength of these treaties, when the Protectorate came into being, the Emirate was embodied into Nassarawa Province. Furthermore, in July 1902, after the Emir of Zaria, Kwasau, had made submission to the High Commissioner, the headquarters of the Province were moved to Keffi town and the Resident, Captain Moloney, took up his post there with a detachment of troops to support him 14.
As the Magaji was not withdrawn when Moloney arrived, there were now in effect two Residents in Keffi, one Fulani and the other British. So long as relations between the High Commissioner and the Emir of Zaria remained cordial, all went well. In September, however, Lugard found it necessary to have Kwasau put under detention and removed from his capital 15. When news of this action reached Keffi it naturally produced extreme tension between Moloney and the Magaji.
Though he had troops on call Moloney was reluctant to use them and tried to assert his authority by peaceful means without recourse to force. But he had misjudged his man and, on 3 October 1902, he was suddenly set upon by the Magaji and his armed followers in the middle of the town and killed. His political agent, Audu Tintin, was also hunted down and dispatched 16.
After committing this deed (which had little enough to excuse it because Moloney was unarmed at the time and, being lame from an earlier wound, was unable either to defend himself or escape) the Magaji and his followers fled north. They avoided Zaria, where there was now a British garrison, and made their way straight to Kano. There they were well received by the Emir Aliyu 16.
When news of Moloney's death reached Lugard it strengthened his resolve to force the issue with Kano and Sokoto.
If the life of a European can be taken with impunity the prestige of the Government would be gone, and prestige is another word for self-preservation in a country where millions are ruled by a few score. In my opinion the Government owes it to every British Officer called upon to serve in distant districts among turbulent people to take prompt and effective measures in such a case or the lives of its servants would not be safe…. I felt that I had no option but to attempt the arrest of the Magaji to the uttermost limits of the Protectorate …. 17
Lugard's plans for sending an expedition against Kano and Sokoto were already well advanced and now the death of Moloney and the sanctuary given to the Magaji in Kano had provided him with what he had previously lacked, namely a good pretext for resorting to force. Just then, however, another event of radical importance occurred which opened up the possibility of a peaceful settlement and which should therefore have given him pause.
On 9 October, less than a week after the assassination of Moloney, Sultan Abdu died in Wurno and three days later his nephew, Muhammadu Attahiru, was appointed to succeed him 18. News of the old tyrant's death reverberated round Hausaland and must have reached Lugard's ears within a matter of days. The new Sultan, though a devout Moslem, was a reasonable and open-minded man and it would in fact have been possible to negotiate with him 19. Lugard could not be expected to know this, of course, but equally he had no right to assume that Attahiru would prove to be as bigoted and intransigent as Abdu. Unfortunately, however, his mind was now made up and he was not prepared to postpone the projected expedition to see whether negotiation with the new Sultan would lead to a peaceful settlement. For this precipitancy he cannot escape the censure of history.
If Abdu's death came too late to deflect Lugard from his purpose, it at least had a salutary effect on the cohesion of the Fulani. Although after the termination of the Kano civil war the old Sultan had accorded formal recognition to Aliyu as Emir of Kano, there had nevertheless remained a legacy of distrust between them. As a result of it, Aliyu had never made the journey to Sokoto, as tradition and courtesy demanded, to pay homage to his overlord.
When Attahiru succeeded as Sultan, Aliyu evidently thought that it was time to repair this omission. He probably also felt that a visit would provide him with a good opportunity for improving relations between Kano and Sokoto and for pressing his view that a mass migration was preferable either to submission or war. At the beginning of January 1903 he therefore set out for Sokoto at the head of about half his fighting men 20. If the object of this move had been to form a military concentration in Sokoto, in preparation for a decisive battle, the strategy would have been sound. As this was not the purpose, however, it was rash to the point of folly, for it divided the Kano forces at a critical moment and left the city, which after Sokoto itself was the most valuable prize in the Empire, exposed and vulnerable.
Although among the Fulani and the British in Nigeria it had been common knowledge for some time that an expedition was being prepared against Kano and Sokoto, Lugard had still not brought himself to divulge his plans to the Colonial Secretary. This omission was not inadvertent but unquestionably deliberate. He knew that in England the bloodshed and waste of the Boer War had produced a change of mood in the public and because of it the Government were now loath to allow any moves which might be condemned as fresh colonial adventures.
Fearing that timid politicians advised by cautious civil servants would veto his plans if he revealed them prematurely, he resorted to various subterfuges to keep them masked until the point-of-no-return had been reached and passed. In this way he succeeded in forcing the hand of the British Government and obtaining approval for a plan which, if it had been submitted at the right time and in the proper way, would in all probability have been turned down 21.
