Friday, 20 April 2018 07:58

A Brief History Of Northern Nigeria

Written by Hafiz Mukhtar

A nation with the most promisingly interesting history in the whole of Africa is of course Nigeria. Why and how, it got its reputation? We want to find out.

The West African country located near the ‘gold coast’ 15' E of the longitude from London had a special distinction right from the times of the colonials, because of its numerous resources in natural abundance, its multi-ethnicity, size, population, and it’s high level of abuse of the public (government) offices. The situation in Nigeria as I stated above is promisingly interesting and I am going to narrow my view to the key players in its history and development as a country in the modern world and relate it with the past and present Muslim relationship with the country.

As a British Protectorate

The Great Britain came over to the shores of West Africa and devoured its resources as it had been doing all over the world to propagate her capitalist interests. It all started when they ventured into Africa and determined to plunder Africa, for both raw and human resources. The industrial and scientific revolution had proven to be a huge success and became the bedrock which the capitalist motive stands, it believes science and philosophy has given the answer to the modern man’s problems. That is to do away with religion and cultural superstitious beliefs and embrace a ‘secular’ idea of the open and free world, a materialistic idea in essence.

With no more wars to fight in Europe, and everyone rushing to exercise his new right (the freedom to trade) so as to gather as much money as possible, fast, Africa came into view. It was ripe but uncultivated. This resulted in a sudden euphoria on the part of the Europeans to exercise a global colonisation, and it encouraged them to push their capitalist motives.

Don’t forget the whole point of this is to help in the development of the new free-world, so economists termed and categorised countries into developing and developed countries, the developed countries are of course the colonials and the colonised the developing. Admitted it was quite a fact if you look at the technological advancements of the westerners but a barrier was created between the upper business elite and the lower working class. At the time when seeking independence became the popular trend in African governments, neo-colonialism was invented, and thus the continued slavery of the working class.

Nigeria was taken in as part of the British property (err . . . I mean protectorate), to be first excavated, then marketed and in the process infrastructure will jump right unto the spring-board of development. Infrastructure did came along amidst all the looting of resources for we have seen the Ibadan railway lines that stretched to various parts of the country, the ports of Lagos and Port-Harcourt, etc. they all came as a result of the Colonials’ intervention to our dark past. Really?

The Northerners (Arewa)

Meanwhile, the Muslim majority had a running state while this was going on, whom are mostly in the northern block of the country known as Arewa meaning north in the Hausa dialect. They have, appointed rulers as Kings in different regions of the Hausa-Fulani state like Kebbi, Kano, Bauchi, Zamfara and surprisingly Illorin, whom all pledge allegiance to the seat in Sokoto, the capital of the Empire.

There was fierce opposition to the ways of the white-man as expected of any Muslim community, there is fear of changing an element in the Islamic creed or aqeedah for it is of vital importance to the belief of the Muslims. It is read on every pulpit on Fridays that “. . . every innovation is a sin”.

And again also the clear verdicts in the Quran, the holy book, not to compromise religion with the non-muslims and not to revert to un-belief.

“Say O ye disbelievers, I worship not that which you worship, nor worship will you that which I worship . . .  unto you your religion and unto me mine.” [Q109:1-6]


“Lo! Those who disbelieve after their belief, and afterward grow violent in disbelief: their repentance will not be accepted. And such are those who are astray.” [Q3:90]

 So the Muslim is always repugnant of foreign influence, and religion here in the common sense of the Northerner is their way of living, their political system. The way of life he lives in now is what the religion is to him, and he feels the need to protect it from the Kuffar (non-believers) influence.

This clashing of ideas happened around the 1890’s, forcing the British to deal with the Islamic influence in these parts.

Usman Dan Fodio’s Caliphate: History

The 19th century witnessed a major event in some parts of the West African region including north of modern day Nigeria, the Fulani Jihad led by the prominent Shaikh Usman bin Fodio.

It all began with the Arabs, they practiced mercantilism, a system of trade that requires travelling to distant states or countries to trade goods of Arab origin in return they buy the goods of the distant countries to sell it off in the Arab countries.

The arrival of trade to North Africa brought along with it Islam, where the merchants (from modern day Libya, Egypt and the Algiers) would trade off salt, camels and horses for slaves and gold in West Africa. The Muslims did not just practice empty trade but coupled it with da’awa, the preaching of the Islamic sentiments, practices and overall religion. Most of the merchants carry with them in their caravans Muslim missionaries that spread the Islamic faith. The local empires were impressed with the Arabs wealth, system of trade and sophistication, and also of their religion. Most kings or his populace would adopt what fits them most into their savage culture, thus Islam was practiced along with barbarian cultural rites at the time. What strengthened the practice was that the majority of the Ulama (scholars and missionaries) are Sufi adherents, allowing a superficial adjustment of the religion to fit with traditional/customary practices of the people, so the rulers find it easy to accept the religion, or at least a distorted version of it.

