The Fulani Jihadists under their spiritual leader, Usman Dan Fodio, after conquering the seven Hausa Kingdoms appeared unstoppable. With the ringing gong of orthodoxy on their left hands and swords on the right, they went eastern ward to prey on the Kanem-Bornu Empire, which had known and practiced Islam for more than 800 years before Dan Fodio was born. The crusade was a fatal mistake as it ended in disaster. The Fulani were stopped and beaten back by the Kanuri Army. It must, however, taken a coalition of forces to beat the Fulani into a shameful retreat.
At the dawn of 18 century, the Bornu empire had hit its Nadir. Faced by decline inflicted on the empire by internal wranglings among the ruling elite that was worsened by palace intrigue and rivalry. Struggle to acquire power and more influence had lured into complacency those who should watch the back of the empire and ensure its security and protection.
The earlier terrifying military capacity of the empire made possible by Idris Aloma was no longer, fearsome and neither was it a deterrent to neighbouring kingdoms and principalities. At its zenith, the Kanem-Bornu empire extended westward over Hausaland in present-day Northern Nigeria. It ruled the North-West of today’s Cameroon, the Southern part of Libya and a large chunk of the Chad Republic. The empire was deep in Sufism.
Its military strength was not the only calvary, it included arms obtained from the Arab world and the Mediterranean. Infantry and musketeers that put enemies at bay for good.
All the above-listed enviable factors had dwindled and become a shadow of their former selves with a whimpering presence as 19 century started its journey in recording human history.
By sheer coincidence, it was the same period that a new fanatic fire of Islam, lit and fueled by a religious scholar, Usman Dan Fodia, was fiercely burning and raging in the Hausaland, West of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, that was in decline. Dan Fodio, who had become the Sultan of Sokoto by 1808, was the supreme ruler of the earlier Hausa Kingdoms.
At that time, Dan Fodio was stoking the fire of fanaticism that was deep in blind loyalty and total commitment and belief in everything that came out of the leader, in this instance Shehu’s mouth. Dan Fodio was never a warrior or troop commander. He was the spiritual leader, while his younger brother Abdullahi and Dan Fodio’s son, Muhammed Bello, were the soldiers and commanders of the caliphate’s armed forces.
Despite that Sufism, a brand of Islam was widely spread in the Bornu empire. There were still people, groups and communities who were neck-deep in idolatry and idol worship or traditional religious practice. It was, perhaps the areas and communities that were still in idol practice that attracted Dan Fodio’s resolve to Islamise such people. It was, therefore, not a surprise that the Jihadists attacked the Bornu empire to Islamise an empire that had accepted and practiced Islam for more than 800 years before the coming of Usman Dan Fodio.
Despite the success of the Jihadists in selling Islam to the Hausa people who lost all their kingdoms to the proselytising in the process, Dan Fodio and his Islamic soldiers could not claim in all honesty that there were no more idols worshipping anywhere in what had then become the caliphate or all the emirates ruled by the flagbearers and followers of Dan Fodio.
Unpretentive examination of Dan Fodio’s motive to launch an attack on the Bornu empire betrayed the quest for territory expansion. The Fulani were more after acquiring the land of their Eastern Muslim empire than taking a reformed Islam to them.
Bubbling with hot fanaticism driving their mission, the Fulani Jihadists conquered, Ngazargam, the capital of the Bornu empire.
The fall of Ngazargamu set alarm bells ringing among the ruling Kanuri people in the empire. The cleric among them asserted that their brand of Islam Sufism was not inferior to Quadriyya sponsored by Dan Fodio. Led by a cleric of note, Muhammed al-Kanem, who disagreed with the reason for launching a Jihadist against the Kanem-Bornu Empire and faulted Fulani’s claim.
Kanem people had a long history of Islam, he asserted. The empire had several centuries before the emergence of Dan Fodio been in the firmament of religion or Islam in today’s Northern Nigeria. A Kanem King (Mai) Dunama, who ruled the empire from 1098 to 1151 was on record to have performed Hajj thrice before his death.
There was another Mai Dunamal Dabbalemi, who established a diplomatic relationship with Egypt in North Africa.
He even established a Madrasa, an Islamic Institute, and a hostel for pilgrims in Cairo to boost pilgrimage to Mecca for his people.
The establishment of a Madrasa in Cairo, to all intents and purposes, was to update his people’s Islam to be in line with the latest development in Islam from the source of Islam, Mecca. It was in the face of the intimidating Islamic history to the credit of the Kanem empire that later became the Kanem-Bornu empire that an upstart, Fulani Jihadists were flying a banal of orthodoxy. It was, therefore a provocation that Ngazargamu was captured by the Fulani.
Coincidentally, Usman Dan Fodio army’s and perhaps his war boys were to clash with a reputed cleric and, of course, a statesman who was more than a match for Dan Fodio.
On the religious pedestal, he called Dan Fodio’s bluff. He made it open that pure religiosity and evangelism was not necessarily a thing to be accomplished by war or enslaving a people under the pretence of waging holy war or running a Jihad. Muhammed al-Kanem was a Muslim scholar and a warlord, who was a non-Sayfawa stoutly rose to put a stop to the raging bull of Fulani Jihadists.
There was a difference in the perception of how to spread Islam among non-believers. The Bornu people and their clerics subscribed to peaceful and individual evangelism. They condemned, in strong terms, the forceful imposition of Islam on people through Jihad. They accused Dan Fodio and his fanatical warrior of ulterior motive that could not be defended on religion but dipped in territorial expansion.
Al-Kanem succeeded in pooling a strong coalition of Quaddai people, Shuma Arabs, Kanebu and other semi-nomadic people to give the Jihadists a fight they would not quickly forget. The intensity and dimension of the war was deep and wide that it eventually claimed the capital of the Bornu empire. Ngazargamu. The destruction of Ngazargamu forced Mohammed al-Kanem to move the capital to Kukawa in 1814. The war even affected the change of power in the empire. The Sayfawama lineage that had been providing Mai, that is king for many centuries were relegated, they henceforth became titulary rulers, while the Al-Kanem group became the true rulers with executive power.
– Tajudeen Adigun