F A S H E W A N  :  K O N T A G O R A.


Sarkin Sudan Umaru Nagwamatse set up his war camp in Kamabri land in 1864 beside a river. He adopted the name Kontagora, a name  given to the river by the Kambari themselves. Umaru Nagwamatse was conferred the title of Sarkin Sudan by his brother Sarkin Musulmi Ahmadu b. Atiku in 1859, five years before Nagwamatse established his war camp at Kontagora in 1864. Abubakar Modibbo his first son was conferred with the title of Dangaladima. The short ceremony was conducted by Waziri Ibahim Khalilu  b. Abd al-Qadir (1859-1974), at Manta north east of present Minna town in Niger State. 

maru Nagwamatse died in 1876 and was succeeded by his first son Dangaladima Abubakar Modibbo, (1876-1880). It was during Modibbo’s reign that the camp was secured and transformed into a town. Sarkin Sudan Modibbo died in 1880 and was succeeded by his younger Ibrahim Nagwamatse. It was during the reign of Ibrahim that the British attacked Kontagora in 1901.

Encounter with the British.

With the movement to abolish slave trade in Western Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th century attention was turned to the West Africa sub-region which has been a major source for slaves. To embark on such a feat, the British established the West Africa Frontier Force (WAFF). Water ways which was one of the easiest and chapest means of transportation in those days was used by the force to transport its men and arms through the River Niger to Lokoja where a military base was established.

When the British arrived in the area (1901), they found an independent Borgu, an all but extinct Yawuri State, and a frindge of Dakkarawa tribes penned up on the Gulbin Ka; all else was under Fulani rule, from the Niger to the west and south;  and pressing gradually on the Kaduna river to the south east; and a great belt of Gwari country right up to Gurara river. This vast tract was all under the sway of Ibrahim Nagwamnatse who had inherited the dominion and the proud title of Sarkin Sudan from his father Umaru Nagwamatse, the grandson of Shehu Usman Dan Fodio.[1]  

Sarkin Sudan Ibrahim was already aware that the British forces have engaged Etsu Nupe Abubakar and that Sarkin Yawuri Abarshi had since succumbed to their supremacy. Abarshi informed Ibrahim that the British army was coming to attack his domain. He warned Ibrahim that the foreign army possessed very powerful weapons superior to the ones they were used to. He reminded Ibrahim that Sheik Usman Fodio warned that when the ‘whitemen’ arrived they should not be resisted. Finally he advised Ibrahim to desist from any resistance when they arrived.  

Discussions were held among the Elders on how Kontagora was to react whenever the Colonialists arrived. Some supported confrontation with the British, while others including Sarkin Sudan Ibrahim were more inclined to dialogue and peaceful arrangement with the Colonialists. Maigari Gwadabe in particular was against putting a fight, but his reaction was considered by some of his associates as cowardice. At the end of the discussions it was decided that the British challenge should be faced. Thus preparations began in earnest to confront the colonialists any time they attacked.

Maigari Gwdabe was a Fulani from Zamfara and an associate of Umaru Nagwamatse. When Umaru Nagwamatse left his son Abubakar Modibbo at Wushishi, he left his key associates to assist him, and Maigari Godabe was their leader. Modibbo succeeded his father as the 2nd Sarkin Sudan and moved to Kontagora. Modibbo picked only two of his advisers in Wushishi to his new duty post. These were Maigari Gwadabe and Muhammad Shata. Gwadabe was learned and highly respected in Modibo’s Court. He was a military strategist with the gift of planning how to defeat enemies. He was responsible for sharing out the war booties during Modibbo and during the reign of Ibrahim Nagwamatse the 3rd Sarkin Sudan. When his judgement not to fight the British was viewed as cowardice, Gwadabe in the spirit of loyalty and collective responsibility vowed to personally lead the attack on the new enemy.  

Early in 1901, Lieut. Col. Kemball wrote to Ibrahim explaining that all he wanted was for the Sarkin Sudan to stop raiding and trading in slaves.  He appealed to Sarkin Sudan to co-operate so that they could sign an agreement to that effect. Ibrahim rejected the request making armed confrontation inevitable.

Leading the British army, Lieut. Colonel Kembell left Yawuri and marched through Ngaski to Kontagora. Upon arrival at Kontagora, he camped on a hilly spot adjacent to the northern town wall gate (Kofar Nagwarji) about 500 yards from the bank of River Kontagora. Using the scaterred stones around the area, (Farfarun Duwatsu) to camouflage his troops and waited to engage Gwamatsawa. The plan was to prevent anyone from escaping to Sokoto.

Ibrahim did not take part in the attack.[2] When Kemball therefore saw Maigari Gwadebe from a distance, a fine looking person and clad in white robes he mistook him to be the Emir. Kemball ordered that he should be captured rather than shot. As the capture proved difficult, his horse was shot while he himself was shot in the leg. Gwadabe bled on the field of battle for three days before he finally died. For five days, Gwamatsawa stood their grounds against the invading British forces. Ibrahim’s associates became convinced that the superiority of weapons was overwhelming and any resistance would lead to further blood bath and possibly the end of Kontagora and its people. They therefore decided not to continue with the fight. There was no alternative for them but to proceed eastwards away from the enemy, in order to avoid being captured or faced the humiliation of surrender.

On hearing that his army has decided not to continue with the war, Ibrahim refused to leave his palace, saying that he would never run away from his enemies, but would prefer to die instead. Ibrahim had to be forcefully carried off by his Commanders. The Emir and his fighting associates marched southwards out of the town before they turned east towards Beri on the Zungeru road.

On the seventh day when the British forces did not see Ibrahim they feared he might be preparing a new strategy. In order not to take chances, the Colonial army fired cannon gun shots across the town. The frightening sounds of the shots and the black smoky clouds that accompanied them placed the entire town into an atmosphere of total confusion. There was stampede and rampage as people started running helter-skelter towards the city gates. Thousands of women, children and old people were trempled to death in the struggle to flee out of the town in an episode that came to be known as “Fashewan Kontagora”.

 The defeat of Kontagora was completed and the British took over the town and began the process of appointing an administration.

It was necessary to appoint a Sarkin Sudan in lieu of Ibrahim’s departure, but all the Nagwamatse family had gone away with him. Abarshi Sarkin Yauri who had jurisdiction over the area before Umaru Nagwamatse arrived was brought in and duly installed. In a few months Abarshi abdicated, complaining of old age. He was replaced with his son Gani, but like his father, he requested to return to his aged father.  A trial was subsequently made with Maiyaki Ibrahim a Nupe who was in the service of Sarkin Yauri to act as the Sarkin Sudan. He was assisted by a Military Resident with a Garrison inside the Palace to set up administrative machinery.

[1] Gazetteer Notes. Kontagora Province p8.

[2] Early History of Kontagoira Province 1900-1907.

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