The Hausa System Of Government Before And After The 19th Century | Independent Newspapers Limited
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The Hausa System Of Government Before And After The 19th Century

Posted: Jul 18, 2015 at 12:20 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Akin Malaolu


Modern generation of our youths and some elders may not understand that two periods existed to shape government in the North of Nigeria centuries back. The Hausalands and others covered by the Caliphate had their own system of Government and the people were largely Pagans before their conquest.

The various governments of Kasahen (lands) Hausa were basically similar in nature and structure.


Hausa Type Of Government In The 18th Century

In all Hausa states, Birane which were a nucleus of the states were also the repositories of the wealth of the Hausa states.  It also serves as the centre for military,  economic and of religious significant. A birni is characterised by fortifications called Ganuwai (city walls) that serves to protect the King , his kingdom and all his people .

But while the Hausa states are centred on Birane , their form of government was centred around Sarki (King). The Sarki is usually assisted by officials.  He is neither autocratic nor the sole administrator of the state.  His officials are called Masu-sarauta and they performed both military and civil functions. Within the Masu-sarauta are the Madawaki the most senior followed by Galadima, Wambai, Dallatu, Sarki Fada. The military ranking consists of Barde and Jarmai with the Madawaki as the Commander of the army (Sarki Yaki). The Masu-Sarauta in Hausa states were of different sorts: slaves, eunuchs and free-born citizens.  The last category normally acquired the Sarauta (office) as rewards for their military service to the Sarki (King).

The Hausa system of government had remained static until the coming of the Jihadists but their practices of old are also in existence after their conquest. The old Hausa system of government made possible the independence of all autonomous states.

Kano, Rano , Zaria, Katsina, Daura, Zamfara, Gobir were all independent. They neither recognized any one of their number as superior nor did they recognize an outside authority as sovereign.  A Sarki was one by virtue of inheritance and the support of the Masu Sarauta who could depose him if need be . His appointment as king needed no outside formalization.


The 19th Century Jihad

History will not be happy if the truth is not told as to what triggered the formation of new system of government in the whole of Hausa states. It was a reaction to the style of Hausa type of government that led to rise of conflicts called Jihad and the Hausa lands subsequent conquest.

In 1804, the Muslim community in Gobir was engulfed in a serious conflict with Sarki Yunfa of Gobir which led to their leaving the state to a place called Gudu. From Gudu, the Muslim made all attempts to settle the conflict amicably through peaceful negotiation but failed. The Sarki Yunfa later forbade further emigration to Gudu by other Muslims and those already in Gudu became subject of attacks from Sarki Yunfa’s army from time to time.

The Muslim community answer to Gobir’s attacks was to re-organize themselves for protection and defense which to them was justified according to Islamic laws and since the ruler of the state in which they had been living was no longer their protector but the main threat. A scholar amongst them who was also an itinerant preacher and spokesman of the Muslim community in Gobir community by the name- Shehu Usman b. Mohammed Fodi was formally acknowledged by the Jama’s as the Imam. Shehu was 50years of age then.

Shehu’s appointment thus confirmed that they are no longer the subjects of Gobir and no allegiance therefore. This appointment marked the beginning of the establishment of the Caliphate and Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio became the Amir al-muminin of what later became the Sokoto Caliphate. The conflict that followed led to the collapse of the capital of Gobir named Alkalawa in 1808 which gave room for the re-organization in government structure for proper administration in order to restore peace and good government in the land.

By 1812, it was possible for the Caliph to delegate responsibility and it was said that he delegated responsibilities by assigning the governing of the west to his brother Abdullahi with Gwandu as his base. The Shehu’s son, Mohammed was assigned the east with Sokoto as his headquarter.

In addition to these appointments, new ones also emerged and these were judges -Muhtasib (Censor of morals), Wali alshurta (chief of police), Sa’I  (collector of Zakat, jizya and jangali) They were guided by Sharia laws and further conquest of Hausa states replaced the Habe government of Gobir and Zamfara.

Years that followed led Muslim scholars sympathetic to the movement to come under the control of the Imam and they made, ‘bay’a (oath of allegiance) required by the Quran and the Sunna. They were admonished not to be corrupted by power and to avoid worldly pursuits, envy, feud and greed.

They were also blessed and given flags by the Shehu who empowered them to declare and lead Jihad in their localities.  These local commanders later became Emirs-the men to whom command was delegated. From this affirmation emerged the Emirate-type of Government in the North of Nigeria today.

I shall give thanks to this worthy contributor SA’AD ABUBAKAR.


Akin Malaolu is a public affairs commentator