Re-Enacting the Place and Position of Gobir Kingdom Beyond the Confines of Nigeria

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

Re-Enacting the Place and Position of Gobir Kingdom Beyond the Confines of Nigeria


Prof. H. O. Danmole
Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin, Nigeria

This conference strikes me as an opportunity to re-enact the place and position of Gobir not only within the confines of Nigeria but also West Africa at large. Gobir has multidimensional traditions of origin. It is therefore important in this conference to reflect on Gobir’s connections with a number of nation-states, namely: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and Niger Republic. Apart from all these countries, Gobir’s antecedents with Borno, Alkalawa, Zamfara and many other localities before the beginning of the nineteenth century need further examination because of the transformations and change that have been taking place in those territories.

I would like to think that the wide array of topics to be addressed by participants at this conference will enrich our knowledge of the contributions of Gobir and the Gobirawa to the developments in Nigeria, even before the nation was born over a hundred years ago. Gobir Kingdom and the Gobirawa have had remarkable impact on localities both near and far from the kingdom. The Gobirawa culture, language and literary traditions have intermingled with those of her contiguous communities. In short, this would have led to cultural and linguistic diffusion. Therefore, this conference is expected to explore the historical significance of this phenomenon.

Through our study of the nineteenth century reform movement led by Usmanu Danfodiyo in Hausaland, the pre-reform political institutions in Gobir Kingdom and the independent nature of the Kingdom have received considerable attention from scholars. The most important of these political institutions was that of Sarkin Gobir. It is relevant to indicate that knowledge is constantly updated based on unfolding events that bring new insights to what has been previously addressed and accepted. This international conference provides a good opportunity of evaluating the sources, both documentary and otherwise, with a view of understanding the process of transformation that have been taking place in the kingdom. Indeed, most of the political institutions of pre-Islamic reform Gobir Kingdom were readily used in the Sokoto Caliphate. All the emirates in the caliphate adopted some of these political institutions that met their peculiar circumstances. In Ilorin Emirate, for example, many of the political offices exist, albeit as honourary titles, till this day.

In nation building, the existence of inter-group relations have always been a bridge builder, as such relations help promote cultural understanding, political and religious ideologies. There is abundant evidence to show that the Gobir Kingdom was one of the most frequented in West Africa by Islamic scholars from North Africa and traders like the Wangarawa, well before the nineteenth century. These visits, in no small measure, helped the spread of Islam in the Kingdom and other places. At the same time, the Gobirawa factor was quite manifest in places like Borno, Daura, Zamfara, Katsina, Zaria and Kano where the Gobirawa themselves were active traders. Not only in these areas were the Gobirawa influence radiated. It is my belief that this international conference will give sufficient attention to the influence of Gobir Kingdom in these areas. The Nupe, Ilorin and other parts of Yorubaland received Gobirawa scholars and traders which led to the promotion of vibrant inter-group relations.

It is observed that the presence of the Gobirawa in Ilorin, for instance, predated the establishment of an emirate in the region in 1823. Reportedly, the first Sarkin Gobir in Ilorin was a follower of Mallam Salih, the progenitor of the Emirs of Ilorin, to different parts of Yorubaland during Salih’s preaching tours. The office of Sarkin Gobir has remained a respectable one in Ilorin till this day. Clearly, the Gobirawa in Ilorin have been prominent people since the establishment of the emirate. What is fairly certain is that there has been high degree of intergroup relations between the Gobirawa in Ilorin and other groups in the emirate. The Gobirawa, like other ethnic groups of Ilorin origin, have developed a common identity peculiar to Ilorin. Indeed, the Gobirawa in Ilorin, while keeping their identity through the ethnic facial marks, combine Yoruba names with their Muslim names, but certainly retain Gobir as their surname. There is hardly any scholarly work on the contributions of the Gobirawa to the political and socio-economic development in Ilorin. It would be a matter of pleasure for the scholars in this conference to have some thoughts on the historical significance of this aspect of Gobirawa inter-group relations.

