Tribes And Culture: The Ancient City of Keffi (Nasarawa State)

Sitting at the central part of Nigeria (Nasarawa State to be precise) and populated with about 85,919 inhabitants, Keffi is a beautiful town founded in the 1800 by Abdu Zanga (Abdullahi), a Fulani warrior from the north. Keffi is located just west of a junction of local roads that gives it quick access to Abuja and Nasarawa Toto. On the east, it connects the trunk highway at Akwanga, and the main railway at Lafia. It is apparently a center of connects.

Map of Nigeria.

History Of Keffi.

Based on research and archive studies, the early history of the though bigger Nasarawa province is not effectively documented. Facts can only be garnered from references to legends and oral literatures.

As far back as the 18th century or beyond, various movement and settlements into the (Nasarawa) province had happened already. Although, these movement cannot be so traced with lucid certainty. But at about the rising of 19th century, during the the era of the Fulani invasion, it was recorded that the Northern axis of ten province was raided by the Fulani and Habe (now in present day Abuja).

Hence; their settlement and dominance in the province. This invasion did not stop at the Northern axis but went southwards till Benue and even Idah kingdoms. Of course the Fulani invasion never stopped, until the arrival and bailings of the British colonial government; first through the Royal Niger Company and then later Fredrick Lugard’s establishment.

Lugard had this to say about the Nasarawa province in 1902:

‘… in the Nasarawa country, a once fertile and populous province, one can now only, view the remains and ruins of the large and totally deserted towns, bearing witness to the desolating wrought by 100 years of internecine strife and slave-raiding by the Fulani’.

Lord Fredrick Lugard (1902)

Before the end of the (Fulani) administrative dominance, 5 Muslim kingdoms/ Emirate have already been established and keffi was one of them. The Emirates include:

  • 1802 A.D Keffi circa (originally Katsina Fulani)
  • 1804 A.D Abuja (originally Habe, kingdom of Zozo)
  • 1804 A.D Lafia Beriberi circa (originally Bornuese)
  • 1811 A.D Jemaan Darroro (originally cattle Fulani trunkajur)
  • 1835 A.D Nasarawa (originally of the keffi Fulani).

Only but a few other tribes (within the province) were not subdued by the raging Fulani dynasty and were able to maintain their resistance even up till the arrival of the British rule. Mada, Nungu, and Mama tribes (very close to the Bauchi Plateau) and some more are amongst the independent tribes. As always, trust Muzzammilwrites to bring you scoops of all other tribes as mentioned above. Stay glued.

The Keffi Emirate (1802 A.D).

Emir Palace, Keffi

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Fulani herdsmen who had annually brought their herds to graze in the dry season on the rolling grass country of which the central portion of Nasarawa Province consists, were encouraged to settle by the fact that Fulani rule was rapidly spreading southwards.

During the course, an ambitious Abdullahi (better known as Abdu Zanga) a Katsina Fulani, persuaded a number of cattle- owning Fulani like himself to band themselves to structurally take over the town. He settled down in the circa in A.D. 1802, and built a village with a heavy stockade round it. The stockade thus gave it its name Keffi; from the word –Kaffi—means ‘stockade or barrier’.

This stockaded town was later burnt and destroyed in a slave-collecting Eazzia by Zaria Fulani, and the present town with its once strong triple wall and moat was built to replace it. It is believed that the ambitious Abdu Zanga attempted to obtain his title (and a flag) direct from Othman Dan Fodio, Emir of Sokoto. His attempt was thus punished by Zaria and Abdu Zanga was forced to become a vassal of Zaria (Mallam Musa, first Emir, who claimed that the Emir of Sokoto had allotted to him the country down to the Benue) to pay annual tribute in slaves, and to hold his title direct from Zaria.

Abdu Zanga (known also as Abdullahi) died in 1820, and was succeeded by his brother Maizabo. Maizabo reigned for 15 years, and died in 1835. He was succeeded by Jibirilu, second son of Abdu Zanga (Abdullahi). Meanwhile, a certain Imoru Makama (Dogo), who was head of military from far back Abu Zanga era, had continued to prove himself worthy of the appointment by subduing the surrounding country. He appears to have got on well with Abdullahi and Maizabo, but fell out with Jibirilu, who was his son-in-law. He then proceeded to Zaria to complain against him. Thus the beginning of fresh crisis in the Dynasty.

