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

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

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Chapter Thirteen
The Jihad in Nupe and Ilorin

In the Hausa States, as we have already seen, the Fulani were able to establish their authority by rapidly overthrowing the old ruling classes and then taking over from them the established machinery of government. Among the pagan tribes of Adamawa and Bauchi they faced a different problem which took a longer time to solve. In Nupe and llorin the problems were different again and their solution even more protracted. The acquisition of these areas, which fell in the period following the death of Shehu, therefore represented the third phase in the expansion of the Empire. It was one, moreover, which was associated much more closely with Gwandu than with Sokoto.


The Nupes are quite distinct from the Hausas and it is not clear why they were ever grouped among the Banza Bakwai. They speak a language of their own 1 and have never been much penetrated by emigration from Hausaland. Their links with the Hausa States in fact consisted in little more than proximity and a similar system of government by a Chief and aristocracy.
So far as is known the Nupes have always lived around the confluence of the Niger and Kaduna Rivers. Before the fifteenth century, however, they had no state of their own but were vassals of the Igalas, who were themselves subject to Benin and whose capital, Idah, was a hundred and fifty miles farther down the Niger. Like the Hausas, they have preserved a legend which attributes the creation of their kingdom to a half-mythical, half-historical founder or culture-hero 2.
According to this legend a son of the Atta or Chief of Igala went on a hunting expedition to the country of the Nupes. There he fell in love with the daughter of a local chieftain and lived with her for a time. She was pregnant when he left her to return to Idah and he presented her with a charm and a ring to give to their child when it was born. The child proved to be a boy and was called Tsoede or, in the Hausa version, Edegi. When he grew up he was sent to Igala as a slave, part of the tribute which the Nupes had to pay every year, and there, because of his ring, he was recognized by his father who in the meantime had himself become Atta 3.
The Atta, the legend goes on, took Tsoede into his household and showed him the same favour as his other sons. This evoked the jealousy of his Igala half-brothers. At length, when the Atta had grown old and felt the approach of death, he bestowed the chieftaincy of Nupe on Tsoede and presented him with all the insignia of office. When his half-brothers got wind of this, they pursued him, meaning to kill him, but he eluded them and reached home in safety. There he assumed the title of Etsu Nupe and in about 1530, having subdued the whole country and repudiated his allegiance to Idah, he became the founder of an independent dynasty. Later he built the town of Gbara, on the Kaduna River, which was to remain the capital until the advent of the Fulani three centuries later 4.
While the legend has probably been embellished with the passage of time, as such myths usually are, the external evidence shows that there is nothing inherently improbable in it. There was certainly contact between Nupe and lgala, and it is significant that the legend of Tsoede has survived in lgala as well as in Nupe. As for the date, there is a good measure of agreement between different genealogies on the early sixteenth century.
In any case, whatever its content of historical truth, the legend was of social significance because it was treasured by the Nupe people and the general knowledge and acceptance of it was one of the foundations of the political and cultural unity which they gradually evolved 5.
There is some uncertainty about when Islam first became established in Nupe. One tradition is that the fifteenth Etsu, Jibirin, who lived in the eighteenth century, was the first Moslem of his line 6. Against this, however, is the fact that a number of Jibirin's predecessors bore Moslem names 7. On balance it seems probable that, even if it did not at first gain much ground, Islam took root at some time during the seventeenth century.
The date when the Fulani first reached Nupe is also unknown. As the country provides good grazing in the dry season but is unhealthy for cattle during the rains because of the prevalence at that season of the tsetse fly, the probability is that semi-nomadic pastoralists made their appearance at a very early stage, but that settlement did not take place till much later and then only on a small scale. Even by the time of the jihad,one estimate puts the total number of Fulani as low as 1,000-1,500 8.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century there appeared on the scene a Fulani called Mallam Dendo. He was a member of the Toronkawa Clan and until then his home had been in Kebbi. He was a scholar, not a pastoralist, and he seems to have gone to Nupe as a preacher and missionary of Islam and to have established himself, even before the jihad, as a man of influence.
