Two weeks ago, we started this breath-taking discussion on the Benin Kingdom, which we were taught in secondary school. Today, we shall draw the curtain on our x-ray of this great kingdom and subsequently take on other historical personalities and kingdoms.
The gradual decline (continues)
Contrary to the stories told by Galway later, for a number of reasons, there is still today some controversy as to whether the Benin monarch actually agreed to the terms of the treaty as Galway had claimed. First, at the time of his visit to Benin, the monarch could not welcome Galway or any other foreigners due to the observance of the traditional Igue festival, which prohibited the presence of any non-native persons during the ritual season. Also, even though Galway claimed the king and his chiefs were willing to sign the treaty, it was common knowledge that the ruler was not in the habit of signing one-sided treaties.
The treaty read: “Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, in compliance with the request of (the) King of Benin, hereby extend to him and the territory under his authority and jurisdiction, Her gracious favour and protection” (Article 1). The treaty also stated: “The King of Benin agrees and promises to refrain from entering into any correspondence, agreement or treaty with any foreign nation or power except with the knowledge of her Britannic Majesty’s Government” (Article 2), and finally that “It is agreed that full jurisdiction, civil and criminal, over British subjects and their property in the territory of Benin is reserved to her Britannic Majesty, to be exercised by such consular or other officers as Her Majesty shall appoint for the purpose…The same jurisdiction is likewise reserved to Her Majesty in the said territory of Benin over foreign subjects enjoying British protection, who shall be deemed to be involved in the expression ‘British subjects’ throughout this treaty” (Article 3).
It makes little sense that the monarch and his chiefs would accept the terms laid out in articles IV to IX, or that he or his chiefs would knowingly bestow their dominion upon Queen Victoria for so little apparent remuneration. Under Article IV, the treaty states that “All disputes between the King of Benin and other chiefs between him and British or foreign traders or between the aforesaid king and neighbouring tribes, which cannot be settled amicably between the two parties, shall be submitted to the British consular or other officers appointed by Her Britannic Majesty to exercise jurisdiction in the Benin territories for arbitration and decision or for arrangement.”
The chiefs attested that the King of Benin did not sign the treaty because he was in the middle of an important festival, which prohibited him from doing anything else (including signing the treaty). The king maintained that he did not touch the white man’s pen. Galway later claimed in his report that the king basically accepted the signing of the treaty in all respects. Despite the ambiguity over whether or not the monarch signed the treaty, the British officials easily accepted it as though he did because they were driven (to a large extent) by greed. British officials were increasingly interested in controlling trade in Benin and also in accessing the kingdom’s rubber resources to support their own growing tyre market. However, after Benin discovered Britain’s true intentions, eight unknowing British representatives who had been sent to visit Benin were killed. As a result, the Punitive Expedition was launched in 1897. The British force, under the command of Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, razed and burnt down the city, destroying much of the country’s treasured arts and dispersing nearly all that remained. The stolen portrait figures, busts, and groups created in iron, carved ivory, and especially in brass (conventionally called the “Benin Bronzes”), are now displayed in museums around the world. The King of Benin was eventually captured by the British, deposed and sent to live out his days in Calabar, in southeastern Nigeria. He died in 1914.
The monarchy continues to exist today as one of the traditional states of contemporary Nigeria. Ewuare II, the present king, is one of the most prominent and respected among the various traditional rulers of Nigeria. (The end)
Why and how history defines who we are (5)
Shaibu Usman Dan Fodio (December 15, 1754 – April 20, 1817)
We had, in The Sun, July 31, 2019, edition, commenced our discourse on Shaibu Usman Dan Fodio. Many readers have since called me up and written to ask if I had forgotten to complete the write-up on him. No, I did not. I just wanted to conclude my discourse on some empires, which I had started before delving into a write-up on this great historical personality. I have, therefore, decided to start his biographical sketch all over again for a better understanding of his persona.
Usman was born in the Hausa state of Gobir, in what is now northwestern Nigeria. His father, Muhammad Fodiye, was a scholar from the Toronkawa clan, which had emigrated from Futa-Toro in Senegal in the 15th Century. While he was still young, Usman moved south with his family to Degel, where he studied the Quran with his father. Subsequently, he moved on to other scholar relatives, travelling from teacher to teacher in the traditional way and reading extensively in the Islamic sciences. One powerful intellectual and religious influence at that time was his teacher in the southern Saharan city of Agadez, Jibrl ibn Umar, a radical figure whom Usman both respected and criticised and by whom he was admitted to the Qdir and other orders.
