In 1907, Maiduguri became officially known as the Capital of Borno. Many however do not know that there were at least three other capitals leaders of the state had lived in before Maiduguri.
A tale is told in Borno by local scholars about Shehu Abubakar Garbai’s 365 days prayer as a basis for his decision for relocation to Maiduguri as a new capital in 1907. When the idea to move to Maiduguri was brought to him by the British Government who wanted to effectively install its policy of Indirect Rule, Shehu Garbai was said to have assembled all his ulema and directed them to hold a year-long prayer on the note that, if at all the proposed capital would be deserted by his people any time in the future, may he never move in!
The prayer was said to have lasted a whole year from 1904 to 1905. Garbai’s reason for that was that the empire had had several experiences of unceremonious evictions in their capitals as a result of wars, political instabilities and what have you. This newspaper brings you a list of the capitals as were known to history.
But before this, it is imperative to understand the term Kanem-Borno. Kanem, now part of Chad Republic was until 1386, the base of most of the people of Borno. In 1386, series of crises forced the people of the state to move down to Borno, crossing the Lake Chad and by 1470 at least, Borno became the established base of the people. Hence Kanem and Bono were too bases of the same people. With this, the reader with little foundational knowledge of the history of Kanem-Borno, should for the meantime ignore the specifications and treat them as one for better understanding of the text.
As is commonly known, the first mention of Kanem-Borno was in 891 A.D. by Ahmad Al-Yakubi, an Arab geographer in his work Al-Tarikh. In his reference, Al-Yakubi noted that the rulers of the kingdom lived in Manan as their political capital. For how long it lived before that time is not clear, but it seemed to have lasted for about two centuries after its first mention, before going permanently extinct. Though its exact location is not known yet, it is widely believed to be around the Chad Basin region.
The reason for its collapse is not too clear and considering the distance of time and limited archaeological inquiries, it is difficult to establish any coherent conclusion. To make a sense of the many interpretations by scholars here is also impossible and as such, it is an entirely ignored part of this work especially in view of space and medium of presentation. Suffice it therefore to say that it is the earliest known capital of the state that comes down to us as Borno.
According to recorded history, Njimi is the next capital of the rulers of Borno after Mananfrom at least early 11th century. What had caused the transfer is not very clear, but it also came with change in the ruling dynasty. While in Manan the kingdom was ruled by Zaghawa, a nomadic group believed to be practising traditional belief system; in Njimi, the leadership was taken over by the Saifawa dynasty who claim to have descended from Saif Dhi Yadhan.
The cause for the dynastic change and even how very complex and a report like this is does not give us the luxury to go into details. But again, traditional religion, which was the religion of the Zaghawa rulers in Manan was also replaced by Islam as both the religion of the state and the emergent Saifawa rulers in Njimi.
Njimi survived as their political capital until 1386 when it was deserted by the people. In Njimi, the Saifawa rulers spread their authority all over the Lake Chad region and reached the peak of their power.
Among other things, Njimi hosted some of the most celebrated rulers of the empire. One of them was Mai Hume Jilme, who was the first known Muslim ruler of the empire and under whose reign Islam became a state religion in 1096.
Another remarkable ruler who ruled in Njimi was Mai Dunama Humemi, who, some sources describe as the best of the sons of Mai Hume. It was reported that Egyptian authorities, threatened by the rising power of Mai Dunama and Kanem-Borno, conspired to drown him to death in the Red Sea on his third pilgrimage.
However, the most celebrated mai to have ruled over the state in Njimi was Mai Dunama Dabbalemi, under whose reign the empire expanded from River Niger in the west to Kawar Oasis in the east. He was recorded as having raised an army of over 40,000 horsemen to expand and assert his authority. He annexed Fezzan in southern Libya, built the Madrassa Riwaq al-Barnawi in Cairo both as a hostel and school for Borno students and pilgrims (en route to Mecca) in Egypt in c.1240 to promote education. The empire reached its zenith under his reign.
But succession disputes, rebellion and other socio-economic instabilities, at a time the rulers had already overstretched themselves, led to their necessary exit. Led by Mai Umar B. Idris (1382 – 1387), who, records