The religion grew but in this corrupt manner. The opened trade routes and conversion to Islam introduced the people to Hajj, the spiritual rite that is obligatory upon every Muslim, whereupon many came into contact with the true teachings of Muhammad (pbuh), some others got the true teachings from other scholars in the trading caravans.

The desire to implement the correct Islam gathered momentum among the learned society and broke out into what was the various Jihads that reformed this crooked mix religious practice. Shaikh Usman was born to a family of a noble scholar (the name fodio is Fulani for scholar, bin fodio in Arabic translates to the son of fodio, son of a scholar), he garnered up knowledge and realised the danger in which the Muslims put their faith in God into.

Two things instigated a reform movement, the mixing of barbaric acts into Islam and the oppression the masses suffer in the hands of the local Hausa rulers. Shaikh Usman planned an intellectual attack and launched it, calling the rulers to adhere to the true teachings of Islam and stop the use of amulets as it is haram (forbidden) in Islam. He called for the shariah, the masses find his campaigns very attracting because of the heavy taxations they suffered and they agreed something was amiss in the present system. His preaching was met with brutal executions, and later with his banishment. He saw it not fit for his followers to remain to be executed to the last man, so he declared they migrate in the classical fashion of the messenger of Allah (saw).

He created an impact on the minds of the people, their need to rise and implement the correct system and get rid of the false tribal hegemony, hence he became a threat to the rulers’ authorities. After some time, he had many followers who joined him. He waged Jihad on the ‘disbelieving’ kingdoms which came down to his feet flawlessly, Sheikh Usman gained a lot of territory in a few years. Administrative matters caught up fast, the development of the state was carried out at a similar pace. He simply eradicated the Hausa rulers and replaced them with his disciples whom are mostly Fulani and created a centralized government that answer to him the Sultan of Sokoto.


The name ‘caliphate’ strikes a little controversy as to whether the Sokoto model answers to any Caliph of its period, or whether it is in itself an established caliphate.

The fact is, during this period the caliphate in the Arab world was in a tremendous decline, the period was characterized by unnecessary turbulent and sometimes sincere revolutions. Europe at the time has started its plunder around the world and rivalled the Muslims in technology, so it played havoc with the unity of the Muslim empire. It charged the crusades with conquering the Muslim lands after numerous successes it then embarked on breaking up the territory among themselves (Europeans) for their colonial interests.

The Ottoman Empire was in power at the time the Sokoto model was functioning in the 1800’s but it also was experiencing hard times. It was first isolated from the Arab regions and then attacked from all angles disintegrating its territory into fragments, the industrial wake sparked a nationalist movement all over Europe and it forced the Ottomans to give independence to Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, and Montenegro before it completely collapsed in 1924.

This isolation made it impossible to exercise power in its other remote provinces, thus the vigilant empire attempted by the Fulani (which was not the only one of its kind, Ibrahim Musa managed a revolution, the struggle ended up in the creation of Futa Jallon) was what was possible considering regional and political factors. Even the prophet of Islam made it clear that the caliphate may not always be present, but that the Muslims should follow an Amir;

“It has been narrated on the authority of Hudhaifa b. al−Yaman who said: People used to ask the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) about the good times, but I used to ask him about bad times fearing lest they overtake me. I said: Messenger of Allah, we were in the midst of ignorance and evil, and then God brought us this good (time through Islam). Is there any bad time after this good one? He said: Yes. I asked: Will there be a good time again after that bad time? He said: Yes, but therein will be a hidden evil. I asked: What will be the evil hidden therein? He said: (That time will witness the rise of) the people who will adopt ways other than mine and seek guidance other than mine. You will know good points as well as bad points. I asked: Will there be a bad time after this good one? He said: Yes. (A time will come) when there will be people standing and inviting at the gates of Hell. Whoso responds to their call they will throw them into the fire. I said: Messenger of Allah, describe them for us. He said: Alright. They will be a people having the same complexion as ours and speaking our language. I said: Messenger of Allah, what do you suggest if I happen to live in that time? He said: You should stick to the main body of the Muslims and their leader. I said: If they have no (such thing as the) main body and have no leader? He said: Separate yourself from all these factions, though you may have to eat the roots of trees (in a jungle) until death comes to you and you are in this state.”(Muslim)

 And the Quran emphasises on the obligation of obedience to the ruler;

“O’ you who believe obey Allah and his messenger, and those of you of authority; and if you have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to Allah His messenger if you are (in truth) believers in Allah and the last day. That is better and more seemly in the end” [Q4:59]

The Sokoto’s style of enforcing power through the authority of the regional replaced Hausa rulers was effective in commerce and law, where the constitution is derived from the Sunni orthodox of the Sharia principles. This was the status quo the British found the Northerners of their protectorate in. So call it what you may, a caliphate or sultanate, he has accomplished the obligation of unifying the Umma using this ruling system according to the regional and political factors of his age and time.

