Shaihu Usman dan Fodio (عثمان بن فودي ، عثمان دان فوديو) (also referred to as Shaikh Usman Ibn Fodio , Shehu Uthman Dan Fuduye, or Shehu Usman dan Fodio, 1754 - 1817) was the founder of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1809, a religious teacher, writer and Islamic reformer. Dan Fodio was one of a class of urbanized ethnic Fulani living in the Hausa States in what is today northern Nigeria. A teacher of the Maliki school of law and the Qadiriyyah order of Sufism, he lived in the city-state of Gobir until 1802 when, motivated by his reformist ideas and under increased repression by local authorities, he led his followers into exile. This exile began a political and social revolution which spread from Gobir throughout modern Nigeria and Cameroon, and was echoed in an ethnicly Fula led Jihad movement across West Africa. Dan Fodio declined much of the pomp of rulership, and while developing contacts with religious reformists and Jihad leaders across Africa, he soon passed actual leadership of the Sokoto state to his son, Muhammed Bello.
Dan Fodio wrote more than a hundred books concerning religion, government, culture and society. He developed a critique of existing African Muslim elites for what he saw as their greed, irreligiosity, violation of the standards of Sharia law, and heavy taxation. He encouraged literacy and scholarship, including for women, and several of his daughters emerged as scholars and writers. His writings and sayings continue to be much quoted today, and is often affectionately referred to as Shehu in Nigeria. Some followers consider dan Fodio to have been a Mujaddid, a divinely inspired "reformer of Islam".
Dan Fodio's uprising inspired a number of later West African jihads, including those of Massina Empire founder Seku Amadu, Toucouleur Empire founder El Hadj Umar Tall (who married one of dan Fodio's granddaughters), Wassoulou Empire founder Samori, and Adamawa Emirate founder Modibo Adama.
In 1802, the ruler of Gobir and one of dan Fodio's students, Yunfa turned against him, revoking Degel's autonomy and attempting to assassinate dan Fodio. Dan Fodio and his followers fled into the western grasslands of Gudu where they turned for help to the local Fulani nomads. In his book Tanbih al-ikhwan ’ala ahwal al-Sudan (“Concerning the Government of Our Country and Neighboring Countries in the Sudan”) Usman writes: “The government of a country is the government of its king without question. If the king is a Muslim, his land is Muslim; if he is an Unbeliever, his land is a land of Unbelievers. In these circumstances it is obligatory for anyone to leave it for another country”. . Usman did exactly this when he left Gobir in 1802. After that Yunfa turned for aid to the other leaders of the Hausa states, warning them that dan Fodio could trigger a widespread Jihad. .
Usman dan Fodio was proclaimed Amir al-Muminin or Leader of the Faithful in Gudu. This made him political as well as religious leader, giving him the authority to declare and pursue a Jihad, raising an army and becoming its commander. A widespread uprising began in Hausaland. This uprising was largely composed of the Fulani, who held a powerful military advantage with their cavalry. It was also widely supported by the Hausa peasantry who felt over-taxed and oppressed by their rulers. Usuman started jihad against Gobir in 1804.
The Fulani communication during the war was carried along trade routes and rivers draining to the Niger-Benue valley, as well as the delta and the lagoons. The call for Jihad did not only reach other Hausa states such as Kano, Katsina and Zaria but also Borno, Gombe, Adamawa, Nupe and Ilorin. These were all places with major or minor groups of Fulani alims.
After only a few short years of the Fulani War, dan Fodio found himself in command of the largest state in Africa, the Fulani Empire. His son Muhammed Bello and his brother Abdullahi were carrying out the Jihad and were taking care of the administration. Dan Fodio worked to establish an efficient government, one grounded in Islamic law. After 1811, Usman retired and continued writing about the righteous conduct of the Muslim belief. After his death in 1817 his son, Muhammed Bello, succeeded his as amir al-mu’minin and became the ruler of the Sokoto Caliphate, which was the biggest state south of the Sahara at that time. Usman’s brother Abdullahi was given the title emir of Gwandu and he was placed in charge of the Western Emirates, Nupe and Ilorin. Thus, all Hausa states, parts of Nupe, Ilorin and Fulani outposts in Bauchi and Adamawa were all ruled by a single politico-religious system. From the time of Usman dan Fodio there were twelve caliphs, until the British conquest at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Dan Fodio's uprising inspired a number of later West African jihads, including those of Massina Empire founder Seku Amadu, Toucouleur Empire founder El Hadj Umar Tall (who married one of dan Fodio's granddaughters), Wassoulou Empire founder Samori Ture, and Adamawa Emirate founder Modibo Adama.
In Islam Outside the Arab World, David Westerlund writes: “The jihad resulted in a federal theocratic state, with extensive autonomy for emirates, recognizing the spiritual authority of the caliph or the sultan of Sokoto.”
Usman addressed in his books what he saw as the flaws and demerits of the African non-Muslim or allegedly nominal Muslim rulers. Some of the accuses made by him are corruption on various levels of the administration along with injustice regarding ordinary people's rights. Usman also criticized the heavy taxation and obstruction created in the business and trade of the Hausa states by the law system.