Organization And Government Of Sokoto Caliphate
Usuman retired from political life in 1809 and devoted the rest of this life to religion and scholarship. Before retiring however, he left his permanent imprint on the organizational structure of the empire or caliphate. He divided the empire into two parts; the eastern section with Sokoto as its capital and the western section with Gwandu in Kebbi as its headquarters. The eastern section comprised the Emirates of Sokoto, Gobir, Katsina, Kano, Daura, Zaria, Keffi, Nasarawa, Katagum, Bauchi and Adamawa. The western section comprised the Emirates of Kebbi (Gwandu), Yauri, Nupe, Borgu and Ilorin. Usuman appointed his son Muhammmad Bello in charge of the administration of the eastern provinces or emirates and over the western emirates he appointed his brother Abdullahi Emir of Gwandu as Head. On Usuman’s death in 1917, Muhammad Bello succeeded him as Amir Al-Muminin or Sarkin Musulmi (Commander of the Faithful) or Caliph and took the title of Sultan of Sokoto.
The practical administration of the caliphate from 1809 was however the work of Muhammad Bello. He established a system of relationship between Sokoto and the emirates which held the caliphate together and ensured some degree of religious, cultural and political unity. To a large extent, each emirate enjoyed considerable autonomy in its internal affairs, for the emirs had won their respective emirates with little or no military assistance from Sokoto.
Consequently, central control by Sokoto was very limited. Indeed, the empire was a loose confederation of independent states. Yet these states were held together by certain common bonds. For instance, all the emirs owed religious allegiance to the Al-Muminin or Sultan of Sokoto as the spiritual head of the empire and made pilgrimages to Sokoto from time to time.
The emirs also owed the Sultan political allegiance in the form of annual tribute and contribution of military levies in time of campaigns. The Sultan exercised some degree of political control over the emirs through his prerogative of confirming their appointments and those of their senior officials.
In emirates like Zaria and Nupe where there were several branches of the ruling dynasty competing for the throne, this prerogative gave the Sultan a large measure of influence in the appointment of candidates for the emir-ships.
Again, the Sultan wielded some influence over the Emirates in several other ways.Through correspondence, He gave advice too the emirs in matters of islamic law. Links between Sokoto and the Emirates were maintained through inspection tours by Sokoto officials and through marriages between families of the nobility in the Emirates and in sokoto. Through these devices the Sultan maintained the unity of the caliphate. This unity was further strengthened by the adoption of a uniform system of administration in all the Emirates of the Caliphate.
The administration was based upon the old Hausa administrative system. This meant that the hausa system of government departments, officials and titles and the feudal system of land ownership was retained.
But the system was islamised by the introduction of Islamic law and some Islamic institutions such as the offices of the Alkali (Muslim Judge) and the Waziri (Islamic adviser to the Emir).
Administration within each emirate was feudal. Each emir divided his state or emirate into non-heritable estates which were allotted to the Fulani ruling class or to native chiefs who had submitted. Fief-holders were responsible for the collection of taxes in their areas for the Emir. Below this class of great land-owners were the minor district or village chiefs who owed allegiance to their feudal over-lord.
However, it must be emphasized that the degree of Unity achieved by the caliphate was limited by several factors.
First, central control of the Emirates by Sokoto was severely handicapped by her lack of a strong standing central army for use in suppressing internal revolts or compelling obedience to the Sultan’s will. Secondly, the peculiar status of Gwandu in the Caliphate, the vastness of the empire with its long distances between the Emirates and poor communication helped to weaken possible central control. Nevertheless, in spite of this weaknesses the Fulani empire was in the early years of its foundation a strong political and religious force in the central Sudan. It achieved several outstanding successes.
In the first place, it led to the establishment of a uniform and to some extent, unified system of government over a vast area of the central Sudan which had for long been occupied by states that were hostile to one another.
Under Sultan Bello,efforts were made to install a government free from corrupt practices and having fair taxation, good laws and justice as its watch-word. In the second place, trade and industry prospered under Fulani regime as the country was rid of the ruinous wars of the past. Kano, for example, resumed its importance as the center of commerce and industry in the central Sudan. This is attested by the accounts of the explorer – Clapperton, Denham and Barth who visited Kano and Hausa land in the 19th century.
Furthermore, there was a great revolution in education in the empire with the revival or introduction of Muslim schools and of Arabic as the literary language. These achievements however did not long survive the first ardor of the jihad. In fact, all the evils of the pre-jihad administration which Usuman had condemned become rampant again in the empire.
Corruption, oppression of the poor and slave-raiding became once again the order of the day. “The period of Fulani rule” says C. Niven, “was not one of blessing to the people of Hausa land.” Although Fulani rule had by 1900 fallen far short of the high ideals of the early years of the empire, Niven’s assessment of it is unfair in view of its great achievements which we outlined above. Niven’s criticism must be seen as that of an imperialist historian trying to justify British military occupation or northern Nigeria after 1900.
In conclusion, It is interesting to note that in spite of their criticism of Fulani administration, British officials adopted it as the basis of their system of Indirect Rule in northern Nigeria.