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

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

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Chapter Eighteen
The Kebbi Wars

In the first half of the century it was the diehards of Gobir and Katsina who caused the Sultans the greatest trouble and anxiety, but in the second half, with the submission of Dan Halima and the founding of Sabon Birni, the pattern changed. Thereafter, as already mentioned, raids from the north fell increasingly on Katsina, Kano, and Zaria Emirates, while the pressure on Zamfara and Sokoto was eased. But so far as Sokoto was concerned, this shift was counterbalanced by the resurgence of Kebbi. By 1875, in fact, the Kebbawa and their allies, the Arewa and Zabermawa, had become a major threat to the strength and stability of the Empire.
In the early days of the jihad, it will be recalled, the Fulani had invaded Kebbi, sacked the capital, and driven out the Chief, Muhammadu Hodi. In his place they had installed their puppet, Usuman Masa, but in the crisis following the defeat at Alwasa he had proved false and had turned against them. After the victory of Gwandu, therefore, they had hunted him down and killed him.
Before the defection of Usuman Masa the Fulani had been disposed to treat the Kebbawa in the same way as the Zamfarawa, assuming that they were friendly unless they showed hostility and ruling them through their own Chiefs. Betrayal had brought disillusionment, however, and Usuman Masa's treachery had caused them to reverse this policy. Thenceforward Kebbi was no longer regarded as an ally but treated instead as a defeated enemy. The towns that resisted were reduced and the Hausa ruling classes, if they had not already fled, were deprived of their offices and titles and replaced by Fulani whose loyalty to the régime could be relied upon 1.
The resistance put up by Muhammadu Hodi in the Zamfara Valley and then by Karari in Argungu and Zazzagawa has already been described in an earlier chapter. It will be recalled that after Karari's death his son Yakubu Nabame had thrown himself on the mercy of the Fulani, that his life had been spared, and that for sixteen years he had lived as an exile at the Court in Sokoto and Wurno. Bello, magnanimous by nature, accorded to him the privileges that befitted his birth and breeding. With the passage of time, moreover, he gradually won the trust of the Fulani so that, when the easy-going and genial Aliyu Babba succeeded as Sultan, he seems to have been treated almost as if he were a member of the family 2.
It was the special trust which Aliyu reposed in him that led in the end to the termination of his banishment. In about the year 1847 the Gobirawa diehards raided the town of Gora in central Sokoto. A Fulani expedition was quickly dispatched to intercept them and with it the Sultan sent his eldest son Umaru, entrusting him, as he was still young and inexperienced, to the special care of Yakubu. In the fighting that followed Yakubu saved Umaru's life and the Sultan, in gratitude, told him to seek whatever favour he pleased. Yakubu begged to be allowed to return to his own country and his wish was granted 3.
Once back among his own people Yakubu, it seems, began to ponder a taunt that had been hurled at him by the Gobirawa at Gora. He should be fighting with them, they had cried, not by the side of his father's murderers. These words gradually became an obsession with him and at length drove him to rebellion 4. In 1849, like his father before him, he suddenly renounced his allegiance and proclaimed himself to be Chief of Kebbi. So ended eighteen years of peace, the longest truce that there was to be in this war.
Yakubu had prepared the ground with care and, as soon as he raised his standard, men from Kebbi, Arewa, and Zaberma thronged to join it. Sokoto and Gwandu were caught unprepared and before their forces could be concentrated they had suffered a number of sharp reverses. The worst blow of all was the sack of the Fulani stronghold of Silame, which guarded the western approach to Sokoto 5. As soon as the news reached the Sultan he gave orders for his army to be mustered.
When the army had assembled Aliyu himself led it down the Rima Valley. By this time Halilu had succeeded Muhamman as Emir of Gwandu and he joined Aliyu to lay siege to Argungu just as Bello and Muhamman had done eighteen years earlier 6. There the parallel ended, however, for the results of the two expeditions were to be very different.
There is no better example than this of what an ineffective Sultan Aliyu was. Because of the excessive trust that he had reposed in Yakubu he had brought about a serious rebellion in the west at a time when he was barely holding his own with the Gobir and Katsina diehards in the north. It was obvious that he must move heaven and earth to scotch this revolt before it gained strength and momentum. To do this he only needed to storm Argungu and recapture Yakubu. But instead his patience gave out or his resolution wavered and, after sustaining the siege for some time, he raised it and marched away 7. In doing so he was acquiescing in the revival of the Hausa State of Kebbi and making the first important surrender of territory that had taken place anywhere except in Bornu since the original conquests. He was also condemning his successors in Sokoto and Gwandu to fifty years of hard and unprofitable fighting.
The resurgent State of Kebbi now bore the shape of a wedge driven into the flank of the Fulani Empire. In the west Arewa, Dandi, and Zaberma formed the broad base of this wedge. In the centre it narrowed down to the four walled towns of Augi, Zazzagawa, Gulma, and Sauwa. And in the cast its heavily armoured tip, the town of Argungu, was inserted into the vulnerable joint between Sokoto and Gwandu. During the five decades of fighting that was to take place along these frontiers each part of the Kebbi wedge was to play its part. Arewa and Zaberma were to supply a steady stream of new recruits. The walled towns in the centre were to provide the necessary defensive stiffening. And Argungu was to serve as the bridgehead for the raids and forays with which the Kebbawa now started harrying the Fulani.
In the course of one of these raids Yakubu. Nabame was mortally wounded and thus became the fourth successive Chief of Kebbi to perish in this contest. To the Fulani, who remembered only the young man spared by Muhamman and befriended by Bello and Aliyu, he was a rebel and a double-dyed traitor. To the Kebbawa, on the other hand, he was an heroic figure, like Wallace or Bruce, who snapped the fetters of servitude and led his people back to dignity and freedom.

