“The Long Shadow of Usman dan Fodio”: Implications for National Integration!

Northern Nigeria has been living in the shadows of the past. To cast our minds back, the region was Islamised by Fulani invaders from Upper Guinea led by Sheik Usman Dan Fodio, the founder of Sokoto Caliphate (1804-1903). After the British had conquered the extant one-hundred-year-old Caliphate, all Emirs, Sultans and Muslim officeholders were forced to take an oath of allegiance to the Colonial State run by Christian “infidel” colonisers. The most important Muslim dignitary after the Sultan, Ahmadu Bello, was a direct descendant of Dan Fodio, who stretched the “Holy War” beyond the heart of the Yoruba south at the beginning of the 19th century. From this time on, the signature of Islam would be stamped on almost every private or public institution. 

In a paper, entitled: “Historical Background of Islamic Violence in the Relationship Between Islam and Christianity in Nigeria,” the Director of The Kukah Centre, Abuja, Fr. Atta Barkindo (2008) revealed that before the arrival of the British colonizers and establishment of the Nigerian State, Islam had a strong footstool in both Kanem-Borno Empire and Sokoto Caliphate which would later constitute what we now have as northern Nigeria. Birnin Gazargamon in Yobe State was the capital of the Empire. To reinforce this position, a Moroccan historian and explorer, Ibn Battuta once described Borno as “the greatest power in Sudan, [and] a Muslim country.” In 1638, Borno had diplomatic missions in Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt etc. In 1851, Queen Victoria of England entered into a treaty with the Borno Empire on trade and investments (commerce). What this means is that the Kanem Borno Empire had envoys in other countries for over a hundred years before Nigeria’s independence.

Barkindo (2008) further disclosed that: “The grief that followed the collapse of the two Islamic Empires have serious consequences for the kind of Islamic violence we see today in Nigeria. The conquest was understood by the majority of Muslims as the massacre of Muslim personality and identity in northern Nigeria by Christian British invaders.” He also emphasized that: “There emerged differences in opinion among the Muslims on how best to confront colonial rule. The first group believed in fighting to the death, the second argued for hijra (migration) to demonstrate their rejection of colonial rule, and the third group believed in cohabitation so that Islam could survive. This unresolved dilemma created a vacuum that allowed Islamic resistance groups to emerge against the Colonial State. These groups were led not by the Western-educated Muslims but by pious Islamic scholars who espoused radical and extremist views.”

By handing over northern political-administrative power to Sir Ahmadu Bello, a Muslim northern following Nigeria’s independence on 1st October, 1960, the consolidation of the Hausa-Fulani Islamic domination over and above other ethnic groups was sealed. Interestingly, Sir Ahmadu Bello would later declare: “The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather Othman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We must use the minorities in the north as willing tools and the south as conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us and never allow them to have control over their future.” In northern Nigeria, what mattered at that time was Islamic identity over and above being Nigerian. To be sure, the relationship between Islam and Christianity was marred by discrimination of all sorts as we shall soon realize.

Sadly the plane could not fly successfully on the radar due to turbulence. The Jihad failed in some parts of Northern Nigeria like the Middle Belt Region which is yet to be recognised by the Constitution. It failed partly because of cultural differences and inroads by activities of Christian missionaries in areas like the then Benue-Plateau and Southern Kaduna. There are indications that the activities of Maitasine, Kala Kato, Ansaru, Boko Haram and the gun-wielding herdsmen is an attempt to entrench Jihad in the area under review. In a revealing piece “Boko Haram – the long shadow of Usman dan Fodio” Rene Wadlow (2015), made the point that “although radically different in many ways, Boko Haram is part of the long shadow of Usman dan Fodio and the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate, the largest state in West Africa in the nineteenth century.”  

He stressed that “Boko Haram has kept the use of flags and flag bearers from dan Fodio’s jihad as well as the arbitrary killing and indiscriminate marauding” while noting that the emirate system which had two features namely fusion of religious and political authority, as well as despotic governance in the name of politics, surrendered all powers to the emir to whom the common man was subservient and dependent upon for benevolence. Wadlow (2015) noted that “The Fulani jihad fell short of establishing the just Islamic theocracy it had purported to create” and as a result, “many saw the jihad as a road to power rather than to the purity of religious practice.” To all keen observers, in northern Nigeria today, Jihad takes religious, political, cultural and economic dominance over minority tribes and various forms of discrimination. 

