Daily Trust (Abuja)

23 February 2013

Nigeria: Life of Momoh, Auchi's First Muslim King

Auchi — In 1912 a major event which had the character of a revolution took place in Auchi, in present day Edo state. This event was the adoption of Islam by the townspeople as their official religion, and the over throw of the belief system initially upheld by the people. This ushered in a new era, and the quality and character of life now took on new, uplifting forms. It was Oba Momodu of nearby Agbede who first embraced Islam in the area, and Auchi followed quickly in the wake of his action. Already incarnated in Auchi was one who, blessed with a cosmopolitan outlook and a friendly, helping nature which welcomed new ideas and initiatives, was to play a powerful role in the Islamisation of Auchi. This was Momoh the first, a dynamic prince of the Kingdom, loved by the British and his people and their neighbours , who initiated the reforms years before he even became the Otaru or King of Auchi. Prince Tony Momoh in his work titled Each Man, His Time (1995) describes some of the dramatic activities of Momoh in Auchi as he strove to draw converts to the faith. His words 'Momoh announced that the first 250 people to learn how to pray and killed a ram to have their names changed to a Muslim one would be given a full set of clothes. It is this way of dressing which makes Auchi look like a typical northern Muslim town that is still in vogue at Auchi. After the first 250, Momoh declared the same prizes for another 350, and many rushed to win the embroidered flowing gown, Sokoto and cap.' (p.42).Professor Zakariyau Oseni, the Waziri and Chief Imam of Auchi kingdom tells Weekly Trust that what happened in Auchi was a revolution spearheaded by Momoh the first. His words 'What happened in Auchi was a revolution. Momoh as a very young boy embraced Islam, and was always seen in the company of Hausas. He was a very enterprising young prince. He was a tailor, and he had a cotton farm and was trading up to Calabar, Lagos and Warri. He was so enlightened and even got a private teacher to teach him English. He read the Qur'an as a young person under the Hausas and the Nupe '.

Tony Momoh in the work cited above states 'Many people held him in awe and believed he was a superman, a man whose wish you ignored at your peril.' (p.46) .Later he refers to a colonial report where Momoh is described in the following words 'although small in area, (Auchi) is well populated and wisely ruled by Chief Momoh. This Chief is by far and away the best chief in Kukuruku country speaks English and stands no nonsense from any of his underchiefs and headmen.' At a point Momoh's Uncle who was on the throne as Otaru became very old, and as the Crown Prince, Momoh was the one now asked to carry out tasks on behalf of the Otaru. He was on the path to becoming King.

According to Professor Oseni 'That's how it started, and that was how he did the Islamisation before becoming the Otaru, after taking permission from his Uncle to carry out this task. Around 1910 he started the process, inviting mallams to Auchi. Some of them were already in Agbede helping Oba Momodu, he attracted some of these mallams to Auchi. 'Thus Momoh, alongside the Hausa, Nupe and Yoruba mallams, later destroyed the material representations of the gods whom the people had been worshipping. By 1914 the idols had been destroyed and the community accepted Islam fully.' By 1919 when Momoh became Otaru he sent mallams to neighbouring villages and towns to teach the people Islam, and so Islam now grew in a rich circle among communities in and around Auchi. Also he married many wives from within and outside Auchi. He used marriage to cement relationships between Auchi and neighbouring towns. Some mallams were sent to Lokoja, Keffi, and Kano to study, and 'by 1960 there were many eminent mallams in Auchi' says Professor Oseni. The latter also says that Momoh had a total of fifty wives and two hundred children, and adds that the British were impressed with the level of domestic harmony in the Momoh household despite its large population. His words 'The whitemen who were here as DO's were all fascinated at how a man could rule people without a trace of quarrelling among them .The wives were organised in groups, with the older wives taking care of the younger ones,and those groups are still very close today,as if they are children of the same mother. Momoh the first was a fantastic family man '.

Professor Oseni draws attention to the significance of the adoption of Islam by Auchi in 1912.His words 'It is the belief of Auchi people that adopting Islam like a state religion, within the Auchi Kingdom, was the greatest thing that happened to this community. It really disciplined the people, and made them cultured. Islam raised us higher than our neighbours, even in behaviour. Momoh taught us that we should be kind to strangers, and that we should never hurt a visitor. Auchi is the fastest growing town in Nigeria outside the state capitals, because Momoh drummed it into our heads that we should always be kind to strangers, and on account of this many people have chosen to build houses in Auchi. 'To return to the theme of the life of Momoh, it is important to add that he was so spiritually mature that he seems to have foreseen his death, as neatly chronicled in the following passage from Each Man, His Time 'He had kept his promise to the mallams at Agbede, a promise he made in 1934, that he would be leaving this world 10 years from then when he would have fulfilled his duty to God, to the people of Auchi, and to mankind.'(p.171). Momoh, the visionary who brought Islam to his people, passed on in 1944.

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