‘Gobir the Land of Tug-of-War’: The Study of Wars, Conflicts And Peace in the Gobir Kingdom’

Being a paper presented at the First International Conference on Gobir Kingdom, Past And Present: Transformation And Change, held at The Usmanu Danfodiyo University Auditorium, from 9th – 13th July, 2018

‘Gobir the Land of Tug-of-War’: The Study of Wars, Conflicts And Peace in the Gobir Kingdom’

Shehu Hashimu
Umaru Ali Shinkafi Polytechnic Sokoto


War, Conflict and Peace are the common vital elements which built formidable forces, territorial expansion and by and large strengthen the survival of any Kingdoms, Empires and Emirates not only in the primordial society but also to some large extend a key development of modern state in particular. Gobir kingdom was among the mightiest Kingdoms that existed in the horn of Hausaland for 7th century AD besieges and staging wars and conflicts with the various powerful Kingdoms that include Azbin, Adar, Zamfara, Katsina as well as far reaching to Gurma Kingdoms respectively. The Gobir Kingdom continued to flourish in various locations and sizes until the collapse of its capital Alkalawa in 1808 by the formidable forces of the Sokoto Jihad of 1804. Therefore the main central issues of discussion in this paper are Wars tactics and Military strategy, Conflicts and Peace which dominate the whole state affairs of the Kingdom which the contemporary Gobirawa people are proud of the legendary legacy left behind by the Kingdom known as ‘Gobir the Land of tug-of-war’.

Key Words: War, Conflict, Peace, Gobir, Kingdom


Several mighty Kingdoms, Empires and Dynasty existed in the Hausaland comprised the Zaria, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Gobir and Kebbi as the western axis and they were able to conquer vassal states or waged war among themselves for territorial expansion and above all were able to repelled any attack by the opposing forces within and outside for territorial defence. Among these Kingdoms three were essentials (i.e. Zamfara, Kebbi and Gobir) and bound to each other by a common language and culture, and linked by trade routes which led from the Sahara Desert in the north to the forest zone in the south cutting across all boundaries: great caravans moved from place to place and the markets of Kano and Katsina were famous (Shehu H. , 2018).

It’s quite obvious that the development of trade and cultural inter-changes was one of the major themes of discussion in the history of Hausaland from the 14th to 19th centuries. Another remarkable land mark in this regard was the movement towards larger political segments with each state or Kingdom trying to establish boundaries which satisfied it both economically and politically. This unprecedented circumstance led to intermittent warfare between neighbouring Hausa states. Any state which became strong felt tempted to use its strength against its neighbours. In these competitions no state was however been able to win a complete victory and wars ended with one state being satisfied with the booty or territory taken from each (Boyd, 1978).

  In fact war and territorial expansion were one of the major strategic policy of any powerful ruler so as to test how powerful he was and examine to what extend does his rulership can reach. Defence strategy brought about building a strong formidable and discipline army to counter and encounter any ambush from the enemies. All sorts of armory and Calvary were provided to ensure warriors are readily for any battle or unexpected aggression from the neighbouring Kingdoms, Empires and beyond (Shehu H. , 2018). This is how Kingdoms and Empires were strategically become strong through coercive power, based on superiority of weapons, mobility through the Camels or Horses and the fortunes of war. However this strategy provide them with impetus to dominate through such advantage that any powerful ruler or group could have taken chance to conquer such weaker group or defenseless alien peoples and reduces them to tributary status, serfdom or slavery, exploiting them remorsely ('Yandaki, 2015).

In the case of western Hausaland was concerned, especially the three Kingdoms, Kebbi, Zamfara and Gobir, Kebbi had already took advance stage during the reign of Kanta the great warrior in the 16th century while that of Zamfara grew up in the 17th century and later another one rose to a peak and sun-bust known as the Gobir Kingdom (Onwubiko, 1985).

