INTERVIEW: Why Fulani leaders dominate in northern Nigeria, and why they speak Hausa — Murtala Muhammed’s cousin

Ibrahim Kurawa
Ibrahim Kurawa

Ibrahim Ado Kurawa was a Special Adviser and the Director of Research and  Documentation under the administration of former Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau.

In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES HAUSA, he sheds light on a number of issues related to leadership in Northern Nigeria, including Fulani hegemony and origin of his cousin, the late military Head of State, Murtala Muhammed.

PT: As trained a scientist, what prompted you to go into other fields of research?

KURAWA: What prompted me into a research was about 30 years ago, when some people claimed that late Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed, was from Auchi, Edo State. What a terrible claim about his ancestry! I happened to be related to him and so I had to dig our own history and find our origin. That was what made me study genealogy, history, Arabic documents and so on. After many years, I became more and more interested in these fields.

PT: How closely are you related to late Murtala?

KURAWA: My grandfather was a cousin to Murtala’s grandfather. For the record, Murtala’s great grandfather, Muhammad Zangi, was Chief Alkali of Kano. His grandfather was also Chief Alkali of Kano. In 1868, Zangi wrote a book called Altaqidil Akbar. It is also very important to know that Zangi was a student of Sultan Bello’s famous learning centre at Silame. When he became the Grand Khadi of Kano, the then Emir of Kano, Abdullahi Maje-Karofi, instructed him to write about how the jihad took place in Kano, so that future generation would not have doubt.

So, Zangi’s narration of the jihad is most comprehensive, after that of Sultan Bello. This Mohammad Zangi was the father of Sulaiman, and Sulaiman was the father of Mohammed Riskuwa, who was the father of Murtala Mohammed. I am related to late Murtala because Zangi was the father of Shehu, Shehu was the father of Muhammad, who was the father of Ado, and Ado, who is the present District Head of Tarauni, is my father. This will confirm to you and all your readers that my great grandfather, Shehu, and Sulaiman, the great grandfather of late Murtala were among the children of Mohammed Zangi.

As a result of my research, in 1989, I translated Zangi’s book from Arabic to English. I told you that he wrote that book in 1868. My father’s grandfather, Shehu, was killed by Tukur, the then Emir of Kano, during the Kano civil war.

Sulaiman, Murtala’s grandfather’s relationship with Sultan Attahiru, was also documented in that book. He was the Khadi of Kano during the reign of Emir Alu of Kano. He was the Khadi when the British colonialists conquered Kano. After the conquest, he was replaced by Malam Gidado as Khadi of Kano.

PT: With all these narrations coming authoritatively from you, readers will be eager to know which tribe Zangi belonged to.

KURAWA: Mohammadu Zangi was from Gyanawa clan. Gyanawa are Fulani from the Jallubawa clan. Fulani has several clans. We have Sullubawa, Ba’awa, Toronkawa, Danejawa and so on. Gyanawa came to this part of present day Nigeria from Futa Toro, they settled at Bagarmi and up to this part of Nigeria in 1500 AD.

I as well forgot to tell you from the beginning that Salihu, Zangi’s father was among the students of Usman Danfodiyo. His brother, Abdullahi Alkanawy, also wrote a book, Addawa’ir. The book is also documented in a book titled Sokoto Caliphate, written by Murray Last.

PT: Were you close to Murtala before he was assassinated?

KURAWA:  I was in primary school when he was assassinated. But I do remember that he used to visit his aunt, A’isha, who was junior sister to his father. At that time I was staying with her. She was the one taking care of me at that time. That is all I can remember, as I was a small kid at that time.

PT: Looking at historical perspective of the Fulani dominance of Hausa land from 1800 to 1900, it is believed that this hegemony over the Hausa still prevails in both leadership and politics and governance in Nigeria, from 1900 to date.  What are your views about this?

KURAWA: Let us look at history for us to know how things happened. It was not just because you are Fulani that you automatically became head of state or president. That was not the case. First of all, Fulani rulers were scholars who brought scholarship to this part of the world. In Kano especially, when they came in 14th century, they came as scholars.

