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Day in first administrative headquarters of Sokoto Caliphate

Sifawa is a 20-minute drive from Sokoto, the capital of Sokoto State. It is a quiet and friendly community. There are buildings and sites within…

Sifawa is a 20-minute drive from Sokoto, the capital of Sokoto State. It is a quiet and friendly community. There are buildings and sites within the town that dates back to the 19th century or even earlier.

1,000 years old

Speaking on how old the community is, Attahiru Sifawa said, “It predated even the established kingdoms of Gobir, Kebbi and Zamfara. It is about 900 to 1,000 years old. When the ancient kingdom of Kebbi was founded by Kanta, Sifawa was already in existence. They were among the communities that supported Kanta in his struggle to fight for independence from the Songhai Empire.”

Fall of Alkalawa

According to  Sifawa, a professor of History in the Sokoto State University, a major event in Central Sudan made Usman Dan Fodio, the Islamic scholar who founded the Sokoto caliphate, to immediately move to Sifawa.

“After the fall of Alkalawa, the capital of Gobir, Shehu Usman Dan Fodio moved to Sifawa in 1809, just a year after and settled there. By implication, after the establishment of the caliphate, Sifawa was the first seat of power for the caliphate after the defeat of Gobir.”

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Shehu’s mosque

Shehu Usman Dan Fodio’s mosque is visible from a vantage position in the old town of Sifawa. This part of the community is also referred to as Tsohon Gari, and the sense of history is very strong. One seems to be walking in the footsteps of the Shehu and those of his contemporaries. Originally, the mosque was quite large and occupied much space.

At well over 200 years, and with such towering history behind it, Shehu’s mosque has not yet been declared a national monument by the authorities.

2,500 worshippers

In Sifawa’s view, “The mosque can accommodate 2,500 worshippers. Originally, it was three times this size, but after it ceased to be a Jum’at mosque and reduced to five daily prayers, people no longer filled it to full capacity. Many people continued to settle around it, even encroaching into the territory of the mosque. When they decided to rebuild it, they took over the remaining available space. The renovation took about three and a half years.” It is widely believed that the mosque and a house for the Shehu were built by a king from Zamfara.

Sarkin Zomon Gummi

Sifawa also said, “It was Sarkin Zomon Gummi, a Zamfara kingdom of Gummi that built or took over the responsibility of building the mosque and Shehu’s house. The Zamfara kingdom had been existing for about 1,000 years.”

We are told that the mosque has been renovated twice in its history. The first took place in the 1970s; the next renovation effort was done recently.


A rebuilt mosque

He added, “There was a time the late Wazirin Sifawa Sodangi Gobirawa mobilised his resources, together with some people around, and the mosque was rebuilt. It was in the 1970s that the mosque was rebuilt under the leadership of the late Waziri. After that, in the last five years or so, the present chief judge of Sokoto State, who is also a descendant of Shehu, Mohammadu Said, rebuilt the mosque to the present standard you are seeing. He financed its reconstruction.”

Sefawa dynasty

Muhammadu Buhari Tambari, the district head of Sifawa also said that in the course of its history, the town had been influenced by different groups.

Speaking on the two waves of influence he said, “Our seniors told us that for 100 years or more, before Shehu came to Sifawa, the first settlers here were the Kanuri of the Sefawa dynasty. They had a disagreement and split into different fragments. Some went east and west, as far as Sudan. There is Sefawa in Sudan, which is very close to Cairo, but it is within Sudan. The ones that migrated west came down. I don’t know where they settled, but finally, they settled at Sifawa, originally from Sefawa. That’s how Sifawa got its name.”


Professor Sifawa said, “Even the word, Sifawa derives its name from Sefawa, which originated from Saif Bi Yazan, who was a Yemenite, believed to be the founder of the Kanem Bornu Empire. When he came he settled around the eastern part of the Lake Chad, married and intermingled with Maghumi people. Over the years, he built the Sefawa dynasty. Sefawa was the longest ruling dynasty in Africa for more than one 1,000 years before it finally fell early in the 19th century during the jihad.”

