By Danjuma Katsina
The Jihad of Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio, which started from 1804 to roughly around 1819 with the fall of Ilorin, led to Islamic revivalism in some parts of Northern Nigeria and Niger and also purified the people from fetish beliefs and other innovations. Dan Fodio, consequently, gave authority flags to several clerics (and warriors) in the Hausa land. In Kano, seven of them were chosen and given a flag each to further the jihad in their domains. Among those selected for this noble cause was a man from Katsina known as Muhammadu Bakatsine. Muhammadu was the son of Umaru and Rabiat.
Although history has not mentioned exactly which part of Katsina he hailed from, it still has it that his parents had lived in a place now called Kwanar Are in Rimi Local Government Area. They had also lived in Bichi and Kadani in Tofa Local Government Area of Kano State before they finally settled at a place called Utaai in Wudil, also in Kano. Interestingly, history equally reveals that, Muhammadu’s parents, popularly known as the Jobawa, were the first Fulani people to mingle with the Hausas of Kano.
Muhammadu’s fame as a scholar did not came as a surprise. It has been reported that, although his parents were herders, they were vast in the knowledge of Islamic theology and managed to disseminate it. His father was a renowned revered scholar, that he was even conferred with the traditional title of Makama by the then king of Kano in order to bring him close.
Along with his sister, Habiba, Muhammadu, started his early Islamic education under the tutelage of his father, where he studied jurisprudence, Qur’anic exegesis and Arabic. Having gone far, he returned to Katsina, where he studied under several scholars, after which he moved to Yan Dandoto in present day Zamfara State for further studies. He eventually relocated to Kano, where he studied under other scholars such as Malam Mai Farar Kasa and Malam Abdullahi Madabo.
Malam Bakatsine then moved to Sokoto, where he studied under the guidance of Malam Jibril bn Umar and Sheikh Usman bn Fodio, from where he was instructed by the latter to go back home to Utaai to teach theology and lead prayers at the mosque. His blood sister, Habiba, also called Jibado in Fulani language, used to equally teach at home. She is said to have established the first female school in the entire Hausa land before the Jihad of Dan Fodio.
Another historic revelation has it that, while in Sokoto, Muhammadu Bakatsine was part of the first migration by Dan Fodio. It is also reported that, he participated in the battle of Lake Kwato, and that, he was part of the battle that led to the taking over of Alkalawa before he returned to Kano.
Interestingly, there are historical accounts that, Muhammadu’s elder sister, Habiba, went as far travelling to Sokoto to declare her allegiance to Sheikh Dan Fodio, and even demanded that she should be given the honour of carrying the flag and promoting Islam in Kano. In his own wisdom, however, Sheikh Dan Fodio requested her to go back home and call her brother, Malam Bakatsine, to collect the flag. Bakatsine went to Sokoto and was among the seven people to receive the flag of jihad from Kano. In her poetry, Nana Asma’u eulogized and praised a certain lady of honour, but did not mention her name. It is, however, generally believed that she was referring to Habiba.
Despite his place as a flag bearer, and the duties that come with it, Muhammadu did not engage in the jihad when came back to Kano. Instead, he sustained his mutual relationship with the then King of Kano, Alwali. He was even accused of abandoning this religious calling by some of the other flag bearers, but insisted that based on the Islamic shari’a he will not take up arms against the emirate, unless, of course, it takes up arms against him or bar him from preaching the word of God or suppressing his followers.
It was King Alwali himself that ignited the jihad when he launched an attack on the supporters of Malam Bakatsine in a bid to suppress the movement. This forced Bakatsine to raise the flag and fight in defense of the religion and its followers, starting from the eastern part of Kano. In seven months, he was able to take over Dutse, Birnin Kudu, Shira, Gamsa, Takai, Fagewa, Garfa and Utai. This gave him the strength to overpower Kano from the east.
Bakatsine’s men also rendered support to other flag bearers such as Ummarun Dallaji in Katsina and in Daura. The victory of Bakatsine in the eastern part of Kano raised the hope of other flag bearers in the region, resulting in the taking over of many towns. Bakatsine’s victory came to have an aftering effect: it boosted the morale of other flag bearers and jihadists. As expected, also, Bakatsine rendered as much support as possible.
King Alwali of Kano was killed in the battle of Burum Burum, which was led by Bakatsine. It was a fierce battle that resulted in the martyrdom of some of the commanders under Bakatsine. Malam Bakatsine was also injured in the battle and had to be hospitalized for some time. It was on the 20th of May, 1807, at Danbatta town, that Kano eventually fell when it surrendered to Bakatsine, who came to serve as the representative of the Islamic leader.
Sheikh Abdullahi Fodio had to come down to Kano in November 1807 to settle the leadership tussle that cropped up after the victory between the muhajirun (migrants), Bakatsine (and his men), and the ansar (helpers), who are from Kano and had fought in the jihad.
Consequently, Bakatsine returned to Dutse and established his seminary there, where he taught Islamic theology until his death. It is his descendants that are now bearing the traditional title of Madaki of Kano, which started with his son after his death in 1817. The family is among the nine persons (king makers) that decide (through selection) who becomes the Emir of the old Kano emirate. Bakatsine’s descendants are many and can now be found in Katsina, Jigawa, Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara and Yobe States.
It is believed that, Bakatsine was born in 1770 and died in 1817. Historians describe him as a keen listener, an ardent reader, an expert strategist, and someone very smart person. In a letter to one of Village Heads, Sarkin Kano Alwali advised him to “beware of that calm and soft spoken Bakatsine […] he is very dangerous.”
Available records confirm that, Bakatsine attempted to write some books but could not. He even confessed that such a gift comes from the Almighty, but prayed to Allah to have writers from among his offspring.
Most of the books written by historians (both Muslims and non-Muslims) on the jihad of Dan Fodio have mentioned similar things about this great man. In a book written by the Waziri of Sokoto, Gidado, called Raddul Jinan, Gidado describes Bakatsine as the most knowledgeable Islamic scholar of his time in Kano.
Kano Kwaryar Kira by Muhammadu Uba Adamu
Kukawa: labarin Isah mai Dala’ilu da zuriyarsa edited by Danjuma Katsina
Raddul Jinan by Waziri Gidado
History in Africa.A journal of debates, methods and source analysis. Danjuma Katsina is an author, journalist, and publisher of online newspapers like Katsina City News, Jaridar Taskar Labarai, and the Links News. He can be reached through 08035904408.