The story of the tomb of Sultan Muhammadu Attahiru I published in Daily Trust on Sunday January 19, 2021 is one that illustrates how we carelessly treat some our past leaders. Muhammad Attahiru I who reigned from October 1902 to March 1903 was the 12th Sultan of Sokoto. He was killed by British invaders in Mbormi, a ghost town that is about four kilometres from Bajoga, the headquarters of Funakaye Local Government Area of Gombe State. His tomb is located in the middle of farmlands that used to be Mbormi. The tomb site is about 76 kilometres from Gombe, the capital of the state.
As described in the Daily Trust story, the tomb site is located along a rural road leading to Ashaka town underneath neem and desert date (aduwa) trees. The road to tomb site is a bush path through vast farmlands of about 1000 square metres. The tomb is encircled by cemented blocks and has a 5ft-wall that serves as fence for the Sultan’s tomb. Part of the wall, as reported, is even on the verge of collapse as a result of years of neglect. The entrance door to the tomb premises which had no tour guide or security personnel is 24/7 open; meaning that any passer-by or even animals could access the tomb unhindered. Besides the old wall, there is nothing to show that a tomb of a revered personality of his calibre is situated in that place.
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Also located about 50 metres north of the Sultan’s tomb is the chief Imam’s grave, who was also killed during the battle. His tomb is equally abandoned, with fencing done halfway; with no door at its entrance. The tomb of Major Francis Charles Marsh is equally located about 150 metres from the Sultan’s and its story is not different from the other two. The construction of a wall to fence the tomb was abandoned and the place is completely inaccessible as grasses have taken over. The grave is not even visible.
The British colonialists were resisted in the early part of the 20th century by various Muslim emirates under Sokoto Caliphate in Northern Nigeria. British forces were among others that fought in Kano, Bida and Adamawa. Sultan Attahiru’s resistance to British colonial rule culminated in a battle that took place in July 1903. After the defeat of Sokoto forces on 15th March 1903 by the British, Sultan Attahiru I with a large number followers fled and travelled through the rural regions of Sokoto Caliphate. British authorities became increasingly concerned by the large number of people who joined Attahiru I, which made his troops grew into thousands.
The British forces under the command of Major Marsh, thus, attacked Attahiru I and his troops who had only spears, swords and poisoned arrows to fight against the British forces at Mbormi. Attahiru I was amongst those killed in the Battle. Major Marsh was hit in the thigh by a poisoned arrow and he died. Thereafter, British authorities destroyed the town and declared that no one should ever live there again; hence Mbormi became deserted. Sultan Attahiru’s son, Muhammad Bello (also called Mai Wurno) continued leading the remaining survivors and eventually settled in the Republic of Sudan at a place named after Attahiru’s son and called Mai Wurno where the descendants still live today.
Despicable neglect of the tombs of our past indigenous heroes appears to have, though regrettably, become a norm among some northern Muslim communities whose emirs suffered defeat in the hands of British colonial forces. Aside of the tomb of Sultan Attahiru I that is left uncared for in the wilderness of Mbormi, the same fate once confronted (and may still be confronting) the tombs of some emirs who, as a result of their resistance, were deposed and sent on exile to a place now called Kabawa in Lokoja; the then administrative headquarters of British colonial administration in Nigeria under the Governor-General, Frederick Lord Lugard. Amongst the Emirs exiled were the late Emir of Kano, Alu Maisango; the late Emir of Zazzau, Malam Aliyu Dan Sidi; the late Emir of Bida, Etsu Abubakar; the late Emir of Gwandu, Muhammadu Aliyu and the late Emir of Gumel, Sarkin Abubakar Dan Abubakar. These prominent northern Emirs died while still in exile and were buried in Lokoja.
A story published in the Sunday May 22, 2016 edition of Daily Trust revealed that the tombs of the late Emir of Zazzau, Malam Aliyu Sidi and that of Emir of Gwandu Aliyu were in deplorable conditions. The custodian/guard of the tombs, Abdullahi Mohammed, lamented the neglect of the tomb of these emirs and observed that the tombs at a point were almost turned into a dump site. Mohammed said it was some students who once came on a visit that assisted to erect a structure around the tombs. He said he had at that time spent 15 years as a volunteer taking care of the tombs, in anticipation of reward from Allah. The tombs of the late Emir of Gumel, Sarkin Abubakar Dan Abubakar, was also said to be in a bad state. Besides being in a deplorable condition, the tomb was reportedly converted to a cooking area by the locals that lived around the vicinity. And unlike other tombs, that of the late Emir of Gumel had no anyone maintaining it.
If authorities of Funakaye Local Government Area of Gombe State would feel undisturbed by the state of Sultan Attahiru’s tomb, it should be of great concern to Sokoto Local Government in Sokoto State because local governments in the country have constitutional responsibilities to provide and take care of graves and graveyards in their domains. This column, therefore, calls on the respective local government of origin of these emirs to give necessary attention that their tombs deserve. Parameter fences could be built around each tomb with a gate to avert intrusion and preserve the resting place of these emirs from being desecrated. Caretakers could also be appointed to take good care of the tombs and their surroundings particularly to prevent them from being overgrown with grasses. While we pray to Allah (SWT) to grant our royal fathers who for resisting the British died and were buried in lands outside of their territories eternal forgiveness and mercy; we also ask Him (SWT) to touch the hearts of local government authorities where these emirs came from in order to give them the honour they deserve in their graves, amin.