The born to rule mantra is borne out of such sense of entitlement occasioned by Dan Fodio’s “The new nation called Nigeria…” remarks earlier referred to. Such grandstanding played out on June 6, 2020, when the National President of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore, Bello Abdullahi Bodejo said the Fulani own Nigeria and will rule the country forever in an interview with The Sun. He bragged that: “They produced Nigeria. They produced the first prime minister. If they produced the first president, another president, another president and so on, are they not the owner of the country? Fulani are ruling Nigeria and they must continue to rule the country forever. That is the truth.” Will his kith and kin rule the country forever through the ballot box or other unlawful means? Does this not amount to a treasonable felony? Can this not truncate the peace of the nation? Is such pontification not inimical to national security? Where is the Department of State Services (DSS) in all these? Why are well-meaning Nigerians especially those of northern extraction silent in the face of such provocative remarks? If this came from someone in the south, would the north have stomached it?  

Northerners have ruled Nigeria for 40 years of the about 60 years of the country’s independence but have they demonstrated dogged and visionary leadership? If anything, the region is the most backward in terms of economic fortunes, educational strides and infrastructural development. For instance, on 30 January 2020, The Guardian reporter, Collins Olayinka quoted the Zamfara State Chairman of NOGALSS, Ahmad Hashim as saying, “Nigeria has more than 10 million children and youth that are out of school, particularly in [the] Northern part.” In another report titled, “Advancing social protection in a dynamic Nigeria,” The World Bank estimated that 87% of all the poor people in Nigeria are in the north. However, this is a region where people who are considered “foreigners” are discriminated upon and not allowed to contribute their quota to changing the narratives in terms of developmental initiatives. This is aside from the challenge of balkanization and subjugation of minority tribes.  

To decry this kind of intolerance, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) the Northern States presented a position paper to the Northern Governor’s Forum during their meeting which held on 7 May, 2009 at the General Hassan Katsina House, Kawo – Kaduna. The body listed 35 ethnic minorities which are forced under the emirate system. This subjugation has led to the loss of cultural identity and language, rape of traditional institution in that their rulers are looked down upon, lack of recognition by government or compulsion to embrace a culture different from their heritage as criteria for 1st or 2nd class chieftaincy titles, denial of freedom of worship or land acquisition for private or religious use and denial of admission for students into schools or compulsory change of names for acceptability. Other such injustices include frequent use of derogatory names and approaches on minorities, having little or no access to political and economic power, maltreatment by some southerners who regard every northerner as Hausa/Fulani and psychological torture as a result of inferiority complex and being prisoners in their own country. Sadly, these genuine concerns are yet to be addressed.

In a previous paper titled, “Unspoken Truths of the Northern Struggle and the Question of Equality” this columnist cited the current situation of the Sayawa people of Tafawa Balewa and Bogoro Local Government Areas of Bauchi State as a classical example of the point at issue. In another article, “Sir Abubakar and Tafawa Balewa Town: A Tale of two Titans” he decried the situation while noting that the powers that be have decided that these people must continue to be under the Muri emirate rule even against their wishes thus, the constant affronts/attacks on these communities and endless crises. The headquarters of Tafawa Balewa was moved to Bununu against the wishes of the people. Although there are litigations on the Sayawa course, enough has not been done or said to liberate these people from the clutches of Pharaoh.

The Legislature, Judiciary, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), National Orientation Agency (NOA), local media and indeed, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have an enormous role to play in changing the music. As we have seen, long shadows have unfortunately become reality. Since these shadows have been with us for long, it is expedient for relevant stakeholders to assiduously work towards entrenching national cohesion and integration in a country that has been battered by years of fake shades which have metamorphosed into reality. In a country where everyone matters, “The new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather(s)” who paid the price for the independence of this great nation, not some tribal or religious warlord. 

Lofty as they are, ethnicity and religion have sadly become the bane of Nigeria. In The Soul of a Butterfly, Muhammad Ali stressed that: “We all have the same God, we just serve him differently. Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, oceans all have different names, but they all contain water. So do religions have different names, and they all contain truth, expressed in different ways forms and times. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Muslim, a Christian… When you believe in God, you should believe that all people are part of one family. If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children.” Let us be guided by these words on marble. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!  

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.   

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