British Conquest of the Sokoto Caliphate 1903

[ 1903 - 1904 ]

Frederick Lugard, who assumed the position of high commissioner of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria in 1900, often has been regarded as the model British colonial administrator. Trained as an army officer, he had served in India, Egypt, and East Africa, where he expelled Arab slave traders from Nyasaland and established the British presence in Uganda. Joining the Royal Niger Company in 1894, Lugard was sent to Borgu to counter inroads made by the French, and in 1897 he was made responsible for raising the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) from local levies to serve under British officers.

During his six-year tenure as high commissioner, Lugard was occupied with transforming the commercial sphere of influence inherited from the Royal Niger Company into a viable territorial unit under effective British political control. His objective was to conquer the entire region and to obtain recognition of the British protectorate by its indigenous rulers, especially the Fulani emirs of the Sokoto Caliphate. Lugard's campaign systematically subdued local resistance, using armed force when diplomatic measures failed. Borno capitulated without a fight, but in 1903 Lugard's RWAFF mounted assaults on Kano and Sokoto. From Lugard's point of view, clear-cut military victories were necessary because their surrenders weakened resistance elsewhere.

Lugard's success in northern Nigeria has been attributed to his policy of indirect rule, which called for governing the protectorate through the rulers who had been defeated. If the emirs accepted British authority, abandoned the slave trade, and cooperated with British officials in modernizing their administrations, the colonial power was willing to confirm them in office. The emirs retained their caliphate titles but were responsible to British district officers, who had final authority. The British high commissiones could depose emirs and other officials if necessary. Lugard reduced sharply the number of titled fief holders in the emirates, weakening the rulers' patronage. Under indirect rule, caliphate officials were transformed into salaried district heads and became, in effect, agents of the British authorities, responsible for peacekeeping and tax collection. The old chain of command merely was capped with a new overlord, the British high commissiones.

The protectorate required only a limited number of colonial officers scattered throughout the territory as overseers. Depending on local conditions, they exercised discretion in advising the emirs and local officials, but all orders from the high commissiones were transmitted through the emir. Although the high commissiones possessed unlimited executive and legislative powers in the protectorate, most of the activities of government were undertaken by the emirs and their local administrations, subject to British approval. A dual system of law functioned--the sharia (Islamic law) court continued to deal with matters affecting the personal status of Muslims, including land disputes, divorce, debt, and slave emancipation. As a consequence of indirect rule, Hausa-Fulani domination was confirmed--and in some instances imposed--on diverse ethnic groups, some of them non-Muslim, in the so-called middle belt.


In the north Frederick Lugard, the first High Commissioner of Northern Nigeria, was instrumental in subjugating the Fulani emirs. Some were deposed, some defeated in battle, and others collaborated. By 1903 the conquest of the emirates was complete. The mud-walled city of Kano was captured in February, and after a vigorous skirmish at Kotorkwashi, the sultan's capital, Sokoto, fell the next month. All the territories were now under British control, and the search for an identity began, first as Northern and Southern Nigeria, then with eventual amalgamation.


Zaria offered no opposition to peaceful occupation, but the murder of Captain Malony, Resident at Keffi, precipitated hostilities with Kano. The fall of this great city and that of Sokoto in March, 1903, was followed by the submission of the minor Emirates, and convinced those which had already submitted that their belief that the British would be exterminated by these powerful Emirs was vain. When this had been accomplished, and the forces of disorder had been broken, the British Administration was faced with the insistent urgency of creating a new organisation and of developing a native policy without delay. The system evolved will be described in a later paragraph. The necessity of securing means wherewith to carry on the Administration was no less insistent than the reorganisation of the Native Administration. There was no revenue to be got from spirits, which were wholly prohibited, while the cost of the large force necessary for the control of the country absorbed the greater part of the wholly inadequate grant from the Imperial Government.

<table class='table table-bordered col-lg-12 col-md-12 col-sm-12 col-xs-12 margin20 row-30' border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="100%" style="font-family: 'Times New Roman'; background-color: rgb(255, 255, 255);"><tbody><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">State</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Entry</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Exit</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Combat Forces</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Population</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Losses</font></td></tr><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Britain</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1903</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1904</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">50000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">42000000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">2000</font></td></tr><tr><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">Nigeria</font></td><td width="16%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1903</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1904</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">30000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">19000000</font></td><td width="17%"><font face="Arial" size="2">1000</font></td></tr></tbody></table>

Total Casualties 3000 Killed and Wounded
Casualties Killed 3000 / Wounded
Military Casualties Killed 3000 /Wounded
Civilian Casualties Killed / Wounded
Belligerents Initiation Date Termination Date
Nigeria and United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1903 1904 View

Related Conflicts

No Releted Conflicts