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

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

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Chapter Eleven
Sultan Bello — the First Ten Years

On Shehu's death in 1817 the Empire, which for some time had, in effect, been divided into two parts and governed separately by Bello and Abdullahi, was formally partitioned between Sokoto, and Gwandu. In Sokoto, therefore, Bello succeeded as the second Sarkin Musulmi and the first Sultan.
The accounts of Bello that have survived give us a fair idea of his appearance and bearing. The explorer Clapperton, when he met him eight years later, described him as a noble-looking man, forty-four years of age although much younger in appearance, five feet ten inches high, portly in person, with a short curling beard, a small mouth, a Grecian nose, and large black eyes 1. Another eye-witness, who was probably speaking of him in a later period of life, said that, though beginning to go bald, he had a thick beard and a ruddy complexion and that when he appeared in public he was always veiled, in the Tuareg manner, with a fold of his turban drawn across the lower part of his face 2.
To the office of Waziri, or chief minister, Bello appointed Usuman Giɗaaɗ0, a man appreciably older than himself who had become his brother-in-law when Shehu's daughter Nana, who incidentally was the outstanding woman of her day, had been given to him in marriage. Giɗaaɗ0 also belonged to the Toronkawa Clan and from the start had been one of Shehu's most devoted adherents. The picture of him which emerged from Clapperton's journal is of a civilized and kindly man with whom the explorer was able to strike up a real friendship. His wisdom and mature judgement certainly formed the perfect foil for Bello's zest and vigour and together they made a formidable combination.
The heritage into which Bello now entered was a troubled one. First of all there was the difficulty of his estrangement from his uncle Abdullahi who retired in hurt silence to Gwandu. Shortly after this there came news that many of the Zamfara, and Burmi towns, on hearing of Shehu's death, had renounced their allegiance 3. And finally, most disturbing of all, there were soon to be signs of disloyalty, perhaps even treason, among some of his own closest followers.
It will be recalled that the episode which precipitated the jihad was Yunfa's attack on Abdu Salami and his followers in the town of Gimbana. Abdu Salami, as has already been mentioned, was one of the few men among the more prominent of Shehu's original supporters who was not himself a Fulani. His paternal forebears had, in fact, been Arabs who had settled among the Arewa people and he himself was therefore of mixed blood 4.
When Shehu had fled to Gudu and raised his standard, Abdu Salami had gone with him and his followers had played a significant part in the subsequent fighting. When victory was won he had been rewarded for his services by being given the fief of Kwarre, a town of some size and importance fifteen miles north of Sokoto, and he had thereupon taken up residence there as its feudal lord 5.
Though the fief of Kwarre was far from negligible, Abdu Salami was dissatisfied with it and felt that it was not commensurate either with his previous standing or with the services which he had rendered in the jihad.
— And I, Abdu Salami, he wrote to Belle, where then is my portion? It seems to me that what I rule now is no greater than what I ruled before, that is to say a place to farm and a place to be buried in 6.
His dissatisfaction led him into intrigue and mischief-making and even while Shehu was still alive he was guilty of disloyalty, if not worse. For this he was summoned to Sokoto and admonished 7.
It was only after Shehu's death, however, that the resentment which he felt against the Fulani leaders showed itself in open insubordination. When Bello became Sultan, he alone among the great feudatories failed to go to Sokoto to do homage. Ignoring the insult, Bello sent him a conciliatory message inviting him to come and repair his omission which he eventually did. A brush was thus averted, at any rate for the time being, but his hostility persisted 8.
This quarrel would have been much less serious if it had not been for widespread revolts in the east of the Sultanate where dissident Zamfarawa, Katsinawa, and Burmawa, under the leadership of Banaga dan Bature, had risen against the Fulani 9. Despite warnings from Sokoto, Abdu Salami persisted in trading and having other dealings with the rebels. Bello continued to show him great forbearance, but it was all in vain. The recent division of the Empire between Sokoto and Gwandu probably led him to believe that it was going to break up and encouraged him to think that he could assert his independence. This at any rate is what he now tried to do 10.
