Daily Trust (Abuja)

11 November 2012

Nigeria: Gobarau - Story of the 664-Year Old Minaret

Katsina — The Gobarau minaret is believed to be one of the tallest buildings in Katsina State.

The tower is also said to have been constructed 664 years ago. The minaret reflects the Timbuktu style architecture. Though it was built for religious purposes, the Gobarau was converted to a security tower and it is now a tourist attraction. Sunday Trust's correspondent visited the tower and filed this report.

As it stands today, the famous Gobarau minaret (Hasumiyya) is part of the first Friday Mosques built in the ancient city of Katsina between (1348-1398). Originally, the height of the 664-year old minaret was said to have been over 122m (400f) before it was reduced to its present height of about 17.11 meters, with a base of approximately 83.36 square meters. The tower was said to have collapsed due to neglect and lack of maintenance before it was rebuilt by Emir Muhammad Dikko.

Though there was no written or verbal evidence related to its abandonment and eventual collapse, Dr Sani Lugard, the present Wazirin Katsina, has suggested in his book titled 'The Twin University (2004)' that the decline of Gobarau minaret might be connected to the lack of enthusiasm towards Islamic development in Hausa land in 17th and 18th centuries. This however, coincided with the opinion of another scholar, John Hunwick, who described that period (17th and 18th Centuries) as an era during which Islam witnessed a serious setback. It was learned that during that period Islamic scholarship was said to have disappeared. This was what prompted Sheikh Usman bin Fodio to wage an Islamic revolution in the early 19th Century.

Other reasons advanced for the collapse of Gobarau Minaret, include the proliferation of mosques in virtually every nook of the City; establishment of traditional Qur'anic Schools system in the entrance halls of local houses (Zauruka), and the construction of the then new central mosque in 1807 by Ummaru Dallaje, the first Fulani Emir of Katsina.

Other sources held the opinion that the inability of the local builders to reach the apex of the minaret to effect repairs, was responsible for the deterioration and eventual collapse of the original tower. It was gathered that, based on this, Emir Dikko ordered for the reduction of its height, so that local builders could effect repairs whenever the need arose.

It was also gathered that in 1927 one of the teachers at the famous old Katsina Training College, Mr E. Mart, snapped some photographs of the remains of the minaret and took them to the colonial masters with a view to rescuing the historic monument. The development was said to have generated concern among the people of Katsina and the British colonial officers. As a result of this the then Emir Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko summoned some prominent local master builders to his palace, and ordered them to rebuild the minaret. The minaret, as it stands today, is the product of that exercise, Sunday Trust gathered.

The Gobarau mosque

The history of the mosque dates back to the introduction of Islam in Hausa land, and the efforts of the celebrated Islamic scholar, Sheikh Muhammadu Abdulkarim Almaghili and that of Sarki Muhammadu Korau the first Muslim ruler of Katsina.

The mosque was said to have been influenced by Muhammadu Almaghili who visited Katsina in the late 15th Century during the reign of Muhammadu Korau, the then Emir of Katsina. Almaghili and Korau conceived the idea of building the mosque to serve as a centre for spiritual and intellectual activities; hence the Gobarau Mosque was built as the first Juma'at mosque in Katsina.

Gobarau Mosque as a center for learning

Gobarau Mosque became an important center of learning, thereby attracting scholars and students from far and wide across the Western and Central Sudan and Magrib. Following this development, the mosque was turned into a University. The tradition of a mosque serving as a praying ground as well as school is not new thing in Islam.

Some historians believe that the Gobarau University was affiliated to the Sankore University in Timbuktu. It was gathered that many Islamic scholars from Timbuktu had visited Katsina and taught Islamic Education in the mosque. For example, John Hunwick, in his book titled Literacy and Scholarship in Muslim West Africa in the Pre-colonial Period, says "Many of the Timbuktu scholars who made the pilgrimage to Mecca and on their return journey, settled for a period of time in Katsina to teach some residents there.

It was also gathered that some of the pioneer lecturers of the Gobarau University included Sheik Qadi Muhammad Al-Tazakhti, Sheik Muhammad Abdulkarim Almaghili, Sheik Umar Bin Aqit, Sheik Ahmed Bab Ali Timbuktu and Sheik Aqib Al-Ansumani among others.

The curricula of the university, Sunday Trust learned, comprised Qur'anic recitation, Hadith (Tradition of the Prophet Muahmmad (SAW), Islamic Jurisprudence, Islamic Law, Mathematics, Astronomy, Astrology, Logic, Arabic Grammar, Poetry, History, Philosophy, and other fields.

Structure of Gobarau minaret

The minaret is a building made by local craftsmen using mud, clay, and conical bricks (Tubali) while date palms (Azara) were used for the roofing, doors and windows. The two buildings measured over 122 meters high in their limited construction but new measures 17.11 metres high one with a base of of three blocks made of bricks used as a flight of steps with a way leading to the top, and Katsi was used for coating to prevent erosion and affecting the building.