Being scholars of Islam, they had great opportunity and the only opportunity for one to have social mobility is to have knowledge. So, most of those who happened to be at leadership positions were educated people. What happened during the jihad, which was a movement of intellectual scholars, was that Danfodiyo had several students from Hausa land who were Fulani.

But we also have to understand that Danfodiyo’s lieutenants did something very important that today we are seeing as something that brought unity to the people of northern Nigeria. They promoted Hausa as lingua franca. Most of their books were written in Hausa. Today, many Fulanis in the city don’t or even can’t speak Fulfulde language. I’m sure the Sultan of Sokoto and Emir of Kano don’t speak Fulfulde. But they are all Fulani by ethnicity. Even Sardauna was speaking Hausa and English.

One important thing you also have to look at is that Hausa has dominated everybody – the Hausa language, mode of dressing, food, even the system of traditional institutions in all the states in northern Nigeria, is in Hausa. So what is the difference between Hausas and Fulani? Our ancestors were just Fulani or Hausa. That is all. There was no kind of hegemony or deliberate conspiracy against the Hausas.

PT: Don’t you think the Fulanis are also far ahead of Hausas in terms of acquiring western education, which might have given them an edge above the Hausas? General Murtala was a Fulani, so also Shehu Shagari, Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammadu Buhari. Majority of First Republic federal and regional ministers from the north were not Hausa but Fulani. Most of the state governors from First Republic to date in the north were mostly Fulani not Hausa. There must be some reasons for these. 

KURAWA: In terms of education, when you look at it generally, Hausa people during the 19th century and up to the time of colonization were not interested in education. They were interested in farming and trading. While those Fulanis were clerics, they were studying Islam. Naturally, they became easily shifted to western education. Because western education in the northern part of Hausa land came through the states and the Fulani were those who had the states in their hands.

Colonial masters forced the traditional rulers to enrol their children in schools. The first pupils of Gidan Danhausa, first western school in Kano, were children from the aristocrat homes. Even the first people to go to primary school were the children of Fulani aristocrats. This act had to be perpetuated. Those who went to school will also take their children to school. Those who didn’t would take them time to catch up.

The first Hausa man to go to Middle School in Kano was Musa Iliyasu (and later his brother Salihi), somewhere around 1939 or 1940. He was even many years behind people like Aminu Kano who was in Katsina Middle School around 1936 and was at Middle School by 1930. Musa Iliyasu was about20 years later after Bello Kano, Dokaji, Ahmadu Matidan, Sani Dan Chiroma all went to Katsina Middle School in 1921 or 1922. Four of them were Fulanis while Ahmadu Matidan was an Arab from Kano. But things are now changing.

PT: What about other places like Sokoto, Katsina…

KURAWA: (Cuts in): Even in other places. The first student to go to Barewa College in 1923, I mean that is No.1 student of the school, was Abubakar, a Fulani man from Sokoto, who later became Madaki of Sokoto. Student No.4, Ahmadu Matidan, was also an Arab, from Kano. Ahmadu Bello was the first person among the descendants of Danfodiyo to go to Katsina College, I think around 1926. With this level of education, the Fulani were so easy to be in bureaucracy and politics.

PT: What do you know about the origin of former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar?

KURAWA: Well, I don’t know about Abdulsalami Abubakar. All I know is that he is a Hausa man. Abdulsalami is still alive. You can go and ask him (laughter). I cannot speculate about someone’s ancestry while he is still alive.

PT:  You may have something to say about Ibrahim Babangida?

KURAWA: Everything about his biography is written in this page. (He picks a copy of one of Babangida’s biography from his table and hands it to PREMIUM TIMES reporter). But people can say whatever they want to say.

PT: You must have left some of your legacies when you served as Director, Research and Documentation of Kano State under former governor, Ibrahim Shekarau.

KURAWA: I served for six years, from 2005 to 2011. We published more than 50 books and 20 electronic copies.