“If tajdiid were merely a matter of political revolutions or change of leadership, then there are quicker ways than the recourse to the Qur’an and Sunnah, but tajdiid is the transformation of the heart, of human disposition and of the destiny of man itself which clearly transcends the attainment of political power. To believe that a quick political ascendancy is all that Islam is about is to cast a vulgar look at a sublime system. What Islam wants is an enduring transformation, which cannot be realized by a social hurricane which brings destruction and consumes even what it claims to rectify.” - (Ibrahim Suleiman, Author The Sokoto Caliphate pp. 76-77.)

In 1897, the British waged a war in which the empire fell six years later in 1903. The Northern Protectorate as part of Nigeria was born, at a time when its southern counterpart had long fallen into the hands of the ‘colonial masters’.


The ideas the Europeans accepted as a remedy to their dark past was in fact worse-case scenario. The secular belief or atheism gave birth to the capitalist way of trade, laissez fair as Adams Smith puts it, which has constituted in an unhealthy competition between economic rivals, because its nature carries with it selfish interest. For instance the Biafran revolution (1967) was secretly fuelled by the French to secure an interest in the oil-rich region, while the British had to deploy military action to protect her interest.

This brutal competition continued with the French against the Brits, the Brits against the commies, the communists against other European rivals and so on. Democracy gave birth to the idea of gaining independence after some blacks got the chance to be educated and will go on to become African leaders. The white man was forced to retreat and surrender the ruling to the original parties (the Africans) and he did, or so they thought.

They held their stance as ‘neo-colonists’, they created special trade relations with Nigeria as they did in the other developing countries. Massive importation and exportation continued on its route, big firms and companies found homes in the Nigerian market. There were eighteen international oil companies in Nigeria including Shell and chevron among many others.

Britain lost control over its protectorates and had only superficial control, it had very little effect in the policies after all the independence palaver, and that is where the United States of America got into the picture. The U.S mastered the capitalist trade, they upped the ante with their re-mastered version of colonisation. Ravaging the African continent, and Nigeria was no less, a victim.

The Independence Euphoria and the Influence of Usman’s Sharia State

Nigeria’s most important historical event besides the independence, was the amalgamation of the three protectorates in 1914, the south-east protectorate, the south-west (including the council in Lagos) protectorate and the northern protectorate, where they were merged together as one state to be governed by one constitution.

The northerners of course had a feeling of disgust for the colonial’s rule, so that any opportunity that presented itself to break away was worth a try. Then the independence trend happening around Africa presented itself to the northerners, they joined in the rally against the British.  In the 1950’s the Nigerian constitution went through several adjustments before the state became self-governing, whom the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello announced to the northern states delegates in 1959.

The Shehu’s sharia state has created an Islamic mentality in the minds of the Muslim Arewa and the need for reform. His Jihad symbolised the extent of his sacrifice for the dear religion and so he is considered a hero and an icon.

The Present Day Arewa Stand: How the Muslim North Came To Revere the Colonials

Britain’s influence has had a profound effect in Arewa, they spread missionary schools where the sciences are taught. It was first rejected by the northerners but later they gave in because they wouldn’t want to remain at the bottom of the economic ladder and they preferred the ‘white-collar jobs’ than hard labour.

This gave the British the opportunity to install in the minds of the colonised whatever they wanted them to think. In Nigeria a technique was employed because of the multi-ethnicity and of course because of how the Hausas view the Britain powers as a threat. They compromised the rule of law they brought with them to accommodate the traditional systems the northerners recognised.

 “The traditional institution in Northern Nigeria facilitated the application of indirect rule. The British entrenched this Northern Nigerian (Sokoto Caliphate) Model through a number of proclamations notably, the Native Authorities Ordinance of 1901, Native Court Ordinance of 1902 and the Native Revenue Proclamation of 1904. These ordinances were amended and extended to Southern Nigeria in 1914, 1916, and 1917 respectively (Afigbo, 1974:18). This extension to the South harmonised the system of local government administration throughout the country, while at the same time allowing for local peculiarities.”(I. James, article Nigeria the Road to Independence 2004)

 Thus the Brits won over the Northerners, they let them to still look up to their Kings and Sultans while it’s the same Britain cloaked in traditional attire.