Bello wrote further letters to him in the hope of bringing him back to his duty, but these were ignored. It was then discovered that he was in treasonable correspondence with the Zamfara rebels and so Bello at last decided that he would have to use force. Kwarre was invested and early in the year 1818, after a siege of five months, taken by storm. Abdu Salami succeeded in escaping, but he had been wounded in the fighting and he died of his wounds soon afterwards 11.
Having disposed of Abdu Salami, Bello next turned on his ally, Banaga dan Bature, who in the meantime had sacked Gusau and other towns in the eastern part of the Sultanate. First, Banaga's own town of Morai, near Talata Mafara, was captured; then the Katsinawa of Kanoma were overcome and their hill-fortress occupied; finally, Banaga himself was defeated and killed near Bungudu 12.
After Abdu Salami's death some of his followers dispersed, but the hard core, under the leadership of his son Buhari, migrated to the south where, after a period of wandering, they took possession of the fortified town of Kalembaina in Gwandu. As Abdullahi was unable to dislodge them from there, he appealed to his nephew for help. Bello responded at once and himself led a column against the rebels. He joined forces with Abdullahi in front of Kalembaina and together they stormed the place 13.
Although, as we shall see, Bello and Abdullahi disagreed about the nature of the offence which Abdu Salami and his followers had committed, the joint action at Kalembaina was the occasion of their formal reconciliation. When they met outside the town, Bello as the younger man prepared to dismount and go over to greet his uncle, but Abdullahi motioned to him to remain in the saddle and himself leant forward and greeted his nephew as Sarkin Musulmi 14. This magnanimity was characteristic of both men and it healed the breach which had opened between them after Shehu's death.
While these events were taking place in the central Sudan, arrangements were being made in Europe that were to result in the first breach being made in the physical barriers which had hitherto prevented any direct intercourse.
In the history of geography there has always been a tendency to concentrate on one problem at a time. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, Cook's voyage to the South Seas had cleared up the mystery of Australia and the interest of the civilized world had then switched to Africa. To promote the exploration of the interior of the continent, about which little or nothing was known, the African Association was formed in London and a series of expeditions were launched.
Attention at this time was focused not on the Nile, whose source Bruce was thought to have discovered, but on the more mysterious Niger. The first two expeditions ended in failure and the death of the explorers. In the third expedition a resolute young Scotsman called Mungo Park reached the Upper Niger and established the fact, which had previously been in doubt, that it flowed from west to cast. But when Park went back early in the nineteenth century, to try to sail down the river to its mouth, he too perished.
After the end of the Napoleonic wars the African Association resumed its attempts to explore West Africa and solve the riddle of where the Niger flowed into the sea. In this task it received the encouragement of the British Government, which was concerned to find new outlets for trade generally and particularly for the manufactured goods which, thanks to the industrial revolution, Great Britain was now producing in ever-increasing quantities. After further failures, an expedition set out from Tripolitania in 1822, which was to be at least partially successful. It was led by a naval surgeon called Oudney and its members were two other half-pay officers, Clapperton and Denham, and a shipwright named Hillman, who was supposed to build a boat when the party reached its destination.
This expedition, escorted by a force of Arabs provided by the Pasha of Tripoli, crossed the Sahara and reached Bornu in safety. There they split up and Oudney, accompanied by Clapperton, set off for Hausaland. Oudney died on the way, but Clapperton pushed on alone and at length, on 16 March 1824, reached the city of Sokoto. He was the first European ever to do so and a great multitude turned out to see him.
Hugh Clapperton, the son of a good family from the Scottish border, was a born adventurer. At the age of thirteen he had gone to sea in a merchantman and soon afterwards had transferred to the Royal Navy. During the Napoleonic wars he had served in three different theatres and at one time or another had been wounded in Spain, almost captured by the Americans on the Canadian Lakes, and very nearly drowned in the Atlantic. He was now in the prime of life, tough, daring, and remarkably handsome. As an explorer he may have lacked Barth's inquiring mind and tireless attention to detail, but he possessed other qualities, namely an observant eye, a sardonic sense of humour, and a ready pen.