If the methods which Lugard employed to get his way were questionable, his motives, to give him his due, were purely altruistic. He was impatient to stamp out slave-raiding and other abuses. He wanted a free hand to introduce the reforms that were later to make him famous. He was convinced that he could transform the lives of the people for whose welfare he regarded himself responsible. These were worthy aspirations which he was later to fulfil in ample measure. The fact remains, however, that by refusing to delay his military operations in order to negotiate with the new Sultan he precipitated a war which it might have been possible to avoid.
The Kano-Sokoto Expedition set off from Zaria at the end of January 1903 under the command of Colonel Morland. Its strength was 40 British officers and N.C.O.s and 800 African rank and file. Apart from a company of mounted infantry and a few gunners, the whole force consisted of infantry. They were supported, however, by four 75-mm. mountain guns, which could if necessary be dismantled and transported by porters, and by six machine guns.
The majority of the troops were Hausas. They were returning to their own country purely as mercenaries, not because they had any thoughts of revenging themselves upon the Fulani. Though mercenaries, they made fine soldiers and were brave, loyal, stoical, cheerful, and tough 22. Furthermore, being veterans of other campaigns, they were seasoned and confident.
The distance from Zaria to Kano is just under a hundred miles. The troops were opposed at only one place, Bebeji, and covered the ground in five days. When they reached the city, however, they found the newly repaired walls manned and the massive gates closed against them.
It has been customary in the past to describe the capture of Kano as if it was a great feat of arms. The truth is that, with the Emir and half his army away in Sokoto, the defenders had a hopeless task. As the Hausa population remained passive, neither helping nor hindering the Fulani, there were not nearly enough troops to man the eleven miles of fortifications and defend the thirteen gates. All that the British needed to do, therefore, was to blow in one of the gates and put a storming party through it before the defence could rally and counter-attack. This they accomplished with negligible casualties. Before long the city was theirs.
In a military sense, Kano was an empty shell and its capture a hollow victory. Nevertheless, it was still the greatest city of Hausaland and its fall shook the Empire.
Lugard's original orders to his commander were that he should first take Kano and then, after sending the Sultan a message to explain his motives for having done so, march on Sokoto. After the fall of Kano, however, he became convinced that the Sultan would capitulate and so he sent a message to Brigadier-General Kemball, who had now taken over command from Colonel Morland, cancelling these orders and instructing him instead to make Kano impregnable and the Kano-Zaria line of communications absolutely secure. Kemball was free to defend himself in case he was jeopardized by superior forces but was to take no unnecessary offensive action. The responsibility for making any further move against Sokoto would rest solely on him 23.
By this time Lugard had moved up to Zaria, where he was just as well placed as Kemball in Kano for communicating with the Sultan. It was therefore extraordinary that he, of all people, should have delegated the task of making this decision, which was essentially political, to a soldier. It was all the more extraordinary in that he was out of sympathy with Kemball and had only reluctantly agreed, at the insistence of London, to his taking over the command of the expedition from Morland 24. What was most extraordinary of all was that, although the letters that he wrote to his wife at this time show that he was very critical of the action which Kemball decided to take 25, he made no attempt to halt him or resume the authority that he had delegated. Indeed, his conduct at this time was so strange and uncharacteristic that it suggests that he had to some extent lost his nerve and was ensuring, in case of failure, that Kemball, whom the Secretary of State had forced on him, should carry at least part of the blame 26. Whatever his motives, his abrogation of his responsibilities during this critical period had the effect of leaving control in the hands of the soldiers, who were primarily concerned with forcing a quick military decision, and so materially reduced the chance of a peaceful settlement with Sokoto.
Meanwhile, in Kano reports were beginning to reach Kemball and Morland that the fugitives from the city's defenders had joined up in Zamfara with the Kano army which was returning from Sokoto. The move that the British had most cause to fear was the building up of a hostile coalition. Believing that this process might be beginning, Kemball now decided that he must at all costs forestall it. And so on 16 February, leaving a small garrison in Kano, he took the field again.
The reports which had reached the British in Kano, though exaggerated, were basically correct. The Emir of Kano had in fact left Sokoto at about the time that the British had captured his capital. He was in Zamfara when the news reached him, brought by fugitives, and he was flabbergasted by it.
After a few days' indecision he determined that he at any rate would carry out the plan that he had unsuccessfully urged on the Sultan. One night, therefore, accompanied only by a small party of women and slaves, he slipped away from his camp again in disguise with the intention of emigrating to Arabia. But his road lay through the territory of the Gobir diehards, who penetrated his disguise, took him prisoner, and later handed him over to the British 27.
