The name Sokoto (which is the modern/anglicised version of the local name, Sakkwato) is of Arabic origin, representing suk, 'market'. It is also known as Sakkwato, Birnin Shaihu da Bello or "Sokoto, Capital of Shaihu and Bello").
Being the seat of the former Sokoto Caliphate, the city is predominantly Muslim and an important seat of Islamic learning in Nigeria. The Sultan who heads the caliphate is effectively the spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims.
Since its creation as a state in 1976 (from the bifurcation of the erstwhile North-Western State into Sokoto and Niger States, Sokoto state has been ruled by governors, most ex-military officers, who succeeded each another at short intervals.
Sokoto, as a region, knows a longer history. During the reign of the Fulani Empire in the 19th century Sokoto was an important Fula state, in addition to being a city, of what was then west central Nigeria.
From ca. 1900, with the British take-over, Sokoto, which then encompassed the entire north-west corner of Nigeria, became a province of the British protectorate of Nigeria. Not long after Gando was added as a sub-province. This double province then covered an area of 35,000 square miles (90,000 km²) with an estimated population over 500,000. It included the then Zamfara and Argunga, or Kebbi, kingdoms.
The following excerpt from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica offers some information from the perspective of the occupying British power:
The province has been organized on the same principle as the other provinces of Northern Nigeria. A British resident of the first class has been placed at Sokoto and assistant residents at other centres. British courts of justice have been established and British governors are quartered in the province. Detachments of civil police are also placed at the principal stations. The country has been assessed under the new system for taxes and is being opened as rapidly as possible for trade. After the establishment of British rule farmers and herdsmen reoccupied districts and the inhabitants of cities flocked back to the land, rebuilding villages which had been deserted for fifty years. Horse breeding and cattle raising form the chief source of wealth in the province. There is some ostrich farming. Except in the sandy areas there is extensive agriculture, including rice and cotton. Special crops are grown in the valleys by irrigation. Weaving, dyeing and tanning are the principal native industries. Fair roads are in process of construction through the province. Trade is increasing and cash currency has been introduced.
In 1906 a rising attributed to religious fanaticism occurred near Sokoto in which unfortunately three white officers lost their lives. The emir heartily repudiated the leader of the rising, who claimed to be a Mahdi inspired to drive the white man out of the country. A British force marched against the rebels, who were overthrown with great loss in March 1906. The leader was condemned to death in the emir's court and executed in the market place of Sokoto, and the incident was chiefly interesting for the display of loyalty to the British administration which it evoked on all sides from the native rulers.
In 1967, not long after Nigerian independence from the British, the region became known as the Northwestern State. This territory was, in 1976, split into Sokoto State and Niger State. Later on, Kebbi State (1991) and Zamfara State (1996) split off from Sokoto State.
Sokoto State is mainly populated by Hausa people. Most Sokoto State residents are Sunni Muslims, with a Shia minority; violence between the two groups is common.