In 1893, a Sudanese warlord Rabih az-Zubayr ibn Fadllla, also called Rabeh Ibn Fade-Allah, invaded the Lake Chad Basin, conquering the Borno Empire. He wanted to shield his territory, so he built a fort in the town of Dikwa, where he made home. Completed in the year of his arrival, Rabeh’s Fort still stands.
Born in 1842 in Khartoum, present-day Sudan, Rabeh joined the Egyptian cavalry, and in the 1860s became a Sudanese slaveholder’s lieutenant. When his principal was imprisoned in Egypt, Rabeh made his way south with an army armed with 400 rifles.
The popular Facebook cultural heritage page Honours from the Kanem-Bornu Empire accounts that because he was once a student in Bornu, he understood their way of life and enforced his rule.
With his reputation for violence, he created a followership based on fear. While he is mostly recorded as a destroyer, who killed thousands of fellow Muslims, a few scholars have argued that, contrary to the simplistic European portrayals of him, he was a skilled military leader, administrator, and diplomat.
The French, who by the late 1890s were marking colonial territory in Cameroon, clashed with him a few times. On April 22, 1900, he was defeated in battle and killed. He was 58 years old.
Over the decades, Dikwa town moved into the possession of, first, the Germans, and then of the British, after Germany’s defeat in World War I. The town remained under the League of Nations Mandate and the UN Trusteeship agreements until 1961 when, in a UN plebiscite, it voted to officially join Nigeria.
In 1959, Rabeh’s Fort was recognized as a national monument. Dikwa is 80 km northeast of the Borno state capital Maiduguri.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.