Professor Muhammad Tijjani Naniya
Professor Muhammad Tijjani Naniya

33 Observations on Ndagi’s claim of non-existence of Queen Amina of Zazzau

NEWS DIGEST – I am privileged to have read a write-up of one Abdullahi Ndagi on the fallacy of the existence of Queen Amina of Zazzau. Initially, I was hesitant to take the issue serious and thorny. But on a second thought, I realize that being a student of history always engulfed in research and documentation, to leave that matter to fizzle out without any response would be an injustice to posterity. More so, it is the responsibility of any teacher to engage in the practice of drawing away his students and perhaps others from misinformation, disinformation and conjectures, especially on issues pertaining to historical facts and facts of history. It is on this premise that I want to add my voice and partake in the discussion raised by Ndagi. However, I will limit my participation at the level of making the following observations on the write-up in the first instance:

1. Ndagi’s reference to Amina as Queen of Zaria is very degrading and unacademic. All credible academic sources recognised Amina as Queen of Zazzau, and not Zaria. To reduce her authority to Zaria city is tantamount to debasing her status and military prowess she exhibited in extending the territory of Zazzau Kingdom to the borders of Nupe Land.

2. Ndagi claims that “Queen Amina” of Zazzau did not exist on the basis that earliest “Zaria traditions did not mention it.”. Which are these tradition? Ndagi should have been scrupulous enough to name them. Weighty decisions in historical research must be substantiated with facts and sources. In history nothing is accepted at its face-value.

3. Ndagi infers that because the sources that attributed Zazzau origin to Queen Amina are not indigenous to Zazzau, they lacked credibility and could therefore be rejected. This is an unscholary judgement. What of the works of al-Bakri and others that Ndagi is at pain to cite in order to bring home his hypothesis? Are they indigenous to Zazzau and Nupe kingdom?

4. Ndagi should be reminded that the Kano chronicle is the first and oldest indigenous effort to document information about Hausa states and some of their neighbours. We are yet to have any other source to the contrary. If Ndagi is in possession of such works, he should make it available to us, please.

5. Sultan Muhammad Bello’s affirmation of the existence of Queen Amina of Zazzau as mentioned in the Kano chronicle indicated the currency of the story within the scholarly circle in the Sokoto caliphate. The variance in the information on Queen Amina of Zazzau between the Kano chronicle and Infaqul Maysur and which Ndagi would want us to believe as folly, is in fact a credence to it. For it shows no connivance and or copious compilation from another source. Thus, Sultan Bello’s source is independent of that of the Kano chronicle.

6. Ndagi should be reminded that both the Kano Chronicle and Infaqul Maysur are two primary sources indigenous to the history of central Sudan. Readers would want to know which more authoritative sources Ndagi would refer them to use instead.

7. That the Kano Chronicle and Infaqul Maysur are the only sources that mentioned the story of Queen Amina goes to affirm the plausibility of the data. Prominent historians that Ndagi cites to support his case (Smith & Last) have attested to the quality of Infaqul Maysur. On the other hand, there are works that subjected the Kano Chronicle to scrutiny which make them to accept it as reliable documents. Abdullahi Smith, Murray Last and M.G Smith fall in this category. This made the history circle of many institutions to accept it as a relatively authoritative source of information for pre-colonial Hausaland and Sokoto caliphate.

8. Ndagi claims that the name ‘Amina’ was not in use as a Hausa name in the 16th century. Unfortunately, he does not provide us with his source of information. But we are aware that as far back as the 14th century, that is before the formal acceptance of Islam in Kano by Sarki Yaji (1348-1385), one or two Sarakunan Kano bore Muslim names. Suffice it to add that Muhammad Rumfa’s (1463-1499) mother was named Fatsimatu.

9. What is more, prominent historians such as Professors Abdullahi Smith and Murray Last which we realise Ndagi has respect for, have accepted the 16th century to be the golden period of the rise into prominence of Hausaland as a major Muslim region. Perhaps, adopting Muslim names such as ‘Amina’ could not have been uncommon in this period.

10. The claim that no contemporary source, either written or oral ever mentioned the story of Queen Amina as alleged by Ndagi, is not sufficient a reason to invalidate the sources that documented the information.

11. Pre-colonial explorers such as mentioned by Ndagi in his submission were not on a mission to identify and provide details on the origin and accomplishments of central Sudanese states. This was left for colonial period when many colonial officers and others (H.R. Palmer, Huessler, M. Perham, E.D Morel etc) to do that. The assignments of the explorers in the 19th century were to explore the direction of River Niger, the nature of communities inhabiting the region, their projected population, their military preparedness, the topography of their lands and their agricultural potential. Queen Amina was not in their schedule.

12. Ndagi claims that Queen Amina was “unknown to native griots”. We are yet to know the authority he relies upon in making this wild allegation. Secondly, We could not imagine how a documented story from indigenous source could escape the memory of griots.

13. With regard to the assertion that it was “European colonial historians that popularised” the story of Queen Amina, Ndagi should full well know that such ‘historians’ were sent with a purpose and a mission by the metropolitan power (Britain). If they popularised the legend of Amina, it was done to achieve a goal in a similar way they did to that of Bayajida, Syfawa, Kisra and Tsoede.