Clapperton was lodged in the house of Giɗaaɗ0, the Waziri, and on the following day he was taken to the palace for his first audience with the Sultan. Bello made Clapperton heartily welcome and the two men took to one another from the start.
On this first visit Clapperton spent seven weeks in Sokoto and in all was received in audience thirteen times. The main business discussed at these meetings was how to open a channel of communication to Hausaland and, arising out of that, the possibility of a British Consul and a European physician being stationed in Sokoto. The Sultan came back to the subject over and over again and it is clear that his desire to establish links with the outside world was both strong and perfectly genuine 15.
The record of these interviews shows that Bello was a man of great intellectual curiosity and, considering how completely the central Sudan was then sealed off by desert and forest from the western world, that he was also very well informed on a surprisingly wide range of subjects. He confounded Clapperton, for example, by inquiring whether the British were Nestorians or Socinians and then went on to ask such probing questions on other theological subjects that the honest explorer had to confess that he was out of his depth. Similarly, among the presents which Clapperton brought it was the telescope and compass that aroused his greatest interest and later he asked for a special demonstration of how a sextant worked. In the course of this he showed that he knew many of the stars by their Arabic names and some of the constellations as well. At another audience he asked about the ancient Greeks and later taxed Clapperton with the fact that the British had conquered India and recently been at war with Algiers. He had heard about European newspapers and made Clapperton bring one which he had in his baggage so that he could read extracts from it 16.
From Clapperton's narrative we catch a few glimpses of life at the Sultan's court and it is evident that it still retained much of the simplicity of Shehu's day. Bello himself was plainly dressed in a blue cotton gown and white muslim turban. The palace was only lightly guarded and on one occasion the usher who conducted Clapperton to the Sultan's inner apartment was no courtier but an old slave-woman. The apartment itself, which consisted of a square room with a vaulted ceiling supported on eight ornamental arches, was handsome but far from luxurious. As for the Waziri Giɗaaɗ0, his interest seemed to be mainly centred upon his family and the new mosque that he was building 17.
When Clapperton and Denham returned to England in 1825, the account of their discoveries caused something of a sensation. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the British had been more heavily engaged in the maritime slave-trade than any other nation. At the turn of the nineteenth century, however, they had undergone a change of heart and were by this time as active in trying to prevent the traffic as they had been earlier in promoting it.
When the British Government studied the reports of Clapperton and Denham, they thought they saw a golden opportunity of pursuing in the central Sudan their now thoroughly respectable policy of suppressing the slave-trade and replacing it by legitimate commerce. For once, therefore, they moved with unusual speed and decision. A new expedition, with Clapperton as its leader, was quickly fitted out and dispatched. Among its members were the Consul and the physician for whom Bello had specifically asked.
Clapperton's second expedition followed a different route from the first and, after landing in the Bight of Benin, they planned to march north to Hausaland. Within three months, however, five of the seven Europeans, including the Consul and the physician, had succumbed to the climate. Only Clapperton and his servant, a young Cornishman called Richard Lander, struggled through to Sokoto, which they reached towards the end of 1826.

At the time of Clapperton's earlier visit, relations between Bornu and Sokoto had been good and Bello, in conversation, had gone out of his way to refer to El-Kanemi as his friend 18. In 1825, however, war had broken out again and by the time that Clapperton returned to Hausaland the whole political climate had changed. It was now El-Kanemi who had become the aggressor and it was the turn of the Fulani to await in some trepidation the invasion that he was known to be preparing 19.
Early in the year 1827 El-Kanemi, at the head of a great army, at length crossed the border and began advancing on Kano. Katagum, the first of the Fulani Emirates to be invaded, was unable to offer any effective resistance. The common people no doubt fled from the path of the invaders and the men who could bear arms probably fell back on Kano. In Kano Emirate an attempt was made to stem the invasion, but the forces which had been collected for the purpose did not make a very determined stand and were easily brushed aside. If El-Kanemi had now pressed on with speed and determination he might well have captured the city before the Emir of Kano had had time to make another stand. As it was, however, he may have been conscious of the fact that by advancing to the west he was creating a long southern flank and exposing it to counter-attack from Bauchi and Adamawa. At any rate, instead of advancing rapidly he seems to have dallied in the Dutse area of eastern Kano.
