Top 10 Emirs in Northern Nigeria

Updated: Jan 27, 2022
By Abdullahi Malumfashi
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Northern Nigeria is blessed with many Emirs and chiefs. Emirs are believed to be the fathers of the nation and very important pillars of society. While all Chiefs and Emirs are highly regarded by their people, some stand out above the rest. So who are the top 10 Emirs in northern Nigeria? What is the hierarchy of Emirs in northern Nigeria, and what are their rankings? This is the focus of this article.

Join me as I explore the top ten Emirs in northern Nigeria.

Top 10 Emirs in Northern Nigeria

10. The Emir of Ilorin

While most people don’t regard Ilorin as part of the ‘core north,’ it is an important town in Northern Nigeria. With a strong concentration of Yoruba and Baruba in the region, the Emirate still became an important part of the Islamic Jihad of 1804 when Abdusalami dan Salih Alimi, a local Fulani, became the Emir in 1824.

When the British came, they regarded the Emir of Ilorin as one of the top 10 Emirs in northern Nigeria, a ranking that the Emirate still retains today.

The current Emir of Ilorin is Ibrahim Sulu Gambari, a well respected Jurist Nigerian lawyer, and monarch appointed in 1995 as the 11th Emir of the Ilorin Emirate in Kwara State from Fulani rulings house and chairman of Kwara State Traditional Councils. He is one of the top ten Emirs from northern Nigeria.

9. Etsu Nupe

Etsu is a Nupe word for ‘King’, meaning the Etsu Nupe is the king of all Nupe people, with headquarters in Bida. Hence, in the ranking of Emirs in northern Nigeria, the Emir of Bida is the 9th on the list.

After the fall of the predecessor Nupe Kingdom, Bida Emirate came under the jurisdiction of Gwandu Emirate, the administrative capital of Sokoto Sultanate. Usman Zaki dan Malam Dendo, a local Fulani, became the first Emir of the Nupe Emirate in 1835.

The current Etsu Nupe is Alhaji (Dr) (Brig. Gen) Yahaya Abubakar rtd GCFR, a retired soldier, elder statesman, and Chairman of Niger State Traditional Council of Chiefs, making him one of the most respected Emirs in northern Nigeria.

8. Emir of Bauchi

Before the Islamic Jihad of 1804, The region of Bauchi was ruled by small independent tribes. This changed when in 1805, Yakubu I dan Dadi, one of the students of Shehu Dan Fodio himself, became the first Emir of Bauchi, then titled Lamido. This is why the Emirate is now known as ‘Bauchin Yakubu’, after the founder.

The Emirate remains one of the top 10 emirs in Northern Nigeria, a feat it has achieved since the coming of the British.

The Emir, Dr. Rilwan Suleiman Adamu, is the son of the former Emir, Sulaiman Adamu, who died in 2010 after ruling for 28 years. The Emir is the Chairman of the Bauchi State Council of Traditional Rulers, which is no easy feat considering there are other historic Emirates in the state; like that of Katagum, Jama’are, who is one of the longest-serving Emirs in northern Nigeria

7. Emir of Zazzau

Zazzau is one of the Original Hausa Bakwai States founded by Bayajidda and ruled by his sons. The Emirate is an important one with a rich history. Zazzau Emirate has some of the most historical rulers, such as Queen Amina, the female warrior queen, Sarki Makau, Sarki Jatau, etc.

The Emirate, apart from being one of the top 10 emirates in northern Nigeria, has a complex history, with the Emir of Zazzau emerging from one of the four ruling Houses; Katsinawa, Mallawa, Bare-bari, and Sullubawa. The current Emir, Alhaji Ahmad Nuhu Bamalli, is from the Mallawa ruling clan, the first in 100 years.

The Emirate is among the top in the rankings of top Emirs in the region. Being situated in the Capital of then Northern Nigeria accorded the Emir much prestige. The Emir of Zazzau then, Ja’afaru Dan Isiyaku, was even a member of the Northern Regional House of Chiefs and a minister without a portfolio, a testament to his ranking among Emirs in the north.

6. Emir of Katsina

The Emirate of Katsina is one of the ancient emirates in northern Nigeria, with the Emir being one of the top 10 Emirs in northern Nigeria.

The emirate became part of the Sokoto Sultanate when Ummarun Dallaje, the patriarch of the Dallazawa Dynasty, was handed the flag by Shehu Usman Danfodio. The current Emir is from the ruling Sullubawa dynasty, founded when Muhammadu Dikko became the ninth Fulani emir in 1906.

In the hierarchy of northern Nigeria Emirs, the Emir of Katsina ranks high. He is also the Chairman of the State Traditional Council of Chiefs and the Emir, who controls the most District Heads in Nigeria.

