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The19th-Century Sokoto Jihad: Causes, Course and Impacts

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Hunwick (1966) said that the Hausa land before the arrival of Islam was largely a pagan oriented society. There were about fourteen independent kingdoms of Hausa states before the arrival of Islam.

Hausaland before Islam

Similarly, Abiola (1984) and Kaura (2004) affirm that the pre-Islamic Hausa state was that of religious syncretism, worship of lifeless objects as well as maladministration and misuse of powers. Therefore, the state of Hausa land before the arrival of Islam was purely an environment governed by traditional religion and culture.

The Life and Teachings of dan Fodio

According to Crowder and Abdullahi (1979), Milsome (1979) and Fage (1988), Usman dan Fodio, of Fulani origin was born in 1754 in Marata, Gobir, to the Toronkawa tribe.

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Uthman dan Fodio. cr: ageogroup

Sulaiman (1986) adds that shortly after his birth, his parents and the rest of the family relocated to Degel. It was at Degel that Usman dan Fodio grew up. He received most of his education from his parents and relatives because in Timbukutu tradition parents and relatives were the first teachers for any child.

Again, Usman dan Fodio’s descent has been traced to one Mura Jakolo, who had migrated to Gobir from Futa-Toro around the 15th century. His ancestors were also believed to have settled originally in Konni before they eventually migrated to Degel.

Olupona (1991) asserts the Toronkawa claimed descent from Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) and they were the first occupants of Gobir land. It is not surprising therefore that Usman dan Fodio himself was an erudite scholar who had undertaken a deep study of Islamic law, theology and mysticism.

But Milsome (1979) posits that he received his first tutelage under his father, his uncles and later at Agades, north of Marata, at the feet of Jebril. Furthermore, Cook (2011) asserts that Usman dan Fodio’s life can be divided into two sections which are: his teaching phase and the active phase.

During the first phase, he was closely linked with the Hausa rulers especially in a preaching and hortatory capacity, calling for the suppression of innovation (in the matters of religion which is considered Haram- forbidden).

But after twenty years of his preaching ministry, in 1804 he performed hijra to a small town of Gudu. Isichei (1983) said that he started preaching at the tender age of twenty in the area around Degel.

The 1804 Usman dan Fodio’s Jihad

Everything about the 1804 jihad in Hausa land revolved around the life, person and teachings of Usman dan Fodio. Hunwick (1966) said that the mixture of migrated Fulani tribe and the original inhabitants of Hausaland produced a high degree of cultural mix among the indigenes and the alien group.

The Hausa people were largely pagan while the Fulani people were predominantly Muslims. Adeleye (1971) observes that through the obvious ensuing admixture between the Islamic culture and the indigenous Hausa pagan culture, a gradual polarization of society along the lines of two conflicting religio-political ideologies occurred.

In order to correct this abnormality, Usman dan Fodio embarked on preaching tours or missionary journeys to Kebbi, Zamfara and Gobir where he adroitly explained the tenets of Islam to the people.

He employed the use of poems and pamphlets written in Arabic, Fulfude and Hausa languages in his missionary activities. He was able to spread his teachings to most parts of Northern Nigeria.

As a reward for his zeal, he won a great number of admirers and followers across the whole of Hausa land. This was to play a decisive role in the success of the Jihad some years later. His leadership ability soon earned him wider credibility and recognition.

Meanwhile, Sulaiman (1986) notes that by 1789, Usman dan Fodio had raised so many followers that Bawa Jan Garzo, King of Gobir, viewed him as a political threat.

He feared the Jamaa or Muslim community was becoming highly organized and that could make his own leadership without influence and power. Many scholars like Afigbo (1999) seem to agree that the Usman dan Fodio’s Jihad was a holy war declared and prosecuted with a view to establishing a purer form of Islam in a predominantly decadent pagan society.

Khalid (2012) maintains that by 1795, the power was eroding the Gobir rulers and they tried to consolidate. This move was around this period that Usman dan Fodio wrote a poem in praise of Sheikh Abdul Kadir Jilani.

To quell his insecurity, the King promulgated new laws which include: that no one was allowed to preach except Usman dan Fodio, conversions were not allowed and those who were not born Muslims should revert back to their old religion, no man was allowed to wear the turban and no woman a veil.

This attempt to control the masses failed and provoked Muslims to become militant and amass arms. The failure of enforcing the policy forced desperate King Nafata to take Usman dan Fodio’s family hostage and coerced him to discontinue his activities but this too failed and the king died in 1802.