Yakubu was succeeded by his brother, Yusufu Mainasara, and the war went on 8. The main battlefield was the flood plain of the Rima River, which hereabout is three or four miles wide. During the height of the rains it becomes a broad sheet of water, but in the dry season, when the floods have gone, it dries out into a flat, treeless expanse of clay, clothed in coarse grass or thorn-scrub and cut up at intervals by the shifting channels of the river. The Kebbi fortresses of Augi, Gulma, and Sauwa were all situated on the edge of this flood-plain and looked across it to Fulani fortresses on the other side. During the campaigning season it became a no-man's land across which the war was fought.
Here, in 1859, the Kebbawa suffered yet another set-back.
Mainassara was in Argungu when a message was brought to him saying that the Fulani had launched a surprise attack on Gulma. He immediately sprang to arms and, accompanied by such men as he had been able to collect, set out to ride across the valley, but on the way he and his party were ambushed by a superior Gwandu force and he was killed. His head was cut off and taken back to Gwandu town, where it was fixed over the main gate 9. He thus became the last of the five Chiefs of Kebbi who fell in this war.
Haliru had recently succeeded his elder brother Halilu as Emir of Gwandu and for him this was a great triumph. In the following year, however, he was to suffer an identical fate. For a reason which has never been clearly explained, he then decided to by-pass the Kebbi towns that stood in the front line and attack a remote place of secondary importance called Karakara, which lay far to the west. The Kebbawa, however, seem to have got wind of this plan. At any rate, they had time to prepare an ambush and Haliru, falling into their trap, was surrounded and killed. His head, like his victim's, was then cut off and borne back to Argungu 10.
The new Chief of Kebbi, Muhammadu Ware, did not live long to enjoy his triumph. On his early death he was succeeded by Abdullahi Toga, another son of Karari. At first this change made little difference, but in 1867, when Ahmadu Rufa'i became Sultan in Sokoto, the political scene was suddenly transformed.
Ahmadu Rufa'i, who was a son of Shehu, was an elderly man when he was elected. Being pious and retiring by nature, he had already been passed over three times when Aliyu Babba, Ahmadu Zaruku, and Aliyu Karami, who all belonged to the next generation, had been made Sultan before him. During their reigns he had lived at Silame and had only just escaped when the place had been sacked by the Kebbawa. Indeed, if tradition is to be believed, he had lost members of his family and household during the fighting 11.
These experiences, in other men, might have engendered a thirst for revenge. In Ahmadu Rufa'i, however, they had the opposite effect. As has already been mentioned, he had the perception to see that there were only two ways of dealing with the rebellion in Kebbi: either to crush it or else to accept it as a fact. Being a man of peace, he chose the second course.
In 1867, therefore, Ahmadu Rufa'i and Abdullahi Toga made a treaty of peace. Under its terms the Fulani recognized the independence of Kebbi and agreed that all the territory that the Kebbawa had recovered was to remain in their hands 12. This treaty, though it represented an important success for the Kebbawa, was by no means a triumph for them. While confirming them in the possession of Argungu and most of the territory beyond the river, it nevertheless left the Fulani as masters of much more than half of their erstwhile State.
The peace, which is known to history as the Peace of Toga, lasted from 1867 to 1875. It marked the end of another stage in the war and, apart from the eighteen years when Yakubu Nabame was either a fugitive or an exile, was the only period during the whole century when there was a real pause in this bitter struggle.
The Peace of Toga came to an end in 1875 because the people of the Kebbi town of Fanna in the Lower Rima Valley, on account of some now forgotten quarrel with Argungu, decided to transfer their allegiance to Gwandu. The Emir agreed to their doing so, but the Kebbawa construed the action as a breach of the treaty and by way of reprisal seized ten thousand head of Fulani cattle. This naturally provoked retaliation from the Fulani and hostilities began again 13.
In the early stages of its resumption the war centred upon the town of Giru, which stood opposite Fanna on the east side of the Lower Rima Valley. Sarkin Shiko, its ruler, declared for Argungu and defied the Emir of Gwandu, now Mustafa, to do his worst. The Fulani's first attack failed and so Mustafa summoned reinforcements from Nupe. When these arrived Giru was invested and, after a four-month siege, captured 14.
The fact that the Gwandu Fulani were unable to take a small town like Giru without the help of their vassals showed how far their power had already declined. The truth was that, ever since Abdullahi's death, the theory of their status being equal to Sokoto's had been little more than a polite fiction. The resurgence of Kebbi exposed the limitations to Gwandu's power and at the same time drastically reduced the base from which it was exercised 15.
After the fall of Giru the focus of the war moved north to the Argungu-Gwandu sector. The Kebbawa launched a major assault on Ambursa, but failed to take it and the Fulani were no more successful when they attacked Gulma.
In the main, however, it was a war of forays and ambushes rather than sieges and pitched battles. It threw up its own champions, such as the Zarumin Kola of Gwandu, the Galadima Dan Waje of Kebbi, and the Magaji Jan Borodo, who fought first for one side and then for the other 16. Being constantly engaged on a relatively narrow front, the contestants came to know the methods and tactics of their adversaries and were always striving to outwit and overreach one another.
It was, in fact, a moss trooper's war and it bears many striking resemblances to the border warfare of the English and Scots. If anything, however, it was even more bloody and relentless. The rank and file might surrender and hope to purchase their lives with their liberty, but for men of quality there was no question of quarter or ransom. Those who were unhorsed settled themselves on their outspread shields in the posture of prayer, as Karari and Mainasara had done, and with their rosaries in their hands stoically waited for their enemies to dispatch them.