The Gobir Kingdom in Perspective

‘Gobir the Land of War’ (Gobir Kasar Fada)

‘Gobir the House of War’ (Gobir Gidan Fada)


Gobir Kingdom was known during the primitive stage as the land of warfare from any given advantage. It has undoubtedly played a pivotal roles in the history of Western Sudan region during the eighteen and early nineteenth centuries. From the literature review and oralcy indicated that in the far north (Azbin) the Air Mountain and the vast lowlands surrounding that was where the traditional homeland of the Gobirawa, that is the Gobir group of the Hausa people. They established the Gobir Kingdom in the second half of the 7th century AD and it further increase in various locations and sizes until it was destroyed in 1808 by the Jihadist forces of the Sokoto caliphate of 1804 (Mahdi, A., 2010). In another related development a place called ‘Ghula’ situated along the Libyan Sahara was regarded as the first capital of the Gobirawa. Again in some record indicate that in the northern Egypt there another capital was discovered at, Surukal.

From another historical antecedence Gobirawa migrated from the East in 1000 C. E, that is, from Gubur in Yemen north of Mecca and they connect their origin from Nomadic Copts or Kibdawa descendent in Arabia. The Gobirawa under their King Bana Turmi, were said to have helped the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) in the battle of Badar in 624 AD. When the battle of Badar ended, majority of them moved to Egypt while the rest migrated Westward through Khartoum and Bornu. The migration did not end there it further spread to Southward (Abdullahi B. , 2016).

Gobir in the west was rich in people and in cattle. The people are in general very civilized. They have very many weavers and shoes-makers that make shoes like those that the Romans use to wear; and these they export to Timbuktu and Geo (Basil Davidson and Buah, F.K, 1971). It’s beyond disputable that the very basis of the kingdom of Gobir in the central Rima Basin during the second half of the 18th century was made up of very complex political relations. In fact Gobir’s prominence depended on its continued military surveillance in the Rima Basin. However the dominant aspect of the political situation in the region during the latter part of the second of half of the 18th c. was the intensification of military clashes, more especially between the kingdom of Gobir and Zamfara chiefdom (Chafe, K. S., 1990).

For the purpose of this presentation the scope is limited to the accounts on the various war encounters and peace diplomacy between Gobir Kingdom and neighbouring Kingdoms that include Katsina, Zamfara, Adar, Azbin and Kwani among other battle field contenders.

The Period of Conflicts and Wars between Gobir Kingdom and its Neighbours

It is beyond dispute to say that the Gobir Kingdom engaged most of its period in various military conflicts, even though the nature and causes of these wars was beyond imaginable of acquiring more power or ambitions of territorial expansion and to some extent to exercise a measure of physical control over neighbouring territories on the part of it but also economically as well. This is because access to trade and control trade routes was another major cause of war between Gobir and its neighbours.

Gobir against Azbin and Adar

The conflicts between Gobir Kingdom and Azbin and Adar started engulfed from the closing decades of the 7th century. According to Augi (1984) the faceoff started when the Sultans of Agades had impose their power and constituted authority over Adar and then followed by the establishment of Azbin’s suzerainty over Adar and the settlement of various groups of Azbinawa in the area by the late 17th century. The action was opposed not only by various chiefdoms of Adar but also to Kwanni on the other hand. But the central issues of the conflict was the continuation of the extension of territory so as to dominate and exert control over the trade because the areas were strategically route trade which goods passed through Adar from Azbin and Gobir needed to control the route for the purpose of supplies of horses, salt and other valuable commodities like weaponries. This is where the Gobir come to have serious conflict during the period of mid-17th century and whose confluence in Kwanni had been considerable before this period.

This trade monopolization and ambition to acquire large portion of territories coupled with the shift of capital aggravate the tension as a result Gobir become very aggressive and furious on several occasion and the consequence of this action led to a besieged on Azbinawa by Gobir with total destruction. The Sultan Agabba of Agades later retaliated with another offensive causing serious devastation on Gobir Kingdom. The conflict continued to escalate up to the early decades of the 18th century when the Sultan of Agades also launched an enormous campaign against the capital of Gobir at a time Sarkin Gobir Soba was besieging the town of Maradi in Katsina. Following the Azbinawa attack, the Sarkin Gobir Soba launched a reprisal attack against their power in Adar passing through Kwonni and then invaded Adar Dutsi (Augi, 1977).