 The Ulama (scholars) went With the Flow

 “Ziyad ibn Hudair reported: Umar ibn Khattab said to me, ‘Do you know what will ruin Islam?’ I said no. Umar said ‘Islam will be ruined by the faults of scholars, the arguments of hypocrites over the Book, and the judgement of misguided leaders.” [Sunan Ad-darimi]

 The scholars gradually formulated their knowledge of the verses of the Holy Quran and Hadith to blend with the present situation, thereby weakening the deen. While a lot of them are just trying to survive many others are doing such for their own personal gain. They stuck to the sides of political figures and modified their sermons and Islamic preaching to reflect the ‘goodness’ of their benefactor. Others couldn’t find meaning in all of this so they just resorted to inflicting as much damage to rival Islamic sects present in the region, which usually deteriorates into a senseless argument. And with Sunni, Sufi and Shiates all present in the same place there is always enough insult to go around.

The Ulama command central authority in religious matters throughout the region, and the presence of the Sufi orders coupled with the Sunni and Shiate Muslims in the north made complex the situation. The northerners originally hoped the scholars will counter-attack the British occupation intellectually. But the scholars attacked and counter-attacked each other generating a feeling almost of disgust in the minds of the youths. But despite that many endured to remain with the scholars they viewed as trying to join the intellectual battle against the foreign influence, thus reformist movements like Jama’atu Izalatul Bidi’a Wa Iqamatus Sunnah, known popularly as Izala, and many others were born.

The Arewa Youths Mentality

 The sincerity in religion is at a climax, and has hardly ever known to decline among the northerners because they failed to embrace the ‘Western Civilisation’ on account of the aforementioned reasons, that a skimpily dressed girl is often ridiculed in the society and at times even restricted from entering some communal gatherings. When verses of the holy Quran are read in congregations it is still respected and revered, the scholars are given due respect and consideration despite the confusion they generate in their respective legions of chaos.

 Reformist movements sprout out from all angles of the former empire with titles and slogans like ‘Arewa Youth Development Foundation’, ‘Arewa Youth Enlightment and Empowerment Initiative’, etc. all in a bid to progress, to regain some manner of control, because the youths feel a loss, the loss of their former empire.

 Americans in the Eyes of the Northerners

The word ‘America’ is a trigger, a call to arms. Since the involvement of America in the colonisation effort, it dipped its fingers into deep water. The northerners find their ‘un-ethnical’ behaviours unacceptable, i.e., the liberal values they advocate, which constantly clash with the values of the Muslim northerner, their appearance in the media broadcasting explicit material proves that point as far as the northerner is concerned. And of course using 9/11 as pretext to invade the muslim world did not help the United States’ popularity amongst the Arewa populace.

So every bad news report is followed by grunts and blames on the US government, and directly or indirectly it is linked to the US in northern Nigerian local social gatherings and circles, whether it is confirmed the US is involved or not. It has become paranoia, the Americans are pests and public enemy number one rather than world super powers.

Most religious clerics exploit this feeling to their advantage when giving a speech to convey to the common Northerner they are with Allah even if they attend to American interests, they identify a problem and simply point fingers at Uncle Sam and the trigger is set, hundreds if not thousands of mouthfuls of takbirs invade the speech.

Modern Day Problems: Underdevelopment

There are plenty of persistent problems facing the Arewa community right now like its staggering poverty and pretty much everything currently plaguing third world countries, and one of its most damning crises was the infamous Boko Haram. The insurgents as they are popularly called by the media really made a dent in the political spectrum of the country. Having Islamist ties and originating from the north automatically tagged every Muslim northerner as a potential terrorist but then again so are all Muslim Arabs.

I cannot and will not elaborate on the numerous conspiracies regarding the origins of the Boko Haram sect and their mission. But according to the thinking of the common northerner as regards to the insurgency problems and the sorry state he lives in I will only point to one thing, which the Americans had to take squarely. . . . the blame.

Waiting in Anticipation

The people of the north have not given up on their dreams and ideas, their morale, nor gave up the stance they held over a hundred years ago. There is still infinite persistence on the part of these Muslims to witness the dawn of another Sharia state, they would face whatever direction God willed it will emerge from, and follow it and expand on it. A clear example was of the governor of Zamfara state Sani Yerima (1999-2007), he declared his state a sharia state, though it did not got rid of the ‘infidel’ constitution and is pretty much still operating within its confines which was more or less not a shariah state at all but the whole population of Arewa rose to the occasion, without even thinking twice.

“The events were greeted with enthusiasm by the state’s Muslim majority. Thousands of people cheered and shouted ‘God is Great.’” - (Barnaby Phillips, BBC News)

The Shehu of Sokoto remains a great inspiration in the North, and despite foreign occupations Islam was still the focal point where the northerner faces and arrives to conclusions. The faith is still upheld even though their political state (power) is in ruins, with painful anticipation of its return.

“And when they became steadfast and believed firmly in Our revelations, We appointed from among them leaders who guided by Our command.” [Q32:24]



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Read 11705 times Last modified on Sunday, 26 July 2020 17:27