Combat of Races in the Caliphate: A Review of Attahiru

Cover page of Attahiru

Playwright: Ahmed Yerima

Text: Attahiru

Publisher: Kraft books

Year of Publication: 1999

Number of pages: 63

Reviewer: Olutayo Irantiola


The Sokoto caliphate was one of the greatest caliphates in the history of Northern Nigeria. The city was recognized as the seat of Islamic Governance. However, the British colonial incursion around “Niger Area” as it was referred to then, led to the untimely end of the reign of Sultan Muhammadu Attahiru , the Caliph of Sokoto. This text is an expose of the combat of races that took place in the caliphate in 1903.

The totality of the 14 scenes of the play can be summed into the ascension unto the throne of his fathers; the intention to jealously guard the caliphate from falling prey into the hands of the ‘infidel’- sent by Queen Elizabeth to Niger area- Sir Lord Fredrick Lugard and eventual death of the Caliph.

As expected of an established traditional institution that was already in operation before the arrival of the British colonialists, the Caliph felt slighted that other Emirs usually installed by the Caliph were being deposed without his consent and another Emir would ascend the throne in the same manner.  In one of the scene, Madawaki expressed the displeasure of the entire kingdom about the deconstruction by the “karfi”-The whiteman is an uninvited guest to our land, he must observe, not dictate. He must appreciate, not criticize. Allah picks the Caliph not man- page 29.

This was already a bad omen for the Caliph and this blindfolded him from seeing anything good in their friendship with Lord Lugard, as such, he opted for war. Contrastingly, Lord Lugard was doing everything within his reach to ensure that the French do not encroach into Sokoto as they were all actively scrambling for the partitioning of Africa.

In preparing for the war, the Caliph prepared his son by warming him not to strive for the exalted throne if he was not installed as the Caliph after him, however, he should ensure that the flag of Islam should not be captured. The son sounded confused because the reign of his father was barely a year. Unfortunately, it has been prophesied that the caliphate established by Usman Dan Fadio would collapse after a century and it was about that time.

It is equally disheartening to see the divergent views of Lord Lugard and the Caliph in the way they defined war. For the Caliph it was assumed that all the activities of Lord Lugard was to instigate war while Lord Lugard felt he was led by the uncooperative attitude of the Caliph to wage war against them. His sole mission was to unite the Niger Area as said on Page 57.

According to Lugard- “the white man did not just start the fight. He was provoked. He came as a friend and your Caliph said no, so we fight. Your Caliph fighting a visitor is wrong”- Page 55 Also he mentioned on Page 56- “it is not a religious war. It is the war of superiority of wills. I have the machines and guns, you have what I need to trade with, so if one of us is stubborn or refuses to cooperate, then a little nudge is needed.”

As presumed, the Caliph got troupes and support from other Emirates such as Kano, Gombe, Kontagora, Nupe, Bauchi, Missau, Katagun and Katsina. Thereafter, the war scene was described as a scene in few words. This is left to the creatively deployment of the Director during the stage presentation of the play. While the last scene is a little description of the valiant fight put up by the Caliph before he eventually lost his life.

Professor Ahmed Parker Yerima

The play is full of storytelling which is akin to the model of teaching valuable lesson across Africa, some of these include the resolution of disputes between Sarkin Zango and Sarkin Fatake- pg. 22-23; the way in which a knotty issues can be untangled- pg. 28-29; Gimmicks of a child- pg. 30; communal support- pg 31; marriage of convenience- pg. 33 and the erroneous beating of a Prince by a Mallam- pg. 40.

As a unique text, the playwright deliberately did not tag the scenes of the play. It was left for the reader to decipher the numbering of the scenes and the in fact, possible add the acts. The play flowed from one scene into another and made it to be easily understood by readers. Having said this, there were some slight errors in the book; for instance the caliph was wrongly spelt as calipah on pg. 25; orgive instead of forgive on pg. 29 and the discrepancies in the writing of Your royal highness in the early part of the script and Your Royal Highness at the latter part of the book. Other cultural elements mentioned in the book were horses, durbar, desert, camels etc and there are copious wise sayings which can be extracted from the play.

It can be assumed that the text has been censored before it was published because the playwright got the support of the Sultan of Sokoto and other dignitaries in the Emirate. This, in itself, is not a bad idea but the text would have been largely influenced by their input and it would have restricted the creative dexterity of Prof Ahmed Yerima in depicting his personal interpretation of his research into the history of the great empire.

Overall, this is another worthy addition to the body of historical drama literature in Nigeria. There are still many histories yet to be retold theatrically, playwrights of this age need to time to dig out get facts from cultural archives so that our stories can be told in our own way to a global audience.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.