His son, Yunfa took over the throne when Usman dan Fodio wrote on the theme of Hijra and Jihad in Al-Masa’il al-Mu-himma. Like his father, Yumfa made an attempt on Usman dan Fodio’s life but again failed.

He performed the hijra and the jihad was subsequently launched. Afigbo (1999) agrees that the Jihad was the most successful of all other Jihads carried out in Western Africa. There are manures that fertilized the ground for the launching of the jihad.

Remote Causes of the Jihad

  • Compromised religion and desire for its purification

 Milsome (1979) states that Usman dan Fodio’s jihad was aimed at reviving Islam in Hausa land.

The Fulani’s accused the Hausa rulers of polytheism and other un-Islamic practices. As Adeleye (1971) affirms, it was circumstances like these in which Muslims were radically hated that brought about the tension which precipitated the Jihad.

  • Horrible and Unfriendly Environment

The general state of Hausa land was that of oppression and suppression of the masses. Milsome (1979) notes that Usman dan Fodio alleged that corruption was widespread in the Hausa government with appointments being based on bribes, rather than merit.

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The Sokoto Jihad. Image by Historyville

Clarke (1982) confirms the fact that Hausa’s land before the jihad was that of extortion and oppressive taxation. Nwanaju (2008) affirms that the Pre-Jihadist Hausa state was that of an environment where the slave trade thrived.

They raided their neighbours to the south and west for the acquisition of slaves. From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, the use of human beings for slavery was very popular in Hausa land.

Sulaiman (1986) identifies a ceaseless interplay between the forces of decay and regeneration in Hausa land before the jihad.

Lenshie and Ayokhai (2013) affirm that the repressive nature of Hausa people particularly Gobir rulers, by their actions showed them as wicked in land considered the land of Islam.

  • The quest for freedom

Abiola (1984) said that many factors combined to make the Fulani people take up arms against the Hausa states.

Apart from the aim of reforming Islam from its fast-fading fame and glory, the political interest of wrestling power from the Hausa rulers who they could not imagine lording policies over them.

  • The Thirst for Wealth

This is another stronger factor that played an incisive part in the launching of the 1804 jihad. Abiola (1984) states that the Fulani group wanted to become economically independent and set also their eyes on the caravan routes across the Sahara Dessert which the Hausa kings controlled as they knew this route would fetch them a lot of money if they take charge.

Arguably, if the common patrimonies are evenly shared, there may not be any need to fight.

  • Tribalism and Mutual suspicion

This is another observable reason that caused the rise of the jihads. Abubakar (2003) said that it is evident that divisions on ethnic lines especially between the Fulbe people who were mostly nomadic herdsmen and the ruling agrarian Hausa people persisted.

The groups did not only have different dominant occupations but also their societies were differently structured. The population was increasingly growing, making it increasingly difficult for the Fulbe to move their herds.

This increased tensions over limited land and the migratory ability of the Fulbe group threatened their neighbours. This is similar to the deadly Fulani herdsmen attacks today which have turned worse than jihad itself against every state and tribe in Nigeria.

  • Religious triumphalism

The desire to make Islam suppress every other religion can be seen as another motivating reason for undertaking that jihad. Abiola (1984) collaborates this saying that there was an irrevocable bid to dip the Quran into the Atlantic Ocean in Lagos.

Nigeria is not in short supply of religious triumphalism whose general activities have been inimical to the growth and development of the country.

  • Hunger for Political Empowerment

The thirst for political enlargement motivated the outbreak of the Jihad has also been emphasized by many authors but Adeleye (1971) said that politically, the Fulani tribe had lived in Hausa land for centuries yet they were no regard for the substantial number of learned men among them and they suffered the disabilities of second-class citizens.

These treatments became the remote causes of the Usman dan Fodio’s 1804 Jihad and because the remote causes were not checkmated due to weak and clueless leadership; they gave room for the immediate and full-blown outbreak of the war.

  • Fidgeted Leadership

Khalid (2012) stresses that in 1789, Usman dan Fodio was invited by Bawa the king of Gobir to celebrate Id al Kabir at Magami but the plan was to kill him but when he was accompanied by a thousand followers, the king quickly changed his mind and instead tried to win them over by offering them gifts.

 Afigbo (1999) argues that the popularity of Usman dan Fodio among the populace was a threat the Kings of Gobir could not manage and attempted to seize Usman dan Fodio to punish him.