PT: Finally, What more will you say about the Fulani of the Gyanawa clan?

KURAWA: We the Gyanawa clan, where late Head of State Murtala belonged, are today having five traditional titles in Kano Emirate. After the Yolawa, the Gyanawa has the largest number. We have Wali of Kano, Matawalle, Dangoriba, Talba and Magajin Gari. Dangoriba of Kano, who is the District Head of Tarauni, is my father.


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  • Otile

    This is the most boring chronology one has ever seen. Definety Mallam Ibrahim Kurawa has wasted his time doing the wrong archeological digs. Aikin banza.

    • marcos avelino

      Christian crusader fulani basher what have you to say ? tell us the history of your animist grandfather who became christian in the 1930’s. No pedigree except hatred , envy and jealousy.

      • Otile

        That he was a devout Muslim man did not make Murtala Mohammed Hausa Fulani. Imam Abu Shekau, a very devout Muslim cannot claim Fulani heritage, he is still a Kanuri. If Murtala was not an Edo man how did he know where Nigeria hid money in Edo land? Haven’t you heard that when the genocide broke out Murtala went staight to Bank of Benin and stole £10,000,000? Do you want me to teach you more?

      • Dr Norm

        What is wrong with Traditional African Religion; that is the appropriate name for the Religion of the Indigenous Peoples of Black Africa before the Arabs and Europeans came to steal, rape and enslave-with their “barbarisms” disguised as “civilizations.” For “what are empires but grand robberies?” (St. Augustine) The Arabs taught the fulani about jihad, which they employed it as a ruthless and deadly weapon to destroy other West African kingdoms-including the hausa; since then, the fulani have employed that jihadi ideology and mentality to dominate and “rule” Northern nigeria, as well as the rest of the country. It is due to that “tradition of robbery” that, today, they control 90% of the oil resources of the SE and the SS-wealth embedded in other peoples’ lands. But nigeria’s ethnic-nationalities, who constitute the majority of the country, are becoming more knowledgeable of the predatory nature of the fulani imperial past, and more conscious of their obsessive quest to “dominate wherever they domicile.” Moreover, Muslims never admit they ever employed violence to convert others to Islam: Neither in the Arabian peninsula nor in the Holy Land, not in North Africa or India. Conversion was always “peaceful,” and by traders and missioners: Not by the sword but by the Quran! And what beautiful and wonderful world!

    • Eluba Inas

      On the contrary. I found this very educational. You don’t want anything that will strengthen the bond of Hausas and Fulanis. You want just division so you can achieve your evil ulterior motive.

      • Tahir Bunu-hamza

        Do not give a damn!
        No body can cause the bond between the Hausas and the Fulanis to loose for they are now HausaFulanis and no longer Hausas and Fulanis!

  • Fada4Life

    So it is true that the Fulani will always want to dominate wherever they find themselves, OK make una just wait and see…

    • Eluba Inas

      Every time Fulani try to excel you call it domination, but another entity you call it progress.

      • Fada4Life

        Did you read the interview

        • Eluba Inas

          Yes, I did. I read it line by line because this is an area of interest to me. However, my response to you was on quote “dominate” which you used perhaps wrongly or on purpose.

  • obiora

    Fulani are Arab Slaves Which was recuruted by Europeans as Militia and used to Fight and rob Black people in Gahna Empire. Hausas are from Sudan which is Slave of Egypt, and they used to Rob people in Sahara Desert . So they used those two Tribes Hausa and Fulani to Fight and rob Black Afrikan off their wealth. But after they gave Fulani advantage over Hausa because they Smaller in number.

    • Tahir Bunu-hamza

      Generally, Hausa people during the 19th century and up to the time of colonization were not interested in education. They were interested in farming and trading. While those Fulanis were clerics, they were studying Islam. At the time other (most) Nigerians were dwelling in an era of darkness and total illiteracy: being traded like common commodity and taken to the Americas, Brazil, Cuba and the rest of the Caribbeans as SLAVES to work on plantations!