The Emir of Zaria temporised and appointed him chief of the still-to-be conquered Igbira country (the Kingdom of Panda) which till then had remained immune and independent. Imoru on his return to Keffi from this trip to Zaria found he had incurred Jibirilu’s hostility and, severing his connection with Keffi, he went further South and camped with his followers at a place called Yankardi. Prior to this rupture Makama Dogo had given his daughter Halima to Jibirilu in marriage and though she ran away from Keffi and joined her father at Yankardi. Makama Dogo appears to have been magnanimous and returned her to Keffi, saying that his quarrel was as between men and did not affect the women of the respective households.

Jibirilu died in 1859, and was succeeded by his brothers, in order of seniority until 1894: Mohamadu, Ahamadu and Mallam Sidi, also known as Sidi Imoru. Sidi Imoru was succeeded by Ibrahima, ninth son of Abdu Zanga, the succession thus skipping three brothers Yamusa, Sulimanu and Isiaku (all of them older than Ibrahima). Ibrahima ruled until the arrival of the British. Something significant happened during his reign:

The Captain Moloney Story

During the reign of Ibrahima, it happened that the most powerful personage in Keffi was the Magaji (title now obsolete). Ibrahima was a mere figurehead. The apparent position of the Magaji was that of accredited agent of the Emir of Zaria who was the sovereign. The Magaji was a man of strong character and was in obstinate opposition to the establishment of British rule, though his resistance up to 1902 had been rather of a passive than an active character. In 1902, the arrival at Keffi of the powerful force under Col. Beddoes afforded a good opportunity for settling this matter, but the Resident officer (Captain Moloney) attempted to come to an amicable understanding with the Magaji in the hope that the latter’s influence might prove of use to the Government.

The arrest at Abuja of a number of chiefs, and the death from wounds of the Sariki himself had a certain effect in Keffi, and the Magaji evidently thought that his time had come. Captain Moloney was a man of strong character and determined action. On October 3rd, 1902, accompanied by the Assistant Resident (Mr. Webster) he proceeded to the square fronting the Emir’s and Magaji’s residences and summoned the Magaji to attend. Magaji declined to do so and the Assistant Resident was then sent to fetch him, but was set on by the Magaji’s retainers and eventually thrown out, narrowly escaping with his life.

Captain Moloney then sent Mr. Webster to call up the troops. The Magaji seeing that his arrest was imminent rushed out of his house and killed Captain Moloney and the Political Agent, Audu, who was acting as interpreter, and was thought, had falsely translated what Captain Moloney had said. The Magaji then fled Northwards and though pursued was not captured. He was sheltered by the Emir of Zaria, though in his flight he lost most of his possessions. Later, he went on to Kano where he was well received and became the right-hand man of the Emir. He joined the Ex-Sultan of Sokoto. This the High Commissioner (Frederick Lugard wasn’t happy about. He was eventually killed in the engagement at Burmi, by Major Marsh, on July 27th, 1903.

Emir of Keffi
The Emir and the Fmr Gov. of Nasarawa state

The aged and dormant Emir, Ibrahima of Keffi, was also removed and Abdullahi, sixth son of Jibirilu (third Emir of Keffi), was formally appointed Emir in 1902, and in 1905 was presented with, a Second-grade Staff by His Excellency the High Commissioner, Sir F. D. Lugard.

The incumbent Emir of Keffi is Hrh. Alh. Dr. Shehu Chindo Yamusa III, PhD.

As a sign of remembrance, the late Captain Moloney Tomb was immortalized.

The Late Captain Moloney Tomb.

The Late Captain Moloney tomb is situated on a hill near Keffi. Late Captain Moloney is a colonialist who happened to be a victim of British colonial resistance by the great Keffi emirate. Late Captain Maloney Tomb/Hills is however a formation which is a symbol of resistance of the people to British colonial rule. On top of the hill, a tourist is able to have a clear view of Keffi town. If developed, the site can be an alternative holiday picnic centre for people in Keffi, Abuja and beyond. I could remember my amazing experience on 🔝 of that hill. I can share with you if you request. Smiles.

Socio-cultural Profile.

The natives of Keffi are very receptive, extremely friendly and highly accommodating; little wonder the town houses people from different tribes. This multiplicity of ethnic groups is an asset and has given rise to a variety of arts, crafts, cultural festivals and dance groups. Life in Keffi is incredibly affordable with an abundance of food supplies and farm produces that are pretty cheap and a commendable steady power supply. The real beauty of Keffi goes beyond the hospitality of its people and the cheap livelihood of its inhabitants; Keffi possesses a few ancient monuments that are rich in culture and history, one of which is the Late Captain Moloney.