The Sarkin Gobir Soba was remarkably figured out as the famous leader and enormous warriors during his time in the early decades of the 18th century who fought bitter conflicts with Katsina, Adar, Zabarmawa and even Gurma. Soba led besiege on Maradi for seven years and against Zabarmawa for another three years. The Soba met his fortune death when his own army rebelled against him during the battle against Agades in Adar. His death with his immediate family caused a serious tension among the Gobirawa where a number of them began another fresh migration to neighbouring territory of Zamfara to the south (Abdullahi B. , 2016)(Abdullahi, 2005).

The Gobir Kingdom versus Katsina Kingdom

By the end of the eighteenth century Katsina was at the peak of economic consolidated development and political power control. Katsina became strategic trade route and commercial center where different caravans coming in from all perspectives. She outshone her rival Kano in both prosperity and learning. The wealth and scholarship found their way to Katsina rather than to Timbuktu, where culture and civilization were in decline under the Moorish Pashas and their Arma. In fact Katsina remain the central entrance gate to Hausaland (Heaton, 2008; Mahdi, A., 2015; Hogben, 1967). Soon after the fall of Birnin Zamfara to the Gobirawa in 1756, Katsina was drawn into the war. The Sarkin Zamfara, Moraki, took refuge with his vassal Tsaidu in Kiawa, a hill fortress on the Zamfara-Katsina border, which was besieged by the Sarkin Gobir. The Katsinawa in Kiawa appealed to Katsina for help. Katsina records say that Sarkin Gobir Babari besieged Kiawa for seven years. In 1795, at bitterly fought battle of Dutsin Wake, just outside Kiawa, Bawa’s son was killed and he himself died of grief 40 days later (Hogben, 1967).

It was also near Kiawa in 1801 that Bawa’s successor, his brother Yakubu, was killed by Sarkin Katsina Agwaragi. He had swept through Katsina on his way to Shira in the east, destroying Ruma as he went and attacking Katsina town, before returning to Kiawa, the source of many Gobir disasters. Agwaragi’s successor, Gwozo, is reputed to have carried war deep into Zamfara, capturing Anka and Gummi during his brief reign. The war between Gobir and Katsina continued with different dimension throughout the half of the 18th century. In addition to that the war between Katsina and Gobir weakened the state of Gobir (Nadama, 1977; Hogben, 1967).

The Zamfara Struggle against Gobir Domination

The attack on Zamfara Kingdom by Gobir did not come by surprise because it had been expected to erupt sooner or later considering Zamfara had been growing center of commerce and trade; therefore Gobir developed an interest on the development. This new development of economic potentiality provide an avenue with which attract migrants from all perspective in and around Zamfara Kingdom including Gobir itself. This event led to the growth and emergence of new settlements more especially the capital, Birnin Zamfara which greatly expanded during the reign of Sarkin Zamfara, Abdul dan Suleiman in the early 18th century (Nadama, 1977). Before the conflict to emerge, there was cordial relation exist between the two groups to some extend Zamfara supported Gobir Kingdom in many occasions rendered military assistance. But the atmospheres seem to have taken new dimension following a hectic decision taken by Gobir Kingdom to shift its capital to Alkalawa which situated at the confluence of the Gulbin Rima and Gulbin Maradi. All this occurred during the reign of Sarkin Gobir Ibrahim Babari who believed to had been brought up in the Zamfara royal family before he emerges the new leader of Gobir Kingdom from 1742 to 1770 (Nadama, 1977).

Sarkin Gobir Ibrahim Babari took Zamfara internal crisis as an ample opportunity penetrates the rivals among the opposition and mobilized support from them thereby used the occasion and led a contingent of army, attacked and destroyed Zamfara Kingdom in 1762. Although Gobirawa achieved great success in defeating and destroying Birnin Zamfara, but they however failed to bring the whole territory under their control. This might be the fact that there was strong resistance from Zamfarawa against the imposition of Gobir rule. The resistance came in difference phases. In the first instances there was resistance posed by those Zamfarawa who exiled to Kiawa and later to Baga along the Gagare River and lastly another resistance came as a result of refusal from various territorial Zamfara leaders to recognize the Gobir supremacy rule (Nadama, 1977).