It so happened that at this time the Nupes were divided into two camps by a dispute about the succession. One pretender, Jimada, ruled the eastern part of the kingdom from the old capital at Gbara on the Kaduna River, while the other, Majiya, ruled the west from the new town of Raba which he had built for himself on the Niger. This schism gave the Fulani, despite their small numbers, an opportunity of playing a decisive part 9.
At the start, probably around the turn of the century and before the outbreak of the jihad, Mallam Dendo and his supporters allied themselves to Majiya in Raba. With the help of his Fulani allies Majiya defeated and killed Jimada and soon afterwards made himself master of all Nupe 10.
With Majiya's triumph Mallam Dendo became more influential than ever and a fresh wave of Fulani came to Raba to enter his service. After a time, however, Majiya seems to have grown jealous of Mallam Dendo's growing authority. At any rate there was a serious quarrel and all the Fulani were forced to flee 11.
After being driven out of Raba, Mallam Dendo crossed the Niger and took refuge with another Fulani, Mallam Alimi, who had become influential in Ilorin. From there he espoused the cause of the Nupe faction which he had earlier helped to defeat. Its leader was now Idirisu, the son of Majiya's dead rival Jimada. Majiya reacted to this move by taking an army against Mallam Dendo and Idirisu, but in the ensuing battle, which took place near florin, he was decisively defeated, and compelled to fall back upon Raba 12.
There is little doubt that Mallam Dendo now sought and received reinforcements from Shehu. We know, at any rate, that in 1810, when the war with Gobir was over and the city of Sokoto was being built, an expedition was sent to Nupe under Aliyu Jaidu and that it captured many towns 13. This force seems to have helped Mallam Dendo to drive Majiya out of Raba and install himself there as Sarkin Fillani.
From then until his death Mallam Dendo, though not an Emir or even the acknowledged ruler of a unified state, was the most powerful man in Nupe. His new ally Idirisa assumed the title of Etsu Nupe, it is true, but continued to live on the south bank of the Niger and was, in fact, no more than a puppet ruler. As for Majiya, he had to retire into banishment in the north. From Raba, Mallam Dendo was able to play them off against one another and so dominate them both 14.
This balance of power lasted for twenty years, but in the end, in about 1830, Idirisu tired of his impotence and rebelled against Mallam Dendo's authority. He was defeated and killed, however, and Mallam Dendo then made Majiya the puppet ruler of Nupe in his place while retaining the real power in his own hands 15.
Before he died Mallam Dendo is said to have advised his sons to follow in his own footsteps and to be content with the reality of power without hankering after its trappings. On his death in 1833 he was succeeded as Sarkin Fillani by his son Usuman Zaki, whose mother had been a Fulani and who therefore had no Nupe blood in him. Soon afterwards Majiya also died and was similarly succeeded by his son Tsado. Two years later Tsado rose against the Fulani, but was defeated and forced to flee 16.
After this victory Usuman Zaki, oblivious of his father's advice, took over the regalia of the kingdom and himself assumed the title of Etsu Nupe. These events, which took place in 1836, marked the extinction of the old Nupe dynasty and the birth of a new Emirate in the Fulani Empire.
To rule his Emirate, Usuman Zaki introduced the Ajele system and tried to govern the Nupes through Fulani and Hausa deputies. This alien regime proved so unpopular, however, that it soon provoked a new revolt and at the same time introduced a fresh complication into the already tangled skein of Nupe affairs 17.
Among Usuman Zaki's brothers there was one, Masaba, who had a Nupe mother. Masaba had quarrelled with Usuman Zaki soon after their father's death and had left the capital for the countryside. There he had begun to intrigue against his brother and to propagate the idea that, as he himself was half Nupe by birth and furthermore had been brought up as a Nupe, he was the one who should be Emir rather than the alien Usuman Zaki 18.
