THE MAHDI FROM NUPELAND: SHEHU ABDURRAHMAN SHARIF BALARABE GBAJI
Introduction of Islam to KinNupe
We have been told over and over again by revisionist historians, starting from the days of colonial historians working under the payroll of the Indirect Rule administration of Frederick Lugard the Anti-Nupe, that Islam was first introduced to KinNupe by Mallam Dendo sent by Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo to KinNupe. This, of course, is a capital and blatant lie.
Mallam Dendo was not the person who introduced Islam to KinNupe. Neither was Mallam Dendo sent by Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo to come and Islamise KinNupe. Mallam Dendo arrived KinNupe in the first decade of the 19th century but by then Islam had been in KinNupe since the 12th century, that is, some seven solid centuries before the birth of Mallam Dendo!
Yes, Islam was first introduced to KinNupe somewhere around the second half of the 12th, if not the 11th, century. It was the Nupe Wangara long-distance traders, shuttling between KinNupe and the ancient Ghana empire of today’s southern Mauritania and north-western Mali, who first brought Islam to KinNupe.
So, KinNupe became fully Islamised a long time before any other part of ancient Nigeria. It was from KinNupe that Nupe Islamic missionaries spread Islam to all other parts of ancient Nigeria.
KinNupe was always the religious centre and spiritual heartbeat of ancient Nigeria. Before the advent of Islam the ancient Nupe religion of Sara and the ancient Nupe spiritualism of Eba both got exported from KinNupe to other parts of ancient Nigeria. So, when Islam arrived KinNupe it is not surprising that Nupe missionaries started spreading Islam to all other parts of ancient Nigeria.
Islam got to KinNupe in the latter half of the 12th century and half a century or so later we started seeing the Etsu Nupes themselves converting to Islam. In those days the Ghana empire was on the decline and the Mali empire was on the rise and the Etsu Nupes had witnessed the international powers of Islam in the rise and fall of empires. The Etsu Nupes therefore saw in Islam a powerful tool for the building of their own Nupe empire.
The successive Etsu Nupes did not only convert to Islam but also did all they could to establish their own indigenous Islamic caliphate here in KinNupe. A Nupe Islamic Caliphate was a necessary step towards the building of a world power Nupe empire that could eclipse the likes of Ghana and Mali in power.
The palaces and throne cities of the Etsu Nupes became, in a sense, Jihad camps where Islamic revolutionary Mallams are accommodated and afforded the privileges and conditions to struggle for the establishment of a Nupe Caliphate. This subsequently led to an influx of Jihadists and Muslim missionaries from all parts of the outside world, but particularly from North Africa and Arabia, to the Etsu Nupe palaces.
The Young Abdurahman Muhammadu Balarabe Sharif
So was it that one Muhammadu Sharif Balarabe, an Arab from North Africa or Arabia, came to KinNupe to be patronised by the Etsu Nupes. After years at the Etsu Nupe palaces Muhammadu Sharif Balarabe eventually retired to the village of Gbaji somewhere in the vicinity of present-day Agaie.
Muhammadu Sharif Balarabe was married to a Nupe woman who, at Gbaji, gave birth to a son called Abdurrahman. This half-caste son, Abdurrahman Muhammad Sharif, born in the year 1756, is known to Nupe history today as Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji Tsatsa.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji is one of the greatest Islamic scholars ever produced by Africa. He was from the village of Gbaji somewhere around the Agaie area in present-day Niger State.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji’s father was Sharif Balarabe, an Arab who is said to have come from Arabia somewhere from the Middle East or North America. In those days Arabian and other Islamic scholars were coming from Arabia and other parts of the world to KinNupe to participate in the Islamic Revolution that was then ongoing in KinNupe. That was how Sharif Balarabe also ended up in KinNupe.
Sharif Balarabe eventually settled down at the village of Gbaji near today’s Agaie. It was at Gbaji that he married the Nupe woman who was to become the mother to Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was an half-caste; half Arab and half Nupe since his father was an Arab while his mother was a Nupe woman.
They said he had the ‘bikun’ or ‘bikungi’ Nupe tribal mark on his face.
Abdurrahman Muhammad Sharif actually grew up under the care of his mother and his maternal grandfather as is father was variously said to have left back to Arabia or to have died not long after the birth of the child.
