Gladly and Gratefully Paying the Price


Aliyu A. Ammani


Some years ago I was on assignment in the south-west of Nigeria. During the period of the assignment I had course to discuss with my colleagues on some issues that I intend to share with the readers of this essay. What set the ball rolling was that part of my introduction where I mentioned that I am a Hausa man. “Real Hausa man or Fulani or Kanuri or …?” they asked. “Yes, Hausa 100% pure!” I responded. The key points of our discussion are captured in the following dialogue.


My Colleague: “As a Hausa man, how do you feel that your rulers or emirs are Fulani, they are the lords of the land, while you Hausas are merely their subjects?”


Yours Sincerely: “It was an accident of history that brought about Fulani rule in most of Hausa land.  The Fulani as a people did not fight or conquer the Hausas as a people. Shehu Usmanu Danfodiyo, the founder of what is now known as the Sokoto caliphate, was a Fulani born and bred in Hausa land. He was an Islamic scholar who, dissatisfied with the way Islam was practiced in Hausa land struggled to cleanse Islam in Hausa land of animist practices, superstitions and innovations. The Sokoto caliphate was a by-product of the Shehu’s struggle. The Shehu neither set out to establish a kingdom nor champion a Fulani agenda. He was a Mujaddid whose struggled was essentially to purify Islamic rituals and practices in Hausa land. His reward is with the Almighty Allah in whose sake he struggled. It is most unfair to the Shehu, for anyone, Fulani or otherwise, to view him as one who struggled for any reason other than Islamic. To refer to his jihad as Fulani jihad is to reduce him to a tribal chauvinist whose reward begins and end here on earth. The British conquered the Sokoto caliphate in 1903, and retain the caliphate’s structure under the British indirect rule policy. It is a modification of the caliphate’s structure that is still in existence in Hausa land today: Fulani rulers!


“You did not ask me but I will tell you that, in my opinion, the Sokoto jihad is the best thing that ever happened to Hausa: the land, the language and the people. First, it united the hitherto disunited Hausa states. Second, and perhaps most important, it made the Hausa language the de facto lingua-franca of the caliphate which spans beyond the boundaries of the original Hausa states. Consequently, when the colonialists came, and as a result of indirect rule, Hausa language gradually became, in practice, the language of policy and administration across the entire northern protectorate of Nigeria. Hence, Hausa language moved beyond the frontiers of the Sokoto caliphate into other parts of the then northern protectorate such as the defunct Borno Empire and the so-called middle belt region. Thus, the spread of the Hausa language received a great push. More and more people, especially European explorers and missionaries, became interested in, and committed to, studying and writing the Hausa language”.


My Colleague: “You see, I am Yoruba. In Yoruba language we have different dialects. If I speak in Yoruba language, everyone that knows Yoruba will understand. However, if I were to speak in my native dialect, not all Yoruba speakers can understand, only those that know my dialect. So even within Yoruba speaking peoples I can decide to speak my dialect with my townsman without others knowing what we are saying. But you Hausas, when you speak Hausa all those that speak Hausa will understand. How do you feel that you cannot discuss any secret with your brothers in public without a third party knowing?”


Yours Sincerely: “I feel grateful! That as a Hausa I cannot communicate with a fellow native Hausa in Hausa language without other Hausa speaking peoples understanding what we were saying is a price that we have to pay for the continuous advancement of the Hausa language beyond our traditional borders.


“We are paying the price for the services of those people, mainly non native Hausas, who promote and advance the frontiers of oral and literary aspects of the Hausa language beyond the wildest imaginations of our forebears. We are paying in the same way that the English people are paying for having different peoples across the world working to advance the frontiers of the English language. Remember the Yoruba man who won the Nobel Peace Prize for English literature? I bet that man has contributed more to the advancement of English literature than he does most native Englishmen.


“We are paying the price for the services of non native Hausas that contributed immensely in advancing the frontiers of oral Hausa through songs and performing arts. Musicians like Mamman Shata Katsina, Dangiwa Zuru, Audu Maibinjima, Taudo Inugu, Mamman Barka, Muhamman Gawo Dan-Filinge, Sani Sabulu Kanoma, Jimmy Sanni, Audu Farisco, Attine Jibo etc. Hausa drama with people like Kasimu Yero, Ali Nuhu, Sa’adatu Gidado (Daso) etc.


“We are paying the price for the services of non native Hausas, sometime non Africans that contributed enormously in pushing forward the frontiers of literary Hausa. Great men like George P. Bargery, Hanns Vischer, Neil Skinner, Abubakar Imam, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Aliyu Namangi, Shehu Shagari, Sa’adu Zungur etc.”


It is my opinion that the pre-jihad Hausa kings, and the entire Hausa people alone, could not have raised the Hausa language to its present status. Hausa is on the internet. Hausa is on satellite television. Hausa is on international radio. Hausa is a subject of study in universities across the globe. The credit for the advancement in the frontiers of the Hausa language goes to the good peoples that accept, adapt or adopt the language as their second or third language of communication. As a Hausa man, I remain grateful to all those who contributed, or are contributing, in pushing forward the frontiers of the Hausa language. We will gladly continue paying the price for the globalization of the Hausa language. Perhaps someday my grand children will visit a remote province of China and meet the people their happily conversing in the Hausa language.