Did you know that prior to colonisation, we used to have trade along the River Benue from Yola to Onitsha? One of the men responsible for opening up this trade was Modibo Adama, an Islamic scholar and warrior. Sources for today’s #HistoryClass are Victor Ngoh, Martin Njeuma and Emmanuel Dudari.
Adama dan Hassan was born about 1771 in Wuro Chekke, in the Guringa region. Gurin, near the modern day Cameroon border, was a fort at the junction of the Faro and Benue Rivers. A Fulani by ethnicity, he was the son of Hassan, an Islamic scholar who had come from Ba’ajo in modern Cameroon and settled in Wuro Chekke.
As a child, Adama went to Borno for his education, and was brought up under the tutelage of the renowned scholar, Mallam Kiari. He completed his education in Degel, where he became a devotee of Usman dan Fodio. While studying under Usman, Adama dan Hassan earned the title, Modibo, The Scholar.
By the time he returned home about 1804, his father had died, killed in battle fighting the Bata. Adama raised an army and attacked Bata settlements near Gurin. He took the villages, and more Fulbe leaders and new soldiers came to his side.
Shortly afterwards, word came that his mentor, Usman had declared a Jihad against the Hausa, and had won great victories in Gobir and Kebbi, and was preparing to attack Borno. Fulani leaders in the Guringa region gathered and sent Adama at the head of a delegation to visit Usman and find out if the Jihad was real or not. They met Usman at Gwandu and learned of his intention to extend the Jihad into Fumbina and Guringa, and convert the pagans there, while protecting the Muslims. Usman then gave Adama his blessings to lead this holy mission and spread Islam from Fumbina to Guringa to the Bight of Biafra. Adama was also given the power to appoint new commanders of men he found worthy.
Adama immediately began recruiting Fulani and Hausa fighters, mainly cavalry. He forbade them to pillage or to kill indiscriminately, but enemy nations were given one choice: convert to Islam and become a tributary state.
The non-Fulani Muslims of Guringa largely rejected Adama’s jihad seeing it as an excuse to spread Fulani hegemony. Many Fulani leaders rejected his leadership because he was from a fairly humble background and owned little family wealth. Adama set up his headquarters at Gurin where Fulani warriors had regrouped after fighting the Bata in 1803. Adama then led his forces in a series of strikes on Bata settlements such as Pema, Tepa, and Turuwa. They won, and made the Bata slaves.
Adama then turned his attentions to the only major state in Fumbina that could present a threat to his fledgling emirate: Mandara. If he conquered Mandara, the road to Borno would be open for him. Moreover, the Mandara were already Muslims, though they also practised animism alongside Islam. Adama reached Guringa in 1809 and quickly conquered the Mandara settlement at Guider. Outside of the Mandara capital, Dulo, Adama demanded that the king, Bukar Djiama, swear his allegiance and convert to Islam. Bukar refused to yield his sovereignty, so Adama and his men took Dulo. Adama searched for someone to rule Dulo, but he found no one whom he felt adequate for the post. While he was prevaricating, the Mandara counter-attacked from nearby Mora. Adama fled Dulo and never conquered it again.
Adama’s early successes convinced more local Fulani leaders to come to his side. Many who opposed his political rule saw the jihad as an opportunity to expand their territories. However, pecuniary reasons such as these proved in due course to be an obstacle to Adama’s quest to build an empire.
Following the initial campaigns, Adama spent most of his time in his new capital, Yola. He named his new empire after himself, Adamawa, and ruled the empire subordinate only to Usman dan Fodio in Sokoto. Adama did his restructuring with Usman’s advice and built an understanding between his people and their rulers. The empire eventually took on three administrative tiers. At the centre was the emir al-Mu’minin (“commander of the faithful”), Adama himself, ruling from Yola and answering only to Usman dan Fodio in Sokoto. A contingent of councillors and administrators directly aided him, and a household staff of non-Fulbe and slaves doubled as his bodyguard.
The supporters whom Adama could count on the most, were the common folk who were inspired by one of their own rising to the top. For his most trusted commoners, Adama created a new position: Lamido, and he placed each Lamido in charge of a region within his empire. By the time he died, he had appointed over 40 Lamido. Under them were a number of villages, each headed by a village chief.
Under Adama’s rule, education flourished, as new converts learned Arabic writing and studied the Qur’an. Trade flourished, and communications with it. Adamawa became more sparsely populated after Adama’s conquest because rather than fight the Fulani invaders, many peoples fled, displacing others in turn. The Adamawa Plateau, once home to many ethnic groups, soon became a huge grazing reserve, and the forest region of what would become Nigeria and Cameroon became more heavily populated.
The Adamawa Empire covered an area from Lake Chad to Banyo and was inhabited by almost two million people. Further expansion to the south had proved difficult and undesirable since the presence of the tsetse fly and thick jungle made cattle rearing difficult there. However, trade between the Fulani and these peoples along the River Benue flourished until colonisation. Modibo Adama died in 1847 and his son Muhammadu Lawal became Lamido of Adamawa. The empire was not to last as not long after Muhammadu Lawal ascended the throne, the British and Germans came around with the Maxim gun. Today’s #HistoryClass is over.
Cheta Nwanze is a journalist and IT professional. He tweets from @Chxta.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.