Masaba and Tsado, the deposed puppet, were companions in mischief and natural allies. Moreover, the unpopularity of Usuman Zaki's deputies and the unrest that they provoked gave them the which they had been looking for. In about 1840, therefore, they organized a rising of the Nupe population against the Ajeles. This revolt was so successful that Usuman Zaki's power collapsed completely and he and his courtiers were compelled to abandon their capital, Raba, and flee to Agaie in the northeast 19.
It will be remembered that Mallam Dendo had originally come from Kebbi and that, when the Empire had been divided on the death of Shehu, Nupe had been included in Abdullahi's sphere of influence. By this time Halilu, Abdullahi's second son, had succeeded as Emir of Gwandu, and the news of the revolt brought him hurrying down to Nupe with a large force behind him. He soon restored peace and his first inclination was to put Usuman Zaki back on the throne. In the end, however, he listened to the pleas of his Nupe subjects, who assured him that the peace would not last unless Masaba became their ruler. He therefore installed Masaba as Emir and carried Usuman Zaki off into banishment in Gwandu 20. At first this move seemed to achieve its object, but in the long term it meant that the Emirate was to be torn by the quarrels of two Fulani factions as well as two Nupe factions.
During the 1840s the new Emir Masaba greatly enlarged the boundaries of the Emirate. He conquered the Kamuku tribe in the north, the riverain Kakandas in the south, and part of the Gwari people in the east. Moreover, though he retained Raba as his capital, he established his power firmly along the south bank of the Niger 21. In the early 1850s the explorer Barth heard reports in Hausaland about the great warlike kingdom of Nupe which lay to the south.
In about 1854 Nupe was once again rent by civil war when Umar Bahaushe, a mercenary captain who had been employed by the Fulani, revolted against them. For a time he carried everything before him, drove Masaba out of Raba, and made himself master of the Emirate. He failed to gain the support of the Nupe population, however, and succeeded only in uniting the two Fulani factions against him. With the help of reinforcements from Gwandu, therefore, he was at length defeated in 1857 and drowned in a river while trying to escape 22.
After the suppression of Umar's rebellion the Emir of Gwandu restored Usuman Zaki to the position of Emir and told him to make his capital at Bida which was nearer the centre of the Emirate than Raba. Two or three years later, however, in about 1860, Usuman Zaki died. He was again succeeded by Masaba, who ruled Nupe until he too died in 1873 23.
But for their internal dissensions it is doubtful whether the Nupe people would ever have been brought within the Fulani Empire.
The Fulani living among them were certainly too few to seize power as they had been able to do in the Hausa States while forces dispatched from the north, which would have had to fight in conditions unsuited to Fulani methods, would probably have been no more successful than those sent against Borgu if they had met an equally united and resolute opposition. As it was, however, the Nupes by their feuds and rivalries first allowed the far less numerous Fulani to dominate their affairs and then to seize and retain power.
In the Hausa States the jihad had the virtue that it led to a clean-cut victory and resulted, for the most part, in the rapid restoration of peace. In Adamawa and Bauchi, religious considerations apart, it could be justified as a step in the process of taming the wild and predatory tribes who inhabited the hills. But in Nupe the war brought neither of these benefits. On the contrary, what had been a simple schism between two Nupe Pretenders became a complex pattern of intrigue and shifting alliances between two Nupe and two Fulani factions. The result was two generations of turbulence and fratricidal strife.
It was not until these feuds had worked themselves out that Nupe was able to take its proper place as one of the richer and more powerful States in the Empire. From the time of Masaba's succession its new regime, represented by an Emir who had a Nupe mother and who called himself by a Nupe title, took on a character of its own which was recognizably different from that of the other vassals. In its devotion to Islam, however, and its loyalty to Gwandu, and through Gwandu to Sokoto, Nupe was no different from any of the other Emirates.


There are many similarities between the processes by which the Fulani established their power in Nupe and those which led to the creation of the Ilorin Emirate. The only important difference is that the Nupes, being much less numerous than the Yorubas, were completely absorbed into the Empire, whereas in llorin the Fulani succeeded in detaching and assimilating only one of the many States of Yorubaland.