The traditions are that the young Abdurrahman Gbaji attended several Islamic schools and studied under great Islamic scholars in various Nupe towns including most famously at Agaie, Cetukpan and Ebugi.
Abdurrahman Muhammad Sharif was said to have exhibited precocious intelligence and wisdom. Tradition even credited him with a number of spiritual miracles even at a young age.
In fact there are traditions, extant to this day among the Nupe people of Bida, to the effect that the young Abdurrahman Muhammadu Sharif Balarabe once surprised everybody when he recited the Qur’an off-hand or off-head before his teachers at Ebugi who were supposed to teach him the recitation of the Holy Qur’an.
The traditions are also that the very young Abdurrahman Muhammadu even at that tender age was already a prodigy when it came to the various aspects of the Islamic knowledge including in Kalam, Fiqh, Balagha, etc, etc.
The Early Years
Abdurrahman Muhammadu Balarabe Gbaji grew up to become a most learned Islamic scholar of unrivaled attaienments in KinNupe. Being an half-caste Arab he immediately became famous as a direct descendant of the Holy Prophet Muhammad. His father, the Arab man who came from Arabia, categorically maintained that he is a direct descendant of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
In any case Abdurrahman Muhammadu Sharif Balarabe was undoubted gifted hen it comes to Islamic scholarship and scholastism and this remarkable gifts made him the most famous and reputable Islamic scholar in the KinNupe of those days.
Before long the immense fame of Abdurrahman Gbaji transformed him into the symbol of the Islamic revolution in KinNupe. But Islam posed a great and real political threat to the Etsu Nupes of those days, this most especially the case considering the fact that Islam was seriously implicated in the crisis rocking the Nupe Nation in those very days when Etsu Mu’azu introduced the Islamic patrilineal system of succession in breach of the traditional Nupe culture of matrilineal succession to the royal throne.
Actually Etsu Mu’azu’s introduction of the patrilineal system of succession of Islam made Abdurrahman Gbaji the Islamic scholar supported Etsu Mu’azu.
In the end Etsu Mu’azu invited Abdurrahman Gbaji to come and preach to him at his palace. But when Abdurrahman Gbaji got to the palace and started preaching he preached against some un-Islamic practices of Etsu Mu’azu. This angered Etsu Mu’azu who arrested and attempted to kill Abdurrahman Gbaji. But Abdurrahman Gbaji escaped and became a bitter opponent of the rulership of Etsu Mu’azu.
In the ensuing clashes and crises between Etsu Mu’azu and Abdurrahman Gbaji the latter became a public and national figure of great significance in political and royal circles. It was also this attempt on his life by the reigning Etsu Mu’azu and his consequent rise to national fame that gradually convinced Abdurrahman Gbaji that he need to wage a KinNupe-wide Islamic Jihad in order to establish Islam as the official and formal state religion of the Nupe Nation.
That as how Abdurrahman Gbaji gradually became a militant, and in fact Jihadist, political figure in KinNupe. As he was sought after by the forces of Etsu Mu’azu for elimination he built his own military force from the scratch into a formidable Jihadist force.
In any case Etsu Mu’azu died around that time in 1795 and was succeeded by Etsu Mamman. This Etsu Mamman tried to unified KinNupe by all means. He was an amiable and affable person and his approach was to appease all parties as much as possible. He tried to calm down the embittered Abdurrahman Gbaji.
But Etsu Mamman suddenly died a year later, just a year into his reign.
Etsu Mamman was succeeded by Etsu Jimada. But Etsu Jimada was bitterly opposed by his nephew Majiya who declared himself a rival Etsu Nupe when Etsu Jimada appointed his on son as the heir apparent or Shaba in a patrilineal Islamic manner instead of appointing his new Majiya as the Shaba or heir apparent according to the traditional Nupe matrilineal system of royal succession.
In all these, and all these while, Abdurrahman Gbaji was busy thinking of his plans to transform KinNupe into an Islamic state through a military Jihad campaign.
Emergence of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was among the first to seriously come up with the idea of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in West Africa with KinNupe as the headquarters.
