By Musa Simon Reef
Let me confess that I was really pained missing an opportunity of sending a birthday wish to the Bishop of Kafanchan Catholic Diocese, Rev. Joseph Danlami Bagobiri, when he turned three scores on November 8, 2017. I got to know of His Grace’s birthday when a relation called my attention to it. Since meeting him for the first time in 2006 in Abuja, I have always applauded his candid interventions on issues affecting Nigeria and Nigerians.
The child that was later to become the pioneer Bishop of Kafanchan was born on 8th November, 1957, in Fadan Kagoma, now in Jema’a Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Being born into a family that knew the importance of education, he had his primary education at the RCM Primary School from 1961-1971. He was later to attend the Government Secondary Technical School from 1972 – 1977 for his post-primary education.
Against the backdrop of his passion to become a priest, he proceeded to the St. Augustine’s Major Seminary, Jos from 1977-1983. He was ordained a priest on June 11, 1983. After a brief pastoral ministry in the Archdiocese of Kaduna, then Rev. Fr. Joseph headed to Franciscan University, Steubenville in Ohio, USA from 1986-1987; and thereafter the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, (Angelicum) Rome between 1988 and 1989.
Six years after his graduation from the Pontifical University, he was consecrated the pioneer Bishop of the Kafanchan Diocese on October 21, 1995. Bishop Bagobiri has held many offices including; Vicar Delegate MISSIO SUI IURIS – Kano (1991-1995); Education Secretary within the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN); pioneer chairman for Mission and Dialogue Department of Catholic Secretariat, including being two-term Chairman, Governing Council, Catholic Institute of West Africa. He also appointed Chairman of the Inter Religious Dialogue for Association of Episcopal Conferences Anglophone West Africa (AECAWA), just as he led a six-man delegation of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to the 2014 National Conference organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Considering his enviable strides in both spiritual and physical lives of his sheep, life to the good-natured Bishop is hinged on the need to lighten the burden of daily existence for the less-privileged. For him, no sacrifice is too great in defence of his people who have become helpless victims of political manipulations. He is disturbed that corruption has placed a heavy burden on the nation’s destiny. He slept with a disturbed mind when his area of religious supervision was constantly under constant attacks by suspected herdsmen.
As a priest whose duty is to ensure the safety of the faithful in securing a place in Heaven, he has led the way in creating an atmosphere conducive for peace among all adherents of diverse faith. Unlike some religious leaders whose passion include turning this hellish earth into an earthly heaven, the Head of the Catholic Church in Southern Kaduna is concerned with neither earthly fame nor riches.
Endowed with traits of an amazing intellectual prowess and fearlessness, the Chief Shepherd of the Kafanchan Diocese is never afraid to speak his mind and truth to those in the corridors of power, knowing full well that “those who think of Heaven do most for the earth.”
Worried over incessant killings and other forms of tension that enveloped his area of religious supervision; this religious leader has become an irreplaceable voice in searching for peace and development among diverse cultural groups. Bagobiri understands the essence of peace and does everything to promote it across religious and cultural divide. When in 2011, I visited Kafanchan to report on the post-election crisis that had left the city in chaos and dreadful terror; I had gone to his residence to seek an interview with him. I was informed at the gate by security officials that the Bishop had left for a peace meeting in Kaduna.
When I saw a herd of cows and sheep grazing around the residence, I enquired to know who owned the animals. One of the security men said: “These animals belonged to residents of Matsirga (pointing in the direction of the village not far from the Bishop’s residence). They had taken refuge at the Bishop residence before our arrival.”
As an indigene of Southern Kaduna, Bishop Bagobiri is no stranger to the perils faced by his people and how past administrations have relegated the area to the backwaters of development. Unlike other clerics that may refrain from engaging the political class on issues affecting the area, the priest from Fadan Kagoma never shies away from reminding the politicians of their responsibilities to the people. In recognising the relevance of truth that has become a scarce commodity, Bagobiri’s new strategy to engage the political class on the need to ensure justice and fair play seems to align with that of South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, who once said that “politics is too important to be left in the hands of politicians alone.”
His Lordship’s apprehension for the people stretches beyond religious and regional boundaries. He had on several occasions called on President Muhammadu Buhari to rein in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the fight against corruption so that the anti-graft war is not seen as targeted at perceived political enemies. More than any cleric, he has called on the All Progressives Congress (APC) government to give every section of the country a sense of belonging through equitable distribution of federal appointments.
If the first Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese has been unrestrained in calling for justice as a basis for national unity, he has refused to keep quiet in the face of constant killings in the southern axis of Kaduna State. Unlike some religious leaders, who prefer to embrace the cover darkness to reach out to Governor Nasir el-Rufai, the religious leader has been uncompromising in condemning the State Government’s inability to tackle the reign of terror that once pervaded the southern axis. Under his watch as the Chief Shepherd of the Catholic Church in Southern Kaduna since 1995, the church released a report that reveals that no fewer than 800 lives were lost, with properties worth N5 billion destroyed in Southern Kaduna since the APC assumed power from May 2015 to December 2016. In one of such attacks in Sanga Local Government Area, the Catholic Church buried no fewer than 10 parishioners, including one of its priests.
The demand for justice by the scholarly Bishop started long before el-Rufai came to the corridors of power. During the administration of Governor Patrick Yakowa, he was quoted to have reminded the governor, who was his kinsman, not to forget the southern zone in allocation of projects. Nearly four years after the demise of Yakowa, the then Private Principal Secretary (PPS), Mr. Timothy Gandu, to Yakowa, who then was irked by the Bishop’s request, has now joined the wailing crowd as manifested in his recent submission at a Town Hall meeting summoned by the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU).
Blessed with tremendous intellect, the Fadan Kagoma priest’s rise to the top was destined. His commitment to ecclesiastical duties also assured him of an enviable position. Bagobiri may have surmounted many hurdles to date, but the years ahead could prove more tasking for the priest who has refused to stay silent in the face of blackmail and outright falsehood. With a determination never unseen, Bishop Bagobiri is poised to continue playing the role of an advocate for good governance across inter-faith divide.
With a divided political class that is only preoccupied with pursuing pecuniary interest and enjoying on our behalf, the relevance of Bagobiri has become imperative. Considering the sheepish nature of the Nigerian people, our democracy can only be made stronger through courageous personalities like Bagobiri in taming ravenous wolves in government.
As our Bishop turned 60, there is no better birthday gift than for Southern Kaduna to address the failure of elected representatives through mobilising and informing the electorate to eschew commercialization of the political process. For social media activists, who are justifiably angry over the continued relegation of the area, resorting to invectives and verbal abuses of the present order will do little to address our problems. Let a thousand ideas flourish, but let the best rule the day. We must never lose sight of the bigger picture as we travel on this bumpy road to a new dawn, fraught with so many perplexing diversions.
Here is wishing our own Bishop long life, good health and prosperity in the service of God. May your dream for a just Nigeria and a peaceful Southern Kaduna be realised in your life time. As cacophonous of voices continue to trail efforts in addressing our nation’s injustices, may the Almighty God make Your Lordship an instrument through which the betrayals of our past will find permanent resolution.
Musa Simon Reef is Editor-in-Chief of Forefront, and can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org