Nigeria’s Sokoto Caliphate gets new sultan

From the BBC, Nov. 2:

A new Sultan of Sokoto, the spiritual leader of Nigeria’s 70m Muslims, has been announced.

Colonel Muhammadu Sada Abubakar, 53, is the younger brother of Sultan Mohammadu Maccido, who was killed in a plane crash on Sunday, along with 95 others.

Col Abubakar had been serving as Nigeria’s military attache to Pakistan.

Like all sultans, Col Abubakar is descended from Uthman Dan Fodio, who led a 19th Century jihad to spread Islam across northern Nigeria.

The BBC’s Ardo Abdullah Hazzad in the northern city of Sokoto, says that thousands of people have gathered to celebrate the appointment outside the imposing sultan’s palace.


Col Abubakar is to greet the crowds after earlier going to thank Sokoto State Governor Attahiru Bafarawa for naming him as the 20th sultan.

Col Abubakar was chosen by a group of traditional rulers, known as kingmakers, who passed a shortlist of three to Mr Bafarawa for the final decision.

“May he continue where the late sultan stopped,” trader Muhammadu Bello told Reuters news agency.

“I want to congratulate the state government for choosing a consensus sultan.”

Col Abubakar, who has also served with West Africa’s peacekeeping force in Sierra Leone, was top of the list and so the governor was expected to select him.

He is described as being relaxed and easy-going.

The Sokoto Caliphate founded by Dan Fodio became one of the largest pre-colonial states in Africa.

The sultan’s role includes announcing the start and the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Nigeria.

The BBC’s Alex Last in Nigeria says the sultan is meant to be a symbol of good governance and Islamic unity.


The late sultan was widely respected for trying to ease tensions between Nigeria’s Muslim and Christians communities, which occasionally spill over into sectarian violence.

His son and grandson were also killed when a Boeing 737 flight operated by ADC airlines crashed just after take-off from the capital, Abuja, on its way to Sokoto.

Nigeria held three days of national mourning and President Olusegun Obasanjo went to Sokoto to pay his respects.

It was the third major Nigeria plane crash in just over a year.

ADC’s licence has been suspended.

This analysis (quite long, quoted only in part below) from Nairobi’s The Nation of Nov. 3 (online at AllAfrica) takes a less flattering veiw of the late sultan, and describes how the Caliphate has become a pawn in Nigerian power politics:

The violent death of Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido, 58, the Sultan of Sokoto, in the ADC Airline crash in Abuja last Sunday, might have been expected, for a man whose political and social history in the past two decades has been characterised by neo-volcanic convulsions. And the eruptions came from modern social and technological innovations which his traditional culture and power had failed to catch up with and master.

It all started in 1992 when his succession to a tribal throne (left by the death of his father, Sultan Abubakar), was suddenly overturned by a “military coup” of a sort. General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria’s fourth military dictator, cancelled his choice by Sokoto’s traditional “king makers” and installed Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki – allegedly his father-in-law whose son was also a business partner.

Mass protests by crowds who chanted “baa mu so” (‘we don’t want him’) were met with live bullets that left scores of people dead. Alhaji Maccido was subsequently deported to a town on the border of Cameroon on the opposite eastern corner of his sultanate.

Humiliation by Babangida

General Babangida would in 1993 also throw Nigeria’s politics into greater turmoil when he cancelled the election as president of Chief Moshood K. Abiola, a Yoruba millionaire and Vice-President for the Middle East and Africa of Internal Telegraph & Telephones. Abiola had made is personal fortune from creaming contracts he got from military rulers; the most notorious of which was for a telephone network for Nigeria which never worked until MTN, Globacom, and recently, Celtel, came to bring millions of Nigerians into the information age.

Maccido’s humiliation by Babangida sent out the message that the Sokoto Caliphate, a network of Fulani rulerships built with war and social revolution from 1804 to 1814 (from Sokoto in the northwest to Adamawa and Muri emirates on what would later become the Cameroon border in the east), was a “paper tiger”.

British colonising troops had defeated Fulani local rulers and occupied that vast territorial space. Fear of Fulani rulers mobilising Islam against them as the Mahdi had done earlier in the nineteenth century in Sudan to drive out Turkish and European mercenaries, stopped Frederick Lugard from restoring political power to former Hausa rulers who the Fulani had deposed in setting up their empire. In tossing Maccido out of succession, Babangida was also announcing that he was the only big bull in that savanna.

Between 1960 and 1999 protests grew against Professor Cyril Whitaker’s proposition that the rulers of the Caliphate had from under the shadow of British colonial dictatorship, infiltrated their people into modern structures of public administration. The cries had grown louder and louder. Professor Wole Soyinka and thousands who protested the cancellation of Abiola’s election as Nigeria’s president in 1993, were fuelled by feelings of a creeping and choking Fulani and Hausa grip on power over federal Nigeria.

The religious underpinning of this grip was the growing visibility of the Sultan of Sokoto as the sole religious authority over Nigeria’s Muslims. Each year during the Ramadan (fasting) season, Yoruba Muslims in the Lagos area would fast one day more after the Sultan had announced the beginning and end of the cardinal ritual – all in a loud attempt to assert their independence from the religious behemoth in the north.

The deposition of Maccido and forced enthronement of Dasuki, thereby, served not only to flex the authority of the military brass over civilian rulers, but also to puncture the growing hug and shadow of the post of Sultan as a religio-political leviathan over all Nigerians.

In 1996 another military dictator, General Sani Abacha, reversed Maccido’s political fall; deposing Sultan Dasuki and installing the former on a militarised throne. Abacha may well have invested well in Maccido as his rehabilitation won him insurance against mass protests when he detained ex-General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua; an aristocrat from Katsina and deputy to General Olusegun Obasanjo from 1976 to 1979. The poor general died in prison in a process that politicised rumours claimed was induced.

Abacha was a Kanuri immigrant into Kano City from Borno in the northeast corner of Nigeria . His merchant father had had the foresight to send one of his own sons to enroll in a military school in Zaria. That son would rule over Nigeria and, before his sudden death from poisoning in June 1998, had silenced all Fulani Sokoto Caliphate claimants to power (including the prospect of winning power through the ballot box).

Sultan Maccido’s studied silence was bound to be most welcome as Abacha wielded power as a “maximum ruler” as the opposition media labeled him.

See our last post on Nigeria.