The historical antecedence revealed that after the defeat of Zamfara Kingdom for about nine years, the Gobir under its new leadership of Bawa Jan Gwarzo of 1771-1784, and the Gobir Kingdom did not further extended its rule or raids against Zamfara towns. This development of long lasting peace during Bawa Jan Gwarzo reign create an avenue for Zamfarawa at Kiawa and other places to resurface made strategic plan on how to encounter any raids or ambush from Gobirawa. When Bawa besieged Kiawa, Gobir warriors had to retreat for a very long time without breaking up the fortress but later on Bawa adopt another new strategy to overcome the situation through intervening succession disputes in some Zamfara towns (Nadama, 1977).

It’s quite evidence that war and resistance become offensive and defensive during encounter between different towns of the Zamfara against Gobir encroachment. One of the leaders of Fakai Makaru, a Bazanfare spearheaded a revolt with other eminent warriors from Lugu, Dan Zaki, Baje and Tozai on Gobir domination. Fakai town did not escape from offensive because the town was destroyed by Bawa Jan Gwarzo but the ruler Makauru together with his royal family moved down to Bagare about thirty-five kilometers South of Birnin Zamfara settle their. However with the establishment of Alkalawa as the new capital of Gobir confronted with unprecedented challenges by different forces within and outside the center of the throne. The Gobir leaders Bawa Jan Gwarzo and Nafata spent most of their time fighting the towns of eastern of Zamfara (Nadama, 1977). In view of that Gobirawa claimed a huge victory in defeating Zamfara gallantly and the Gobir military mighty was strengthened especially under Sarki Soba and Babari. Gobir Kingdom was being regarded as the house of war (Gobir Gidan fada). By the end of the 18th century the continuous armed conflict with different rulers, the Gobir military strength drastically started to weakened especially when the confrontation with the Fulani Jihad.

The Last Battle of Gobir Kingdom with the Fulani Jihad of Sokoto and the Downfall of Alkalawa

The Gobir Kingdom met with her last fortunate fortune destiny when it engaged strong convert with the Fulani formidable forces led by Islamic scholars Sheikh Usmanu bn Fodiyo. But before the jihad took stage, cordial and harmonious relations had been consolidated between Shehu and not only with the Gobir but also with the Sarakunan Hausaland as well. It is clear evident that by the end of the 19th century there was an unusual political tension which existed in Hausaland. Zamfara was defeated by Gobir, causing a lot of hardship and discomfort. Again, the Sarakunan Hausa who claimed to be rightful Muslims but rather nominal Muslims because their leadership style characterized all sorts of oppressiveness on their subjects and had little regard on the cardinal principles of Islamic sharia. However the Sarakunan Hausaland neglected the application of justice and fairness in accordance with the tenants of Islamic principle. The entire socio-political system was rotten and corrupted; the system was unconformity with sharia and was openly unjust (Shehu H. a., 2015).

It was on that occasion a group of young vibrant scholars informed by an Islamic sense of purpose determined to change the pre-Islamic period of decadent society of the 18th century to the status of righteousness. Therefore, those groups of upright and devout scholars who were teaching and preaching about the Qur’an to the masses defying the threats of powerful an ruthless rulers of Hausa states and mustering the staying power to educate and mobilize citizens to rally round for change (Usman, 2015). This was the predicament conditions that Shehu Usman bn Fodiyo met in Hausaland.

Shehu continued with the preaching like other group did on the need every ruler to practice justice and shunned away every social vice which were against the teaching of Islam. His home town was Degel, but he never stayed at home alone, instates, travelled widely to Zamfara, Gobir and Kebbi carried out Islamic propagations to the people who were inspired by his personal example and by his message. Shehu did not in any way tell people to disobey their rulers or to rebel against them. At the beginning the relations was cordial between Shehu and Sarakunan Hausaland, because at time visited their courts (Boyd, 1978; Shehu H. a., 2015).