How his leadership surged
Throughout the 1780s and 1790s, Usman’s reputation increased, as did the size and importance of the community that looked to him for religious and political leadership. Particularly closely associated with him were his younger brother, Abdullahi, who was one of his first pupils, and his son, Muhammad Bello, both distinguished teachers and writers. But his own scholarly clan was slow to come over to him. Significant support appeared to have come from the Hausa peasantry. Their economic and social grievances and experience of oppression under the existing dynasties stimulated millenarian hopes and led them to identify him with the Mahd (“Divinely Guided One”), a legendary Muslim redeemer, whose appearance was expected at that time. Although he rejected this identification, he did share and encourage their expectations.
During the 1790s, when Usman appeared to have lived continuously at Degel, a division developed between his substantial community and the Gobir ruling dynasty. About 1797–98, Sultan Nafata, who was aware that Usman had permitted his community to be armed and who no doubt feared that it was acquiring the characteristics of a state within the state, reversed the liberal policy he had adopted towards him 10 years earlier and issued his historic proclamation forbidding any but the Shaykh, as Usman had come to be called, to preach, forbidding the conversion of sons from the religion of their fathers, and proscribing the use of turbans and veils.
In 1802 Yunfa succeeded Nafata as Sultan, but, whatever his previous ties with the Shaykh may have been, he did not improve the status of Usman’s community. The breakdown, when it eventually occurred, turned on a confused incident in which some of the Shaykh’s supporters forcibly freed Muslim prisoners taken by a Gobir military expedition. Usman, who wished to avoid a final breach, nevertheless agreed that Degel was threatened. Like the Prophet Muhammad, whose biography he frequently noted as having close parallels with his own, the Shaykh carried out a hijrah (migration) to Gudu, 30 miles (48 km) to the northwest, in February, 1804. Despite his own apparent reluctance, he was elected imam (leader) of the community, and the new caliphate was formally established.
With regard to the structure of the caliphate, the Shaykh attempted to establish an essentially simple, nonexploitative system. His views are stated in his important treatise Bayn wujb al-hijra (November 1806) and elsewhere: the central bureaucracy should be limited to a loyal and honest vizier, judges, a chief of police, and a collector of taxes; and local administration should be in the hands of governors (emirs) selected from the scholarly class for their learning, piety, integrity, and sense of justice.
Initially, the military situation was far from favourable. Food supplies were a continuing problem; the requisitioning of local food antagonised the peasantry; increasing dependence on the great Fulani clan leaders, who alone could put substantial forces into the field, alienated the non-Fulani. At the Battle of Tsuntua in December 1804, the Shaykh’s forces suffered a major defeat and were said to have lost 2,000 men, of whom 200 knew the Quran by heart. But, after a successful campaign against Kebbi in the spring of 1805, they established a permanent base at Gwandu in the west. By 1805 – 1806, the Shaykh’s caliphal authority was recognised by leaders of the Muslim communities in Katsina, Kano, Daura, and Zamfara. When Alkalawa, the Gobir capital, finally fell at the fourth assault on October 1808, the main military objectives of the jihad had been achieved.
Although the jihad had succeeded, Usman believed the original objectives of the reforming movement had been largely forgotten. This no doubt encouraged his withdrawal into private life. In 1809–1810, Bello moved to Sokoto, making it his headquarters, and built a home for his father nearby at Sifawa, where he lived in his customary simple style, surrounded by 300 students. In 1812, the administration of the Caliphate was reorganised, with the Shaykh’s two principal viziers, Abdullahi and Bello, taking responsibility for the western and eastern sectors, respectively. The Shaykh, though remaining formally Caliph, was thus left free to return to his main preoccupations, teaching and writing.
Usman was the most important reforming leader of the western Sudan region in the early 19th Century. His importance lies partly in the new stimulus that he, as a mujaddid, or “renewer of the faith”, gave to Islam throughout the region, and partly in his work as a teacher and intellectual. In the latter roles, he was the focus of a network of students and the author of a large corpus of writings in Arabic and Fulani that covered most of the Islamic sciences and enjoyed—and still enjoy—wide circulation and influence. Lastly, Usman’s importance lies in his activities as founder of a jama, or Islamic community, the Sokoto Caliphate, which brought the Hausa states and some neighbouring territories under a single central administration for the first time in history.
Readers, these were all done in primary school, not secondary school!
Fast-forward to secondary school. The real big history started with renowned teachers like Mr. Ilevbare and Pabo Ozimi. We were taught the history of important historical figures and great empires; their rise and fall.
Thought for the week
“The very concept of history implies the scholar and the reader. Without a generation of civilized people to study history, to preserve its records, to absorb its lessons and relate them to its own problems, history, too, would lose its meaning.” (George F. Kennan)