He asserts that the Hausa states proceeded to attack every Fulani element within and outside Hausa land. Another factor has to do with how Usman dan Fodio released his kinsmen who were slaves under the Gobir rulership.

It was against the king’s wish. Thus, the Fulani group rallied around their kinsman who initiated the war. The poor leadership of Nafata, king of Gobir made him take some questionable and irrational responses to the ideology of Usman dan Fodio.

He thought that Usman dan Fodio was fighting an only religious, economic and political war. He responded like most of the Nigerian rulers. He thought he could manipulate the system to silence him, terrorize, quarantine or secretly waste his life.

The Immediate Causes Jihad

  • Reluctant and Deaf leadership

The leadership of the ancient Gobir land was reluctant to face the reality of the masses’ suffering. Kaura (2004) notes that there were increased oppression and exploitation of the talakawa (commoners) by the Masusarauta (rulers).

The oppression and exploitation were perpetuated through the collection of numerous taxes and levies, occasional confiscation of peasant property, forced labour, compulsory military service and enslavement.

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The warriors

The Ulamas (court judges) made matters worse as they were so pervasive in their delivery of judgments that the commoners could not obtain justice or redress in the court.

Usman dan Fodio had repeatedly contacted the king of Gobir, Bawa Jan Gwarzo concerning the evil activities and the social decadence prevalent in the area but the king paid no attention and it made Usman dan Fodio become more popular.

  • Attempt at the lives of Usman Dan Fodio and his allies

According to Crowder (1978), the persecution started from Bawa between 1789 and 1790, to Nafata who ruled between 1794 and 1801 and down to Yunfa in 1801. It culminated in the threat to Usman dan Fodio’s life by Yunfa and with his attack on Abdulsalam, a reliable disciple of Usman dan Fodio who resided at Gimbassa in 1801, the stage thus became set for an open confrontation between Usman dan Fodio’s followers and the king of Gobir.

Kaura, (2004) confirms that the confrontation which ensued as Gobir’s army attempted in 1804 at wiping out the Islamic community at Gudu, led to the defeat of Gobir’s army by the mujahhidun led by Abdullah the brother of Usman dan Fodio who was the Amir al-Jaish-commander of the armed forces.

Lenshie and Ayokhai (2013) maintain that the attack and the persecution of Muslims by the Gobir ruler made the war a necessary end.

  • The Hijrah

Khalid (2012) said that by 1803, the situation was uncontrollable to the point that Muslims’ property was looted. Many Muslims were taken captive; some were killed while villages were destroyed.

Thus, Usman dan Fodio and his party of Jamaa moved from Degel to Gudu marking it as the Hijrah in 1804. At this point, the outbreak of the war was inevitable.

Impact of the Jihad

The Uthman dan Fodio Jihad marks a milestone in the history of Nigeria. The impact of the Jihad which officially came to an end between 1809 and 1810 is still being felt in the nation’s socio-political life.

It is said to be at the root of the infamous north-south dichotomy impeding the cohesion, unity and stability of the Nigerian polity. An examination of the momentous effect of this all-important event will be the theme of subsequent paragraphs.

Perhaps the greatest impact of the Jihad was the creation of the vast religio-political edifice known as the Sokoto Caliphate.

According to Ikime, the Caliphate embraced most of the Hausa states, parts of the Bornu Empire: which became the emirates of Gombe, Hadejia and Katagum; Nupe and Ilorin.

Fage estimates that the Islamic empire covered about 180,000 square miles and had a population of about ten million people. Not minding the accuracy or otherwise of these estimates, going by the absorption of all the important Hausa states by the caliphate and its extension into other parts of the country, one cannot but agree with Crowder and Abdullahi that the caliphate was the largest political entity ever created in Nigeria.

Headed by the Kaliph, the caliphate was divided into emirates. Each was headed by an Emir who was responsible to the Kaliph who had its headquarters at Sokoto. It is interesting to note that the caliphate was largely a federal state.

This was informed by its geography as the caliphate contained diverse independent communities and states within its borders.

The Caliph provided the much-needed leadership and direction for the emirate councils through the issuance of the fatwa on legal issues of different nature in the caliphate. He also arbitrated in intra and inter-emirate disputes.

The Uthman dan Fodio Jihad also resulted in the flowering of Islam in Hausa land and the consolidation of Muslim culture first in Hausa land and then in non-Hausa areas such as Nupe, Ilorin and parts of the Benue valley region.