The Yorubas, like the Nupes and indeed the Hausas, look back to a mythical founder or culture-hero. This is Oduduwa, who is supposed to have been the son of the ruler of Mecca, in pre-Islamic days, and to have migrated to the west because of a quarrel with his father. After many wanderings he is said to have reached Yorubaland and settled down at Ife. Later, his descendants spread out and founded the other Yoruba city-states. In the meantime, according to this legend, two of his brothers, who had left Arabia at the same time, had become the rulers of the Kanuri and Gobirawa 24.
There is a marked resemblance between this tradition and the Daura legend, but the histories of Bornu and Gobir provide even closer parallels. They, too, preserve the tradition of an origin in Arabia, as has already been mentioned, and they also recognize a cousinly relationship between the three peoples. As in Bornu and Gobir the strangers from the east were apparently sufficiently numerous to have been accepted as an aristocracy by the people of Yorubaland among whom they settled. Moreover, the arts and skills that they brought with them probably made a significant contribution to the advanced culture and complex structure of society that the Yorubas were later to develop. On the other hand, the immigrants do not seem to have been numerous enough to have left any significant ethnic traces behind them because physically the Arabs and Yorubas are very different types. Certainly linguistically they made no mark at all, for the evidence shows Yoruba to be a purely African language 25. Whatever the precise course of these early events may have been, the Yorubas undoubtedly multiplied and developed so that in historical times they emerged as a power to be reckoned with.
Our knowledge of Yorubaland before the eighteenth century derives more from legend than history. It is generally agreed, however, that Oyo, which was to become the more powerful of the Yoruba States, had come into existence by the year 1400 and that its first capital, Old Oyo, was founded at about that time. The Chief held the title of Alafin and the dynasty claimed that the founder of their line was the grandson of the mythical Oduduwa.
Oyo gradually grew in strength and authority until it had extended its sway over the whole of Yorubaland and had become the suzerain of the petty States which surrounded it. By 1700, when it had just conquered the neighbouring kingdom of Dahomey, its power was at its zenith and, with the formerly powerful kingdom of Benin already in decline, it now dominated the whole region south and west of the Lower Niger.
In the eighteenth century, however, Oyo began to show signs of waning. Its military power was based on its cavalry and its prosperity on the overland trade with the Hausa States. With the growth of maritime commerce, the overland trade declined in importance while with the importation of firearms the hitherto dominant role of cavalry began to diminish. The result of these changes was that the States on the seaboard grew in stature while in Old Oyo, situated in the savannah country of the north-east and far removed from the Atlantic, the Alafins found it increasingly difficult to control them. It was therefore a sign of the times when, towards the end of the century, Dahomey refused to pay its tribute and Egba, another vassal State, threw off its allegiance altogether.
The Yorubas at this time still adhered to a complex religion of their own and, although Moslem teachers and missionaries had already appeared among them, Islam had as yet taken no real root. Furthermore, because the prevalence of the tsetse fly had kept the pastoralists at a distance, the Fulani had not penetrated into the country in any significant numbers. If the way had not been opened to them, therefore, it is inconceivable that the Fulani could ever have established themselves as the dominant power in any part of Yorubaland. As it was, however, the dissensions of the Yorubas among themselves was to enable them to do just this.
To the south-east of Old Oyo lay the city and district of florin, an important bastion which was governed by a military commander called Afonja. It will be remembered that when Mallam Dendo, the leader of the jihad in Nupe, had been driven out of Raba it was in Ilorin that he had taken refuge, probably because Afonja by this time had already come under the influence of another Fulani teacher, Mallam Alimi. Be that as it may, the insight that Afonja then gained into the fighting qualities of the Fulani seems to have given him the idea of using them himself to further the designs which he was already harbouring.