On the morning after the Emir's flight, when news of his disappearance spread abroad, the Kano forces fell into complete confusion. Some of the leaders favoured one course, some another, but none possessed the stature to impose his will on the others. The army therefore broke up into two main groups. The larger body, avoiding Kemball's advancing column, made their way to Kano, where they submitted to the British authorities and laid down their arms. Their leader, the Wambai Abbas, having been chosen by the Electors, was soon afterwards installed by Lugard as the new
Emir of Kano.
Meanwhile, the other group, which was led by the Waziri Ahmadu 28, continued its eastward march with the intention not of avoiding but of seeking battle. It was too far south to meet the main British column, but near Kotorkoshi it ran into a half-company of Mounted Infantry, which was reconnoitring and covering the flank of Kemball's advance. The engagement that followed was a classic of its kind, a contest between modern weapons and disciplined staunchness on the one hand and superior numbers and reckless courage on the other. The Mounted Infantry formed a little square, which had only eleven men on each face, and during the next two hours withstood twelve separate charges. By the narrowest of margins the square held out and when the fighting was over the victors counted sixty-five bodies scattered round it. Among them was the Waziri Ahmadu, who thus found the death which he had deliberately set out to seek.
While these events were taking place in Zamfara, the Sultan had still not made up his mind whether to fight or negotiate. Earlier in the month he had received from Colonel Morland a letter written on Lugard's instructions to explain that the British had moved against Kano because the Emir had received the Magaji of Keffi with honour and had shown that he wanted war. The letter went on to say that the British were now continue to Sokoto and that they intended to install a Resident and a garrison. Nevertheless, they did not wish for war unless the Fulani themselves sought it and if they were received in peace the Sultan would retain his position and no harm would come to any of his people. If he wished to show his friendship, however, he must co-operate in bringing the Magaji to justice.
The moderate tone of Morland's letter did not disguise the fact that it contained an ultimatum. What the British were offering was a straight choice between peace on their terms, which were not ungenerous, and war.
This message put Attahiru in a position of extraordinary difficulty. As he was Commander of the Faithful as well as Sultan of Sokoto, the problem was as much religious as political or military. His own inclination was towards the solution of a mass migration 29, but as no decision in favour of this course had been reached during the Emir of Kano's visit, it is safe to assume that opposition to it was still strong and opinion divided. Having been in office for less than six months, Attahiru was unwilling to take so fateful a decision by himself. As his Councillors also seem to have been uncertain in their views, he made up his mind to consult the learned men of the Sultanate, who in any case regarded themselves as the spiritual heirs of the jihad and the keepers of the public conscience, and to abide by their decision 30.
While he was waiting for this parliament of divines to assemble, Attahiru sent the following letter to Morland, who by this time had already set out from Kano:
Salutations. Know that your messenger has arrived here and that I understand the purport of your letter. To consider it I have summoned all my advisers but, as they will take some time to assemble, I am sending this message back to you without delay. Later, when we have agreed upon our policy, I shall write again to inform you what course my counsellors have enjoined upon me 31.
When this letter reached Morland and Kemball they probably assumed that Attahiru was playing for time while he mobilized his army. At any rate, they did not delay their march but pressed on towards Sokoto.
Time was already running out when the learned men of Sokoto, at length assembled to consider what the Sultan's decision should be. The majority of them were not practical men of affairs but scholars and jurists. Consequently, they took little account of the fact that no help was to be expected from the rest of the Empire, that the city wall of Sokoto was crumbling 32, that the Sultan's forces had not yet been concentrated, and that in any case they possessed no answer to the modern arms of the British. Their verdict was that it was unthinkable for the Commander of the Faithful to submit voluntarily to a Christian power and that he must fight and if necessary die. Greatly to his credit, as he disagreed with it, Attahiru accepted their judgement.
During the next few days the Sultan was able to call up his troops from all the districts of western Sokoto, but there was no time to bring men in from Zamfara, or further afield. Nor had any help arrived from Gwandu or Katsina. For the last decisive battle, therefore, the Empire was able to deploy only a fraction of what had once been its total strength.
The British force approached Sokoto from the south and appeared before the city at about noon. After pitching camp, they made a reconnaissance in force in the afternoon to examine the ground over which they would have to fight and to study the positions which the Fulani intended to take up. In the course of this reconnaissance they were attacked by a few fanatics, who went bravely to their deaths, but there was no other fighting 33.
By daybreak on the following day, Sunday, 15 March 1903, the Sokoto army was drawn up in three divisions on the common south of the city. In the centre was the Sultan himself. He took up his position at the foot of a fan-palm and his flag was set up beside him. The right wing, which covered the Atiku Gate, was commanded by the Marafa Maiturare, the left by Sarkin Rabah Ibrahim 34.
