Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Auchi, Agbede: Home to scholars, mosques and a Temple (II)

By Tadaferua Ujorha, who was in Auchi and Agbede

A statue of D.H. Momoh graces the sprawling campus of the polytechnic at Auchi. Executed in royal brown, it radiates an energy which is, in one breath, both bold and assertive, and this is communicated through the sheer power contained in the arms, the royal pose of the head, and the late kings noble carriage. This is a most impressive work of art which suggests much about the people and culture of the area, for Auchi is largely a Muslim community, and Islam frowns upon the use of statues and other forms of representation, but here is a statue in honour of an early Muslim monarch in that same community!

Most artistic representations of D.H. Momoh, who is noted for extending Islam to Auchi, present him with his head tilted upwards, as though caught in a prayerful mood, as if he were beseeching the Almighty for help and strength, and he must have done a lot of this in those days when he strengthened Islam in the community. The statue in question does not truly depart from this impression, and one wonders how D.H. Momoh would have reacted to the moderns, who, with their oftentimes strange manner of thinking and perceiving, stand within the shadow of his silent statue.

It was D.H. Momoh who brought Islam to Auchi, in a much more encompassing sense than hitherto, having been schooled in the Koran by Nupe scholars who hailed from the Nupe speaking areas. Agbede also has a similar history. One remarkable account is often told of how young Prince Momoh (as he was at that time) deprived the council of elders of their sticks, which were the signs of their traditional authority and source of their power, and these sticks were called Ituke. Momoh got these sticks burnt in the late hours of the night, after telling them that he needed the sticks for an unstated purpose. Shortly thereafter Islam was established and great efforts were made to suppress the traditional religion.

Islam was practised in Auchi before the birth of Momoh, but it was practised by persons who were mainly of Nupe, Hausa, Fulani and Yoruba origin. According to Dr. Zakariyau Oseni in his The Islamisation of Auchi Kingdom in South Central Nigeria, the Hausa and Nupe settlers lived mainly at Aibotse, and this perhaps explains why the praying ground has always remained at Aibotse. Dr. Oseni in the same work provides quite dramatic illustration on the life and qualities of Momoh who was initially known as Prince Osiogbhele Momoh. In his words "As a child, Osiogbhele exhibited extraordinary intelligence, and sound moral and magnetic friendliness. He was often found in the company of Nupe and Hausa Mallams whose Islamic practice he cherished. He embraced Islam at a time when very few Auchi indigenes were Muslim. Momoh as he came to be known, also employed the services of a private teacher to teach him English. He strove to act in tandem with global currents such as the factor of western imperialism, and the decisive changes it had wrought all over the world at that time. Momoh declared an Islamic revolution in 1914, and in the course of this, he gave many of his daughters out to a number of Islamic scholars in marriage, and this consolidated the relationship between him and the first generation of mallams in Auchi.

Alhaji Aliru H. Momoh, the present Otaru of Auchi is immensely proud and happy on account of the Arafat mosque project currently underway in Auchi. Speaking in his palace which itself is the very epitome of cultured living, good taste and beauty, he waxed rhetorical as he went down memory lane, and recalled the entire series of activities which combined to bring the Arafat mosque to its present state. In his words "the inspiration for the construction of a new mosque came when the roof of the old mosque was blown off in 1991. The old mosque was no longer suitable for Auchi, and many felt it would be better if we relocated to another place, and started a new mosque.

When I ascended the throne, two issues were paramount. These were the need to have a new mosque, and the urgent need to construct a new palace. One day I went out to look for a site for the mosque, and then we came to the present site, and I chose the spot. It is to be the Eid praying ground, as well as to be used for the Jumaat service.

The Otaru of Auchi is urbane and exposed in every sense of the word. He is the first chartered accountant, first lawyer, first industrialist and first gold miner to occupy the Auchi throne. He went on to tell Daily Trust that the name of the mosque came to him as a deep intuitive perception, and he decided that Arafat mosque would be its name following that experience. A higher guidance also seemed to have played a role in the selection of the site of the Arafat mosque, because the Otaru also stated that he felt quite strongly that the site before him on that day, was the right one, and shortly thereafter construction work began in earnest.

The Otaru of Auchi also informed Daily Trust that the Arafat mosque project was initially designed to be an eleven storey structure, but it was later reduced to its present size. He also indicated to Daily Trust how he had to sell some of his properties as part of the process of mobilising resources to fund the project. The Otaru of Auchi treats the mosque as a special activity which deserves his complete attention. Indeed the entire experience of funding the project contains elements that are simply of a miraculous character. In his words "I believe Auchi is a blessed land. In future this is what is going to happen. The high rate of growth of the population calls for such. The mosque is not only for Auchi, for we are sure people would come here from Benin to worship in the future." According to the Otaru of Auchi, when completed the mosque should be able to accommodate over 5,000 worshippers at any time.

He also drew attention to the sheer dynamism of Auchi society. In his words "Auchi is the fastest growing population in Edo State with a growth rate of seven per cent, which beats the world average of two per cent for developing countries. Here people are truly contesting for land." He added that Auchi is a peaceful and serene environment, and that the Almighty has put Light here which man must see. He also said if a man practices Islam as he should, then he would find whatever he seeks in life. He expresses this with a simplicity borne of experience and conviction.

He is also impressed with the fact that Christian religious bodies are making Auchi their headquarters, despite the fact that Auchi is largely a Muslim community, and commented on the significant fact that Auchi is in charge of the Etsako zone of the Anglican church.

Prince Haliru Momoh is the suave architect who designed the Arafat mosque, and he has very fond memories of the entire experience. He told Daily Trust that the Arafat mosque sits upon three hectares of land, and that he truly felt spiritually uplifted after going through the whole process of designing the mosque. In his words "the first day I prayed in it, I was exceedingly happy." He says that the mosque has an architectural mode which is purely Islamic, and which has a special central dome, and it would also have four additional domes.

He added that the mosque could sit some 5,000 persons and it is the only round mosque in Africa. The Arafat mosque is a special project of the Otaru of Auchi, and the project should be concluded sometime later this year. Prince Momoh also drew attention to a tunnel which would circle the mosque, and which also plays the role of an underground driveway.

This may be the only mosque in Africa with an underground driveway. When you combine this rare fact, with the special symbolism contained in its round form, you easily pass through an experience of an uplifting and unforgettable sort.

To be concluded.