Colonialism by Proxy: Hausa Imperial Agents and Middle Belt Consciousness in Nigeria

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Moses E. Ochonu explores a rare system of colonialism in Middle Belt Nigeria, where the British outsourced the business of the empire to Hausa-Fulani subcolonials because they considered the area too uncivilized for Indirect Rule. Ochonu reveals that the outsiders ruled with an iron fist and imagined themselves as bearers of Muslim civilization rather than carriers of the white man's burden. Stressing that this type of Indirect Rule violated its primary rationale, Colonialism by Proxy traces contemporary violent struggles to the legacy of the dynamics of power and the charged atmosphere of religious difference.

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1 The Hausa-Caliphate Imaginary and Ideological Foundations of Proxy Colonialism

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BRITISH-SUPERVISED Hausa-Fulani colonization in the Middle Belt has a long, scattered, but recoverable ideological history. The reconstruction of this history entails two interrelated quests. One is a search for the origin and development of a Hausa-caliphate colonial administrative imaginary in the osmotic interplay between caliphate and British narratives. The other is the sometimes subtle, sometimes declared entry of the set of ideas that rationalized proxy caliphate rule into official British colonial policy in Northern Nigeria.1

The search for colonial administrative coherence and uniformity prompted British officials to craft an administrative policy envisioned to normalize and spread a Hausa-caliphate sociocultural and political model to the non-Muslim areas of the Middle Belt.2 The process by which this policy emerged in the realm of ideas and debate, evolved, and became a manual of colonial rule in the Middle Belt was long and complex and requires a systematic analysis to unpack. Scrutinizing subcolonialism to reveal its properties is necessary to provide a discursive backdrop for narrative case studies that flesh out the operational vagaries of an unusual infrastructure of colonization.

 

2 Zazzau and Southern Kaduna in Precolonial and Colonial Times

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COLONIAL REMODELING OF the Southern Kaduna geopolitical area along caliphate emirate lines was authorized by the logic of uniform, cheap, and expedient administration. The legitimacy of this project relied on two other interrelated phenomena. One was a pattern of precolonial caliphate imperial practice that incorporated the non-Muslim peoples and polities of Southern Kaduna into varying levels of proto-imperial subordination. The second was the expanded and administratively instrumental interpretation of that precolonial relationship by the British to produce an elaborate system of proxy colonial rule that empowered Hausa-Fulani agents over non-Muslim autochthonous subalterns.

Through a long, convoluted process, Zazzau emirate, a strategic frontier caliphate state, came to extend a loose political influence to the non-Muslim Southern Kaduna polities. In the early-twentieth century, the British accelerated this historical process. They vested authority in Zazzau, its satellite emirates, and its officials and brought the Southern Kaduna peoples under their sway. British imposition of Zazzau subcolonial rule on the Southern Kaduna peoples culminated in a complicated and volatile subcolonial administrative system comprised of Hausa-Fulani colonial chiefs, scribes, administrators, tax collectors, and other colonial operatives working for the British. The unfolding of this subcolonial system, with its shifting contours, generated backlash and conflicts, but the discernible outlines of Zazzau’s precolonial imperial adventures in the Southern Kaduna area and their enduring legacies signposted these later colonial troubles and made the contentions more rancorous. Zazzau’s precolonial imperialism in the Southern Kaduna area was always precarious, but in the late nineteenth century it began to unravel visibly. This unraveling needs to be accounted for as a backdrop to the volatile subcolonial system that followed after the British conquest.

 

3 Emirate Maneuvers and “Pagan” Resistance in the Plateau-Nasarawa Basin

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MORE COMPELLING AND unique examples abound of precolonial caliphate ventures and the ways in which they sparked resistance and adaptations among non-caliphate peoples, eventually contributing to the emergence of a subcolonial system that fobbed off power to Hausa-Fulani personnel. In the Bauchi-Plateau sector, Bauchi emirate’s loose precolonial amana-based hegemony applied to some of the non-Muslim ethnic communities. Most, however, enjoyed some form of independence from Bauchi emirate’s control. Upon being conquered by the British, however, many of the non-Muslim ethnic groups of the plateau highlands and lowlands found themselves placed under Bauchi’s rule, administered through Hausa-Fulani agents. This British policy was founded on a misreading of precolonial relations and on the search for usable conquering groups, whose supposed legitimacy as precolonial political hegemons predisposed them to colonial leadership in non-Muslim communities. This pattern of emirate-centered colonial organization and rule requires a closer examination.

 

4 Hausa Colonial Agency in the Benue Valley

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THE BENUE VALLEY borders Southern Nigeria. It is easy, therefore, to assume that because of its geographical and cultural distance from the defunct caliphate and its proximity to Southern Nigerian culture, the influence of Hausa colonial agents could not have been as profound there. To the contrary, British colonialists assumed that precisely because of the distance between the region and the center of the caliphate it lacked the positive caliphate political institutions and socioeconomic values valorized as the bedrock of indirect rule. This conviction caused British officials to import and rely on hundreds of Hausa colonial agents among the Idoma, Tiv, and Igedde peoples. It was relatively easy for Hausa agents to flock to the Benue Valley: the Benue River, which might have limited the exposure of the Tiv, Idoma, and Igedde peoples to the caliphate and the jihad, now made entry into the region easy for British and Hausa personnel alike.