Apart from Ilorin, further south into Yorubaland, there is hardly any town or city of significance in Yorubaland, especially after the Islamic resurgence of the early nineteenth century, that the Gobirawa, in their quest for trading and religious activities, did not settle into. These Gobirawa migrated from different parts of Hausaland as mentioned above in the nineteenth century. However, their population increased during the colonial rule with other Hausa communities. In towns like Ogbomoso, Oyo, Ibadan, Osogbo, Ile-Ife, Ijebu-Ode, Abeokuta, Sagamu, Ota and in many areas of Lagos where they were involved in professions such as well-digging, leather working and as truck pushing. In most of these towns they were, and still are, known as Gogobiri.

The economic and social contributions of these Gogobiri to the growth and development of these towns and cities will need some attentions in this conference. Many Gobirawa have married Yoruba men and women to the extent that they have acculturated and regard their present places of abode as their towns of origin. Like in Ilorin, Gobir, the name of the Kingdom, has now become family names of many people across many states in Nigeria. The significance of this inter-group relations which has often escaped consideration by scholars also deserve our attention here.

In this conference, one should not expect the participants to ignore the early activities of Sheikh Usmanu Danfodiyo in Gobir. His call for Islamic reform and the support he commanded speak volume about his personality, which has received scholarly attention. Nevertheless, the relationship that subsisted between him and Sarkuna in Gobir in a way was the catalyst that triggered the outbreak of the Islamic reform movement. The reasons for the Sheikh’s action are now well-known, but nothing prevents continuous interpretations and re-interpretations in the face of the transformation that accompanied the movement on the one hand, and the continued study of the events on the other. Knowledge is a dynamic enterprise and as scholars, it is our duty to bring new perspectives that would continue to refresh what we do know at a point in time.

The key words in the title of this conference are “Transformations and Change”. Transformation in a sense implies change from one state to another with a view to making something better. In other words, transformation refers to positive change. There is no doubt in my mind that the Islamic reform movement resulted in the establishment over a vast area of modern Nigeria a caliphate that brought changes that were positive and indelible to a large chunk of our country, including the Gobir Kingdom. As mentioned earlier, the political institutions of the Gobir Kingdom were embraced and adopted in the caliphate system. It is necessary in this conference to pay attention to the changes in terms of functions and practice of these enduring legacies of the Gobir Kingdom on the Sokoto Caliphate. Reciprocally, in a number of ways also, the Gobir Kingdom has had its own share of the legacies of Usmanu Danfodiyo’s reform movement. It is expected that participants in this conference would have some thoughts on the legacies of the Caliphate on the Gobir Kingdom. This reflection would bring to the fore the past in the present.

The Sokoto Caliphate, whose origin began in the Gobir Kingdom and whose ideals ensured order and method into the administration of Hausaland in the nineteenth century, detested colonial incursions, but eventually fell into the hands of the British after stiff resistance. Without doubt, Islam provided the unity to confront the British and, partly for this reason, the British had no choice but to respect the religion of the people, and in turn had to build on the organs of government that have been established in the caliphate. Thus, in a way, the rudiments of indigenous administration in the Gobir Kingdom were extended to the colonial period, though with some reforms by the British, to consolidate their hold on the then Protectorate of Northern Nigeria.

Colonial rule came with its own reforms in all spheres of life, especially in political and socio-economic realms. The development of communication network meant more interactions among Nigerians and the Gobirawa were not left out in the process. Many of them moved to different parts of Nigeria to pursue their desired economic livelihoods. The Gobirawa and other Hausa groups from northern Nigeria aided the growth of Sabo or Sango communities in different parts of southern Nigeria. Furthermore, the Gobirawa, along with other Nigerians, were active participants in the development of the country, holding various strategic positions in the regional and central administration. In addition, Gobirawa were active in the realm of politics. Many of their leaders participated actively in the struggle for the country’s independence as they, with other prominent Nigerians, were in the forefront of the various constitution - making processes that culminated in Nigeria’s independence in October, 1960. The part which the Gobirawa had been playing in the socio-economic and political transformation in the region that is now called Nigeria has evidently given the Gobir Kingdom and its people the Gobirawa, an important place and position in the affairs of Nigeria. It is my strong belief that participants at this conference will extend the discussion towards unearthing the transformations and change in this unique but defunct Kingdom.

Thank you for listening.

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