Monday, 19 December 2016

Mythical Modibbo Adama Mosque

...The Land Rover carrying my guide, Rabi Sule, and driver, Abdurrazak, screeched to a stop at the gate of Jokems Hotel at Jimeta to pick me up at about 7:30 am. I had waited for them near a tea seller’s shade directly across the road for over 30 minutes. 

We took off. We jubilantly snaked through some shortcuts of Jimeta towards ‘Yola, about 10 kilometers away.

As Abdurrazak negotiated the roundabout heralding us into the historical city, Jabbama (Welcome in Fulfulde, boldly written high up on the city gate) we were welcomed in. We snaked into the city’s courteous welcome while I scoffed Rabi for having to carry along a big plastic bottle full of diluted Gestid, however severe her Ulcer was, ‘just for this short trip.’

With the lesser vehicular traffic density than in Jimeta, we cut through the heart of ‘Yola with some ease. Unknown to us, we had spent over 40 minutes burrowing through Jimeta and ‘Yola and stopping for me at a junction in Jimeta to buy kola nut. Out of ‘Yola, we hit the road towards Fufore enroute Gurin. In spite of the dilapidation of the road at several sections, and our about 20-minute stopover at Fufore, we had eaten up the over 60-kilometer Jimeta-Gurin distance before 11 am.

From the outskirts, we beheld the dome and tall pillars of the Mosque daring the blue skies. Soon, we were beside it. It still looked so marvelously fresh in its modern structure 13 years after reconstruction. 

There was nothing like a stalk on the modern structure of the Gurin Islamic shrine to tell the visitor its 200 years structural history as Masallacin Kara. 

We proceeded meters further to the District Head’s Office at the frontage of the District Head’s house, just across the road from the Mosque, to seek audience with him. Attached to the District Head’s house, between the house and the Mosque, is the fenced Hubbaare Modibbo Hamman (the Tomb of Modibbo Hamman), whose descendants, I was told, produce the Wakili (District Head) of Gurin, the most senior District Head in Fombina (Adamawa).

Gurin was the first capital of the Fombina domain when, in 1809, Modibbo Adama, empowered with the flag he had received from Danfodiyo in Sokoto, launched the Jihad at the eastern flank of where was in due course known as the Sokoto Caliphate. He moved the capital to Ribadu at the end of the Jihad in 1830. Ribadu enjoyed that status for eight years. Then Modibbo Adama moved it to Song. He left there to found ‘Yola in 1841.

It is said that he himself gave out 41 flags for the execution of the Jihad - 25 in communities in the present-day Cameroon, 15 in communities in the present-day Nigeria and one in the present-day Chad.

His descendants produce the Lamido of Fombina (Adamawa) to this day.

When, Modibbo Adama, born in 1771, went to Sokoto for the flag, he met Shehu at Sifawa where, according to oral tradition, after receiving that symbol of authority, he implored Shehu to pray for him to have a united domain. Shehu, accordingly, even included in the prayer, saying: “Fombina (by which he addressed Modibbo Adama), whoever settles in your domain will understand your language.” This is why, according to the oral tradition, most people in Adamawa, understand Fulfulde. 

Founded in 1806, when it was first constructed with corn stalks, by Modibbo Hamman, father-in-law to Modibbo Adamawa, the Mosque was wholly modernly reconstructed between January 27, 2002 and July 20, 2003 by the late Lamido Fombina (Adamawa), Alhaji Aliyu Musdafa. (Modibbo Hamman gave his daughter, Yasebo, to Modibbo Adama in marriage as his first wife. She gave birth to two princes, Hamidu and Bakari, none of whom, however, ascended the Lamido throne). 

It is also widely believed that the Turaki of Fombina, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, financed the modern reconstruction of the Mosque.

Standing out just about a quarter of a kilometer to the Nigeria/Cameroon border, and brandishing the fascinating architectural artistry of modernity at both the exterior and interior, and seemingly exuding freedom, or lamenting severance, from its mythical past, Modibbo Adama Mosque is undoubtedly, a pearl of Nigeria’s North-eastern border.

For the 200 years it was constructed with corn stalks, every stalk, according to oral tradition, served some specific mystical or therapeutic purpose, for example, curing barrenness among women; the spiritual status of the stalk structure of the Mosque was so entrenched for sustenance to eternity that if it was reconstructed with anything else, it would crumble after four years; that the sand within the interior of the Mosque, in the olden days, glowed at night, but lost its spiritual purity and powers to do so over time to the immoralities perpetrated by the residents of the community around the Mosque.