The truth of the matter is that this idea of transforming KinNupe into the West African Caliphate had been around for quite sometime even before the time of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji; but Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was the first to come really close to making it a reality.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was a revolutionary by all standards. His ideas and ambitions were way beyond his times. He had the immediate foresight and vision to see that the Islamic caliphacy of West Africa was gradually shifting base from the west to the east along the West African Coast; from Ghana through Songhai to Mali the capital of the West African Caliphate was gradually shifting base or ‘migrating’ towards KinNupe the original homeland of Ghana, Mali and Songhai.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji emerged as the leading and paramount Islamic scholar in KinNupe at a time that two furtutious factors were around to raise him to the pinnacles of both Islamic and historical powers. First, KinNupe was extremely fertile for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate at that particular time and, secondly, the Nupe Nation was on verge of shattering into a failed state at that particular time.
The Nupe Nation shattered into two at the death of Etsu Mamman in 1779 and by the 1780s there emerged two rivaled claimants to the Etsuship throne – two Tsoede dynasts fighting over the same throne of the Etsu Nupe that have always been occupied by one person since the days of Tsoede himself.
The result was that the Nupe Nation was divided into two kingdoms with a Western Nupe Kingdom headquatered at Zugurma and headed by Etsu Majiya and an Eastern Nupe Kingdom headquarterd at Gbara and Zhima and headed by Etsu Jimada.
Research workers, including Professor Leo Frobenius, have emphasized that the Islamic factor was the major and paramount factor that led to the division and subsequent fall of the Nupe Nation in the latter half of the 18th century. Professoe Leo Frobenius categorically pointed out that it was the introduction of the patrilineal system of succession to the royal throne by Etsu Mu’azu in the 1750s that led to the cataclysmic disruption of the age-old matrilineal system of the ancient Nupe culture and which eventually resulted in the division and fall of the Tsoedean dynasty in particular and the Nupe Nation in general.
This division of the Nupe Nation into two rival kingdoms greatly weakened the traditional power and authority of the Etsu throne and actually led to the intensification of the Islamic revolution in KinNupe. It paved the way for the emergence of powerful Islamic missionaries and Jihadists in the likes of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji.
In any case Abdurrahman Sharif Gbaji, by then in his early thirties, immediately became famous as an Islamic scholar and was soon patronised by the Etsu Nupes who are always on the look-out for famous Islamic scholars. He was successively recruited as an Islamic divine by a number of Etsu Nupes who succeeded one another.
In the beginning Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji appeared independently with the claim and mission to ride KinNupe of heathen religionism and paganism and to not only transform KinNupe into a Sharia enclave but to actually establish KinNupe into the new Islamic Caliphate of West Africa after the successive collapse of the Islamic caliphacy in Ghana, Songhai, and Mali.
Starting with Mokwa as his base in the 1810 to 1812 period, Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji suddenly initiated a vigorous campaign of Islamic Jihad aimed at conquering the whole of KinNupe into his ‘Mokwa Caliphate’ or ‘Nupe Caliphate’.
In those days Mokwa was a regional capital of the Nupe Nation. Mokwa was one of the greatest capital cities of KinNupe in those days. Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji therefore chose Mokwa as the place to launch or inaugurate his Jihad. This stratagem was actually aimed at launching the Jihad against Etsu Nyikako who was one of the most powerful claimants to the Etsu Nupe throne in those days. Etsu Nyikako had Mokwa as one of his capitals and Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji launched his Jihad at Mokwa against Etsu Nyikako.
But Etsu Nyikako counter-attacked Shahu Abdurrahman Gbaji and actually defeated the Shehu. Etsu Nyikako then decided that he is going to completely root Islam out of KinNupe. Etsu Nyikako then inititated a series of raids and petty battles against Muslims anywhere he could find them in KinNupe.
However, after recouping and reorganizing, Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji launched another attack against Etsu Nyikako and, this time around, defeated and killed Etsu Nyikako.
It was in those days that he became famously known as the ‘Shehu’ as Shehu Abdurrahman Tsatsa. The epithet ‘Tsatsa’ is the Nupe word for holy so that in English it will translate as ‘The Holy Shehu Abdurrahman’.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji and Etsu Jimada
But then, and as we have mentioned before, the zenith of Abdurrahman Sharif’s career came about at a critical and watershed period in Nupe history. It was in those days in the 1770s and 1780s when the Nupe Nation had split into two rival kingdoms of the Eastern and Western Nupe kingdoms respectively headed by Etsu Jimada at Gbara and Zhima and Etsu Majiya II at Zugurma.
