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This research is an attempt to study the History of Gusau district in the colonial period, 1903-1960. Gusau district is one of the Districts that emerged following the jihad movement of the nineteenth century in Hausa land, led by the legendary Sheikh Usmanu Danfodiyo. It was founded around 1799 by Mallam Muhammadu Sambo, (Dan Ashafa) a disciple of the sheikh. Gusau district only became prominent after the fall of ‘Yandoto in 1806.1

Since its emergence as an important settlement in the Sokoto Caliphate, Gusau town attracted attention as an important agricultural and commercial center. At any rate, the town and its surrounding areas had attracted large presence of agriculturists; farmers and livestock rearers, especially cattle owning Fulani.2

Gusau before the colonial period, was an agrarian society, agriculture was the backbone of the economy of the Gusau, the economic activity of the people during this period consisted mainly in farming with other minor supplementary occupation, Although, like most other Hausa town’s agriculture remained the main activity. In the area there were builders, thatches, butchers, blacksmiths, drummers, praise-singers, e.t.c.3

Gusau and the territory assigned to Mallam Sambo Dan Ashafa falls within the metropolitan section of the caliphate. In Gusau after the consolidation of Mallam Sambo with their Headquarters at Gusau had under the territories of Wonaka, Mada, Yandoto, Samri, Magami, Marabu, Mareri, Mutumji, Kwaren Ganuwa, Wanke and a group of villages around Gusau, like other parts of the caliphate.4

In territorial administration besides the fief holders in the outlying territory, the town was broken into five wards namely, Shiyar Magaji, Uban Dawaki, Galadima, Mayana and Sarkin Fada. They were the vital links between the people in their respective wards and the Sarkin katsina. They are the eyes and ears of Sarki. Gusau like other parts of the Caliphate send a share of its revenue to the caliph.5

The coming of colonialism brought about certain developments and transformations of the societies in Gusau. Colonial infrastructures such as tarred roads, railways, modern stores, businesses as well as modern manufactures were all brought to the town. Similarly, modern residences, offices, schools and hospital were added to the town which aided and further enhanced, its expansion and modernization process.6

However, there are colonial policies that were introduced by the colonial administration which changed the system of political administration. The Gusau area is something of an anachronism. It is not a division but is treated as such in all respects politically, in which respect it has the status of a touring area. During the colonial administration 1907, they introduced cattle tax (Jangali).7

During the colonial period agriculture remained the main economic activity of Gusau, with economic potentials and also is a predominantly agricultural society, Agriculture was the mainstay of the economy and was mainly undertaken in Damina with the cultivation of major crops.8

Gusau covers a total land area of approximately 3469 square kilometers. The area within which Gusau is located is interrupted by few little rocky outcrops, such as hills of Mareri and Dokau. Gusau enjoys a tropical type of climate largely controlled by two masses, namely the tropical and maritime. The hottest months in Gusau are March and April that is just before the onset of the first rains. The onset of the rains tend to bring a cooling effect with temperature dropping below 360c (900f).9


The people of Gusau prior to colonial rule were mainly farmers who produced for subsistence living and trade with their neighbors. The district also developed in the areas through arts and craft and in the social sphere through the Islamic religion especially with the jihad of Uthman Dan fodio. With the advent of colonial rule, in the early 20th century, the administration introduced policies which largely led to the development of Gusau. However, with the passage of time, the pace of development has greatly diminished. It is therefore the search for solutions to the development of the country and Gusau in particular which has led to this research on Gusau district in the colonial period.


No society is stagnant, rather they are dynamic. Development entails moving from one phase to another especially when such a change comes with positive things on the lives of the people. Many of the groups and societies in Nigeria including Gusau were at one stage of development or another before the advent of colonial rule in the early 20th century.

This research work is relevant therefore in the following ways:

  1. It analyses the level of development of Gusau prior to its colonization, during its colonization.
  2. It also expresses in detail the impact of colonial rule on Gusau in the economic, social and political spheres. Through these study, it is hoped it would help in various ways in the formulation of development policies.
  3. Our study can be a basis for further research.