The Jihad ensured its flowering among the Hausa peasantry who had little or no experience of Islam before. The Jihad also led to the emergence of a lingua franca over a large area of Nigeria.

Ikime has asserted that with the triumph of the Hausa language over Fulfulde, the Hausa language became the everyday language of the caliphate, though Arabic remained the language of Islam.

The British recognized this lingua franca over a large area of northern Nigeria and made use of it as the official language of the native administration. This has promoted the unity of the north.

Furthermore, the Uthman dan Fodiyo’s Jihad brought unity to Hausa land. It would be recalled that through inter-state wars, Hausa states had for centuries tried without success to impose an imperial authority that could guarantee political order, stability and unity among the Habe states.

Fortunately, the Jihad, by enthroning Islam provided the much-needed ideology for integration among the Hausa states. The Jihad brought a new peace to the north. The intermittent and internecine wars were brought to an end.

Another major impact of the Jihad was the Fulani ascendance to governance. The old Hausa aristocracy was replaced by a Fulani aristocracy. Prior to the Jihad, the Fulanis, despite their long stay in Hausa land, had been foreigners in the realm of government in the real sense of it.

They were largely treated as second-class citizens. However, with the success of the Fulani Jihad, the Hausas were dispossessed of political authority. As Hill (2009) observes, with the help of a large Fulani cavalry and Hausa peasants, Uthman Dan Fodio overthrew the region’s Hausa rulers and replaced them with Fulani emirs.

The stage was set for this development when the flag-bearers who became the first set of emirs were primarily clerics and scholars. The consequence of this is still found today as the Fulani still dominate Nigerian politics.

The Jihad also led to the emergence of the Hausa-Fulani ethnic group in Nigeria. Yusuf Bala Usman argues that due to the long period of co-existence between the Hausa and Fulani, the ethnic line between them had become remarkably blurred.

This newfound solidarity has been enhanced by a common religion and culture. The two groups have since been acting collectively in the political dynamics of Nigeria. This has presented a more ‘United’ North as against the seemingly divided south.

The dichotomy between Muslims and non-Muslims, noticed considerably in the North-Middle Belt relations may be said to have its roots in the Jihad of 1804. Its negative impact on intergroup relations in Nigeria continues to linger. Ikime has submitted that the middle belt region suffered a great deal of depopulation occasioned by incessant slave raids by the emirates of the Sokoto caliphate.

It is informative to mention here that payment of tributes in form of slaves was part of the obligations of the emirs to the caliph. The non-Muslim people of the middle-belt were in essence under constant attack as the enslavement of fellow Muslims was forbidden.

Noticeable depopulation and displacement became the lot of these peoples. This is said to be responsible for the uneasy peace that reigns between the North and Middle Belt regions of Nigeria today.

It is important to stress the impact of the Jihad on Yoruba land. The end result of Ilorin imperial activities in the 19th century was the spread of Islam to Yoruba land. But much more than that, Ilorin, a one-time province of the Old Oyo Empire became part of the Sokoto caliphate.

This is creating tension in Ilorin today with respect to political classification. Is it part of the South Western states or a part of the North? The answer to this question may not be easily provided for some time to come.

Again, the clamour for the establishment of Shariah court in Yoruba land will continue to generate controversy as Yoruba land has a long history of religious plurality.


  • Dr. Vaffi Foday Sheriff. Transformation of Sokoto Caliphate by Sheik Usman Danfodiyo: A Social Thought Perspective. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention ISSN (Online): 2319 – 7722, ISSN (Print): 2319 – 7714 ||Volume 5 Issue 8||August. 2016 || p1
  • Islahi, Abdul Azim Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio and his economic ideas. p2. Online at MPRA Paper No. 40916, posted 29 Aug 2012 04:28 UTC
  • The 1804 Jihad: Fulanisation or Holy War.
  • Dr Vaffi Foday Sheriff. Transformation of Sokoto Caliphate by Sheik Usman Danfodiyo: A Social Thought Perspective. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention ISSN (Online): 2319 – 7722, ISSN (Print): 2319 – 7714 ||Volume 5 Issue 8||August. 2016 || p2
  • Dr Arshad Munir.The Establishment of the Nigerian Sokoto Caliphate: An inquest into the Background History of the 1804 Jihad in Hausa Land, 210 years After. Retrieved from