Education in the Sokoto Caliphate

The area that constitutes the present day Sokoto State predates the creation of Nigeria, the Sokoto Caliphate, the Gobir Kingdom, and the Songhai or Kebbi Kingdom of Muhammad Kotal Kanta. The area rather had witnessed the wanderings and crisscrossing of Stone-age man as recorded by Basil Davidson and Garba Nadama in their various sources. Perhaps, the full account of the civilization that had developed in this part of the world could be fully grasped if the works of heinrich Barth are fully read, in conjunction with that of the great Arabs and Berbers travelers of Western Sudan. This civilization existed as early as 500AD and up to 1500AD, and its Central activity was that of acquiring Islamic knowledge and History.

This civilization brought about the appearance of the Great Kingdom of Kanta of Kebbi and the subsequent Hausa-City states and later, the Sokoto Caliphate. The Sokoto Caliphate saw to the emergence for the first time of a qualitative Political Arrangement that witnessed the development of a central governance structure with flag bearers controlling the units of the confederation. Education was not centrally organized in the Sokoto polity, so also were other areas of human endeavours. Every confederating unit was allowed to evolve its’ own organizations.

Modern Education in the Sokoto Caliphate

Sokoto town as the seat of the caliphate was built by Sultan Muhammad Bello, who was son to Sheikh Usman bin Fodio, the leader of the Sokoto Jihad of 1804. Both the father and son were indigenous scholars of Sokoto civilization. The Caliphate extended to the present day Nigerian fringes along the borders of the Republic of Niger, the Cameroon’s, the Kanem Borno Empire (in the East), and the States of Oyo and Edo in the South Western Nigeria. This was no doubt an extensive polity with a diverse people in history and culture. The main activity in the town was reading and learning of the Glorious Qur’an and other Islamic scripts. Sokoto town therefore witnessed an influx of men and women from far and wide in the Western Sudan. In this context, Sokoto became a town with considerable Islamic influence just like Timbuktu, Gao and Djanne in Mali. It became a miniature West African Society. It was at this juncture the Caliphate capital was conquered by the invading British colonial army in 1903, about 99 years after its inception. Sokoto’s conquest was not a surprise to the scholars as it has been predicted that the caliphate would be conquered after 99 years. Perhaps, this prediction was informed by the reading of Ibn Kaldum’s Muqaddimah where he noted that every polity would emerge in thirty three years (period of conquest), exist for thirty three years (consolidation period), and disintegrate in thirty three years (period of decay).

In 1905, just two years after the conquest, major Burden opened a school in Sokoto, and sent six students from Sokoto to Hans Vischer’s school in Nasarawa, Kano in 1909. In 1913, the Kano Primary School graduated its first batch of students from 11 provinces created by the colonialists in the then Northern Nigeria. No doubt, Ibn Khaldum’s wheel of history had turned round, and Sokoto is by now not the capital of the extensive Sokoto caliphate, but for only Sokoto province which composed of Sokoto, Gwandu, Argungu and Yauri divisions. The tide of fortune had also turned around for Sokoto. Its huge population of Islamically educated people did not know what to do with the new form of education which they were sure did not come from their society.


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