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The History of Potiskum


By Ahmad S. Gimba
Potiskum is the capital of Potiskum Local Government and doubles as the headquarters of Fika Emirate for over a century.
Oral tradition by the Kare-Kare and Ngizim state that a Kare-Kare man discovered a well and told his Ngizim friend, but later the Ngizim laid claim over the well which was located in a very thick forest of trees called “Kuma”. With the discovery of the well, few Kare-Kare people decided to live around it.
There was no central authority in that place because the people were scattered in clans dwelling on their farms, but all were paying homage to the Emir in Fika. Earlier on, local people around the area were using the “Kuma” tree cuts to make thatch houses because of its resistance to time and weather.
The area which is known today as Potiskum caught the attention of many Kare-Kare and Ngizim people for the purpose of farming and the Bolewa for administrative reasons. Moi Sule was known to have established the first mud house where he stayed when touring his territory.
All the three tribes were living in harmony while the hamlet became a village and continued to increase in population. Thus the flourishing of the Fika architecture began in the area with the building of mud houses.
According to R. Hickey in his book “Christianity in Borno State and Northern Gongola”, by the turn of the century, in 1905, Jalam was transferred from Fika Emirate to Dambam to form Dambam while Potiskum and Dazigau were made sub-districts.

Moi Disa

The Emir Moi Disa, whose father was deposed two years earlier, appointed Mai Bundi as sub-district head in Potiskum while his eldest son Sulyman was appointed sub-district head in Dazigau. Sub-district Head has been a village Head (Lamba or Lawan) up till today.
After two years, Mai Bundi died and Mai Agudum was appointed to succeed him as Village Head. Thus Potiskum has taken the path of becoming an administrative headquarters, and the British were ready and serious. The Emir too was serious.
Colonial documents showed that in 1908 Mai Agudum was found unfit for such task because of inefficiency and drunkenness and that the administration of his sub-district was badly affected, especially with the growing population of Kare-Kare from Jalam and its surrounding, Bolewa from Fika and its surrounding areas, Ngizim from Kayeri and its surrounding areas. He was therefore deposed by the British, Potiskum and Dazigau sub-districts were thereafter merged to form Potiskum District.
In 1914 Lawan Sulyman was appointed as the first District Head of Potiskum. The following year, in anger and opposition to such move, ex-Mai Agudum rallied the support of disgruntled elements among friends and clan members and they launched an attack and captured Potiskum but Lawan Sulyman escaped unhurt. This uprising led to the re-capture of Potiskum by the Fikan army. The British brought ex-Mai Agudum and others to justice, Dambam was merged with Misau Emirate because of its involvement in the uprising.
Moi Fikka

In 1915 the project of constructing a road between Kano-Maiduguri began and Maina Muhammadu (later Emir of Fika) was the supervisor. He worked with the other tribes tirelessly to meet the deadline. Other works to completely build a new town was on the increase. Potiskum was being developed not only to become an administrative headquarters but a centre of farming, animal husbandry and commerce.
People were encouraged to partake in several endeavours and ventures, especially transportation after the road construction. This gave rise to today’s well-developed road transport and its technology industry in Potiskum ahead of other places.
At the end of the World War I, in 1918 Potiskum became the administrative headquarters of the new Division made up of Fika and Bade Emirates. In 1920, Mai Suleman of Bade was appointed Emir of Bade at a ceremony in Potiskum by Governor Sir Hugh Clifford.
With the death of Moi Disa in 1922, Moi Muhammadu was appointed. He proved to be an Emir in the finest tradition and was a father-figure to all his multi-tribal area according to R. Hickey. He described him as a leader of immense foresight, patience and courage to pull his people out of the vanishing 19th century and into the tumultuous modern life of the 20th.
The combination of these tribes into the new setting matched the challenges that lay ahead of collapsing them into a united people and stripping them of their various cultures and preparing them for a new society within a new Nigeria. They started on a clean slate, a new town and a new overlord (the British) fresh from the victories of WW I. This unique and enviable position became the lot of the people of the Division called Fika Emirate, but tremendous challenges lay ahead. 
The British style of colonial rule was the popular indirect rule; a rule through direct communication with the Emirs of the different entities that formed Nigeria of today. The British were strategic in locating the headquarters of the Division in Potiskum that by 1924, a new town was completely built with magnificent houses and offices much in contrast to the few huts that clustered around the village well.