The British force marched out of camp at six o'clock in the morning and about an hour later reached the ridge from which Morland had made his reconnaissance on the previous evening. Being separated from the Sokoto army by only a shallow valley, the infantry now formed a square and the Mounted Infantry took up positions on the flanks. When all was ready they advanced cautiously across the valley. As soon as they had crossed it the four machine-guns were set up in positions where, at a range of six to eight hundred yards, they covered the serried ranks in which the Sultan's army was drawn up.
As for the Fulani, just as they were preparing to deliver their cavalry charge across the open ground of the common, they found themselves being raked by a merciless fire from the machine-guns. At the same time 75-mm. shells from the guns also started dropping among them. Some who tried to charge the British position found that their horses would not face the racket but swerved away to left and right 35. Others, who remained in the line of battle waiting for orders which were drowned in the din of battle, saw great swathes being cut through their ranks. The truth was that warfare of two different ages of history had come into collision and there was never any question of which of them would prevail.
As soon as he realized that there was no hope of coming to grips with the British, the Marafa Maiturare galloped over from his position on the right to urge the Sultan to abandon the battle.
Beware, he said, lest the fire be extinguished while you hold it.
By this he meant that if the Sultan persisted in a hopeless struggle he might be guilty of destroying the whole heritage and posterity of the Fulani. But the Sultan was made of sterner stuff than his brother.
Do you think, he demanded angrily, that this is my first battle? 36
The Marafa, who had already had two horses hit under him, was now wounded in the shoulder, and the Majasirdi, one of the household slaves, was killed. At this the Waziri Buhari intervened and told the Sultan that from then on the blood of all those who fell in the battle would be on his head 37
Sa'i Umaru, the hereditary standard-bearer and the grandson of Ibrahim Mai-Tuta, who had been one of Shehu's standard-bearers, courageously upheld the flag as a rallying point for the Fulani forces. They became the target of the machine-gunners, however, and were mown down to the last man 38.
At this the Fulani forces began to melt away and the Sultan at last allowed his horse to be led from the field. It was the end not only of a battle but virtually of an epoch. There remained only the last act in which the unhappy Attahiru had to play out the tragic part that fate had assigned to him.
1. Annual Reports, Northern Nigeria, 1900-11, p. 81.
2. Colonial Office File, no. CO 446/30, p. 9.
3. Backwell, op. cit. cf. Letter, no. 119.
4. Ibid. Letter, no. 120.
5. Ibid. cf. Letter, no. 121.
6. Ibid. Letter, no. 124.
7. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 70.
8. Muffett, op. cit. p. 147.
9. Backwell, op. cit. cf. Letter, no. 125.
10 Backwell, op. cit. cf. Letter, no. 128.
11. Notes on Nassarawa Province, p. 7.
12. Muffett, op. cit. p. 64.
13. Flint, op. cit. p. 139.
14. Notes on Nassarawa Province, p. 7.
15. Gazetteer of Zaria Province, p. 14.
16. Muffett, op. cit. pp. 62-68.
17. Annual Reports, Northern Nigeria, 1900-11, pp. 75-6.
18. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 70.
19. Muffett, op. cit. pp. 143-4.
20. Alhaji Abubakar, op. cit. p. 70.
21. See Appendix III.
22. Vandeleur, who saw service in both East and West Africa, thought that the Hausas made the best soldiers in Africa. See S. Vandeleur, Campaigning on the Upper Nile and Niger, London, 1898.
23. Muffett, op. cit. p. 106.
24. Perham, Lugard: The Years of Authority, London, 1960, p. 100.
25. Perham, Lugard: The Years of Authority, p. 120.
26. For a more detailed account of these events, see Appendix Ill.
27. Foulkes, loc. cit. pp. 429-37. The General, then a subaltern, rode 175 miles in three days and two nights in order to collect the Emir from the Gobirawa, an extraordinary feat of endurance in the Sahara beat.
28. In Kano the title of Waziri had less importance than in Sokoto and the holder was not the chief minister. Ahmadu was actually a younger brother of the Emir Aliyu Babba. See Table 4 in Appendix II.
29. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 70.
30. Oral tradition preserved in Sokoto.
31. Annual Reports, Northern Nigeria, 1900-11, Appendix I, cf. Letter, no. 7.
32. Confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu. Fifty years earlier Barth had described the wall as being only twelve feet high (Travels, vol. IV, P. 178).
33. Johnston, op. cit. pp. 158-9.
34. Information given to the author by survivors of the battle.
35. Account of the battle given to the author by a survivor.
36. Information given to the author by the Majasirdi, a survivor of the battle and the son and successor of the Majasirdi who was killed at the Sultan's side. See Johnston, op. cit. pp. 259-62.
37. Information given to the author by the Majasirdi, Mallam Nagwamatse, and others.
38. Sokoto DNBs, History of Kilgori.