Nigeria’s independence. Given its multiethnic and multifaith citizenry, the country adopted a secular constitution that placed power in the hands of elected officials. Therefore, nominally at least, the Sultan was relegated to the role of upstanding citizen, an aristo- crat, and religious leader. Yet, as Nigeria’s unhappy history since independence shows, the constitution is often worth little more than the paper it is printed on. So although the Sultan has no formal political powers, his influence is still considerable. Presidents continue to seek both his opinions and his support, for his com- mand of the faithful means that he can make the gov- ernment of the north extremely difficult if he so choos- es.
The Brotherhoods’ links to the Sultan extend back to the very earliest days of the Caliphate. Indeed, the first head of the Qadiriyya was Usman dan Fodio, the main leader of the jihad that established the Caliph- ate and the original Sultan of Sokoto.15 In the decades following his death in 1817, both it and the Tijaniyya worked hard to spread their influence and recruit new members from right across the newly conquered terri- tory. That they were allowed and even encouraged to do so highlights the high level patronage they enjoyed. Far from being viewed as competitors to the royal au- thority of the Sultan and the Emirs, the Brotherhoods were seen as collaborators in the grand project of re- newing and spreading Islam in this corner of Africa.
Although Britain’s colonization of the Caliphate helped trigger the long decline in the Sultan’s politi- cal powers, it was arguably not as disastrous for either him or the Brotherhoods as it might have been. For ear- ly on, the British decided that they would rule the terri- tory indirectly. They therefore left the existing political and social structures largely intact. Even though they