From his close association with Mallam Alimi we can assume that by this time Afonja had already become a convert to Islam 26. This in itself would be enough to weaken his loyalty to the Alafin of Oyo who still worshipped other gods. In addition he was an ambitious man who chafed at his vassal status and was eager to become a Chief in his own right. We know at any rate that, soon after Afonja had helped the Nupe Fulani to repel their pursuers, he made a compact with Mallam Alimi for the recruitment from the north of Fulani and Hausa volunteers 27. He no doubt persuaded Mallam Alimi to believe that his aims were to declare a jihad and establish a Moslem Emirate in Ilorin which would owe allegiance to Gwandu and Sokoto, but it seems likely that he was in fact playing a deeper game.
Whether Mallam Alimi had any doubts about Afonja's real motives we do not know, but there was no question about the success of his recruiting, for he attracted to Ilorin large numbers of Fulani and Hausa volunteers. By 1817, the year of Shehu's death, Afonja felt himself to be ready. He therefore threw off his allegiance to the Alafin and declared Ilorin to be independent of Oyo. The Alafin immediately reacted by sending a punitive expedition against him, but, with the help of his Moslem allies, Afonja defeated it and drove it back 28.
The rebellion of Afonja in Ilorin was the signal for other vassals to throw off their allegiance and the rickety Empire of Oyo began to break up. By 1821 the Alafin had lost most of his temporal authority outside metropolitan Oyo and was no longer strong enough to bring Ilorin or the other rebels to heel. In Yoruba history this was a development of the greatest significance, for the removal of Oyo's authority was to lead to seventy years of civil war.
In Ilorin Afonja kept on good terms with his Fulani and Hausa allies for just as long as Oyo remained a suzerain to be feared. When Oyo's power collapsed, however, and the threat of conquest was removed, he soon fell out with them. There are two conflicting versions of how this came about. According to the first, the Fulani and Hausas recruited by Mallam Alimi, who were known as the jama'a as the early reformers had been, got out of hand after their victory and started plundering friendly towns and villages 29. But according to the second, the fault lay on the other side and it was the Yorubas who, as soon as the threat from Oyo had been removed, tried to deny their allies the fruits of victory and drive them out of the kingdom which they had helped to create 30.
There is probably truth in both these accounts. Among the Fulani and Hausa volunteers there must have been many adventurers and soldiers of fortune and it would not be surprising if they were guilty of some looting and pillage. On the other hand, Afonja's ruling motive seems to have been personal ambition rather than devotion to Islam and it would have been in character if, when the Fulani and Hausas had served their purpose, he had tried to get rid of them.
Mallam Alimi himself was a soldier and teacher whose aims were religious rather than political. While he lived he did his best to keep his followers under control and his restraining influence on them, combined with the modesty of his personal aims, seems to have prevented an open breach. When he died in 1831, however, he was succeeded as leader of the Moslem group by his son, Abdu Salami dan Alimi, who was a man of much greater worldly ambition 31.
The succession of Abdu Salami at once precipitated the crisis which had long been developing in Ilorin. Afonja no doubt knew what sort of a man he would now have to deal with and made up his mind to attack the Fulani and Hausa immigrants and drive them out of the kingdom altogether. To that end he secretly enlisted the support of neighbouring Yoruba towns. They failed to provide the help on which he was counting, however, and the result was that, when he struck, Abdu Salami was able to turn the tables on him. Afonja was killed in the fighting which followed and the Yoruba cause collapsed 32.
By this victory Abdu Salami made himself master of Ilorin. Like his father before him, he had always looked to Gwandu for leadership and protection. In return he was now presented with a flag and invested with the rank and regalia of an Emir. The Emirate of florin thus came into being in 1831 as part of the Dual Empire.
Abdu Salami did not rest content with the modest domain which he had wrested from Afonja but at once set about enlarging it by making war on his neighbours. He was generally successful and, though unable to hold all his gains, won many notable victories against the crumbling power of Oyo and its warring satellites 33.
The reverses which he suffered at Abdu Salami's hands at length stirred the Alafin to action and he determined to make a supreme effort to crush what he still regarded as the rebellion in Ilorin. To this end he not only summoned to arms his subjects and such vassals as were still loyal but also enlisted the aid of the neighbouring people of Borgu, who had shown in the past that they were capable of withstanding the Fulani. In Ilorin, Abdu Salami got wind of these moves and appealed to Gwandu for help. Halilu, who in 1835 had succeeded his brother as Emir, responded by obtaining reinforcements from Sokoto and dispatching a strong combined force to Abdu Salami's assistance 34.