 

5 Fulani Expansion and Subcolonial Rule in Early Colonial Adamawa Province

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IN JULY 2011, the Nigerian federal government announced a decision to change the name of the Federal University of Technology in Yola to Moddibo Adama University of Technology. The change was made, the government claimed, to honor the most prominent leader of the Fulani jihad in the Upper Benue Valley and Alantika Mountains and founder of the precolonial Fombina (Adamawa) Emirate. The territorial span of the defunct emirate corresponds to a big chunk of postcolonial Adamawa State. In a unit of Nigeria that already bore the name of Adama (Adamawa is derived from Adama and became the name of the state in 1991, when Taraba State was created out of the old Gongola State), the name change riled the state’s non-Fulani population, who constitute, by some estimates, 80 percent of the entire population of the state.1

A former governor of the old Gongola State, Wilberforce Juta, a Bachama Christian and chairman of the Adamawa Elders Forum, resolutely opposed the renaming, arguing that there were several deceased Christian indigenes of the state who deserved the honor and should have been “immortalized” in the process of renaming the university.2 Juta declared that Modibbo Adama had already been honored enough since the entire state bore his name. By approving the renaming, President Goodluck Jonathan, a Southern Nigerian Christian, had “exhibit[ed] insensitivity to the struggle of northern minorities,” Juta stated. Juta contended that, “there are also late Christian leaders” who had helped to develop the state but who were “sleeping in their graves without being immortalized.”3 In the course of the debate over the renaming, it emerged that the Fulani lamido of Fombina, Muhammadu Barkindo Aliyu Musdafa, a descendant of Adama, had used his respected chiefly political clout to lobby the president intensely for the name change.

 

6 Non-Muslim Revolt against Fulani Rule in Adamawa

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THE IMPLEMENTATION OF a Fulani-centered colonial rule in Adamawa Province among the Chamba people in particular highlighted several foundational problems while eliciting backlash and intermittent, largely cosmetic, reform. As Fulani rule in the province transitioned into the second half of the colonial period, new problems emerged. These problems included increased protests by non-Muslim subjects of the Anglo-Fulani system, the volatile interplay of late colonial anxieties and fears, and aggressive political positioning by both the Fulani and non-Muslims. This chapter explores this gradual descent into conflict, botched reform, and failed colonial crisis management. It also analyzes the organic and organizational connection between, on one side, the struggle of non-Muslim groups and Western-educated youth against Fulani domination, and, on the other side, a broader struggle against caliphate political hegemony in Northern Nigeria in the late colonial period.

The impact of Fulani rule on the socioeconomic and political life of non-Muslim communities accumulated over time. As a result, reaction to Fulani colonial schemes and what non-Muslim groups regarded as oppressive policies developed gradually until it reached a crescendo in the 1940s and 1950s. By then, British officials would discover, other political forces beyond Adamawa had intervened to complicate both non-Muslim agitation and the Fulani’s expanding role in colonization. The late colonial period brought new confrontations between the British and the Fulani on one side and a proliferating array of non-Muslim groups on the other side. These encounters were animated by conflicting Fulani and non-Muslim political aspirations, as decolonization appeared imminent. The struggles of this period were as much about the dualism of anticipated privilege and oppression as they were about the grievances of the present. But their immediate roots lay in the failure of much-touted reforms and in the ironic consolidation of Fulani rule in the age of professed departure from its excesses.

 

7 Middle Belt Self-Determination and Caliphate Political Resurgence in the Transition to National Independence

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AS NATIONAL POLITICAL independence drew closer, the anxieties of regional minorities erupted into the political arena with unprecedented intensity. In Northern Nigeria, Middle Belt separatist mobilization reached a new height. The struggles of the Chamba, Alago, Katab, Kilba, Batta, Marghi, and other non-Muslim groups were being replicated across several Middle Belt provinces even as the pendulum of privilege appeared to swing discernibly in the direction of entrenched inheritors of caliphate political capital.

This late-colonial resentment against Hausa-Fulani domination was partly a product of the visible march toward self-government in Northern Nigeria, which was a prelude to and part of the messy march to national independence. The significance of this political moment was evident in the fears of Middle Belt elites. As preparations for self-government advanced, the political uncertainties plaguing Middle Belt communities increased. Middle Belt elites were searching for their place in the politics of an emerging Nigerian state and now understood the agenda of Hausa-Fulani Muslims to be a threat to their aspirations. Their prevalent fear, however exaggerated, was that if the British left the North as one political bloc at the time of national independence, the political fate of the Middle Belt would be sealed as a fief of an emerging political caliphate.

 

Conclusion: Subcolonialism, Ethnicity, and Memory

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THERE IS, at least in the field of African studies, a rich and growing literature on imperial mediation, on the political repertoires of indigenous colonial elites, and on their brokerage of colonial relations. But we have yet to articulate in a coherent conceptual or empirical vocabulary colonial administrative arrangements that devolved colonial control to non-autochthonous groups of Africans. The analyses in the foregoing chapters fill this gap by positing subcolonialism as a poorly understood but consequential colonial administrative form. At the same time, I have wrestled here with, but have not fully resolved, the epistemological and political legacies that subcolonialism birthed or reinforced.

Since the emergence of professional African history in the late 1950s and early 1960s, scholars have grown gradually familiar with how European colonizers implemented their colonial visions and how African communities responded to, recalibrated, instrumentalized, and inverted these visions of control. Studies of the colonial experience have furnished empirical evidence from different corners of the continent about the governing repertoires of colonizers, notably the use of indigenous—and thus supposedly legitimate—colonial insiders as mediators. This is an important epistemological baseline.

 

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