Maiduguri 1907-2007: A century of excellence


Ahmad Usman Kollere


Nigeria, as a geographical entity is said to have more historic cultures and empires than any other nation-state in Africa . Perhaps, that was the reason why after Mungo Park, the celebrated Scottish voyager that died near Bussa in 1806, the British Imperial Government sponsored another expedition in 1821-23 through the Sahara. Hugh Clapperton accompanied by Richard Lander were mandated under this expedition to reach the Borno and Sokoto Empires. Clapperton was particularly said to be among the first Europeans to catch a glimpse of the Lake Chad before successfully stealing his way to Borno and to Sokoto through Kano. This was considered as the earliest contact between the Great Britain and people of Northern Nigeria after slave trade was abolished in 1807.


Maiduguri, the administrative capital of the erstwhile British Borno is today one of the two important seats of modern Kanem-Borno Empire. Without a doubt, the Kanem-Borno Empire is one of the only two historically organized states of Nigeria's Northern region. The other pair is the Sokoto Caliphate that was established by the Nineteenth Century Pullo reformer known as Shehu Usman Ibn Fodio (1754-1817). Like the Sokoto Caliphate, the Kanem-Borno Dynasty is equally among the most notable states in Africa that has flourished, wielded power and influenced its people for centuries.


This duo of state was culturally, religiously and intellectually structured long before the European infiltration. Their religion is incontestably Islam and their written and official language is noticeably Arabic. Due to their vast education, both domains were centers of learning and scholarship that have received world-wide accreditation. There exist the Ajami (the means by which the Arabic text is used to write in other languages) Islamic scripts in Fulfulde and Kanuri which indicates the fact that Islam is long-standing among these people. Thus, we may well understand that Borno and Sokoto are comparable but distinct historical entities in the African region. Many people in modern-day Nigeria underestimate the significance of the existence of incontestable pieces of evidence in the intellectual history of such states long before colonialism.


Beginning from Ninth Century A.D. under Saif Bin Dhi Yahzan to date, the Kanem-Borno Dynasty has thrived and declined. Thus the empire has seen many ups and downs in its history. From its establishment at Njimi under the Saifawa rule, to its war with the Bulala people that brought them to Ngazargamu, then to the incursion by Gwani Muktar of Damaturu in March 1808, to its revival in October 1809 by El-Kanemi who sets up his strong hold at Kukawa. And again to the absorption of its large part by Wadai Sultanate, then to the brutal seizure and rule by Rabeh in Dikwa. It was the offensive rule by Rabeh, which finally ushered in the imperial powers, who succeeded in curtailing his ill administration in the April of 1900. Therefore, Kanem-Borno, unlike the Fulbe emirates of Sokoto caliphate that heavily attempted resistance, did not have any dealing in refusing to accept the colonialist; somewhat European colonialism came as a blessing.


With the demise of Rabeh, the time-honored El-Kanemi families were reinstated back to their throne. The Europeans partitioned Borno based on the 1898 Anglo-French convention, which placed large part of Kanem-Borno under the British hegemony.  Borno, once more witnessed its coming apart into two separate Kingdoms and subsequent movements to Maiduguri between Kukawa and Monguno and to Bama from Dikwa.


Maiduguri, as a name for the administrative city was adopted and founded in 1907 by the British for its serenity, natural attractiveness and hence it's secretarial simplicity. Maiduguri came into being as one of the mega cities of present-day northern Nigeria as a result of the conurbation of three different settlements. That is, Maiduguri, the age old Kanuri village founded by Maidugu, an immigrant fighter from Birnin Ngazargamu, Herwa that is now known as Yerwa, the sanctuary of the Shehu and his accompanying group, and Maifoni, probably the present government house, stretching to nursing home and its surrounding area. The area was then populated by the non Kanuri vassals of the kingdom, like the Marghi and some Gamargu slaves.


Long before that, the Maiduguri area is said to have been economically stable because its early settlers are engaged in farming, cattle trading, weaving and dyeing of cloths, and hunting, along with other numerous profitable human activities. Most importantly the area also has a good source of water for both human and animal needs. Thus, Maiduguri rapidly grew into becoming an important market place within the region. Yerwa on the other hand developed and enclosed both Maifoni and the old Maiduguri as administrative capital of Borno. The capital was earlier stationed by the British colonial rule at Magumeri when the Shehu was in Monguno after leaving Dikwa. Monguno was also said to be a temporary station for the Shehu before Kukawa was rebuilt.


However, in 1904, three years before the establishment of Yerwa, the British resident High Commissioner who later became the Governor General of Nigeria Lord F.J. Lugard (1858-1945) had visited Kukawa, Monguno, Magumeri and the area now referred to as Maiduguri. In that momentous visit, Lord Lugard suitably chose to locate the headquarters for the Borno colonial government in Maifoni. With that done, Mr. W.P. Hewby, the first British civilian administrator for Borno finally resettled the earlier mentioned non Kanuri inhabitants someplace away and the Shehu was persuaded to move his capital from Kukawa to Yerwa.