The main aim of this research is to study the History of Gusau District during the colonial period, 1903-1960.

Specifically the work is designed to achieve the following objectives:


  1. To examine in greater detail the society and economy of Gusau district prior to colonial rule.
  2. Examine the socio-economic and political policies introduced by the British colonial administration in Gusau district.
  3. Identify the problems which indicated against the success of colonial policies in the Gusau District.
  4. Analyze the impact of colonial rule in Gusau District.
  5. Make my contribution to existing knowledge on Gusau District.


The focuses on the History of Gusau in the colonial period covering period fifty seven years that is from 1903-1960. The study will specially interrogate the role of colonialism in the district of especially the political and economic policies introduced in the district and the impact these have held. The period 1903-1960 coincides with the effective colonization of the area of the study.10

The study is primarily concerned with Gusau district, covering the following residential areas namely Filin Habibu Maigadaje, Fan Fon Maishanu, Gagaren Kwata, Birnin- Ruwa, ‘Yarloko, Sabon-Gari, Filin Gunza, Sabon-Fegi, Unguwar-Zabarma, Tashar-mota, Filin-Tanko,Unguwar-Toka, Unguwar-Mangwaro, Tudun-Wada.11

The limitation of the study, stems from the lack of primary data concerning Gusau district. It was also in the area of documented information but was supplemented by oral interviews and archival materials. It was also in the resources to finance the research and the limited time within which it was to be carried out.


In an attempt to gather historical materials for the conduct of this research work, both primary and secondary sources were consulted and used in the analysis and interpretation.

The primary sources include the use of archival materials in form of Memoranda, Reports, Regulations and Letters on the History of Gusau in the colonial period activities of Gusau District. Such materials are deposited in Arewa House, National Archives Kaduna (NAK) and Zamfara State History Bureau, Gusau. The information contained, in the materials was analyzed and interpreted. In addition to that, oral data was collected through interviews with people in the field. Also, field trips and observations were made by visiting all the locations in the district while also interviewing the inhabitants.

Secondary sources form of published and unpublished works like textbooks, journal articles, seminar papers, theses and dissertations that are in one way or the other relevant to this research were consulted. Most of these works are deposited in Federal University Dutsinma, Katsina State, Zamfara State Library, Waziru Junaidu History and Culture Bureau Library, Sokoto, National Archives Kaduna and Arewa House Library, Kaduna.




Ronald J. Horvath in his article a ‘A Definition of Colonialism’ seeks to fill the lacunae in the literature on colonialism by attempting to define the term ‘colonialism’ using a process that he refers to as definitional analysis. It is his view that colonialism as a concept has remained ambiguous even though there has been considerable research on the topic.  According to Ronald J. Horvth, 12

Colonialism is a form of domination the control by individuals or groups over the territory and/or behavior of other individuals or groups. Colonialism has also been seen as a form of exploitation, with emphasis on economic variables.

As in Marxist-Leninist literature and as a culture-change process, as in anthropology; these various points of departure need not conflict, however, and the choice of domination as a focus here will not exclude the culture-change dimension of the phenomenon.

The idea of domination is closely related to the concept of power.

According to Robert Young, 13

Colonialism is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another. One of the difficulties in defining colonialism is that it is hard to distinguish it from imperialism. Frequently the two concepts are treated as synonyms. Like colonialism, imperialism also involves political and economic control over a dependent territory.


The etymology of the two terms, however, provides some clues about how they differ. The term colony comes from the Latin word colonus, meaning farmer. This root reminds us that the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory, where the arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to their country of origin. Imperialism, on the other hand, comes from the Latin term imperium, meaning to command. Thus, the term imperialism draws attention to the way that one country exercises power over another, whether through settlement, sovereignty, or indirect mechanisms of control.

