MEET HUGH CLAPPERTON: THE FIRST WHITE TO GET TO SOKOTO

They were three: Lieutenant Hugh Clapperton, Major Denham and Dr. Oudney. They were sent out by the British government after years of abandonment of the Niger project. Many explorers had seen the voyage to the Niger as a voyage to untimely and agonising death, and many of the young men around were not ready to venture there. The British government also drew back, and the African Association soft-pedalled, the death of Mungo Park in such a way had dampened the earlier boisterous hope.

But the Niger interior must be opened, the government in England desired to know what it haboured, and this was the reason for sending the threesome to sojourn from the north, probably it would be easier to get in through the desert. They were well equipped and trained for the job: Clapperton was a young army officer who had seen action, ditto Denham; and Oudney was a voyage doctor, he had been going round the sea for some time. England had waited for over ten years, but with these men, the job should now be easier.

They got to Tripoli together and were well received; they stayed with the ruler, who supported the idea of two to three white men trading in his kingdom, but not more than that.  So they moved, and got to Kukawa together. However, fight broke out between Clapperton and Denham, and there was separation: Denham went off to Borno with some natives, and Clapperton and Oudney to the Hausa states.  But shortly after the separation, Oudney died, leaving Clapperton alone in the desert.

Here was the courage and determination espoused by this explorer. He was expected to return home since his two colleagues were the ones who knew the road and the language of the people. But Clapperton refused to let go, rather he continued the journey in suffering with no adviser, or companion: he was compelled to push on alone.

Somehow, he got to Kano, and was so happy he made it.  To show the people he was from the Great king of England, he changed into his naval uniform. He had expected the uniform to have a lasting impression on the natives and to command their respect. But sadly, he was ignored, for Kano was used to people who dressed oddly, and did not bother to know the difference between the dresses. He tarried a while in Kano, waiting for an escort; thereafter, he set off again.

On 16 March 1824, he got to Sokoto, and here he was made happy. Sultan Bello, the son of Uthman Dan Fodio welcomed him with open hands, and he allowed him to stay with him, as long as he wished. Besides, he told him the Niger he was looking for was very close by,and he could go there later. Then he sent him to the King of England,saying he would want the King to send him a consul, who would be living with him in Sokoto.

With these assurances, and since he could not go to the Niger because the Sultan said it was too dangerous for him to go all alone, Clapperton returned to England. The British government was so impressed and was encouraged by the friendly reception given to Clapperton in Sokoto. It quickly financed another expedition to be led by the same Clapperton, now to getting in through Badagry, the slave trading coast.

They got to Badagry, searching for the port where the Sultan had said it would be easy to get to the Niger from there, and when they could not get the port, they decided to get to Sokoto by road and from there to get to the Niger. He was going with three other men, Captain Pearse, Surgeon Morrison, and his personal servant named Richard Lander. But soon, Morrison died, and Pearse followed him to heaven. It now remained Clapperton and his servant, Lander.

After about eight months on the road, they got to Kano, and moved to Sokoto. Clapperton was very eager to see his friend again, the Sultan. But there was war going on, and the Sultan was not in the mood for friendship, besides he had been told Clapperton could be a spy to undermine his security. So, now sighting Clapperton again, the Sultan ordered his arrest and detention: there he remained for some time.

When he was released, the shame, frustration and disappointment was too much for him to bear, and he fell ill, and died in Sokoto in April 1827.

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