5. Lamido of Adamawa

In the history of rankings of Emirs in Northern Nigeria, the Lamido of Adamawa stands tall. The Adamawa Emirate was formerly located in the Fombina area, currently in Adamawa, Parts of Taraba, Some areas of Cameroon, and Chad. It was one of the vastest Emirates back then.

The Emirate was founded by Modibo Adama in 1809, a disciple of Shehu Dan Fodio when he defeated the Mandara Kingdom. He reigned for almost 40 years and was succeeded by his offspring, a practice that continues today.

His influence made the Lamido one of the top 10 Emirs in northern Nigeria, even amongst his peers. The most iconic Lamido, Aliyu Mustafa Barkindo, ruled for 57 years and died in 2010, aged 88. His funeral attracted over 20 state governors and countless other VIPs. His son, Muhammadu Barkindo Aliyu Mustapha, succeeded him, the 12th Lamidon Adamawa. He is the Chairman of the State Council of Chiefs.

4. Emir of Kano

The current Emirate of Kano was founded in 1805 during the Islamic Jihad. Before then, Kano, one of the original Hausa states, had existed since 999, when Bagauda became the first King of Kano. The Kano emirate also defeated the British in three battles until it fell in 1903, and the then Emir Aliyu Babba was sent into exile.

Kano Emirate has since been transformed into one of the most important emirates in Nigeria. While the Emir of Kano is one of the most known Emirs and ranks higher in the hierarchy of Emirs in northern Nigeria, he is not the most senior. The Emir pays homage to the Sultan of Sokoto, who remains the supreme leader. This, however, doesn’t mean the Emir isn’t one of the top 10 Emirs in Northern Nigeria.

Before the creation of 4 new Emirates in the state, Kano state is the only other state apart from Sokoto with a single Emirate. Now the state has 5 First class emirates. The Late Ado Bayero, The 13th Fulani Emir, was one of the longest-serving and most respected Emirs in Nigeria, and he ruled for 52 years.

3. Emir of Gwandu

This might seem surprising, but the Emir of Gwandu is one of northern Nigeria’s top 3 emirs. While this Emirate is lesser-known than others on the list, it is no less important. The emirate, located in present-day Gwandu, Kebbi state, is one of the two capitals of the Sokoto Emirate, the other being Sokoto itself.

After the Jihad, Dan Fodio divided the sultanate into two; between his son Muhammadu Bello and his brother Abdullahi. Gwandu was then the eastern capital, where several Emirs reported to and paid homage to.

While the state is the traditional headquarters and the Kingdom of Kebbi, it has lost much of its glory. Currently, the Emirate is embroiled in a legal tussle as to who becomes the Emir after the 19th Emir of Gwandu Alhaji Mustafa Haruna Jokolo was deposed in 2005. The Supreme Court will hear the final case in 2023.

2. Shehu of Borno

The Borno Emirate is the second among the hierarchy of Emirs in northern Nigeria. The Borno Emirate was founded at the start of the 20th century and succeeded the Bornu Empire, which has existed since 1000.

The current ruling dynasty, El-Kanemi, dates back to Muhammad El-Kanemi, the ruler between 1809 –1837. The Borno Empire has never been defeated in the Islamic Jihad. Islam came to the region in the 11th Century, and Borno has been a center of Islamic learning since the 17th century.

The current Shehu of Borno, as they are known, Abubakar Ibn Umar Garbai El-Kanem, is a descendant of the founder of the Emirate, El-Kanemi. He has been on the throne since 2009 and is one of the highest-ranking emirs in northern Nigeria, second only to the Sultan himself. The Shehu is also the Deputy President General of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), the highest Islamic Organization in Nigeria, and the deputy Chairman Northern Traditional Rulers Council.

1. Sultan of Sokoto

The Sultan of Sokoto is the most important Emir in northern Nigeria, as well as the spiritual leader of the country’s almost 100 million Muslims, often referred to as “Sarkin Musulmi” This makes him the most influential Emir as well as the topmost in the hierarchy of Emirs in northern Nigeria. The Sultan is also the head of Jama’atu Nasril Islam (Society for the Support of Islam – JNI), and president-general of the Nigerian National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) as well as the Chairman Northern Traditional Rulers Council.

The current Sultan, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, succeeded his brother, Muhammad Maccido, who died in a plane crash in 2006. He is the son of Abubakar Sadiq III, the 17th Sultan of Sokoto and the longest-reigning Sultan. They are the descendants of Usman Dan Fodio, the founder of the Sokoto Sultanate.

The Sultan is the number one traditional ruler in northern Nigeria and Nigeria. All classes of society respect him.


As earlier stated, all the Emirs in northern Nigeria are influential and well respected in their respective localities. But by the rankings of the Emirs from northern Nigeria, these are the top 10. They are highly influential and well respected.

What do you think of the list? Tell me in the comments section.

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