      • Mike

        not uniformly ‘dark’. The benin ppl, Ibadan, opobo and aros-to name a few- ran developed states with proper economies and standing armies( to project military influence and fight wars).
        On the issue of slavery; in the southern kingdoms captives, outcasts and generally unlucky ppl who got caught up in legal or communal tussles were sold internally and to european shippers. The fulani emirates also ran a huge slave industry, pillaging the present day middle belt for slaves for military, civil and trade use. in fact, they had a quota set by the sultan in sokoto and his lieutenant in Gwandu. Interestingly the trade served both the trans-saharan( to north africa mainly)and trans-atlantic slave trades……as there were fulani hausa nupe etc slaves in the americas as well.

        • Tahir Bunu-hamza

          The Fulani had never taken the Middle Belters for slaves at any point in time in history, and nor had they fought them with intention to convert them to Islam! – and that was why the Christian missionaries were able to penetrate those communities and converted them to Christianity instead. This religious romance between the middle belters and the missionaries is what had exposed the middle belters (as well as other Northern Christians) to western education, military and civil service. The Hausas excelled more in trade. As for the Nupes involved (according to you) in international slave trade, may be you mean to say the Tafa clan found in Lagos! This is a clear fact of history which you seem to be very ignorant of – merely fumbling and drifting from the angle of hearsay and tale-by-the-moonlight! .

          • Mike

            Hearsay ? Not going to go down that lane with you…. Do ur research on islamic west africa properly. worked with researchers at carleton uni in canada in this area. . There was a bustling trade in slaves in markets in the areas that made up the sokoto caliphate ANd the bornu empire. in fact there are reports of berber/tuareg and arab traders in garzagamu and kano waiting to take their consignment of slaves back to the north . usually tripoli or the fezzan.
            All the sahelian states engaged deeply in it. whereas say ouaddai( Waddai) pillaged the sara peoples, the prime target for the caliphate were the then-pagan peoples of what is now benue-plateau. Even the groups on the fringes of bornu like the bachama that did not have standing armies used a system of disperesed militarization that kept able bodied men in shape for raids and skirmishes.
            in the caliphate slaves were used to guard the ribat( frontier), admin duties, military, civil and exchange value.

            Please start with something as easy as smaldone’s ‘warfare in the sokoto caliphate’. where it is clear from records from info gleaned off slave markets in as far as cairo that central sahelian state among which sokoto became prominent after the jihad in the early 1800s were the chief source of supply. For this u can get RACE AND SLAVERY IN THE MIDDLE EAST edited by walz and cuno.

            then on more detail concerning trans-saharan slaving and modes of living developed to deal with it there is ‘a history of war in chad’ of the war and society series. This covers more bagirmi and ouaddai, but there is info on modibbo adama’s successors’ raids and activities in southern chad.
            And for specific info on middle belt liaisons with fulani authority and their subsequent assertion of self-determination(politically) take a look at reviews of or the full work of Moses ochonu ‘Colonialism by proxy: hausa imperial agents and middle belt consciousness in Nigeria’. part of the crux of the work is that the legacy of slave raids left an indelible mark on the consciousness of most middle belt tribes. there’s people who still lie in their highland rock refuges till today. that was how they avoided the fulani cavalrymen as it was tricky to engage them on foot.

            Please do not try to twist history next time. There is no shame in anything. The duty of the historian is to represent things as they happened. not fit propaganda or white wash things.