14. The claim by Ndagi that “Northern Nigerian story of Queen Amina” is a sort of narrating the “Middle Belt story of Kisra”. This is both contrafactual and a mix-up. It is contrafactual because during the era of Queen Amina there was no Nigeria not to talk of its northern part let alone the ‘Middle Belt’.

15. Secondly, even in the current not constitutionally recognised categorisation of Nigeria into six (6) geo-political zones, there is no such an official name as ‘Middle Belt’.

16. To assume, as Ndagi wants us to believe, that the “original Zaria province or state is the ancient Nupe province of old Gbara…” is to degenerate into soliloquy. It is a conjecture bereft of logic and science, not to talk of dearth in sources.

17. Secondly, “Zaria province“, connotes colonial period. We are at odd to comprehend this speculation and mix-up that made Zaria province to be the same as ancient “old Gbara, Gunguma or Kangoma and now known as Wushishi or Dunguru (Zungeru).”

18. Thirdly, if Ndagi were trying to create Nupe hegemony from the blues, let him first preoccupy himself with tackling the issue of the Igala factor in the origin of Nupe as a people and in bringing them into the limelight of history.

19. Ndagi should be reminded that authors of Tarikh-a-Sudan and Tarikh-al-Fattash are not al-Sadi and al-Mukhatar as he presented. The actual authors are Ahmad Baba and Mahmud Kati respectively.

20. Secondly, both works, known collectively as Timbuctu Chronicles, primarily dwelt on western Sudanese state of Songhai and its aftermath. They only provided scanty information on states such as Hausaland. We could not understand why their unawareness of the existence of Queen Amina should even come up.

21. The claim by Ndagi that an Arab historian, “El Bakri wrote that today’s Nigerian ‘Middle Belt’ was known as Mina or Al Mina”. First of all, let us explain that Al-Bakri was more of a geographer than an historian.

22. Second, his era was 11th century AD. In fact he lived between 1040 and 1094 AD, at Cordova in Andalusia (Modern Spain). He did not visit central Sudan. All the information he provided in his work on the region were given to him by long distance traders who traversed Kanem and Borno, Hausaland, and their neighbours.

23. Third we would like to be educated whether the Al-Bakri of the 11th century is the same Al- Bakri that stated “today’s Nigerian Middle Belt” as posited by Ndagi.

24. Fourth, we could not comprehend the reason why Ndagi should choose to accept the information provided by Al-Bakri, a foreigner not physically familiar with Hausaland, as valid and at the same time choose to reject or degrade data from the Kano chronicle and Infaqul Maysur, two sources that should have held more weight for reasons of being indigenous and as such more familiar with the geography, politics and economy of the Central Sudan.

25. Ndagi needs to provide concrete source of his information to support the claim that it was Goddess Al-Mina that was misrepresented and misconstrued for Queen Amina. Sweeping statements such as above have no place in scholarship.

26. It seems Ndagi is in dilemma in assessing the authenticity of European colonial sources on northern region of Nigeria; when it supports his Nupe over bearing agenda as in the information provided by lady Lugard, then it is worthy and okay. But where it goes contrary to such goal, as in the case of S.J Hogben, it becomes unacceptable.

27. More so we would wish Ndagi to enlighten us as to when communities in the ‘Middle Belt’ developed the tradition of adding the prefix, al, to a name, as in Al-Mina.

28. As far as we know, linguistic classification of Africa has placed central Nijer-Benue confluence communities in the category of Benue Congo family of languages that are more tonal in their speech. On the other hand, Afro-Asiatic languages to which Chadic languages belong are mostly not tonal.

29. We are in agreement with Ndagi that Smith and Last questioned the authenticity of Queen Amina story. Y.B Usman even called it a myth. But we could not recall any of these scholars ever identifying Queen Amina as the Goddess Al-Mina. Now that Ndagi wants us to believe so, we await proof from him.

30. The claim by Ndagi that it was the “Hausa city chroniclers” who “unprofessionally” transcribed ‘Queen of Al-Mina’ as Queen Amina, suffers from gross inconsistency. Throughout the write-up he repeats the ‘Goddess Al-Mina’. Suddenly now the Goddess has metamorphosed to Queen Al-Mina, because it suits his cause.

31. Secondly, we need more clarification from Ndagi as to the identity of these ‘Hausa chroniclers’ and how it came about that they ‘unprofessionally transcribed’ the story on Queen Amina. After all, these chroniclers were officially trained professionals in the art of keeping oral information.

32. There is another place where Ndagi posits that, in fact the ‘Hausa chroniclers’ hijacked the story of Kisra and rehearsed it as the story of Queen Amina. Which of the two does he want his audience or readers to believe?

33. On the whole, the write-up by Ndagi seem to have a clear purpose which is to laud to the sky Nupe power and influence. But the supporting evidence that are adduced are either not mustered effectively or they are disjointed, misinterpreted and sometimes deliberately rejected. At the end they fail to provide the concatinated cogency required to make a hypothesis valid. This does not augur well for scholarship especially in an era of post-truth promoted by the New Information Age where deliberate lies are posted in social media and both the unsuspecting and uncouth followers take them for the truth.

Mr Naniya is a professor of History.