The minaret has three floors with the first floor as the biggest, followed by the second and then the topmost one, which is the smallest. Several holes were constructed on its wall from the east, west, south and north of the tower. It was through these holes that enemies were sighted while approaching Katsina during war periods. The minaret also has a staircase used for climbing up to the last floor of the building.

Beliefs surrounding the minaret

Alhaji Musa Muhammad Kangiwa is the Principal Heritage Officers who supervises all federal government monuments in Katsina State. Kangiwa told Sunday Trust that there were not many myths surrounding the Gobarau minaret, even in the past. He said this might not be unconnected with the origin of the tower which is religion. It was part of a mosque, therefore, people didn't have many beliefs about it.

"I was informed that people in the past held the belief that whoever climbed the tower could sight the Holy Ka'abah, but that was not true. I think people had that belief because Gobarau was the highest building in Katsina then, and it was built for religious purposes," Kangiwa said.

He also recalled that apart from that, people also believed that not all local builders could climb the tower due to its height. At present, he added only the Sarkin Magina of Katsina can lead other builders to do rehabilitation works on the minaret whenever the need arises.

Location of the historic building

Gobarau minaret is located at Gobarau quarters along old Market Road in Katsina Local Government. It shares a border with Gobarau Primary School on the South, and on the North it is bordered by residential buildings. On its eastern part is an average sized pond as a refuse dump.

Function of Gobarau tower

The functions of the minaret include the following:-

• It stands as a testimony of the historical contacts, interactions, and influences between the people of western and central Sudan, the Magrib and Middle East.

• The similarity of the minaret with the building design and terms of Mali and Songhai underscores the history of political relationship as well as transmission of local indigenous knowledge and skills.

• It served as centre of learning where Islamic subjects such as Qur'anic recitation and memorization were believed to have been taught, alongside other fields such as jurisprudence, history, philosophy etc.

• A resource base for researches

• Represents a memorial symbol of the Habe period before the Jihad of 1804 in Hausa land and the image of Gobarau is widely used as part of the official insignia of Katsina State.

• Represent an architectural monument of traditional Hausa architecture and building management through the use of sustainable local resources

• After the decline of Gobarau, the minaret was used as surveillance tower for sighting enemies as they approached Katsina during the inter-communal wars of the 19th century.

• In 1959, the Federal Government declared Gobarau minaret a National Monument of Nigeria and tourists' attraction site, where every year thousands of people from within and outside Nigeria visit this great historical land mark.

Gobarau minaret as tourist attraction site

It was gathered that researchers from within and outside Nigeria are trooping to Gobarau minaret to see for themselves the historic legacy left behind by the local but talented architects. According to the visitors' book at Gobarau minaret, researchers, students and even lecturers from Germany, England, America, Argentina, Sudan, Morocco, Canada, Ghana, and Cameroon among other countries, are visiting the place regularly.

Who is the custodian of the tower?

According to Kangiwa, Gobarau was initially under the custody of Katsina emirate council before it was taken over by the federal government in 1959, and identified as a national monument. He said "although the minaret is under the care of the federal government, Katsina Emirate Council is still playing a vital role in the maintenance of the 664-year old ediffice."

"Eight years ago (2004) Katsina emirate council affected some rehabilitation works on the minaret and in 2009, the American Embassy also carried out similar renovation works on the historic building. Presently Governor Shema-led administration is doing another renovation work on tower," he said.

Sunday Trust learned that the Shema administration has injected the sum of N26 million for the rehabilitation of three historic sites namely; Gobarau, Turbi-ta-Kushe and old Katsina training college. The emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumini Kabir Usman is the chairman of the committee handling the renovation work, Sunday Trust gathered.

The role of Sarkin Magina of Katsina

For the past 50 years the Sarkin Magina of Katsina (leader of traditional architects), Alhaji Ma'aruf Audu Gafai has been the overseer of Gobarau minaret. The 82 year old local builder told Sunday Trust "I have been leading local builders here in the renovation works on the minaret. Presently we are doing repairs on it. I employed 14 builders and 40 labourers for the job, and we have so far spent four months working."

Gafai alleged that colonial masters had once attempted to relocate the minaret to Jos in Plateau State. He recalled that "after they (colonial masters) had sought permission from the Emir Usman Nagoggo, the white men took me to Jos for the construction of a similar minaret and some other traditional structures to reflect the Katsina emir's palace. I led 13 prominent local builders to Jos for the job. We stayed there for three years, but at the end of the day we were only able to construct three rooms; Dakin cup, Jeka Fadiya and Zauren Jeka fadiya. We could not construct a replica of Gobarau tower in Jos, because I was secretly informed that once I built it, the colonial masters would destroy the original Gobarau in Katsina."

Interestingly, he added "both the clay and the sand we use in building the Katsina historic site in Jos were brought from Katsina because when I led my people to Jos, I realized that the type of clay and sand they had were not suitable for the building, and therefore I told the white men to provide clay and sand from Katsina. Five tippers were sent from Katsina every Friday to convey clay and sand to Jos for the work."

Alhaji Ma'ruf Gafai told Sunday Trust that he is the only person that can give permission to local builders to carry out work on the Gobarau minaret, and that he is always leading rehabilitation work on the minaret whenever the need arises.

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