          • Mike

            Moses Ochonu himself is a middle belter.. go to vanderbilt and ask him lol.You clearly never read UMBC or Northern christian elders statements before ?
            eh. Gazargamu and KANO .. read properly. You just talk out of hubris without any documentary evidence. Typical propagandist. Nothing to back up anything. The point of mentioning bornu, Waddai and bagirmi is to effect that the phenomenon was found amongst the militarized states of the sahel…and there were north african traders even when the british arrived. Some particular families that still plied the remnants of slave trade and were getting into the hides and transport businesses. but nah u have an agenda. Good thing there’s the comment section for your types. Bootleg historian.
            To quote Father kukah from page 28 of ochonu’s study -‘ Around the middle belt the jihadists ( Hausa Fulani) seemed more preoccupied with ‘slaving’, economic and political expansionism than the spread of islam. as a result all forms of alliances came into being, but economic considerations were paramount”. hahah you make it too easy…
            One very key and documented feature of the sokoto economy was the massive surplus value from unpaid labor-euphemism for slavery. You could argue that it was not chattel slavery within the urban areas.but the ones for sale from raids faced as much cruelty as elsewhere in the world.
            I have family from Kaduna and whether you choose to believe it or not the legacy of the slave raids will never be erased. umbc and northern Christian elders will always be there to preserve middle belt interest my friend. Please keep feeding me with your hearsay. i am waiting. Do not quote any authority but urself….You are the god of historical truth indeed.

            somehow Smaldone, Cuno. Father Kukah, Ochonu and i are wrong. You’re correct even without any documented evidence or references but your hallowed knowledge bank.

          • Jafaru Nass

            It was the British that stopped the Fulani/Hausa slave trade. They wrote about this extensively. That means slavery persisted after the Sokoto Caliphate.

          • Mike

            Mr hamza claims the Hausa/Fulani sokoto caliphate never dealt in or with slaves…….

        • HAMZA

          If you have actually worked (in this area) with researchers at Carleton University in Canada, you would have realized (and concluded) that there was no slave trade after the formation of Sokoto Caliphate. And after the formation of the caliphate no any berber, tuareg or arab trader
          could (in reality) have reached Garzagamu (Gazargamo was the capital of the Bornu Empire from ca. 1460 to 1809), Kano or anywhere else for that matter, to take consignments of slaves (back to the north – usually tripoli or the Fezzan).
          The ouaddai and the Waddai that you mentioned as masters of the
          sahelian slave trade were neither Hausa nor Fulani. Also Kano (the ancient trade
          city) and the Borno Empire (and another caliphate) were there before the birth
          and emergence of Sokoto Caliphate.
          It would interest you to know that the trans-Saharan slave trade was
          conducted within the ambits of the trans-Saharan trade, otherwise referred to
          as the Arab trade. Trans-Saharan trade, conducted across the Sahara Desert, was
          a web of commercial interactions between the Arab world (North Africa and the
          Persian Gulf) and sub-Saharan Africa.
          Consequently, I still maintain my position on my original line
          of comment to you that – the Fulani had never taken the Middle
          Belters for slaves at any point in time in history, and nor had they fought
          them with intention to convert them to Islam! In fact, the Middle Belters would
          be very proud to tell it to you that they have neither been conquered nor
          enslaved by the Sokoto Caliphate!
          Good day to you.

          • Mike

            Moses Ochonu himself is a middle belter.. go to vanderbilt and ask him lol.You clearly never read UMBC or Northern christian elders statements before ?
            eh. Gazargamu and KANO .. read properly. You just talk out of hubris without any documentary evidence. Typical propagandist. Nothing to back up anything. The point of mentioning bornu, Waddai and bagirmi is to effect that the phenomenon was found amongst the militarized states of the sahel… but nah u have an agenda. Good thing there’s the comment section for your types. Bootleg historian.
            To quote from Father kukah from page 28 of ochonu’s study -‘ Around the miiddle belt the jihadists ( Hausa Fulani) seemed more preoccupied with ‘slaving’, economic and political expansionism than the spread of islam. as a result all forms of alliances came into being, but economic considerations were paramount.”
            I have family from Kaduna and whether you choose to believe it or not the legacy of the slave raids will never be erased. umbc and northern Christian elders will always be there to preserve middle belt interest my friend. Please keep feeding me with you hearsay. i am waiting. fake bootleg ass mallam

  • Mike

    Murtala’s auchi lineage comes from his paternal side.His father married the daughter of a top hausa merchant(sarkin hausawa) in Agege during the early 20th century. No one has ever doubted the pedigree of his maternal ancestry in the kano emirate social hierarchy. mallam zangi and co are from the maternal side.