On the other side the Fulani had no illusions about the magnitude of the threat which faced them. When the news of El-Kanemi's advance into Kano reached Sokoto, the Sultan showed the greatest concern and immediately ordered the Waziri to go to the front and take supreme command. What the Fulani particularly feared was that the invasion would bring the Tuaregs out against them and that the Hausa population would rise and join the diehards who were already in open rebellion 20. The crisis was easily the greatest that they had had to face since the end of the jihad and in Sokoto the next three weeks were a time of the most acute anxiety.
Bello had already sent letters to all the Emirs in the east ordering them to mobilize their forces and oppose El-Kanemi's advance. When this message reached Yakubu, Emir of Bauchi, he happened to have an army in the field against the pagans. Although he could muster no more than 2,500 horsemen, far less than the great host of Bornu, he immediately led his forces north to intercept El-Kanemi in Kano 21.
When Yakubu made contact with the Bornu army, the Waziri of Sokoto had not yet arrived in the east to coordinate and take command of the Fulani forces. Yakubu therefore had to decide for himself whether to risk a battle or to wait with the object of joining up with contingents from other Emirates. He consulted his chief advisers, but they would not commit themselves. Yakubu's inclination, however, was obviously to attack.
— I know not how to defeat El-Kanemi, he said, ‘neither do I know how to slay him, but one thing I do know. I know that he has no power to raise the dead; that he has no power, if rain be lacking, to make it fall; that he has no power, if the grass does not spring up, to cause it to grow.
To this Yakubu's followers replied by saying that these were things which only God could do.
— As you know this, said Yakubu, we shall take courage and fight with El-Kanemi and we shall defeat him and kill him, for all power resides in God 22.
The ensuing battle took place in the second week of February 1827, and was fought at Fake in eastern Kano. Although the Bauchi army was greatly inferior in cavalry, it was very strong in archers. The archers, moreover, had a secret poison for putting on their arrowheads which was so potent that it was known as Kare Dangi, a name that implied that it did not just kill individuals but destroyed whole families. As at Tabkin Kwatto, therefore, the battle resolved itself into a struggle between heavy cavalry and lightly armed archers.
In the first clash the Bornu cavalry had the better of it and the Madaki Hassan, who had been in operational command, was killed. The Kanuri believed that they had killed Yakubu himself and were elated at their success while the Fulani were equally dismayed. When Yakubu heard this he determined to take command himself and so, surrounded by his bodyguard, he hurled himself into the fight 23.
The battle was fought in the middle of the dry season and all accounts of it speak of the great cloud of dust which rose up and enveloped the combatants. Yakubu was quick to see that it gave his archers a tactical advantage and his exploitation of this opportunity proved decisive.

When the two armies met, nothing could be heard but the clash of arms. The battle grew fierce and the dust rose up so high that none could see his neighbour. The day waxed dark. At this Yakubu gave orders to his bowmen, saying
— Shoot into the murk! Shoot into the murk.
So the Fulani kept shooting into the murk until the enemy gave way 24.
Seeing the day beginning to go against him, El-Kanemi ordered a retirement. His object was probably to extricate his troops from an unfavourable position and then return to the attack. The retirement turned into a retreat, however, and the retreat soon became a rout. The Fulani were not only left in possession of the field but captured the enemy camp and with it a mass of booty. The Kanuri lost over two hundred horses, all their baggage, and even their flag and drums 25. So severe was the defeat at Fake that El-Kanemi marched back to Bornu and abandoned his plan of recovering the lost provinces of Hausaland.
It was Clapperton's misfortune that his second expedition became embroiled in these events. When he returned to Sokoto in the autumn of 1826 he found the Fulani leaders preoccupied with the Bornu war and worried by the attacks of the Gobir and Kebbi diehards which the war had provoked. At first his relations with Bello were as cordial as ever, but as soon as Bello heard that he intended to go on from Sokoto and visit Bornu a shadow came over them. The Sultan said that such a visit would give aid and comfort to his enemies and absolutely refused to permit it. The explorer, on the other hand, insisted that he must pay the visit because he had been commissioned to do so and refused to acknowledge that the Sultan had any right to stop him. Both parties remained adamant and the differences between them, which their Arab intermediaries may well have fomented, quickly developed into a serious quarrel 26.
