The Essentials of Good Government and the
Obligations of Leadership
The Shehu Uthman Dan Fodio, 1807
The Caliph is
appointed to safeguard the rule of law. He is appointed with a
specific mandate to uphold the rule of law, to ensure justice and equality in
such a way that the citizen gets his entitlements and the property and
well-being of orphans, the infirm, the insane and so on, are safeguarded.
Each Caliph must do his utmost and exercise power in the fear of Allah. If he
is upright his work will show complete lack of self interest. He is not
appointed to oppress his subjects. What he must do is lead them as far as
religion and their material well-being are concerned and thank Allah for
having the opportunity to do so.
The caliph must not neglect his appearance which should be simple but
dignified. He should be calm and kind, encouraging goodness and abhorring evil
and wickedness. He should wear the correct male attire and should not try to
make himself look attractive as women do. He should not waste public funds, he
should not wear any gold or silver nor should he wear clothes made of
expensive materials. It is demeaning to do so. The Caliph must not pay lavish
regard to fine clothes, horses or luxurious standards of housing.
The Caliph must be on his guard and refuse to listen to mischief-makers. He
should keep his voice low and watch what he says. He must never lie and never
break a promise. If he makes a law he must ensure it is kept. His actions must
never differ from his words, for if they do, his people will lose respect for
There is no more a dangerous situation than when the Caliph is no longer
easily accessible to his people. The Caliph must make himself accessible to
ordinary men and women even children, every day. He must not rely on the
competence of his officials. It is quite likely that it is about his officials
that people wish to complain: He must therefore listen to them. If he doesn't
then he can be compared to a herdsman who, rather than guarding his herd,
holds the cow (in this case, the people) by the horns to help the thief (his
officials) steal the milk (his people's wealth).
In public the Caliph must show the same degree of familiarity with all the
people. When people greet him he should not smile on some and not on others,
or chat with some and not with others, because he is in no position to know
whether or not those whom he is greeting are complainants or wrong-doers.
The Caliph must not only be upright, but he must let his uprightness shine
before him as visible proof. Uprightness is giving a man the wages,
compensation and respect due him. Uprightness is being generous, not from the
public purse but from one's own pocket. Uprightness is refusing to accept
presents of any kind. Uprightness is being fair in settling disputes, refusing
to take sides.
The Caliph must always be vigilant, whether in the office or on tour, he must
be prepared for any eventuality or test of endurance. He must be watchful and
hunt down corrupt officials; just as a cat cannot be allowed custody of mice,
so corrupt officials cannot be given custody of the Caliph's subjects. The
Caliph has to root out oppressors. He must be completely fearless, a man of
principle who will stand by his principles whatever the consequences. To rule,
the Caliph has to be firm and strong, giving courage to others by his example.
The Caliph must be on guard all the time and not be deceived by first
appearances. For example the chances are that envoys who come with gifts are
really spies. The wise man will turn them away with their gifts. It is madness
even to accommodate such envoys. The senders are just waiting to see what
advantage they can get from the situation.
Good government is the stopping of oppression (forbidden by the Shari'a
[Islamic Law]) and the promotion of uprightness which roots out tyranny and
protects the public against wrong-doers. It is obligatory according to
Shari'a, for the Caliph to prescribe rules and regulations in strict
conformity with the Shari'a to ensure the smooth running of the
administration. The Caliph must organize an effective administration for the
benefit of his people. To this end he must appoint competent civil servants in
a variety of capacities, judges, advisers, doctors, revenue collectors, police
The Caliph must make frequent assessment of his officials: their assets before
appointment will be probed and constant checks made into their work.
Reprimands will be given to those who fail to maintain high standards and
oppressors will be dismissed. Any unexplained wealth will be confiscated. The
Caliph must protect his subjects from rapacious officials, like a herdsman
protects his flock from hungry lions.
No appointment is properly made without completion of the following three
conditions: 1. The Caliph (or appointing body) must ensure the man to be
appointed is qualified. If he is not qualified he should not be appointed. If
it is necessary to make appointment before all the relevant information is
available, the man should be given a temporary appointment subject to
confirmation. 2. The person to be appointed must be given a clear description
of his duties and the limits of his authority must be defined. Failure to do
so negates the appointment. 3. The official awaiting appointment must be given
his assignment in advance and its territorial limits must be defined. It is
forbidden for any appointment to be made on the basis of personal preference
The chief adviser to the Caliph is the Waziri [Chief Minister]. He has full
executive powers. He must be like a father to the Caliph, ever ready to remind
him of his responsibilities, bringing things to his attention, reminding him
of things he has forgotten about. He should advise the Caliph on all matters
and confirm to him correct procedures. The Waziri cannot appoint an heir or
regent to the Caliph, he may not resign from office nor depose anyone
appointed by the Caliph. Otherwise he has full powers.
The Waziri must be truthful, upright, of excellent character, understanding
and compassionate. It is a terrible misfortune for both the people and the
Caliph if the Chief Executive is not a man of excellence. The Waziri must look
to Allah constantly and know that Allah is watching over his actions
Regional Emirs have full powers and their responsibilities are the same as
those of the Caliph under whom they work, namely, the general well-being of
the people. An Emir must not think that he owns the place he governs and thus
use it as his personal property. To do this is gross misuse of authority. The
Public Complaints Commissioners are appointed to check oppression and their
functions are wider than those of judges. For instance they can investigate
the malpractices of officials who are difficult for a judge to deal with, so
they have to have more power than judges. Rulers like to weaken the powers of
judges in order to oppress the poor and suppress complaints.
Rulers must seek every means of increasing the people's prosperity. Legal
sources of revenue are taxes on wealth, farms, animals and minerals. Payments
made to the rulers in exchange for titles and positions are illegal. Allah has
forbidden rulers to accept any money given to them in exchange for
appointments in civil service or in the judiciary, for they lead to
irreligious practices, bribery and oppression of the poor. The man who pays
for his title will extort what he has paid from the poor. Bribes are
forbidden: this means when there is any dispute, no presents may be given to
the arbiter (whether Caliph, judge or civil servant) either before or after
judgement is made. Accepting presents is forbidden and detracts from the
uprightness of any person in authority.
The special tax [Zakat] levied on behalf of the very poor must be collected
and distributed as alms. Those whose needs are greatest will get first. The
Caliph must see that aid is properly distributed in accordance with actual
needs, so that what is not required in place 'A' can be transferred to place
'B' where the need is greater.
The Caliph must draw up his budget. The top priority is defence, then wages of
judges, teachers, Ladans [those who call the faithful to prayers], civil
servants, then the distribution of extra gift is to the poor, each receiving
according to his need. Any surplus can be left in the Treasury for use in
emergencies or for building mosques, repayment of loans, assistance to those
wishing to marry, and pilgrims.