With his revolutionary ideas and indepth grasp of Islamic theology Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was patronised by Etsu Jimada. This was at a time when the Etsu Nupes were coming to see the advantage of using political Islam for the benefit of their kingdoms.
Instead of condemning or even fighting Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, Etsu Jimada was apt enough to see that Islam was the new world order of KinNupe that any traditional Nupe establishment that wanted to survive in those days must reckon with the power of Islam. That was why Etsu Jimada eventually came to broach the idea of aligning with Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji in a grand Islamic strategy to empower his Western Nupe Kingdom against the Eastern Nupe Kingdom of his rival Etsu Majiya.
The plan was for Etsu Jimada and Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to establish a superpower Nupe Caliphate that will have the entire Central Sudan, that is, present-day Nigeria and its neighbouring countries, under a West Africa-wide Islamic dispensation. Etsu Jimada was to be the temporal head and Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was to be the spiritual head of this superpower Nupe Caliphate.
This was, as we have mentioned before, all at a time that Etsu Jimada and Etsu Majiya were locked in a vicious power struggle for the Etsu Nupe throne. The interesting sideline here is that this vicous tussle for the throne of the Nupe Nation was centred around the Islamic question vis a vis the Nupe Nation. Etsu Jimada was the Islamic proponent who even had the great Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji by his side while his rival Etsu Majiya was the Nupe culturalist. While Etsu Jimada was out to Islamize the Nupe Nation Etsu Majiya was out to root Islam out of the Nupe Nation.
Etsu Jimada who was ruling over the Western half of the Nupe Nation was the Islamic revolutionary while Etsu Majiya who was ruling over the Eastern half of the Nupe Nation was bent on restoring the Nupe Nation to its original pre-Islamic cultures.
But so pervasive was the influence and power of political Islam on the Nupe Nation in those days that even Etsu Majiya too had mobilized some group of Mallams around himself too. So, Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji didn’t lack his own bitter enemies in the form of other Mallams – including Man Musa Kodogi, Mallam Dendo, Man Mansun Nyikanko, Mallam Babba, Mallam Ibrahim, etc, etc – who were at the palace of the rival Etsu Majiya.
In fact Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was initially with Etsu Majiya but it was the envy and jealousy of the other Mallams that drove him to the other side of Etsu Jimada. And with his change to the Etsu Jimada side Etsu Jimada began to gain an upper hand over Etsu Majiya due to the great popularity and spiritual dexterity of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji.
It was said that Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was originally at the court of Etsu Majiya II; but that the jealousy, envy and animosity of other Mallams at the Majiya palace forced him to change sides to the rival Etsu Jimada’s palace. Other older Mallams, including prominently Mallam Dendo, Mallam Babba and Man Musa Kodogi, were bitterly complaining as to why Etsu Majiya II favoured the young Abdurrahman Gbaji over them.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was favourably received by Etsu Jimada. Again at the Jimada palaces at Gbara and Zhima Shehu Abdurrahman became the central figure. Etsu Jimada came to depend completely on Shehu Abdurrahman’s Islamic knowledge, asiri magical spiritualism and Jihad warfare of conquests and slave raids.
Most especially Etsu Jimada was using Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to fight countless battles of conquests in the name of Jihad. The two, Etsu Jimada and Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, came into an alliance for the establishment of a Nupe Caliphate with Etsu Jimada as the temporal head and Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji as the spiritual head of the Nupe Caliphate.
The dream and vision of Etsu Jimada and Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was to establish a superpower Nupe Caliphate that will rule over the whole of the Central Sudan, that is, today’s Nigeria and its neighbour. To this end Etsu Jimada gave Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji all the military, financial and otherwise powers that the latter needed.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji began a KinNupe-wide Jihad of conquests and battles. He will engage a town or settlement in a battle, conquer it and convert the inhabitants to Islam. He was gradually demarcating a Nupe Caliphate geopolitically as he included all conquered territories in the Nupe Caliphate he was gradually building. As he was doing this he became famous and notorious both at the same time.
