Music star Davido’s social media promotion of a new song by Logos Olori (whose real name is Olalekan Emeka Taiwo) titled “Jaye Lo” where men dressed in stereotypical Muslims robes gyrated into a sudden burst of frenzied dancing shortly after performing the Muslim prayers near a mosque has incensed Muslims in Hausaphone northern Nigeria but doesn’t seem to bother Yoruba and other Nigerian Muslims.
The differential reactions to the music video—and to most other issues involving religion— among Nigerian Muslims can be traced to the history and character of the evolution of Islam in the North and in the Southwest.
It is not often known that Yoruba and Hausa Muslims share a common, age-old heritage even though the manifestation of Islam in the lived experiences of the people is fundamentally different, which is magnified by the often acrimonious political differences between the two groups in contemporary Nigeria.
The emergence of Islam in both societies is not only fairly co-extensive, it is also from the same West African source. Islam came to Katsina, Kano (and in much of Hausaland in Nigeria’s northwest) in a sustained, systematic form in the 1300s. It came to Kano when Yaji I was king of Kano— and to Yorubaland in the 1450s during the reign of Oluaso, the defunct Oyo Empire’s longest reigning monarch on record.
Tarikh arbab hadha al-balad al-musamma Kano, the Arabic-language palace diary known to us in English as the Kano Chronicle, which recorded biographical profiles of Kano’s kings from the 10th century until the Usman Dan Fodio Jihad in the early 1800s, is the first known written account to state that Islam was brought to Kano by the Wangara people of Mali during the reign of Yaji I who ruled from 1349 to 1385.
Islam also came to Yorubaland (and surrounding areas such as Borgu and Nupeland) through the same Wangara people of Mali, which explains why Islam is called “Esin imale” in the Yoruba language, which literally means “religion of Mali.” Note that the Wangara are also known by such names as Mande, Mandinka, Malinke, Mandingo, Dyula, Bambara, Soninke, etc.
Although Islam has existed in Yorubaland since at least the 1400s, the first mosque wasn’t built in Oyo-Ile, the ancient capital of the Oyo Empire, until 1550, and in Iwo, a historic Yoruba Muslim town, until the 1600s. While Islam took enough roots in Yorubaland that Sharia courts were established in some towns, traditional modes of Yoruba worship coexisted with Islam for centuries.
Former Bauchi State governor Isa Yuguda pointed out on April 26, 2013, that “the first Sharia court [in what is now Nigeria] was established in Iwo, in Osun State.” Many Yoruba Muslims repeat this claim both to show that Islam in Yorubaland has a historical edge over Islam in the North and to persuade the Nigerian government to allow the implementation of Sharia for Yoruba Muslims who desire it.
But the claim is probably an exaggeration. Sharia courts seem to have existed in Hausaland before they appeared in Iwo, but their appearance in Yorubaland obviously did precede colonialism by at least 100 years. Other Yoruba towns that had sharia courts decades before colonialism are Epe, Ikirun, and Ede (incidentally Davido’s hometown), which are all located in what is now Osun State. (Davido’s grandfather, Alhaji Raji Adeleke, was a respected Muslim leader in Ede who had the title of Baba Adini of Ede, that is, the Chief Protector of Islam in Ede town).
So, Islam in Yorubaland and Islam in Nigeria’s extreme north share similar Malian-inflected historical trajectories, and neither is a direct consequence of the other, although there are interesting historical overlaps between them. For instance, several Hausa (and pre-Dan Fodio Jihad Fulani) Muslim scholars traveled to Yorubaland to preach and share Islamic knowledge. This inspired a robust linguistic and cultural interchange between the two groups.
Prior to Usman Dan Fodio’s 1804 jihad, Islamic practices in both Hausaland and Yorubaland were similar in their syncretism. That is, they blended traditional African religions and Islam. In his book Imale: Yoruba Participation in the Muslim Tradition. A Study of Clerical Piety, Patrick Ryan characterized Islamic practices in Yorubaland as “accommodationist” and pointed out that Usman Dan Fodio would have condemned Yoruba Muslims as “mixers”—as he did Hausa Muslims of the time.
So, Usman Dan Fodio’s jihad was the defining point of departure between Islam in Hausaland and Islam in Yorubaland. The jihad didn’t just extirpate the accommodationist, syncretic brand of Islam previously practiced in Hausaland, it also laid the grounds for a new syncretic ethnic identity in Hausaland.