Gradually Shehu became famous not only among the masses but also to other scholars who admired him. These popularity and admiration adorn to Shehu was not pleasant one, because jealous and a potential threat to the authority of Gobir Kingdom. The jealousy become inevitable as Sarakunan Gobir stood to the ground harassing, maltreating Shehu and his followers to the extent of attempting to assassination him. These hostile manners against Shehu and his followers changed Shehu’s revivalist movement into a movement prepared to defend its principle by force. His determination, zeal and perseverance and his eventual defiance led to the Sarkin Gobir launching a military offensive on him. Thereby Shehu and his followers retaliated for the defence (Mahdi, A., 2010; Boyd, 1978). This act of maltreatment and attacks become frequent as properties belong to Muslims were seized and some of them were killed. The situation became unwarranted and the final face-off took place at Tabkin Kwato where Gobir Kingdom was finally defeated in 1804.

The Gobir Kingdom Strategy of Wars and Military Tactics

In the military aspect, the term strategy has to with stratagems by which a general sought to receive an enemy, with plans he made for a campaigns, and with the way he moved and disposed his forces. Therefore in a nutshell, strategy of war was one of the impetuses attached to Gobir Kingdom (as the land of war or the house of war and the land of tug-of-war among many nicknames attached to the Kingdom) and made her to achieved many success in many battle fields. One of the stratagems of Gobir Kingdom from the study is the ambush tactics and besieges by their war commandants and rulers as it occurred in many occasions during the war with Katsina, Zamfara, Azbin and Adar as well. The ambush method of attack to an enemy is to demoralize the enemy, neutralized their plan and thus delays their action. Another war strategy in related to Gobir warriors is absolute secrecy, tricks, raids and offensive. These methods were severally applied during the war between Gobir and Azbin, Agades and the town of Maradi in Katsina were besieged (Umar, 1998; Hogben, 1967; Basil Davidson and Buah, F.K, 1971; Abdullahi B. , 2016). Another strategy of war deployed by the Gobir Kingdom was the knowing the terrain within which they were fighting. For instance it was reported by Garba (1977) that the attackers of on Birnin Zamfara were quite differently. The invaders had a thorough knowledge of the terrain within which they were fighting.

The Weapons used by the Gobir warriors during the battle field comprised of bows and arrows, clubs, Knives, axes and swords among others. It has been noted that the pattern of two-edged straight or gentle tapering swords characterizes the types of the middle Ages in Europe and North Africa and Hausaland was however identified in the Gobir warriors. Henry Barth made clarification and reviews on the weapons used by Emirs’ army in which the cavalrymen wore such swords and the state swords of Daura, the sword of Bayajida and the sword of Kanta are both of similar weapons used in Hausaland during the wars (Smulden, 1965). The tactics with which these weapons were deployed varied accordingly to the balance of between infantry and cavalry. The engagements often began with showers of arrows (John, 2003; These weapons were displayed as mesuem during the Gobir International conference organised by the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, 2018).


Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

Kayan Faɗan Hausawan Gobir

These weapons were displayed during the Gobir international conference at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto on

The Cavalries of Gobir Kingdom were adequately armed and trained in the same way and they carried a shield made of hides which horsemen were their only defence. The cavalry tactics were uniform throughout the whole kingdom. The cavalry focused their attention more on delivering weapon like bow and arrow targeting enemies directly. One thing about Gobir warriors as being displayed with their weapons during the conference is that the warriors had a cloth armour to protect their bodies, wrapping it around their chests and abdomen, armour plate and carbines self defence. It has however indicate that these types of weapon were used during the Jihad of Sokoto Caliphate and most of these weapons were supplied through the aids of some Gobirawa warriors who support and participate actively during the Jihad (John, 2003; These weapons were displayed as mesuem during the Gobir International conference organised by the Usmanu Danfodiyo University , 2018; Smith, 1976).

