Mai (i.e. King) Idris Alooma (1564-96) was a most successful politician of the period who gained considerable international prestige. Mahmud Kati, the great Songhai historian, wrote that: "The mass of our contemporaries hold that there are four Sultans not counting the supreme Sultan [the Sultan of Constantinople] to wit - The Sultan of Baghdad, the Sultan of Cairo, the Sultan of Bornu [sic] and the Sultan of Melli [i.e. Mali]". Dr Heinrich Barth, the nineteenth century German traveller, described Idris as "an excellent prince, uniting in himself the most opposite qualities: warlike energy, combined with mildness and intelligence; courage, with circumspection and patience; severity with pious feelings".
His military prowess was outstanding with armies, possibly the first in Africa, to have muskets. Acquiring them from the Turkish Empire, "[n]orth, south, east, and west he carried his conquering arms", says Lady Lugard. "To give a list of the many [peoples] that he subdued could only weary the reader". Imam Ahmad, the royal chronicler and aide, wrote a detailed account of Idris' campaigns. Part of his first hand report reads as follows: "'Abd ul Jalil ibn Bi fled and escaped, fearing our army. He had left his wife, the daughter of Yarima, in his house, turning from her when he saw the dust of our army, rising to the skies. For he was certain that the safety of a man himself is better for him than the safety of his wife. So he fled, deserting his wife, since personal necessity is more compelling than the lack of a wife, as the author of the book Ifrikiya has said."
Idris reformed and standardised the judiciary by establishing a system of Islamic courts. He himself ruled according to Islamic political theory, taking a stand against, among other things, immorality in the capital. Oliver and Atmore wrote that: "[H]e presided over a court famous for the high standard of its legal and theological disputations". Like his Songhai contemporaries, he was a patron of learning, encouraging scholars from many other African countries to take up residence in Borno. He improved navigation on the Yobe River. He commissioned the building of longer, flat-bottomed boats initially for his navy. For land transportation, he imported a much greater number of camels replacing the dependence on mules, oxen and donkeys. The great Mai was also a builder, raising new brick mosques in the cities that replaced the older buildings. He also founded a hostel in Mecca for Borno pilgrims. Following the fall of Songhai in 1591, the great Mai became the undisputed champion of the Muslims in the region. The empire became the Borno Caliphate. Phillip Koslow, a modern historian, declared that: "His contemporary, Elizabeth I of England, a shrewd and strong-willed monarch who gave her name to an age and has been repeatedly celebrated in books and films, could hardly have claimed greater achievements in war, administration or diplomacy."