Westward movement

In his work titled, Sifawa in the History of the 19th Century Jihad of Hausaland, Dr Abdullahi Sifawa stated, “It is even hypothetical to believe that the founder could have been one of those in the family of the Sefawa dynasty who came westward after leaving the dynasty as a result of misunderstanding between members of the family. In fact, this seems more agreeable as the name of the founder of Sifawa appears to be a clear borrowing, or rather, an adulteration of the name of the dynasty, which is Sefawa.”

A new palace for the district head is under construction in Sifawa and will be ready soon.

Behind the Shehu’s mosque is a traditional barn or grain store, which rodents and insects cannot penetrate. It can preserve grains for several years, and is one of the last surviving symbols of traditional engineering in the area.

The significance of Sifawa

Sifawa is one of the Zakat communities in Sokoto State; an impressive building dedicated to this purpose was recently opened.

Not many people know that Sifawa was the first administrative headquarters of the Sokoto Caliphate. The Shehu lived there for about six years, from where he gave out flags to leaders of the jihad in various places and wrote many important works in the town.

Muhammad Lawal Maidoki, the executive chairman of the Sokoto State Zakat and Waqf Commission said, “The history of the caliphate cannot be complete without Sifawa. Sifawa is one of the centres where Usman Dan Fodio lived for quite some time before he finally migrated to Sokoto. This served as the headquarters during the seven years he stayed in Sifawa to administer the successes recorded, both in the west and in northern part.”

Shehu at Sifawa

Shedding light on the Shehu’s daily routine while living in Sifawa, Dr Sifawa said, “The Sheikh taught during weekdays and weekends, particularly Friday evenings. He preached to the masses. As is the common teaching practice in West Africa, lessons were conducted, both in the mornings and evenings. Therefore, the Shaykh had the night and the period between the two sessions and some hours in the weekends for his writings.”

Sifawa said no archaeological work had been done in the community, adding that there is little historical knowledge about its importance in the caliphate.

He also said, “People are not aware of history. When Sokoto emerged as the seat of the caliphate people just woke up to see it as such. Due to the level of consciousness about history, some people do not bother to find out where the seat of the caliphate was before the establishment of Sokoto.

“Over the years, many people are not even aware of Sifawa and its strategic importance in the history of the caliphate, but some people were there.”

Seat of power 

Revealing that Usman Dan Fodio resided at Sifawa from 1809 to 1815 Sifawa said, “After the fall of Gobir in 1808, Shehu Uthman Bin Fodio moved to Sifawa in 1809, and that was where he stayed for six years to superintend over the affairs of the caliphate. From 1809 to 1815, Sifawa was the capital of the Sokoto Caliphate and seat of power. It was only in 1815 when Shehu Uthman Bin Fodio moved from Sifawa to Sokoto that the seat of power also moved to Sokoto. From 1809 to 1815, Sifawa was the capital of the caliphate and seat of power.”

Sifawa supported Kanta

Sifawa is a 1,000-year-old community. “It was around the 11th century, so it preceded the ancient kingdoms of Zamfara. It is about 900 to 1,000 years old.

“When the ancient kingdom of Kebbi was founded by Kanta, Sifawa was already in existence. They were among the communities that supported Kanta in his struggle to fight for independence from the Songhai Empire.

“It was Magaji Lawaiya, one of the magajis in the chronology of the district heads that built the first city wall of Sifawa. It was 200 years older than the Kanta’s, therefore, this was around 1280s or 90s or thereabouts that the first city wall of Sifawa was built. After the emergence of Kanta, Sifawa became a district and the title of the district headship was changed to Gudurega,” Sifawa added

Layers of history

There are several layers of history and cultures at Sifawa. Many speak about the Kanuri influence which the name Sifawa seems to suggest. Then there is the constant reference to Kanta of Kebbi, as well as the jihad of 1804, which saw the learned Shehu Usman Dan Fodio residing in this quiet community. Indeed, he gave out quite a number of flags while at Sifawa.

Attahiru Sifawa said the first city walls of Sifawa were built in 1280. In addition to many things, the Shehu Dan Fodio mosque may also be a salute to Zamfara influence in the area, for it was built by the Sarkin Zomon Gummi in the 19th century.

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