According to W. Edward, 14 “Colonialism can be defined in a fairly straight-forward manner that is, as a political, economic, and social formation involving the conquest and control of foreign territories by various European powers from the mid-eighteenth through the mid-twentieth century”.

From the above definitions, it can be inferred that colonialism is the establishment, exploitation, maintenance, acquisition, and expansion of a colony in one territory by a political power from another territory.


Published and unpublished materials that focus on the colonial History of Nigeria, Sokoto and Gusau areas in particular are reviewed. Some of the relevant works include:

The work of Tukur15 entitled, “The Imposition of British Colonial Domination”, described the period of British colonialism as a time when the British reduced the whole society into their own slaves. The author maintained that British bureaucracy hid behind Emirs and their officials in the system of indirect rule, to lay their fingers in all aspects of the existence (institutions) of the people of the Emirates. He described taxation during the colonial period as heavier and more numerous than the pre-colonial taxes, and that many of them were baseless and arbitrary.

Some of the taxes had as their primary purpose not the provision of raw materials to the colonial administration and Native Authorities, but the creation of a colonial economy devoid of an indigenous industrial base and geared towards the production and export of un-processed raw materials.

The author showed that the Emirates not only paid for their own domination by the British but also exported surpluses to various financial institutions in Britain and in other parts of the British Empire. The traditional sources of powers of the Emir were destroyed and new ones suitable to the Europeans were introduced. These structures of authority permitted the British to control the Emirate directly and effectively.

The author described the period of the British colonial domination that is the main aim of British expanding their territories. The reason for British colonial rule was for economic reasons in order to search for raw materials, markets and lastly in order to have prestige of power among other European countries. That was the main aim of British colonial domination, which the author did not mention.

The work of Lugard, 16 entitled, Political Memorandum; in it Lugard defined the objectives and policies of the government under the indirect rule. Under the indirect rule system, the indigenous peoples of the area were administered in accordance with their own Native laws and customs as long as these were not contrary or offensive to European sensibilities and their own laws. Lugard went on to define indirect rule in the following words: “Rule through Native Chiefs, who were regarded as an integral part of the machinery of government, with well-defined powers and functions recognized by Government and law”.

He stressed that the duties of the Native Chiefs have been well defined and acknowledged. The British viewed the traditional governments of the Emirates as obsolescent and therefore needed to be reformed before they could meet the requirement of the colonial regime. Frederick Lugard’s rule through the traditional rulers was later extended to other parts of Nigeria.

Another relevant work by Abubakar17 entitled “The Northern Provinces under Colonial Rule: 1900 – 1956”. This was a general survey of the practical changes that British conquest and administration imposed on the Northern Nigerian Provinces. The author argued that Northern Nigeria, particularly the territory of the defunct Sokoto Caliphate, witnessed the curtailing of the powers of Emirs and other traditional rulers and reduction in the size of the Emirates. He further noted that although the Emirs were said to be free to govern their people, in actual fact they were under the control of British Residents and the District Officers. The work also made reference to various administrative reforms in the North, undertaken by the British colonialists in the face of the various resistance against their rule, i.e. the Mahdi uprising and the growth of Northern educated elite which later spear headed the first political parties in the North.

The author described the Northern provinces under colonial rule. The Emirs were free to govern their people, in actual fact that they were under the control of British. And the emirs that resisted colonial rule were overthrown from their thrones. Which the author did not mention.

Another work by Yahaya18 article entitled, ‘Traditional Leadership and Institutions: The colonial Transformation of Emirate System’. It dealt with the widespread changes in the Emirates which were the result of British interference in the traditional institutions of the Emirates. Notwithstanding these political changes, the author maintained that some or all the pre-colonial Caliphate system of administration were left intact by the British. For instance, he noted that the revenue generation, the judicial system and the law enforcement agencies, among others in the Emirates, were simply adopted by the colonial administration for local governance or government. Later these structures metamorphosed into the Native Authority System. In furtherance of these changes, the British established the Northern Nigeria Conference of Chiefs, a powerful consultative forum of Emirs and the colonial government.

