A Tribute to Bishop Joseph Bagobiri

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Francis Ulal Damina

A t the risk of repeating myself, I was at a very young age made to swallow an overdose narrative of the unhealthy relationship that existed between the predominantly Christianity-dominated Southern Kaduna and the Muslim North – particularly Zaria emirate. Like other chaps of my generation, we believed what we were told namely that the Hausa-Fulani were responsible for plunging us into the impoverished state we have found ourselves. And as we were coming of age, the Zango Kataf crisis came to serve as an evidence of all that we had been told.

Since then, it became an issue of “we” versus “them”. And this was to linger in my mind until in 2015 when I met the current education minister Malam Adamu Adamu who explained to me that it is in the very nature of feudalism to do injustice. He also went ahead to tell me how ordinary Muslims also suffered under the Sarauta system but had to quietly endure because it was the product of their own system.
After my Form Six at Government Secondary school, Kamuru Ikulu, I got admission into Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic, Zaria. But before then, my late Father- may he rest in peace, was to help me carry out the requirements of applying for admission which included getting an indigene form from my local government secretariat in Zonkwa. Also before then, there was a great debate that ensued between my father and uncles who insisted that I should rather seek admission en route a different local government since the name Zango Kataf local government alone could serve as a hindrance to my getting admission.

The reason was not farfetched: the Zango crises of 1992 that many northern Muslims saw as an unforgivable genocide against the Hausa-Fulani. And till date, a large chunk of people from this local government who may only have heard about the crises, are now the beneficiaries of its side effects.
Everyday, I see, especially young people, either seeking for admission into schools or recruitment into the army, changing their nativity nest. I have had the opportunity to severally draw the attention of Gen. Zamani Lekwot, veteran educationist and former education commissioner, Mr Francis Mutuah, and the late Agwatyap, Dr. Harrison Bungon, to this. They all told me they are aware.

Earlier in my form four, I had been taught by my history teacher Mr. Irmiya Kantiok- may he rest in peace, how other nationalities and communities like the Opobo, Itsekiri, Igbo, etc., fought against injustice with names such as Nana, Jaja, Queen Amina, JS Tarka, among an endless litany of warriors, refusing to give my memory a divorce. But with the injustice meted on us that I grew up to see, I started researching to see if there has been any effort by our own elite to, like the Jajas and Nanas, say “No”?
Yes, I came across names of selfless individuals such as Rev. Frs. Joseph Bagobiri, Matthew Kukah, Philip Gaiya, Francis Mutuah, Dr. Chris Abashiya, Barnabas Bala Bantext, etc. who made their marks. And while others fought by either using their pen or pulpit, Bantext deployed the privileges he then had as a Federal lawmaker to correct some abnormalities. The most glaring of these abnormalities he corrected was that , Kaura, which used to be Kaura/Kauru Federal Constituency, became a federal constituency of its own thereby ending the initial merger.
And this is the point I have been making: that there are structural and institutional injustices in the architecture of our society that will make it difficult for us to rise to being on the same frequency with the other divide unless we develop the capacity to lobby through our representatives. Bishop Bagobiri was quite aware of this when he said:”Unjust delineation of electoral wards and constituencies has put the Southern part of Kaduna state in a politically disadvantaged position.

This policy that is often described as rigging election from the source has effectively made it impossible for anyone from Southern Kaduna to ever emerge as the governorship flag bearer of any major political party. Neither can Southern Kaduna ever decide any issue in the state House of Assembly because of the great preponderance of representation from the other divide”. And only recently, a brother narrated how a high ranking INEC official of Southern Kaduna originality told them about the impossibility of any chap from Southern Kaduna making it as Governor via elections.
And that brings me to the fact that though the grievances by especially the youth aimed at saying enough of all these is understandable, we must first brainstorm to have a clear understanding of what we want and how to achieve it.

This is why the demise of Bishop Bagobiri at a time we needed him most as a symbol of our struggle for emancipation becomes more painful especially when one recalls that he was like a supplement to our first eleven in the political arena that we appear to have lost with the generation after them unmentored to take over the mantle of leadership. Otherwise, why is it a puzzle to pinpoint a single politician from Southern Kaduna who has the capacity to contest for gubernatorial elections in 2019? We have lost them all : Garba Madaki Ali, Stephen Shekari, Isaih Balat, Mamman Dickson, Patrick Yakowa, Joshua Madaki, to mention only a few. May they rest in peace. Or, is it the intellectual class to help us with a map to the promised land ? Steve Nkom is dead. The unparalleled Andrew Nok, Sylva Ngu, etc, have all gone before us leaving only Bishop Bagobiri back at home to wrestle with the issues at a time of great upheaval. Today His maker has called upon him to return home. He will be there in the colony of angels where there will be no more sorrow or pain. What is clear now is the persistence of the question :Who will take his place among the many selfish people I see around?
Though the Bishop will be remembered as the greatest investor and employer of labour in Southern Kaduna more than anyone else owing to the more than one hundred schools littered in all nooks and crannies of Southern Kaduna built under his bishopry among many other things, I will particularly remember him for the education I received and for his generosity, humility, and kindness. Never did a week passed without him calling me for an assignment. I was equally humbled that he could ask for my opinion on certain things. This is unprecedented especially owing to his trajectory as an acclaimed intellectual of repute.

He was also a man of peace. Shortly before his death, he reconciled me with a fellow very close to me who hacked into my email and had exchanges with certain personalities including a long conversation with a Governor who attended my Book presentation sometime last year which resulted in the fellow collecting His Excellency’s pledge on my behalf among many other atrocities that would have put me into trouble. And when I saw a particular conversation with Bishop Kukah, I quickly called to ask which the Bishop distanced himself from saying his email had also been hacked. But Bishop Bagobiri, realising that i was full of angst, did not waste time in asking me to forgive the brother with a token of help he later sent to help me move on.

He was really an exceptional personality. His death has robbed us of one of our finest sons. Like Mark Antony, we are not ashamed to say that he was our friend, faithful and just to us. As we prepare to commit him to mother earth, i have no doubt that he will rise again. Yes, he will rise again because the same God who has the power to pour death into life, also has the power to pour life into death. Rest well my Lord Bishop until we meet to part no more with you and the first eleven. And as you all join the angels and saints, may you continually pray for us as we daily battle to build a just and peaceful society. Rest in peace.

–Francis Damina can be reached via francisdamina@gmail.com