As Shehu Abdurrahman trotted around the Eastern half of the Nupe Nation under the control of Etsu Jimada he eventually set up a base at Mokwa not far away from the border with the Etsu Majiya II-controlled Western half of the Nupe Nation. With his gargantuan army of Jihadist warriors Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji instantaneously transformed Mokwa from a small sleepy caravan village into a big and influential town.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji became famous as the Mahdi that Prophet Muhammad said will come and spread and re-establish Islam in latter times. The fame and repute of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji spread far and wide as the Mahdi and people came from far and wide to pay their homage to him and to join his army of followers. It was in that context that Captain Hugh Clapperton who visited KinNupe just a couple of years after the death of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, recorded that the Nupe Nation as virtually overwhelmed by the Jihadist enterprise of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji in his heydays.
In any case so famous did Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji became in those days that the fame of Shehu Abdurrahman began to eclipse that of Etsu Jimada himself.
The Sokoto Jihad Factor
It so happened that at that time a bunch of Fulani Jihadists headed by a certain Usmanu Dan Fodiyo were facing serious persecution in the hand of the Hausa and Gobirawa kings. These Fulani Jihadists then sent to their overlord, Etsu Jimada, for help. In those days the Rima Valleys of today’s Sokoto were under the territorial sovereignty of the Etsu Nupes.
What most people are not aware of today is that the whole of the place we call Hausaland today used to be a colony under the sovereignty of the Etsu Nupes in very ancient times. In fact Leo Africanus categorically documented the fact that as recent as the 16th century the whole of Hausaland was actually known as Gara Nupeland.
Well, and in any case, the place where we have the general Sokoto area today – that is today’s Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and neighbouring states combined – used to be part and parcel of KinNupe before and they were actually colonies administered by the Etsu Nupes such that all the people of Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara and their neighbours used to come down to the Etsu Nupes for help whenever they have any problem or are in any trouble. And it is on this note that a small band of Toronkawa Fulanis headed by a certain Usmanu Dan Fodiyo came from the Rima Valleys of Sokoto to seek for Etsu Jimada’s assistance.
These Fulani Jihadists headed by Usmanu Dan Fodiyo came to Etsu Jimada for assistance in their recognition of the fact that they, and the entire people of the Sokoto general area, are subject people to the overall sovereighty of the Etsu Nupes in those days.
Etsu Jimada decided to help the Fulani Jihadists against the Gorbirawa and Hausa kings.
Etsu Jimada sent Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to the rescue of the Fulani Jihadists.
Etsu Jimada immediately saw an opportunity for, at least a temporary, dousing of the dangerously increasing fame and power of Shehu bdurrahman Gbaji in KinNupe: he asked Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to extend his Jihad and Caliphate-building warfare of conquests up north unto the Rima valleys, of today’s Sokoto, and in the process to deliver the Fulani Mallams from the hands of the Gobirawa and Hausa kings.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji also had the mandate of building a mini-Islamic caliphate or an emirate in the Rima valleys as a preparatory step in the eventual establishment of the superpower Nupe Caliphate or Mokwa Caliphate that Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji and Etsu Jimada had in mind.
The Sokoto emirate to be established by Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was simply going to be just one out of many other smaller emirates that Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was already setting up and establishing in various parts of KinNupe in those days.
Even before the coming of the Fulani Jihadists for help at Etsu Jimada’s palace, Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, in conjunction with Etsu Jimada, have already founded and established quite a number of mini-caliphates and emirates in various parts of KinNupe in preparation for the eventual merger of all these little caliphates and emirates into the overall Mokwa Calpihate that would have been the Nupe Caliphate to rule over the whole of ancient Nigeria and beyond, that is the Central Sudan. By that time Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji had already established transformed Nupe towns including Dabban, Yeti, Labozhi and Mokwa into mini-Islamic emirates all of which are expected to one day coalesced into the almighty Mokwa Caliphate or Nupe Emirate that both Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji and Etsu Jimada were working on.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji obligingly embarked on a northward extension of his Jihad conquests. As he gradually moved northward out of KinNupe proper unto the Rima valleys he conquered one town and people after the other and thereby converting them to Islam and adding their towns and settlements to his ever expanding Nupe Caliphate territory.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji left KinNupe with a large force of Islamic Jihad mercenaries and as he moved northward to the Rima valleys he fought Jihad wars and converted more villages, towns and cities into emirates and small caliphates that will be added to the fold of the Nupe Caliphate he was building.
When Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji eventually got to the Rima Valleys he defeated the Gobirawas at the famous and decisive Battle of Tabkin Kwatto. Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji sacked the Gobir capital of Alkalawa and that brought to an end the historical kingdom of the Gobirawas.
The Fulani Jihadists under Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo have been fighting the Gobirawas for a decade without any measure of success but Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji came and defeated the Gobirawas in a single battle.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji also founded and built the city of Sokoto for the Fulani Jihadists. Before the coming of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji there was no Sokoto town – it was Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, the Nupe man, who built Sokoto into a town and a capital for the Fulani Jhadists who were before then just a band of marauding missionaries running away from the Gobir and Hausa kings.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji deliberately built Sokoto as a Nupe town near the ancient remains of a fort built in the 1290s by Tsudi (Tsoede) the Founder of Nupe. Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji came and established Sokoto into a mini caliphate to be part of the overall Nupe Caliphate that he was in the process of building.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji the Mahdi
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji became extremely famous and popular among the Fulani Jihadists under Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo. The Fulani Jihadist just couldn’t believe their eyes the manner in which Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, the Nupe man, came and obtained for them the decisive victory that have eluded them for over a decade of fighting and preaching among the Gobirs and the Hausas. The remarkable manner in which Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji came and made the Fulani Jihadists victorious and also established Sokoto for them as an ex-cathedral city made the Fulani Jihadists began to think that Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji is not only a Wali but also the promised Mahdi both the Prophet Muhammad and Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo had prophesized about.
Even Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo himself referred to Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji as his master and teacher. The fact is that Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo, and many other Jihadists and Islamic missionaries in those days, have always looked up to Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji as the greatest and most learned Islamic scholar in the Central Sudan.
Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo had deliberately gone to Etsu Jimada to lobby for Etsu Jimada to allow Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to come and help them in the Sokoto Rima Valleys over the Gobir and Hausas because Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo looked up to Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji the Nupe man as his mentor and spiritual head. In fact Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo, to the day he died, remained a diehard student and disciple of Shehu Abdurrahman the Nupe man.
Even when Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji the Nupe man was with the Fulani Jihadists at the Sokoto Rima Valleys, Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo always kneel before the Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji’s sheepskin or goathide mat to receive spiritual lessons and learn Islam from his mentor Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji.
Alhaji Saidu Madaki, in his ‘Nupes and Their Neighbours’, and many other researchers and workers, have discussed this interesting but now largely forgotten mentorship of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji the Nupe man to Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo.
In any case Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji became extremely popular and famous among the Fulani Jihadists.
But the fame and popularity of Shehu Abdurrahman gradually became a source of crisis and tension for Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo.
First it was Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo, the more religious brother of Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo, who complained bitterly that the Nupe man Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji have come and relegated him and his brother to the background. In fact Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo left the Fulani Jihadist movement in protest.
With the arrival, victory and extreme fame and popularity of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji the Nupe man among the Fulani Jihadists, the leaders of the Fulani Jihad movement became seconday and rather irrelevant in the midsts of their own Fulani compatriots. People like Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo and Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo were gradually being sidelined in favour of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji the Nupe man who had then become extremely popular among the Fulani Jihadists.
This, of course, didn’t go down well with the leaders among the Fulani Jihadists. After complaining bitterly over and over again of being sidelined, Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo simply left the Fulani Jihad movement and began to criticize his brother Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo for allowing the Nupe man Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to come and take over the Jihad from them.
Then, and secondly, there was also the Mahdi problem. Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo had initially preached to his followers that the Mahdi mentioned by Prophet Muhammed will be coming from KinNupe to save them. Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo had always told his followers that the Mahdi was going to be a Nupe-Arabian man. And when Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, whose mother was Nupe while is father was an Arab direct from the genealogical line of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, arrived with his miraculous successes and victories, the Fulani Jihadists became convinced that he was the prophetic Mahdi mentioned in the Hadith traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
The Fulanis have been fighting the Gobirawas for years without any success so Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji’s easy defeat of the Gobirawas at Tabkin Kwatto instantly raised the fame of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji as the Gausu’l Zaman to the skies.
