Recently, I have heard a number of outrageous and even banal remarks about Borno from some people who are supposed to know better. Someone said the world would not have known Borno had there never been Boko Haram.
The other said: the world only knows Boko Haram and Chibok girls about Borno. If true, between the world and these people, I don’t know who is more ignorant. I don’t know the world referred to here; for, the world I know cannot afford to forget a part of it that has been in existence for over 1000 years. Thus, that one doesn’t know, is one’s failure; not the world!
February this year, our own people celebrated ‘40 years’ of Borno’s ‘existence’—what was supposed to mean the period of its existence as a state!
Now, whatever that means, what I know with no mistake is that Borno is more than mere 40years—and hence, one, save for remembering and reflections thereof, it would, I still hold, constitute a great disservice to celebrate the said day; and two, concretising my dismay and sadness that after all, even at that, it is, and there is nothing to write home about.
When you make a search about Borno on Google, Ask, Yahoo and what have you, what you will be fed back with is enough evidence to conclude that the state got its name from war and conflict—that everything about her is war! When I first did that, as many would have, I had to check my entry because I was at loss whether it was “Boko Haram”, “Shekau”, “Terrorism/war”, or even, “Latest Military Hardware” that I actually inserted. The whole nonsense about Boko Haram started 2009; less than 8years now!
But the truth cannot be surrendered to any or the combination of the whole of these. In the past, I have been labelled a romanticist writer who belongs to the 18th century French scholasticism because of my stern defence of Borno’s history—and be it apt and correct—by those I should recognize as outrageous misleaders.
In 2007, a colloquium was organised in the state to jointly celebrate the 1000years of existence of the Kanem Borno Empire, having come into ‘prominent’ limelight in 891 A. D (as recorded by Al-Yaqubi), the 200years of the El-Kanemi Dynasty (a process that started in 1808 and became full circle in 1846) and the 100 years of Yerwa (from 1907). Indeed, this places Borno above all the states of Nigeria in terms of years of existence by an average of at least 400 years, even though that did not place it above others in terms of development.
No other community in the whole of West Africa has lived this long without collapsing, at least, with such a well documented history. This 1000years of its existence is indeed punctuated by wars and conflicts, but also good governance, peace and prosperity—what Google doesn’t seem to know, doesn’t take serious or wants to ‘replace’.
Over 630 years before the current internal displacement, a war that involved a lot of complex internal and external crises and which lasted for virtually a century and half, was to result in the ‘first’ recorded ‘internal’ displacement that occurred in the history of Borno, forcing the entire country including its leaders to seek refuge over 400km away from home—by foot, donkeys and horses, since by that time, Henry Ford did not give the world a car.
In c. 1386 A. D., Mai Uthman B. Idris (the mai whose expertise in literary Arabic was so exceptional that a letter he ‘envoyed’ to Sultan Barquq of Mamluk Egypt in 1393 A. D., having uniquely come from a ‘black African’ had to be officially archived as related to us by al-Qalqashandi in his Subhul A’sha), led his people from Njimi, capital of Kanem, to journey westward to Kaga.
Emerging out of a century-long internal displacement, almost half a millennium-long period of prosperity as from 1470 till 1800 set in—with the state thereafter expanding territorially west-eastwards from Dala Hills of deity *‘giji’ and his Tsumbaraburai to Mandara Mountains in what is today Republic of Cameroun; northward, it extended as far afield as Tripoli in North Africa and the Benue valley in the south.
In this 1000years, far from the sponsored branding and stereotyping of its people as having harboured inherent hatred for knowledge and education, Borno towered above all West African communities alongside Timbuktu in scholarship and learning. The zeal for expanding the frontiers of knowledge by the people and their leaders did not stop at building institutions of learning at home but went as far as to building same far away from home.
Mai Dunoma Dabbalemi, he with over 40,000 armed soldiers, in c. 1240 built the Madrassa Riwaq al-Barnawi for Borno citizens as a hostel, stopping post for pilgrims and a school for teaching Maliki thoughts in faraway Cairo—and standing right now in the University of Al-Azhar! Veteran historian, Abdallah Smith of blessed memory, placed Borno scholars in the same breath with major international scholars of the Medieval World.
When last time this issue was raised in a rendezvous in Abuja, I was refuted based on the evidence that Igbo-Ukwu figurines, the Bini arts, Nok and what have you are older pieces of knowledge and technology. If this is the evidence, what then can be said about Ndafuna canoe discovered by Mallam Yaú the herdsman in 1989 and excavated and dated by our very own archaeologist, Mal. Abubakar Garba under the auspices of Centre for Trans-Saharan Studies – University of Frankfurt nexus?
The Ndafuna canoe which exhibited high-level sophistication was 8500 years old—that is: 6500 years before the so called Greek Civilisation; 4500 years before Egyptian Civilisation; 2500 years before Chinese Civilisation... It was “lost” to the earth by, almost certainly, Borno sailors at River Yobe at its peak (possibly flowing from Mega-Chad) and that was remarkably also more than 7000 years before Iberian mastery of navigation and indeed the Marine Revolution in Europe. But all the same, you don’t know whether to be happy or sad with such a past that has not inspired a better today.
In this same 1,000years, Borno was a star in international politics and diplomacy. In the 14th century, Mai Uthman B. Idris of Borno had the understanding of sovereignty, international law, human rights and diplomacy as was shown in his letter to Sultan Barquq of Mamluk Egypt in which he succinctly analysed them. Perhaps that was 200years before 30 Years War in Europe and the accompanying Treaty of Westphalia. In the sixteenth century, Borno was not only one of the four Islamic sultanates of the medieval world alongside Saadi Moroccan Sultanate, Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Ottoman Sultanate with its capital in the Sublime Porté, Istanbul, the erstwhile mighty Constantinople; but the opinion of Mai Idris Alauma, the most outstanding leader of Borno, was all that was needed to settle and balance a major international political conflict. The correspondences of this remarkable mai of Borno to this effect and other matters of diplomacy for what they were taken for and how they were valued, are right now in the Turkish archive, Mehimmi Defterli!
That was also at least a century before the Treaty of Westphalia, 1644, and the Treaty of Utrecht in the 1770s or the Vienna Peace Settlement of 1815—the beginning of modern international relations!
About 900years before Adams Smith’s birth, and birth of his Laissez Faire economy (Wealth of Nations), Karl Marx’s Communism and the IMF – World Bank economic policies, Borno thrived in trade and commerce at international level with North Africa, Europe (at the coast of the Mediterranean Sea), Asia (across the Red Sea) and other parts of the world in the famous Trans Saharan Trade. This commerce was conducted over thousands of years before the Sahara desert emerged following desiccation some 7500years ago as the whole place used to be a sheet of water, called the Mega-Chad (now Lake Chad)—probably with the likes of Ndafuna canoe as means of transportation.
I have had a talk with officials of International Non-Governmental Organisations from either the United States or England who were surprised to have been greeted by streetlights on Maiduguri – Kano Road on their arrival.
Borno was in historical limelight as a major bloc in international affairs at least 400 hundred years before Christopher Colombus ‘discovered’ America!
In 1900 when British colonial officers arrived Borno and parts of what is today northern Nigeria for occupation, they realised they had no better administrative prowess than those they found in place. And this is not surprising because when Borno leaders have formed a government and were expanding their political influence—and many people willingly submitting thereto—in the 11 and 12 centuries, expanding the frontiers of knowledge, building diplomatic relations and so on, most of Europe save for places like Andalusia Spain, were no better than a mere conglomerate of tribal groups at war with one another!
Did the world forget this?