The Sokoto Caliphate was an independent Islamic Territorial jurisdiction in West Africa which was founded during the jihad of the Fulani War in 1809 by Usman dan Fodio. The Caliphate was however abolished when the British defeated the caliph in 1903 and put the area under the Northern Nigeria Protectorate.
With a multiple context of development together with independent Hausa kingdoms, the Caliphate had in its emblem over 30 different emirates and about 10 million people in the most powerful state within the region which was one of the most significant empires in Africa in the nineteenth century.
The caliphate was a loose confederation of emirates that recognized the sovereignty of the “commander of the faithful”, the sultan or caliph. The caliphate enhanced economic growth throughout the region. An estimated one to 2.5 million non-Muslim slaves were captured during the jihad.
Of course, the slavery in the Caliphate was not practiced in the same manner it was by Europeans at the time. There was no chattel slavery. Slaves provided labor for plantations and were offered an opportunity to become Muslims.
The British however abolished the political authority of the Caliph before the title of Sultan was retained, and it remained an important religious position for Muslims in the region till today. Usman dan Fodio’s jihad propelled the inspiration for a series of related jihads in other parts of the savanna and Sahel far beyond Nigeria’s borders that led to the foundation of Islamic states in Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, Chad, Central African Republic, and Sudan.
The major power in the region that dates back in the 17th and 18th centuries had been the Bornu Empire. Although revolutions and the rise of new powers decreased the authority of the Bornu Empire and by 1759, its rulers had lost control over the oasis town of Bilma and access to the Trans-Saharan trade.Vassal cities of the empire gradually became autonomous, and the result by 1780 was a political array of different, independent states in the region.
The fall of the Songhai Empire in the 1500s had also freed most of the central Bilad as-Sudan, and a good number of Hausa Sultanates led by different Hausa aristocrats had grown to fill the void. Three of the most significant to develop were the Sultanates of Gobir, Kebbi (both in the Rima River valley), and Zamfara, all in the present-day Nigeria.
These kingdoms engaged in regular warfare against each other, especially conducting slave raids, and in order to pay for the constant warfare, it levied high taxation on their citizens.
The region between the Niger River and Lake Chad was largely populated with the Hausa, Fulani and other ethnic groups that had migrated to the area. Much of the Hausa population had settled in the cities throughout the region. The Fulani, in contrast, had largely remained a pastoral community, herding cattle, goats and sheep, and populating grasslands between the towns throughout the region. With increasing trade, a good number of the Fulanis settled in towns, forming a distinct minority.
Much of the population had converted to Islam in the centuries before but nationalist and pagan beliefs persisted in many areas. In the end of the 1700s, an increase in Islamic preaching occurred throughout the Hausa Kingdoms. A number of the preachers were linked in a shared Tariqa of Islamic study.
Usman dan Fodio, an Islamic scholar and an urbanized Fulani, had been actively educating and preaching in the city of Gobir with the approval and support of the Hausa leadership of the city. However, when Yunfa, a former student of dan Fodio, became the Sultan of Gobir, he restricted dan Fodio’s activities, forcing him into exile in Gudu. But a large number of people left Gobir to join dan Fodio and as a response on February 21, 1804, Yunfa declared war on dan Fodio.
Despite some early losses at the Battle of Tsuntua and other places, the forces of dan Fodio began to take over some of the key cities that started in 1805. The war lasted from 1804 until 1808 and the forces of dan Fodio were able to capture the states of Katsina and Daura, with the kingdom of Kano in 1807 and Gobir in 1808 respectively.
The Caliphate was founded in February 1804 at Gudu when Dan-Fodio was proclaimed Amir al-Mu’minin-defender of the faithful. Usman dan Fodio then declared a number of flag bearers amongst those following him and created a political structure of the empire.
In 1809, Muhammed Bello, the son of dan Fodio, founded the city of Sokoto, which became the capital of the Sokoto Caliphate. The jihads had created “a new slaving frontier on the basis of rejuvenated Islam.
By 1900, the Sokoto caliphate had “at least 1 million and perhaps as many as 2.5 million slaves”, second only to the American South which had four million in 1860 sizable among all modern slave societies.
However, slavery in the Caliphate, just as in the rest of the Muslim world, did not take on the form of chattel slavery as there was far less of a distinction between slaves and their masters.
From 1808 until the mid-1830s, the Sokoto Caliphate expanded, gradually annexing the plains to the west and key parts of Yorubaland. It became one of the largest states in Africa, stretching from modern-day Burkina Faso to Cameroon and including most of Northern Nigeria and Niger Republic.
At its height, the Sokoto Caliphate had over 30 different emirates under its political structure.
The political structure of the Caliphate was organized with the Sultan of Sokoto that ruled from the city of Sokoto and within a brief period under Muhammad Bello from Wurno.The leader of each emirate was appointed by the Sultan as the flag bearer for that city but was given wide independence and autonomy.