In order to facilitate effective communication with the Emir who was resident in remote Fika, the British decided that the Emir should relocate to Potiskum instead of coming often in a risky and rigorous journey on horseback or vice versa. Many Emirs such as Bade, Katagum, etc were affected by such important policy. And this proved to be the best as further developments took place, both in human and capital, administrative and socio-economic.
The judiciary was strengthened, Native Authority police were put in place, revenue generation was improved, the medical dispensary was also put in place, forestry, veterinary and agricultural services were all put in place and developed, social welfare and education were also improved. The first school in Potiskum was built in 1926 and many pupils from different parts of the Emirate were enrolled. Earlier on according to F. Redler in his “book Lion and the Unicorn”, he mentioned that with the opening of the Kano-Maiduguri road via Potiskum and the use of river Gongola with barges to transport goods, economic activities were stepped up.
There were political developments throughout the 40s and 50s. The Emir of Fika had of course been a member of the House of Chiefs since the 1947 Richards constitution.  The Fika Native Authority joined Borno, Biu, Bade, and Dikwa to elect Wali of Borno Muhammadu Ngileruma and Kashim Ibrahim as first and second members of the Regional Council in Kaduna in 1947. Fika Emirate all these years worked for the unity and progress of the people and never opposed changes and developments which will improve the quality of human life.
In 1956, Queen Elizabeth II visited Kaduna. All the Emirs and their people were there. Sir Ahmadu Bello wrote in his book “My Life”, “The most exciting incident was at the end of the Durbar when the old Moi of Fika led a wave of galloping horsemen who … The whole thing had been more spectacular than they had expected”. The Durbars of 1959 self Government Celebration, 1977 Festac and the recent National Festival all featured the Fika Emirate contingent led by the Emir.
It was in the 1960s that plots of land and houses became a matter of buying and selling, otherwise it was the Emir’s responsibility to personally donate a house or a piece of land to a dweller and this gave rise to the sudden surge of people with various talents and skills to move to Potiskum and take residence.

Therefore, all the earlier settlements of Potiskum were there by the grace and hospitality of the Emir. This policy made Potiskum not only an administrative headquarters, but also a commercial centre, and it helped in providing a security watch over all the people.
1976 saw the demise of Moi Muhammadu and the installation of Moi Abali in a colourful ceremony, at the Potiskum stadium (present site of the Local Government Secretariat) by the Military Governor of Borno State, Group Captain Mustapha Amin.
1976 also saw the Obasanjo Local Government reforms which came with several changes and created the Local Governments in Nigeria as third tiers of Government. This brought Fika Local Government with headquarters in Potiskum, the seat of Fika Emirate.
Changes continued with subsequent changes in administration, but the Emirs and Chiefs were flexible enough to accommodate such changes and also to safeguard religion and cultural heritage. Ensuring peace and advising governments on what the people need in the society.
In 1989, Nangere Local Government was created with headquarters in Potiskum, while Fika L.G. with headquarters in Fika. Nangere L.G. was again divided in 1996 to create Nangere L.G. with headquarters in Sabon-Gari while Potiskum Local Government with headquarters in Potiskum.
In 1999 a new civilian dispensation was ushered in where General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to President-Elect Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja. In Yobe State Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim was sworn in as the new Governor.

The following year in 2000, new Emirates were created in Yobe State vide Yobe State Gazette No. 2 Vol. 10 and Fika Emirate was divided where Gudi Emirate with headquarters in Gadaka, Pataskum Emirate with headquarters in Yerimaram and Tikau Emirate with headquarters in Sabon-Gari were created, to serve the democratic needs of the Ngamo, Kare-Kare and Ngizim respectively.
Fika Emirate still remains the entrepot and fulcrum of unity not only in Potiskum but Yobe State as a whole. The present Emir, Dr. Muhammadu Abali ibn Muhd Idrissa holds a vision for peaceful coexistence, educational and economic empowerment for women and youth, Medicare for infants and kids, wealth creation and aggressive farming activities for all his people- Bolewa, Ngamo Kare-Kare, Ngizim and Hausa/Fulani. Together we live and move Potiskum forward.
Potiskum has grown over the years. The foundation of development laid nearly a century ago has manifested to provide a huge landmark in various sectors of human endeavour. The people have made innovations in many of such areas which contributed to the successes recorded, and that is the result of hard work and diligence which Fika Emirate believed in.
Potiskum and indeed Fika Emirate, therefore, welcome all our visitors with open arms and wide smiles. The people’s rich culture and hospitality will always remain with you while you are in Potiskum, and definitely would be in your memory after departing the hub of culture, peace and hospitality.
SOURCES: Sir Allan Burns, History of Nigeria; Gazetteer of Northern Provinces; C.L. Temple, Notes on Tribes, States, Emirates of Northern Nigeria; Gimba Ahmed, Ajabul Aja’ib (Major contributions); Y. Urvoy, Histoire de L’Empire du Bornu; A. Benisheikh, The 19th Century Galadimas of Borno; A. Benisheikh, The Revenue system of the Gov’t. of Borno in 19th Century; H.R.. Palmer, Sudanese Memoires, Sheikh A.M. Ghailumi, History of Bornu; F. Redler, Lion and the Unicorn