In the struggle which followed, the Yorubas and their Borgu allies won some early successes. They were gradually forced back, however, and the decisive battle took place near the capital, Old Oyo, in 1837. Its result was an overwhelming victory for the Fulani. The city was captured, the Alafin killed, and the allied armies routed. The Borgawa fared no better than the Yorubas and lost their commander as well as the Chiefs of Kaiama and Wawa 35.
With this defeat the ancient kingdom of Oyo, which had already lost its Empire, more or less disintegrated. The old capital was never rebuilt nor did the Alafins ever recover their paramountcy. Thereafter, Oyo was hardly more than one of the city-states into which Yorubaland now broke up.
Had the Fulani of the day been as bold and aggressive as those of a previous generation they would probably have gone on to subdue these city-states piecemeal and add them to the Empire. By this time, however, their ambitions were largely satisfied and the tide of their expansion was almost spent. The year 1837, moreover, was the one in which Sultan Bello died. They were therefore content to consolidate their power in Ilorin and did not attempt to exploit their victory by making further conquests.
One of the results of the defeat of Oyo and the flight of the Yorubas from the old capital was the founding of Ibadan. The city grew very rapidly in size and importance and for much of the rest of the century it was to be at war with Ilorin, barring the way to any further advance by the Fulani and counter-attacking them whenever the opportunity offered.
Considering what a small minority the Fulani were, the surprising fact was not so much that they let pass the opportunity of annexing the rest of Yorubaland to the Empire but that they managed to establish themselves in even a corner of it. No less surprising was the fact that they were afterwards able to maintain their position among a predominantly Yoruba population when they were all the time being subjected to heavy pressure from the great mass of the Yoruba people beyond their borders. This, however, is what they succeeded in doing. In the process they, too, acquired certain characteristics which distinguished them from their kinsmen in other parts of the Empire. But, as with the Nupe Fulani, their local colouring did not diminish either their devotion to Islam or their loyalty to Gwandu and through Gwandu to Sokoto.

1. Greenberg classifies it with Ibo and Yoruba in a section of the Niger-Congo group of his Congo-Kordofanian family (op. cit. p. 8).
2. S. F. Nadel, A Black Byzantium, London, 1942, pp. 72-74.
3. Ibid.
4. Nadel, op. cit.
5. Ibid. pp. 75-76.
6. Ibid. p. 76.
7. Gazetteer of Nupe Province, 1920, p. 8.
8. Nadel, op. cit. p. 77.
9. Nadel, op. cit. p. 77.
10. Ibid. pp, 77-73.
11. Ibid. p. 78.
12. Ibid. pp. 78-79
13. Bello, Inf M (Arnett, p. 99).
14. Nadel, op, cit. p. 71).
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid. p. 80.
17. Gazetteer of Nupe Province, p. 11.
18. Nadel, op. cit. p. 80.
19. Gazetteer of Nupe Province, p. 11.
20. Ibid. p. 12.
21. Nadel, op. cit. p. 80.
22. Ibid. pp. 80-82.
23. Gazetteer of Nupe Province, pp. 14-17.
24. Samuel Johnson, History of the Yorubas, London, 1921, pp. 3-4.
25. Greenberg classifies it in the same section of the Niger-Congo group as Nupe. (op. cit. p. 8.)
26. Confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
27. Gazetteer of Ilorin Province, 1921, p. 15.
28. Gazetteer of Ilorin Province, p. 16.
29. Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. p. 287.
30. Gazetteer of Ilorin Province, p. 16.
31. Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. pp. 287-8.
32. Ibid. p. 289.
33. Gazetteer of Ilorin Province, p. 16.
34. Ibid. pp. 38-39.
35. Hogben and Kirk-Greene, op. cit. p. 291.

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