Just like the other Hausa-Fulani communities, Keffi have similar traditional administrative setup. The Emirate has the Emir has its head supported by serving chiefs.

Nasarawa State University (NSUK)

Progressively, education and civilization has changed the general lifestyle within the Emirate. There are sizeable numbers of public and private schools within the city. In fact, it houses the Nasarawa State University as commissioned by Sen. Abdulahi Adamu during his reign as Governor.

Islam, as always, have always been the dominant religion within Emirates and Keffi isn’t left out. Other religions are also practiced in their minorities Hausa is the official language of the emirate. It has some indigenous festivals and events:

Sharo Festival

Another well known cultural and historic event in Keffi is the Sharo (Fulani). The Sharo is a Fulani festival in Keffi Local Government Area every season and after Ramadan (Sallah). It is an incredibly exciting social event usually performed mostly by young bachelors to test their strength (powers) and also to impress and win maidens for courtship and marriage. I remember wanting to audience one of this event before a very good friend of mine (Olaniyi Ibrahim) stopped me. Lol. It is also an important tourism potential in the Local Government Area.

Old bridge new bridge.
Keffi LGA

According to tourist guides and based on personal experience, Keffi is indeed a town to pitch one’s tent due to its peaceful, solitude and inexpensive lifestyle. Hotel accommodation cannot be a problem to tourists in Keffi because there are a number of standard hotels and guest houses well established there which offer standard services.

Thanks for reading. Express your satisfaction in the comment box below. You can also read and share other stories under Tribes-and-culture as they interest you.

Researched and written on Muzzammilwrites.


20 thoughts on “Tribes And Culture: The Ancient City of Keffi (Nasarawa State)

  1. it’s where I am right now. I can tell, you exact picture of what the whole thing looks like.
    we must always, in avoidance of predisposition, add that- the ancient city of nasarawan keffi embodies more foreigners than the indigenes themselves.
    that hill you mentioned is, surely, one of the reasons why it’s called​ home of solid minerals


    1. Wao. Nice observations. You are on point with your facts too. Keffi has always been a home for me since my first visit. I can tell you are definitely enjoying your stay sir.

      I would pay another visit soonest.



  2. Dear Ola-lawal Muzzamil Oladayo,

    it is quite inspirational to see people like you who explore our rich histories to enlighten ourselves.

    May I request that you send me your references because I happen to be working on a project regarding Keffi history?

    In cas you have old maps also, I would appreciate them.


  3. Wow…that’s fascinating. U detailed it as it is, especially the late capt. Molaney hill/tomb. In fact, I grew & schooled in keffi. Keffi is home to me even though I reside in Lagos now but occasionally I do pay visit to childhood friends and some family members who still reside there. Keffi is wonderful to live in, it’s peaceful, the people accommodating & less expensive to stay. Though am from the Eastern part of the country


  4. Dear Muzzamil, this is quiet rich and impressive. Pls can u send me ur references ASAP cos the chapter 2 of my project is all about the people and land of Keffi. Much thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is nice! I’m from Nasarawa state, I school in keffi, but this is the first time I’m coming across this history. Well done sir I must say!
    Please that hill you mentioned, where exactly is it located, I would love to visit there too!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It quite an impressive history I have ever hard in my entire lifetime. Nevertheless you’re a genius or I can call you goru . actually I’m not from there but I love the people lifestyle according to your historical view. Once again I’m impressed.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Muzzamil, what a rich history about my home town. Am mohammed Maiwada Bala the SANTURAKI of KEFFI..a traditional title holder of the Keffi emirate. You can reach me on 08098981330..Expectifg to hear from you soon.


    1. Really interesting piece of work Muzzamil!

      I hope to make some time to explore the town when work brings me to Keffi soon.

      I just hope that the security situation around Gitata is stable.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have been trying to reach you without success. Could you please reach out to me on 08035074839 or kindly send all your writeups on Keffi to me.
    Thanks and God bless. Take care.
    A. F. Usman


  9. I am inspired by your work to give more details in the chapter two of my project work. Nice work sir, Remain Bless


pls., i will sincerely appreciated your views about the above excerpt in the comment box below.

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