The last phase of this struggle between the Fulani and Kebbawa was dominated by Sama'ila, the son of Yakubu Nabame. He was born in 1842 at the time when his father was an exile in Sokoto. As a small boy of seven or eight he must have been present at the siege of Argungu and he grew up in a soldier's world of patrols and raids.
In stature Sama'ila was not unusually tall, but his frame, with broad shoulders and deep chest, was exceptionally lithe and powerful. He took great pride in the profession of arms and from his youth he trained himself in the use of every weapon, being especially deadly, it is said, with the javelin. Moreover, he studied to harden himself so that he never betrayed pain or fear. As a soldier, in fact, he matched great natural gifts with ruthlessness and dedication. But there was more to him than just this. He also had a strong personality, which was made more formidable by the fact that he was by nature rather taciturn and morose, and as he matured he showed outstanding gifts of leadership 17. Most important of all, he possessed a flair for guerilla warfare that amounted almost to genius.

In Sokoto, in the meantime, the peace-loving Sultan Ahmadu Rufa'i had died in 1873. According to the tradition of alternation, it had still been the turn of the house of Atiku to provide a successor, but again they had failed to produce a suitable candidate. The succession had therefore gone in turn to two sons of Bello, first to Abubakr na Rabah and then, on his death in 1877, to Mu'azu. When he in turn had died in 1881, the claims of the Atikawa had again been passed over and Umaru, the eldest of Bello's grandsons, had been appointed Sultan.
This Umaru, now a man of fifty-seven, was the same son of Aliyu Babba whose life had been saved by Yakubu Nabame thirty-three years earlier in the fight at Gora. He had not forgotten his debt and when he succeeded he at once sent an embassy to Argungu, where Toga was still Chief, proposing peace. But unfortunately the war party, led by the renegade Fulani, Jan Borodo, was in the ascendant there and so the Fulani overtures were rejected 18.
Having failed to make peace, the new Sultan decided to mount an expedition against Argungu, which was now the recognized capital of Kebbi as well as being its bridgehead on the east bank of the Rima. Command was entrusted to an experienced but ageing freedman called Sarkin Lifidi Lefau 19. This time the Kebbawa did not shut themselves up in the town, as they had on both previous occasions, but decided to risk a battle in the open. For the first time command of the whole Kebbi army was given to Sama'ila. It was a great opportunity, which he seized with both hands. The Fulani forces were intercepted near Argungu and, according to tradition, it was a javelin hurled by Sama'ila himself that brought the Fulani commander down and turned the tide of the battle. Certainly, Lefau was killed and his army routed 20.
For Sama'ila this victory came at a most opportune moment. In the following year the old Chief Toga died and he was elected to succeed. Endowed now with supreme military and political power, he soon began to display his genius for this kind of warfare.
The remarkable run of successes that Sama'ila achieved between 1883 and 1903 was based on accurate intelligence and good tactics. In the collection of intelligence, to which he devoted infinite pains, he was far ahead of any of his contemporaries. In his tactics he relied mainly on surprise and shock. By riding out of Argungu at nightfall he could get into position by first light on the following day for an attack on almost any town in northern Gwandu or southwestern Sokoto, and this is what he normally did.