To make matters worse Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo have actually been informing his disciples that the Mahdi will be coming from KinNupe to establish Islam and wipe out Kufr for them in the Rima Valleys. Now the followers of Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo saw that promised Mahdi in the person of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji who came from KinNupe and who was a direct descendant of the Holy Prophet himself. People began to revere, and even worship, Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji as the Gausu’l Zaman and as the Promised Mahdi.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji’s fame as the Promised Mahdi skyrocketed further when he built and establish Sokoto as an ex cathedral city for the Fulanis. Before then the Fulanis have just been wandering about without a permanent base but Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji the Nupe man came and built Sokoto for them as a permanently base.
Even Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo revered Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji. Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo kept on referring to Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji as his teacher and master.
But Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo was not happy with the manner in which Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji’s fame and popularity came to overshadow theirs. Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo was further saddened when he realised that his brother Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo will not agree with him. Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo was said to have had a particular altercation with Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo whereby the former was said to have told the latter that the latter seemed to have deliberately invited Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to Degel and Sokoto in order to demean and disgrace him, Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo, who used to be rated as the greatest Islamic scholar among the Fulanis before the coming of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji the Nupe man.
So, one day while returning from a Jihad battle, Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo simply refused to come back to Sokoto. He left his brother Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo in protest over the issue of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji.
Albeit by this time even Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo was already coming to realise the danger and threat in the snowballing fame of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji. Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo therefore eventually begged Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to return back to KinNupe.
It then became virtually impossible for Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo to control this riotous and mercenary collection of half-baked Fulani Islamic mercenaries who began to see a supernatural saint or Wali in Shehu Abdurrahman the Nupe man.
With all these problems Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo eventually, at the town of Degel, begged and finally persuaded Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to go back to KinNupe since he, Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, have successfully completed his mission of founding and establishing the Sokoto mini-caliphate for the Fulani Jihadists.
At last Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji left Sokoto and came back to KinNupe. Unfortunately by the time Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji left Sokoto the leaders of the Sokoto Jihad, most especially Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo, have blacklisted Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji as an enviable opponent to be opposed and possibly eliminated.
The Fall of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji
But Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji came back to KinNupe to discover that his patron, Etsu Jimada, had been killed by the latter’s enemies. Deprived of his political godfather, Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji became politically handicapped and his marvellous idea of establishing a Nupe Caliphate or Mokwa Caliphate suffered a death-blow.
By the time Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji arrived KinNupe his patron Etsu Jimada have been killed by his rival Etsu Majiya II at the disastrous Battle of Ragada.
The death of Etsu Jimada was a deathblow to the Jihad enterprise of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji. Now he was left with no military, financial and moral support from any Etsu Nupe. From then on Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji himself became more or less an handicapped fugitive in the same KinNupe that he once upon a time virtually ruled over.
First it was a viciously bloodthirsty Etsuship contender in the person of Etsu Man Mansun Nyikanko who stalked and pestered Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji around. With less than five thousand Jihadist warriors Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji’s weakened and disillusioned army was no match for the gargantuan army of Etsu Man Mansun Nyikanko whose army was said to have included a cavalry of over thirty-two thousand heavily armed warriors apart from the far larger infantry!
The fugitive Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, running away from the gargantuan army of Etsu Man Mansun Nyikanko at Kodangi, went and took refuge at the small village of Kere. Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji’s plan was to bid time while he built Kere into a fortified town from which he will then launch attacks on his enemies and opponents.
But hardly have Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji settled down in the village of Kere than his old-time enemies in the form of Etsu Majiya II and his Mallams, including Mallam Dendo, Mallam Babba and Man Musa Kodogi, came upon him at Kere.
The Fulani Mallams headed by Mallam Dendo have always been Shehus Abdurrahman Gbaji’s bitter enemies even before he left for Sifawa to help Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo and to establish Sokoto as an emirate for the Fulani Jihadists. In the absence of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, however, and following the killing of Etsu Jimada at Ragada, the Fulani Jihadists headed by Mallam Dendo have gained prominence in KinNupe.
When Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji came back from Sokoto he immediately realized that the Fulani Jihadists have become the de facto power in KinNupe and that Etsu Majiya was merely a de jure power. Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji immediately warned the Nupe people of a Fulani takeover of the Nupe Nation unless the Nupe people rise up against the Fulani usurpers. Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji warned that only a Nupe Caliphate will solve the problems of the Nupe Nation and that the success of a Fulani Jihad will only lead to the imposition of a Fulani power over the Nupe people.