These changes later led to the emergence of educated elite or group inside and outside the Native Authority System. The author argued that the educated elites did not reject the Native Authority system, rather they demanded for the reform of the system to reflect the changing circumstance of Northern Nigeria.

In response, the British administration passed into law the Native Authority law of 1953 which tended to reform the native authority system. Yahaya noted that the British took the initiative with the aim of retaining the influence of the traditional leaders and creating an avenue to provide participatory opportunity to the educated group. The author noted that the reform was seen as one of the measures to accommodate the demands by the critics of the Native Authority system. Part of the outcome of the reform was the emergence of educated elites in local government administration, and this group, according to him, came to inherit power from the British after independence.

Another work by Tibenderana19 entitled, “The Irony of Indirect Rule in Sokoto Emirate, Nigeria: 1903-1944”, centered on the administrative reorganization and the position of the Emirs in the administration of the territory of the former Sokoto Caliphate. He explained that, contrary to the perception of some scholars that under colonial rule the Emirs increased their powers and retained the initiative to formulate and execute local administrative decisions, in actual sense their powers were weakened, because of the undermining influence of British administrative reorganization. For example, prior to the imposition of colonial rule the Sultan was the political head of the Sokoto Caliphate, the religious leader of the community, and the supreme judge of the Islamic law (Shari’ a). The fall of the Sokoto Caliphate to the British forces marked the end of the Caliphate era. The newly installed Sultan (Muhammad Attahiru) was not designated Caliph but Emir to signify his dependent status. He ceased to have anything to do with the other Emirates and their Emirs. His authority was confined to the districts of the Caliphate metropolis, the Sokoto Emirate. The British colonial Governor assumed the functions hitherto performed by the Caliphate.

Another work by yahya20 entitled, Native Authority in Northern Nigeria; provides more insight by revisiting the demand by the emergent Western educated elites (political class) for the reform of indirect rule to allow for broad based participation as part of the process of decolonization. He gave an account of the reaction of the Emirate aristocracies who were the victims of the reform. Yahaya regarded traditional leaders as intermediaries in the transformation process and as an institutional role in the political process.

Yahaya noted that the British took the initiative with the aim of retaining the influence of the traditional leaders and creating an avenue to provide participatory opportunity to the educated group. The author noted that the reform was seen as one of the measures to accommodate the demands by the critics of the Native authority system. Part of the outcome of the reform was the emergence of educated elites in local government administration, and this group, according to him, came to inherit power from the British after independence.21

Another work by Okonjo22 entitled, British Administration in Nigeria 1900-1950; discussed the principles of indirect rule by the British and how this served to preserve something of the indigenous political and social organizations as well as what the colonial powers judged to be best in indigenous law and custom. He maintained that the British in Nigeria did not feel the necessity to associate Nigerians other than a handful of traditional rulers with them in administering the country. Even then, these traditional rulers were told of what were expected from them and were to behave like good boys, to do as they were told. They were under the control of British administrators who had formal functions, and the primary responsibility of such officers was that of watch dog for the central administration; to see that Native Authorities were running smoothly.

The author described British Administration in Nigeria. Which he only discussed the indirect rule in Nigeria, it was also important to know that British administration in Nigeria did not only use indirect rule. There were some parts of Nigeria that the colonial administration introduced direct rule. In the Northern part of Nigeria and in some part of Western Nigeria while, in the Eastern part of Nigeria they introduced direct rule. Which the author did not mention in the work.


Colonialism is a major phenomenon on the African and Nigerian political and economic scene. This is due to the role it has played among the several societies and peoples that were brought under colonial subjugation. It is against this background that this study has set out to examine the role of political rule in Gusau district in the period under study. This is more so as the colonial economic policies positively impacted on the economy of the district. This chapter therefore lays the foundation upon which the rest of the research would be undertaken.