Over the years, Islam has become not just a religion but an intrinsic constituent of an evolving, increasingly expansionist, politically consequential, and largely non-primordial Hausa Muslim identity. This fact has made Hausa the most ecumenical ethnic identity in Nigeria, by which I mean anybody can be “Hausa” provided they are Muslim, speak the Hausa language with native proficiency, dress like the Hausa, disavow allegiance to competing identities, and subscribe to the cultural consensus of the people.
That is why for most “Hausa” Muslims, Islam isn’t just a faith; it’s also an encapsulation of the totality of their identity and being. That explains why they are more emotionally invested in it—and react forcefully when it is, or perceived to be, attacked, undermined, or ridiculed—than Yoruba and other Muslims are.
Communication scholar Bala Abdullahi Muhammad once wrote in his Weekly Trust column that Hausa Muslims carry on as if Islam was revealed in Kano, as if the Qur’an was written in Hausa, and as if Islam is a uniquely primordial Hausa cultural heritage. Even Mali and Senegambia from where Islam came to Hausaland aren’t as roused to extreme passions over Islam as “Hausa” Muslims often are.
Islam in Yorubaland, on the other hand, hasn’t quite evolved from the accommodationist character it previously shared with Islam in pre-jihad Hausaland. And because Islam has been caked into the Hausa ethnic identity and constituted as the most important building block for identity formation in Northern Nigeria so much so that “Hausa” and “Muslim” have become misleadingly synonymous in the Nigerian popular imagination, Yoruba Muslims have been compelled to privilege their ethnic identity to fend off equivalence with, and to establish difference from, “Hausa” Muslims.
In other words, the association of Islam with Hausa—or Hausa-Fulani—has led to its recalibration in even historically Muslim polities in southern Nigeria such as Yorubaland and northern Edo.
As John Paden noted in Ahmadu Bello Sardauna of Sokoto: Values and Leadership in Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello, Northern Nigeria’s first premier and great-great-grandson of Usman Dan Fodio, actively promoted Islam as Northern Nigeria’s official religion before and after independence. Professor Sakah Saidu Mahmud, in his 2004 article in the African Studies Review titled “Islamism in West Africa: Nigeria,” also pointed out that Islam in northern Nigeria emerged as “the source of identity and a medium of competition for resources and political power.”
He added that “The regional leaders were in competition with each other as they worked to consolidate their local powers, and Islamization was a means for promoting regional identity.” (It also caused dissension in the North and intensified the struggles for a separate “Middle Belt” region for Northern Christians). This reality put Yoruba Muslims in Western Nigeria on the spot since the North instrumentalized Islam for identity and for competition with southern Nigeria, including Yorubaland.
Perhaps as a consequence of this, many Yoruba Muslims in pre- and post-independence Nigeria chose to conceal their Muslim names even when they were practicing, believing Muslims, just to distinguish themselves from Northern Muslims who have ethnicized Islam. For example, a prominent pre-independence Ibadan politician by the name of Adelabu Adegoke who was famous for his electrifying oratory changed his family name from Sanusi (which he bore throughout his educational career) to Adegoke.
The fact that the Sultan of Sokoto is recognized in Nigeria as the permanent leader of Nigerian Muslims, whether or not the Sultan is knowledgeable in Islam and against the merit-driven principles of leadership in Islam, hasn’t helped.
It should be noted that these are broad-brush characterizations that overlook many exceptions. There is a minority of Yoruba Muslims, for instance, who have more allegiance to Islam than they do to their ethnic identity. For example, at a gathering of Yoruba Muslims in Akure on June 19, 2021, Sheikh Imran Molaasan, national president of Jama’at Ta’awunil Muslimeen and Iwo native, reportedly said, “If Nigeria breaks up, Yoruba Muslims will suffocate” in an Oduduwa Republic, and even implied that the resentment against the Fulani in Yorubaland masks sneaky anti-Muslim designs by Yoruba leaders who are mostly Christians.
There is also a minority Hausa ethnic nationalists who resent the “dilution” of their ethnicity with other ethnicities in the name of Islam, and there are Fulani nationalists who agonize over the progressive decline of their language, culture, and identity, but these groups are, for the most part, marginal.
Nonetheless, the foregoing background explains why most Yoruba Muslims see Logos Olori’s music video as mere harmless art not worth their time and Hausa Muslims see it as a mockery of “their” culture over which they must fight.