“The Mosque was built even before Modibbo Adama declared the Jihad here. It was originally constructed with stalks and stilts. The roof was of stilts covered with stalks; the fence of the premises was wholly of stalks,” Alhaji Ibrahim Muhammadu Yero, the Wakili (District Head) of Gurin, recalled, saying, “Since the time of the Modibbai (Islamic scholars) here at Gurin, when the Mosque was first constructed, the five daily prayers and the Friday congregational prayer are observed. Faithful even from Cameroon come to pray in the Mosque.” 

He debunked the claims of the glowing mystical powers of the sand in the interior of the Mosque, saying: “I am 77 years old now, and have never witnessed that since I was born.”

“The late Lamido, Alhaji Aliyu Musdafa, financed the reconstruction of the Mosque in its modern structure, of course with the help of other Muslims. The Fombina Emirate Council did not contribute a dime to the reconstruction,” Wakili Ibrahim Yero clarified.

“The fence was rebuilt every year with corn stalks through communal efforts by the numerous Fulbe (Fulani) clans here; I cannot tell you their number now. Every clan was responsible for the reconstruction and maintenance of the section of the fence allocated to it. After every harvest season, members of the clan would gather all the stalks in their respective farms and prepare them for the discharge of that yearly responsibility,” the Wakili explained.

“But the roof was reconstructed after every four years. This is the combined responsibility of all the clans. They gathered on the fixed day and execute the work between the Zuhr and Asr (two afternoon) prayers, which means they would begin the work after saying the Zuhr prayer and finish it before the Asr prayer,” he concluded.

The District Head would not comment on the claimed spiritual powers of the stalks and other oral traditions attached to the Mosque.

Mallam Sa’adu Iya Yola is one of the custodians of Fombina history.

“The Gurin Mosque possesses so much significance. As you may have gathered, from the time of its foundation in 1806, it was always constructed with corn stalk. Myth sustained by the generality of the population held that if it were ever constructed with such concrete materials, it would not stand. So they used only corn stalks to do so,” he said, adding, “whenever they had to do so every year, they would invite all their fellow Gurin indigenes within the country and abroad to participate. The reconstruction always lasted for a day.”

The veteran journalist revealed: “They had the belief that every corn stalk used in the construction of the Mosque had therapeutic powers to cure every ailment.”

According Sa’adu Iya, the decision to reconstruct the historic Mosque to modern form was informed by what the authorities saw as the need to permanently and effectively erase the age-old myth and belief in the minds of the early people that no type of construction other than that of the corn stalks can stand. 

“This is why the authorities decided to hazard reconstructing the Mosque with other building materials other than the stalks. They settled for cement blocks and other modern materials to rebuild it to that beautiful edifice you saw,” stressing, “This modern building is a trial, because the people have maintained their belief that it will not stand. This means that if, in due course, it crumbles, the reconstruction will be reverted to that of the corn stalk. Fortunately, 13 years now after the modern reconstruction, it still stands.”

He explained why the Mosque, founded by Modibbo Hamman, was named after modibbo Adama.

“The relationship between Modibbo Hamman and Modibbo Adama was that of exceptional amity built when Modibbo Adama met Modibbo Hamman in Gurin. Modibbo Hamman giving Modibbo Adama his daughter in marriage characterized that amity. Modibbo Hamman, a Quranic teacher, was appointed the first ruler of Gurin in 1790 and died in 1830. They maintained this amity, staying at Gurin together. The year Modibbo Adama moved the capital out of Gurin was the year Modibbo Hamman died. So exceptional was the amity between them,” he said.

For the 200 year old Gurin Mosque, the crumbling of its corn-stalk structure could mean the crumbling of its 200 years myth.

NB: I would strongly advise, Sir, that the ‘Fombina’ is maintained with, if necessary, ‘Adamawa’ in bracket because ‘Fombina’ is the named used by historians and other scholars in their authoritative literatures. The Palace and Emirate Council are called ‘Fombina Palace’ and ‘Fombina Emirate Council’ and the Lamido of Adamawa strongly prefers to be addressed as ‘Lamido Fombina’ with ‘Adamawa’ in bracket. These are written even on the letterhead papers of both the Emirate Council and the Lamido himself. ‘Fombina’ seems to possess more historical origin and prestige, and express a wider sphere of influence, than ‘Adamawa’. ‘Fombina’ is the name of the land; ‘Adamawa’ is a name that only derived from the name of the owner of the land, Modibbo Adama.

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