As Sama'ila's list of victories grew, so the superstitions that clustered about him multiplied. His famous bay was said to be no horse but a jinn and he himself was reputed to be able to change himself at will into an animal so that he could reconnoitre the towns which he proposed to attack. As a shrewd commander he played on the fears that his name inspired and often intimidated his enemies into flight or surrender. If a town opened its gates he contented himself with carrying off the booty and captives that he wanted and forbore from sacking or burning it. If it resisted, however, he delivered it up to fire and the sword 21.
In the space of twenty years Sama'ila is said to have captured ninety Fulani towns and villages 22. Probably, a majority of these were mall places protected only by stockades, but many must have been walled towns and among them there were certainly a few real fortresses such as Gande, Shagari, Kajiji, and Aliero 23. All the countryside lying within reach of Argungu was ravaged by him and when the British arrived in 1903 they were appalled at the havoc that he had wrought. Here is the report of Burdon, the first Resident of Sokoto Province.

Throughout the whole distance from Shagari to Ambursa, all round Gwandu and north-east to within twenty miles of Sokoto, I was much impressed by the devastation wrought by the Kebbawa, much of it within the last eight years. The country is strewn with the ruins of towns 24.
There is no doubt that during the last two decades of the century the Kebbawa, under the inspired leadership of Sama'ila, not only held their own but took the war to the Fulani. Gwandu suffered most, but Sokoto, too, was distracted and weakened. Moreover, these events took place at the very time when, as we shall see in the next chapter, the approach of Rabeh from the east and the British from the south made it imperative for the Sultans to be strong and vigilant. For this reason, even though the Kebbi wars were fought in a restricted theatre and on a limited scale, they nevertheless played an important part in determining the fate of the Empire.

1. Information confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
2. Oral tradition preserved in the Kebbi ruling family and confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. For the family tree, see Table 6 in Appendix II.
9. Oral tradition preserved in the Kebbi ruling family. For the family tree, see Table 6 in Appendix II.
10. According to a tradition preserved in the Kebbi ruling family, a black magician called Mallam Muhamman encompassed the deaths of both Mainassara and Haliru. He first lured Mainasara to destruction with his spells and then, having been bribed by the Kebbawa to change sides, did the same to Haliru. See Johnston, op. cit. pp. 131-3.
11. Oral tradition preserved in the Kebbi ruling family. Confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
12. Gazetteer of Sokoto Province, p. 17.
13. Ibid. pp. 41-42.
14. Ibid. p. 42.
15. Compare Gwandu Emirate in Maps 2 and 6.
16. Oral traditions preserved in Gwandu and Kebbi. See Johnston, op. cit. pp. 134-6.
17. Oral tradition preserved in the Kebbi ruling family.
18. Oral tradition preserved in the Kebbi ruling family. Confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Oral tradition preserved in the Kebbi ruling family.
22. This claim is made on his gravestone.
23 Information confirmed by Alhaji Junaidu.
24. Annual Reports, Northern Nigeria, 1900-11, p. 175.

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