The Period of Peace and Diplomacy Relations between Gobir Kingdom and Its Neighbours

Gobir relation with Azbin and Adar

Diplomatic relation and peaceful atmosphere was built in a cordial manner for many decades without any conflict or war between Gobir and Azbin. It has been noted that Azbin had for long accommodates a number of populations of Gobir including its ruling dynasty, but even after these populations moved southwards from that area and the normal relation continued to exist in areas of commerce, trade, agriculture, crafts and local cottage (Augi, 1984). The Gobir Kingdom imports other commodities from Azbin and Adar such as supply of horses and salt. It has been reported by Leo Africanus that at the eve of 16th century the Gobir Kingdom expanded its diplomatic and trade relations reaching far to Songhai Empire (Abdullahi A. , 2005).

Gobir Relation and Zamfara

Prior to the conflict the two societies lived side by side in a cordial and harmonious relation with one another. The relation cut across social, cultural and economic integration. Marriage was said to have become the key element with which bound the two groups together because the senior sister of Babari (Sarkin Gobir) was married to Sarkin Zamfara, even him (Babari) was said to have grown up in the Sarkin Zamfara palace. Apart from marital relation, there was sharing of values and beliefs system particularly traditional religion. The two societies maintained cultural and religious affinities with the ‘Masu wutar bota’ (Nadama, 1977).

In the case of trade and commerce the relation was interdependent economy. This is because some Gobirawa towns such as Birnin Lalle, Birnin Naya and Goran Rami were commercially important centers by the beginning of the 18th century. Those centers save as the channels passes through east, such as Bilma salt, grain, cotton goods, and Tobacco were exported to the markets of Gobir (Nadama, 1977).

Gobir and Diplomatic Relation with Katsina

Gobir and Katsina relations was consider as very vital in the aspect of commercial prosperity which boost movement of caravans coming in form of all directions. The flow of migration of Gobirawa being accommodated by Katsina is hospitality of humanity. Katsina reached its greatest height in economic and political power after the Moroccan conquest of Songhai in 1591. Camel caravans began to cross the Sahara from Ghadames, Tripoli, and Tunis southward to Katsina and brought prosperity. Katsina become the Sarkin Kasuwa. In order to consolidate its economic development on Saharan trade Katsina sought friendship with Gobir Kingdom. These strategic signs of trade routes, markets and traders contributed to interactions among Gobir and Katsina. There was sharing of beliefs, norms and values as integrated culture. Marital relation also exists among the Gobirawa and Katsinawa which create strong bonds of cultural hegemony among them. Equally important Gobir enjoyed military support from Katsina on several occasion (Mahdi, A., 2015).

Conclusion: The Marginalization of Gobirawa Historiography and the Replacement with Sokoto Caliphate in contemporary scholarship

It’s beyond exaggeration to note that Gobir Kingdom identified with wars as their main professional occupation. Gobir remained the most powerful Kingdom ever produce in the Hausaland because virtually the Gobir Kingdom engaged several battles with almost every Kingdoms and Empires in the central and western Sudan. It invaded towns, settlements and captures some powerful capitals and brought them under their control. Various tradition of warfare developed on Gobir Kingdom as the home of war or the land of war. Gobir played significance role during the Bayajida legend because the Kingdom was given a war title: the Sarkin yakin Kasar Hausa (war commander of Hausaland). In the Iskoki beliefs and practices was regarded as part of Gobir man character meaning ‘a warrior’, therefore warlike is a typical character of Gobir system. In spite of all her consolidate power, control, couple with remarkable achievements in the field of warfare and conquest, the reign of Gobir Kingdom come to perish when it fought her last breathe of  battle with the Fulani Jihadist of Sokoto and since then the history of Gobir Kingdom has been replaced by the Sokoto Caliphate. After all Gobirawa constitute majority among the Jihadist warriors. This is because the Sarakunan Hausaland were deposed and replaced with Fulani emirs. Apart from that the Gobir history has not been taught at all level of scholarship the way Sokoto caliphate is being taught at academic level especially to integrate it into our schools and tertiary institutions curriculum..


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