Short stories to educate the younger ones: Shehu Usman Bin Fodio and the establishment of  Sokoto Caliphate (Ad Daulat al Khalifa al Bilad as Sudan)

The Sokoto caliphate established by Sheikh Usman bin Fodio (1754-1817) was the largest precolonial states in Africa. It was founded between 1804 and 1806, when its location was used as resettlement of the nomadic Fulbe. Sokoto was also used as a meeting station by the Shehu and later a military base by Sultan Muhammad Bello. The name is viewed from two perspectives. The first view is that the name was derived from the Arabic word “Suk” meaning market. Whereas, the Fulbe believed that is was derived from the Fulfulde word “sokoto” meaning diaspora. For the Hausa speaking population, the city is called “Sakkwato birnin Shehu da Bello”.
The young Scottish Naval Officer and explorer, Hugh Clapperton (1788-1827) was the first European to arrive Sokoto in early 1824 which was few years after the demise of Shehu Usman. Clapperton was the second famous explorer of the west and central Africa, through the Sahara after the death of Mungo Park. He met Sultan Bello during his brief stay in Sokoto. He described Sokoto as a prosperous city with great effects to its surroundings. He returned to Sokoto for the second time accompanied by Richard Lander, unfortunately his affliction with malaria and dysentery caused his death while in Sokoto. Later, other Europeans who visited Sokoto included, the Landers Brothers, Heinrich Barth, Bovil, and many others.
Usman bin Fodio was a scholar, teacher and intellectually endowed religious leader from the erstwhile Gobir kingdom. By sheer personal determination and intellectual zing, Bin Fodio bagged some concessions to propagate the true teachings of Islam from the famous and mundane ruler of Gobir, Bawa Jan Gwarzo. His reputation and size of followers grew rapidly which led to his ascension to the position of both religious and political leader with widespread majority far beyond the borders of Gobir kingdom. Consequently, majority of people in the then Western Sudan look towards Shehu bin Fodio for justice and good governance. Usman bin Fodio gained much impetus among the people for speaking against moral laxity and decadence, mixing Islam with polytheistic rituals, turning people away from the main teachings of Islam, corruption, trampling on the rights of ordinary people and the imposition of heavy tax among others. The Shehu was assisted in his quest for the propagation of Islam and the entrenchment of a just society by the learned duo, Abdullahi (his brother) popularly known as “Mai Gwandu” and Muhammad Bello (his son) also known as Sultan Bello.

In the late 1790s when Nafata who succeeded Bawa as the king of Gobir realized that Usman Bin Fodio and his growing followers are acquiring the status of a state within a state, he reversed the concessions of preaching and other religious activities enjoyed by the followers of Shehu. Nafata went further to abolish the use of turbans by men and veils by women. Over the years before the demise of Bawa Jan Gwarzo as king of Gobir, Sheikh Usman has cleverly stayed in Degel, restraining himself from interacting or meeting the authorities of Gobir. He continued to manage situations up to 1802, after the ascension of Yunfa as the successor of Nafata, the military from Gobir took some Muslims from his side as prisoners leading to the forceful freeing of the same people by the supporters of Shehu. Arising from this incidence, the Shehu felt that his territory in Degel is under threat. In 1804, he chose to migrate to a place called Gudu, less than 50 km northwest of Degel. The Hausa peasants who are already feeling the impact of heavy taxation and oppressions suffered by their various leaders, saw a very good opportunity in supporting and paying allegiance to the Shehu as a political reformer.

This saw to the proclamation of Shehu Usman as Commander of the faithfuls despite his reluctance. When Gobir attempted an attack on the Muslims under the Shehu, it became clear that it is a fight between believers and the unbelievers. This led to the battle of Tsuntua towards the end of 1804 where the followers of Shehu suffered a big loss. But the news about the courage and steadfastness of the forces under Shehu became widespread which culminated into gaining the interest of the Muslim leaders in other parts of the north excluding Borno. Thereafter, the Shehu started appointing flag bearers, and emirs to those that approached him for guidance and protection. He spent the next few years of his time attending to diplomatic issues, writing mainly on the matters regarding holy wars and their justification. Towards the end of 1808 when Gwandu was fully established as a military base, the forces under Shehu advanced westward and captured Alkalawa, the headquarters of Gobir kingdom. This unprecedented victory saw to the full establishment of Sokoto Caliphate under Shehu Usman Bin Fodio. But far from that, the personal objectives of the Shehu was not achieved because his agenda is to reform the society from major ills. Therefore, he asked Bello to stay in Sokoto as the Sultan and the overseer of the eastern frontier, whereas Abdullahi was allowed to rule Gwandu, overseeing the western frontier. As for the Shehu, he secluded himself at Sifawa, near Sokoto where he spent time teaching and writing. This period was described as the most productive time spent by the Shehu where he wrote on many problems facing the ummah and offering pragmatic solutions through the perspectives of the Shariah law. Throughout the period, he was always surrounded by nothing less than 300 scholars. The Shehu only moved to Sokoto in 1815 where he stayed in his private compound away from the palace until his death two years later. As at then, Northern Nigeria was all part of Sokoto Caliphate except Borno.

The influence of Islamic reforms spurred by Usman Bin Fodio was recorded among the long chronology of Islamic events dating back to the birth of our beloved prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon) in 570 AD. We pray for Allah to grant him eternal peace. Amiin.

Credit – Ahmad Kollere November 27, 2016 Abuja.


Koode Radio International (KRI)

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