All these warnings from Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji of course made the Fulani Mallams under Mallam Dendo only more resolute in their determination to eliminate Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji and his Nupe Jihad.
In those days the Sokoto emirate founded by Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was already growing rapidly into a caliphate and was already divided into a Sokoto and Gwandu administrative headquarters with the Gwandu headquarters headed by Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo who was a bitter enemy of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji.
It was to this Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo at his Gwandu headquarters that Mallam Dendo and other Mallams who were the sworn enemies of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji sought for help in terms of additional military reinforcement in order to attack the then helpless Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji who was already besieged in the small village of Kere by the vicious Etsu Man Mansun Nyikanko.
Interestingly enough the Sokoto Caliphate was itself, and at time, rather confused about the case of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji for while the Sokoto half of the Sokoto Caliphate actually sent armies to help Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji fight Etsu Manmansun Nyikanko, the Gwandu half of the Sokoto Caliphate sent armies to help the Mallam Dendo forces fight against Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji.
It is quite interesting to note that when Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji came back to KinNupe he was under attack by not only his enemies in KinNupe but also by the enemies he had made back at Gwandu. Shehu Abdullahi Fodiyo manipulated things in such a manner to ensure that the full weight of the Gandu half of the Sokoto Caliphate came to bear on ensuring that Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji fail in his bid to establish the Mokwa Caliphate or Nupe Caliphate. It was already obvious to the Gwandu authorities that a successful Mokwa Caliphate or Nupe Caliphate by Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji will not only spitefully destroy Gwandu but might as well eliminate the Sokoto Caliphate that had become an open rival to the Mokwa Caliphate or Nupe Caliphate.
All these explain why the Sokoto Caliphate, especially the Gwandu headquarters to which the Mallams in KinNupe under Mallam Dendo pledged their allegiance, eventually came to subtly participated in the eventual liquidation of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji. In fact Mallam Dendo and his descendants came to pride themselves in having obtained their flag of the Jihad from the Gwandu half of the Sokoto under Shehu Abdullahi Dan Fodiyo who came to fully support Mallam Dendo against Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji.
Traditions have it that Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was murdered by the combined forces of Etsu Majiya and his Mallams under Mallam Dendo while Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was praying at the market place of the village of Kere.
It was said that Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji was actually beheaded by the children of Mallam Dendo, abetted by the forces of Etsu Majiya and the Gandu forces, and in fact it was Audu Gboya, one of the eldest sons of Mallam Dendo, who carried the severed head of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji to Raba.
And with the death of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji came to an unfortunate end the enterprise of the establishment of the Nupe Caliphate, the greatest Islamic Caliphate that West Africa would have ever witnessed in historical times.
After the demise of the Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji there was no Mallam left with the remarkable personality to establish a Central Sudan-wide Nupe Caliphate. Instead the remaining Mallams ended up setting up puny Islamic emirates all over KinNupe. Mallam Dendo founded the Raba Emirate which was to become the Bida Emirate of latter times; Mallam Babba founded the Agaie Emirate; Mallam Maliki and his brother Manzuma founded the Lafiagi Emirate; Daudu Maza founded Lapai Emirate; etc, etc. The Nupe emirates of Patigi, Tsonga and Tsaragi also came up in rapid successions.
With the death of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji came about the death of the issue of establishing KinNupe into a superpower Islamic Caliphate of the whole of Africa south of the Sahara. None of his rivals could even attempt such a bold step. Instead they all started establishing weak and mini emirates – Bida emirate, Agaie emirate, Lapai emirate, Lafiagi emirate, etc, etc – that were eventually overshadowed by the Sokoto caliphate that Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji the Nupe man founded, built and established for the Fulani Jihadists of Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo.
Furthermore, it was with the collapse of the idea of the Nupe Caliphate of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji that the Sokoto Caliphate got the chance to rise to prominence.
Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji, the Nupe man, have initially founded and established the Sokoto Caliphate as a satellite emirate for his overall Nupe Caliphate but his sudden death left the Sokoto emirate, under the remarkable personality of Shehu Usmanu Dan Fodiyo, with no option than to grow into a Caliphate that eventually sallowed up the little and weak emirates founded by the enemies of Shehu Abdurrahman Gbaji back here in KinNupe.