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  1. Aliyu M says


  2. Kadeem Mustapha says

    “Potiskum has a ruling house from the founder, Bauya dynasty. Whatever this writer is trying to achieve by claiming Potiskum in whatever form is just a pigment of his imagination.
    Fika town is existing and has not vanished, the earlier the people of Fika realize they have a call to duty to develop thier land, the better.
    Claiming to rule over a land and territory that belongs to another ruling class by justifying it using fabricated stories will never see the light of the day.

  3. Kadeem Mustapha says

    The Ngizim people (Ngizmawa, Ngezzim) live in Yobe State, northeastern Nigeria. As of 1993, there were an estimated 200,000 Ngizim.[1] The Ngizim live in the area to the east and south of Potiskum, the largest city in Yobe State, as well as in Potiskum, which was originally an Ngizim town.[2] Ngizim populations once inhabited parts of Borno and Jigawa states, but have since lost their cultural identity after being assimilated into other ethnic groups.[3] The Ngizim speak a Chadic language also called Ngizim.
    Before the Fulani Jihad of 1804, the history of the Ngizim people was closely linked with that of the Bornu Empire. By 1472, when the capital of the Bornu Empire, Birni Ngazargamu, was established, the Ngizim had gained a reputation as formidable warriors.[4]As they consolidated their influence over parts of modern-day Yobe State, their cultural capital Potiskum became a regional center. During the early part of the 20th century, the Ngizim rebelled against the Fika Emirate, which had been given political control over them by the colonial authorities. The local British district officer lead forces against the Ngizim; Mai Agudum, he , was later executed. The Ngizim emirate was not restored until 1993 when Mai Muhammadu Atiyaye was appointed by the state governor. The current Ngizim leader, Mai Umaru Bubaram Ibn Wuriwa Bauya was recently upgraded to the status of a first-class Emir by former Governor Bukar Abba Ibrahim.[5]
    In his notes on the “History of the first twelve years of the reign of Mai Idris Alooma (1571 – 1583) by Imam Ahmad Ibn Furtua” H.R Palmer informs us about the word Ngizim. “There are various forms of this name which though they are distinguished seem to denote the same people — N’gizim, N’gujam, N’gazar, N’Kazzar, N’gissam”. In another part of the notes he tells us that Birni N’gazargamu was founded by Mai Ali Ghaji Dunamani in about 1462, who acquired the site from the “So” who lived in the region. “The name of the capital is correctly spelled N’gazargamu or N’gasarkumu. The first part of the word signifies that the previous inhabitants of the region where N’gazar or N’gizim. The later part of the word “Gamu” or “Kumu” is the same as the first part of the word “Gwombe” and means either (i) chief or King or (ii) ancestral spirit.” Going by the scattered references to the N’gizim one would at best only guess the extent of their spread in the Western Sudan. There is reference to N’gizim and then the tribe of N’gizim in the west of the empire known as the Binawa. Binawa is also known as Mabani who extended from Bursari region west of Birni Gazargamu to Katagum.[citation needed]
    Early Kanem-Bornu HistoryEdit
    There are various references to Ngizim people in Kanem-Bornu history as early as the days of the Kanem civil wars in 1396. It can be said that the Ngizim people have played a considerable role in moving the capital of the empire from Njimi to N’gazargamu. Quoting H.R Palmer
    ” … other clans of the Kayi (Zaghawa) came down to the region of lake Fittri from Wadai, but evidently that took place after 1259 A.D. It is the fusion of these new clans of Kayi with the inhabitants of the Fittri region (called in the tradition Ngizim) which gave rise to a separate political entity which arose in the Fittri region about 1350 A.D and was called Bulala”.[6]
    From another source, we find a reference to the Ngizim being one of the earliest groups to migrate from Kanem.
    “According to Bornu traditions, the Bade and the related Ngizim of Potiskum – who today comprise of [sic] the emirate of Bedde – were the first people toh migrate from Kanem round the north side of Lake Chad and reach the Komadugu Yobe, at the time when the So were still the dominant power in Bornu”.[7]

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