The truth is that there was right on both sides. Clapperton, whose health was rapidly deteriorating, felt that as he had only returned to Sokoto on Bello's own pressing invitation, he was the victim of a breach of faith in not being allowed to fulfil his commission. He refused to accept Bello's assessment of the effect that it would have on public opinion if he were to leave Sokoto at such a critical phase of the war and make his way to Bornu. As for Bello, although he may have allowed the Arabs to play too much on his fears, he was obviously perfectly sincere in believing that to allow Clapperton to go to Bornu might help the enemy and jeopardize the Fulani cause 27.
While the war lasted neither Bello nor Clapperton would budge and relations between them became very strained. Yakubu's victory at Fake, however, and the collapse of El-Kanemi's invasion, immediately produced a change for the better. Clapperton's journal records the intense relief with which the news was greeted in Sokoto 28. Some of the spoils of war were put on show in the city, including a copper vessel which had belonged to El-Kanemi himself, and the celebrations lasted right through the night. In this new atmosphere Bello and Clapperton were reconciled. Unhappily, however, Clapperton collapsed on the very next day and a month later he was dead 29.
In Europe, if not in Africa, the death of Clapperton has cast a shadow on the estimation in which Bello has hitherto been held. This is less than just, for Bello never detained Clapperton, as has sometimes been supposed, but always made it clear that he was free to go home by any other route provided that he abandoned the idea of visiting Bornu 30. In the face of a supreme crisis in the affairs of the Empire this condition was not unreasonable and Bello can be acquitted of blame for imposing it.

1. Clapperton, Travels, vol. II, pp. 332-3.
2. Hajji Said, An Arab History of Sokoto translated by C. E. J. Whitting, Journal of the Royal African Society, no. 188. The term ‘ruddy complexion’ probably mean the reddish copper colour which is common among the Fulani.
3. Alhaji Junaidu, op. cit. p. 26.
4. Gwandu DNBs, History of Jega.
5. Bello, SK (LHdM, vol. I, p. 21).
6. Ibid. p. 28.
7. Ibid. p. 20.
8. Ibid. p. 22.
9. Sokoto DNBs, Histories of Bakura, Mam, and Gusau.
10. Bello, SK (LHdM, vol. I, pp. 22-23).
11. Ibid. pp. 23-35.
12. Sokoto DNBs, Histories of Mam and Gusau. Muhammadu Dadi, a Fulani who played a prominent part in these events, was rewarded with the title of Banaga
13. Hiskett, Introduction to TW, pp. 18-20.
14. Hiskett, Introduction to TW, pp. 18-20.
15. Clapperton, Travels, vol. II, pp. 330-76.
16. Travels, vol. II, Clapperton, pp. 330-76.
17. Ibid.
18. Clapperton, Travels, vol. II, p. 351.
19. On 28 March 1824 the Bornu army won a crushing victory at Ngala and so put an end to the war with Baghirmi, which had been going on since about 1817. With the removal of this threat to his rear, El-Kanemi seems to have decided to take the offensive against the Fulani with the object of recovering the suzerainty of Hausaland. Certainly, he told Denham a few months later that he expected his influence in Hausaland to increase shortly and extend to Nupe. See Denham, Travels, vol. II, pp. 37-39 and 85.
20. Clapperton, Journal of a Second Expedition into the Interior of Africa, London, 1829, p. 243.
21. Unpublished Manuscript about the Emirs of Bauchi written by Mallam Mustafa who was tutor to Yakubu's sons.
22. Ibid.
23. Alhaji Mahmud, A Light for Learners and a Lamp for the Blind, an unpublished Manuscript, written about 1950 and based on older material.
24. Alhaji Mahmud, op. cit.
25. Ibid.
26. Clapperton, Journal, pp. 192-252.
27. Clapperton, Journal, pp. 192-252.
28. Ibid. p. 252.
29. Ibid. pp. 252-76.
30. Ibid. pp. 192-252.

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