All these events happened during the outstanding and memorable reign of the great Shehu Bukar Garbai Ibn Ibrahim El-Kanemi, the first Shehu of British Borno who ruled between 1900 and 1922. Indisputably, any chronicles of Borno will never be complete without stating in clear terms the legendary performance of this Shehu. Therefore, Shehu Garbai matters a lot in recounting the establishment of modern Borno kingdom. In spite of all the misfortunes that transpired, First World War (1914-18) also became a source of concern for the re-established Borno kingdom and its foreign overlords. Even so, the intrepid and steadfast Shehu was able to stand his ground and lay his indelible marks in the annals of Borno. Today, as we are writing it meant that posterity has acknowledged the deep-seated position of Shehu Garbai in present day Borno.


Firstly, Shehu Garbai was responsible for consenting to the quest by British to leave Dikwa, then a French territory and eventually moved the capital of Borno to its present location. He was also responsible for enabling Maiduguri to have a befitting and well-situated palace that has a vast and stretching dandal which till date is enough for hosting Durbar and other festive activities. The palace was built in a Kanuri style which is traditionally bounded by the courtier's residences. This includes Waziriri, Abbari, Talbari, Limanti, Shettimari, Galtimari, Kaigamari, Yerimari, Moramti, and Karari among others with Shehuri at the center and the Shehu giving-out meticulous instructions. This is why the Shehu's Palace in Maiduguri is today seen by its magnificent beauty that goes with monarchs and stateliness. Since then, Maiduguri is spread with various communities which offer differing expertise and mode of livelihood towards the sustenance of the emirate. That is why today there are places called Kumozomari -calabash decorators, Mundulmari tanners, Arinmari dyers, and Kaalmari blacksmiths.


 Shehu Garbai executed much policy with the assistance rendered by the colonial officials, especially Mr. H.R. Palmer (1887-1958), who remarkably succeeded Mr. Hewby as the second Administrative Officer of British Borno. Additionally, the Shehu was instrumental in restoring and consolidating the El-Kanemi spirit. He succeeded in encapsulating many people into the Borno kingdom by means of subduing them under his authority. These include the Fulbe in the Gujba, Fune and Damaturu districts of the erstwhile Heinrich Barth's "great forest". They were hitherto prominent dependencies of Fulbe emirates under the then enormous Sokoto Caliphate. Some of these people are the relations of the renowned Goni Muktar. Evidently, Eldridge Mohammadou (1997:289) in describing "Dilaara" which part falls within the great forest writes that it was "an area which was hardly colonized by the Kanuri at the earlier period of Fulbe presence in western Borno". Under a related issue, Bala Usman and Nur Alkali (Eds) (1983:222) in their Studies in the History of Pre-colonial Borno also maintained that "the Damaturu-Gujba region had been an important Fulaata settlement for centuries". It was Shehu Garbai and Mr. Palmer that harmoniously incorporated these people into Borno proper. This happened after a meeting in 1913 between Shehu Garbai and Mr. Palmer on one part and the Fulbe clan leaders on the other part. As a result of this, tax was imposed on the area and a tax collecting board was immediately formed. This move has yielded much revenue for the then newly established Borno Provincial Native Authority (NA). The proceeds accrued from this revenue were helpful to the emirate during their most challenging and difficult moments of consolidation and re-establishment. To this day, the Kanuris of Borno proper and their rulers are saddened for losing the Fulbe of western Borno to Yobe state. This is indicative of a strong bond of alliance or Ningi existing between the two.


 With the cooperation and support of Shehu Garbai, Mr. Palmer also saw to the opening of the first Provincial School in Maiduguri in 1915. Since then Maiduguri suddenly came to limelight because the town attracted pupils from far and near. Those involved includes, the pupils from Kukawa, Monguno, Dikwa, Ngala, and the neighboring Biu, Fika and other Fulbe within Borno. Many Nigerian and other West African Muslims were also hosted in Maiduguri en route to Mecca for pilgrimage. Hence, the town rapidly became a centre of commerce and learning with many attractions from far-flung corners of the African region. The affluent Kanuri culture of generosity and warmth hospitality vis--vis the Shuwa Arabs kind and accommodating gesture has facilitated in no small measure towards making Yerwa a serene place of dwelling. The foregoing clearly indicates that Shehu Bukar Garbai is both the founder of Maiduguri and the father of modern El-Kanemi Dynasty.


Maiduguri attained strategic importance at the height of Second World War (1939-1945). This happened when Germany took control of North Africa, the British and their American allies constructed an air base in Maiduguri that was used in carrying troops to North Africa and the Middle East. This sad international development gave impetus for job opportunities to thousands of people and led a high incursion of people to Maiduguri especially from the neighboring Chad. According to Osuntokun (1987:25) "the presence of foreign troops and the increased injection of cash into the local economy led to rapid urbanization of Maiduguri". The present Gamboru ward and a few patches of settlements around Lake Alau came into being as a result of a deliberate policy after the war of resettling those that joined in the fighting.


 The modernization and development of Maiduguri has also received an added boost during the tenure of Kashim Ibrahim "grand old man of Borno" as the Waziri of Borno under the then Native Administration and later the Northern Regional Governor under the Premiership of Ahmadu Bello. Waziri Kashim stood in earnest to see Maiduguri rise under the sun as a great city in Nigeria. He did so by applying every effort at his disposal to develop Maiduguri and its citizens with establishing schools and enlisting sons of Borno to various human endeavors. This was continued and upheld by Dr. Shettima Ali Monguno, an educationist who in his rareness became the first Executive Chairman of Maiduguri Metropolitan Council even after his retirement from active service. Dr. Monguno, for all the time maintains and ensures that educational development must be the moral fiber of any human growth. His philosophy of education is remarkably unique in Borno. Late Zanna Bukar Dipcharima, late Ibrahim Imam, late Abba Habib, late Alhaji Kamselem (IGP), late Waziri Ibrahim, late Dr. Bukar Shuaib and more recently late Mala Kachallah also have tirelessly helped in developing Maiduguri and its people. These people have been the notables from Maiduguri that made name in their chosen careers. From 1974 to date, when Alhaji Mustapha Umar El-Kanemi succeeded the throne as a Shehu, parents were always encouraged by him to send their children to school. This is constantly maintained by the Shehu as a watchword that has served as a positive measure for uprooting the persistent hitch that deter parents from sending their children to school. As a result, sons of Borno have far-reaching accomplishments in various places of the country.


The history and development of Maiduguri as a commercial city will never be complete without mentioning the labors and pains eschewed by the great merchants of Maiduguri like late Alhaji Mallam Mai Deribe, late Umar Na Alhaji Lawan and the warm and accommodating personality like late Alhaji Bukar Mulima, who has enormously suffered to cater for all those that came as guest of Maiduguri in the last 50 years. Other figures include late Alhaji Abatcha Umar, late Alhaji Lawan Monguno, late Alhaji Mustapha Haruna, and the like.


In the area of agriculture and desertification control, one can hardly match the efforts of Late Musa Daggash and Late Mohammed Lawan in Maiduguri. Until their death, both personalities have planted and distributed seeds of trees in thousands to help in not only beautifying the city but curbing the effects of drought and desertification around Borno. The Late Mala Garba Shuwa is also among the remarkable figures who have immensely contributed to the progress of Maiduguri. This is especially in the area of community development; farming, cattle rearing and diary products.


In the area of academic excellence, Professors Umaru Shehu, Muhammad Nur Alkali, Abubakar Mustapha, Tijjani El-Miskin and Kyari Tijjani are the topmost on the record of those that have reach the height of their differing human endeavors. These personalities have encouraged and inspired many people in Maiduguri with their knowledge. Alhaji Tijjani Bolori, the initiator and proprietor of Imam Malik Islamic Center has specifically imparted education in his own way, because his pioneering initiative has come to be seen as one of the most important educational contribution in Maiduguri. The establishment of such an Islamic center by a single individual is charitable and humanitarian.


 Sheikh Muhammad Abba Aji is equally seen and held with dignity as a remarkable personality in discussing the greatness of Maiduguri. The Sheikh has immeasurably played a vital role in developing the firm moral psyche of Maiduguri people as a peaceable Muslim society in Nigeria. Late Sheikh Ja'afar Mahmud Adam, another  eminent Kano based Islamic scholar with great refute, has also played a monumental part in making Maiduguri  brilliant and scholarly especially during the annual Ramadan fasting period. The Sheikh Ja'afar Tafsir in recent years is seen as a Ramadan gift from Allah to the good people of Maiduguri. Surely, the demise of this Sheikh will be deeply felt in Maiduguri especially during the Ramadan period


 In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that Maiduguri is a place which is known for its Arabic and Qur'anic education, schools and mosques. As we are today, the town is endowed with growing number of great Islamic scholars and preachers that have carefully stand out in their respective duties. The late Sheikh Idrisa Khadi, late Sheikh Abdul Fathi, late Usman Bidda, Chief Imam Ibrahim Ahmad (Ba'ande), Sheikh El-Miskin, Sheikh Sheriff Saleh, Sayinna Mallam Adam have also immensely contributed towards making Maiduguri a center of scholars. In addition to the contributions made by the above mentioned scholars, Imam Goni Gabchia, Imam Modu Mustapha, Imam Abubakar Kyari, Imam Gambo Kyari and many other Muslim personalities have continued in their quest for preserving and imparting the true teachings of Islam. The strategic position of Borno in close connection with the neighboring Arab speaking countries was the main reason why Professor Jibril Aminu when he was the then minister of education approved the location of Nigeria Arabic Language Village (NALV) in Ngala. This move has brought much advantage to the area, because since its inception Arabic students from all over the Universities in country have been visiting and attending courses in the center.


Due to its vast commercial activities in livestock, grains, cotton and nuts, Maiduguri has a railroad terminus since 1964 which links to Gombe, Jos and up to Lagos. Maiduguri has a well located Airport with an International status. It is also the site for University of Maiduguri, the first of its kind in the northeastern sub-region. These and many other profitable human endeavors have contributed in no small measure towards making the city attractive to others. Today it can be said without fear of contradiction that Maiduguri is the only major cosmopolitan city around Lake Chad and is rapidly ever growing. We hope and pray for a better and peaceful Nigeria.