By Emmanuel Gandu
Destiny launched and exposed him at the public square arena where he contested and won through public demand by staging and showcasing his persona that connected to the people at the most primal level.
Although viewed by many as controversial, if Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri had one thing going for him, it was the ability to strike the right musical chord, at the right time, producing a melodic symphony for the listening ear and the right dancing steps.
Some call him the people’s Bishop, the voice of the down trodden, the fearless one, the disciplinarian.
Others refer to him as the good shepherd, a man of great sacrifice and benevolence, the thorn in the flesh of the unjust, the protector of the poor, less privileged and vulnerable, an apostle of non violence.
He is a historical figure, radical activist and reformer, social critic, equal rights advocate for both Muslims and Christians, a freedom fighter, and a detribalised Nigerian.
Bagobiri was a man that spoke truth to both religious and civil authority.
He was the ‘liberation theologian’ who held the Bible on the right hand and the ‘weapons’ of political and economic liberation on the left.
MANIFESTATION OF BAGOBIRI’S RADICAL DISPOSITION
Born in Gwong (Kagoma) Southern Kaduna to the famous Pa Bagobiri family of 5 wives and 27 children, young Joseph grew up into the protective arms of his mothers, senior brothers, and sisters.
Joseph Bagobiri began to exhibit traces of independent mind, thoughts and actions at a very young age. It initially looked like the usual exhibition of youthful exuberance. As time went by the traits were assuming such situations that were akin to notorious pear group influence. Some of these traits and actions were promptly subdued, and sometimes ended up in cover-ups by his older brothers and sisters who usually shielded him from the punishment of their disciplinarian father.
As young Bagobiri advanced from one age group to another, he became bolder, more articulate, and assumed the position of the defender of the not so strong-willed among his pear group.
Even at secondary school, he endeared himself to his juniors and classmates who found an umbrella of succor in his pep up talks, counseling, and motivation for self achievement/accomplishment.
Part of his independent thoughts, growing strong views and stance on issues he felt strongly about especially those that are protectionist and wellfarerist to his peer group. At one of such protectionist and adventurist incidents, youthful Joseph Bagobiri and his ‘gang’ of youths employed the ‘Robin Hood’ style within the vicinity of the village community.
This action, according to a family source pushed Pa Bagobiri to take his bow and arrow to shoot down his son. Sensing the rage and fury of his old man, Danlami, as he was fondly called by his father escaped to exile from the entire Kagoma village for some couple of months.
Coming from this background, and in a
country ravaged by social, tribal and economic inequality, injustice, hunger, deprivation, youth restivenes/unemployment, and killings, it’s just right to understand Bagobiri’s brand of frustration and his resultant radicalization.
ERECTION AND CONSECRATION OF BAGOBIRI AS THE CATHOLIC BISHOP OF KAFANCHAN DIOCESE
The erection of the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan in 1995 witnessed the consecration of Joseph Danlami Bagobiri as her first Bishop. Born in 1957, Bagobiri, after barely 12 years as a priest became a Bishop, one of the fastest in recent memory.
Kafanchan diocese is essentially an agrarian, rural, with no entrepreneurial, and infrastructural incentives for investment.
Bagobiri inherited few parishes, poorly built Churches, a few poorly trained clergy, and a poor capital base.
No doubt the young Bishop was overwhelmed by the enormity of the array of challenges but rather than remain frustrated, Bagobiri became positively aggressive, radical and revolutionary in his approach to not only religious, but also political and economic matters. He had to ‘stoop to conquer’.
As at 2017, Joseph Danlami Bagobiri had raised the profile of Kafanchan diocese to the admiration of many, with about 35 parishes, about 100 best trained clergy, a minor seminar, major seminary, a girl’s college, co-educational college, a pastoral center, a best selling monthly newspaper, and much more that the Diocese compares favourably to other older ones.
Who else could achieve this feat within such a short period if not a radical reformer.
OTHER BAGOBIRI’S APPOINTMENTS/ASSIGNMENTS
(1) Ordained Catholic priest – 1983
(2) Education secretary and Vocations of Kaduna Archdiocese
(3) Vicar Delegate for Kano 1991 – 1995
(4) Pioneer Bishop of Kafanchan diocese – October 21st, 1995
(5) Education secretary Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Nigeria (CBCN)
(6) Pioneer Chairman for Mission Dialogue Department of the CBCN
(7) Chairman Governing Council of the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA) Port Harcourt – (Two term)
(8) Chairman Inter Religious Dialogue for Association of Episcopal Conference Anglophone West Africa.
(9) Leader of the 6 Man delegation of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to the 2014 National Conference.
(10) Awardee of the Member of the Federal Republic ( MFR)
BAGOBIRI’S INTERVENTION DURING FULANI/RELIGIOUS CRISIS
At the peak of the Genocidal killings by Fulani heardsmen in Southern Kaduna between 2016 to early 2018, Bagobiri was unrelenting in his efforts to assist not only the vulnerable natives but also the Hausa settlers caught up in the cross fire. He was a rallying point and a voice for the people while Governor El Rufai, a Hausa/Fulani was allegedly accused of being biased.
A fall out from the crisis is the championing by the Kafanchan Catholic Diocese of the release of a figure of 800 lives lost, many unaccounted for, property worth #5 billion destroyed, care of the IDP’s.
Other related issues was the closure of educational institutions with threats of relocation out of Southern Kaduna, alleged arrest of opinion leaders of Southern Kaduna, etc by the government. It therefore became apparent that there was no love lost between Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri and governor Nasir El Rufai, as the battle line was drawn.
THE AHIARA DIOCESE/EPISCOPAL SAGA
(1) The Crux of the matter.
Rev. Fr. Peter Ebere Okpaleke was appointed the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese in Anambra state on December 7, 2012 by his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. This appointment was openly opposed by some Ahiara indigenous clergy, religious, and the laity who wanted a son of the soil as their Bishop.
When Pope Francis ascended the papacy on 13/3/2013 he reaffirmed Okpaleke’s appointment, and on May 21st, 2013 Rev. Fr. Peter Ebere Okpaleke was finally consecrated as the Bishop of Ahiara Diocese, but the ceremony was conducted in Owerri outside of Ahiara Diocese.
Bishop Okpaleke was never allowed by the opposition group to take possession of the Diocese. He was quickly moved right from the venue of the Episcopal Ordination to Awka where he remained for more than 5 years till his resignation on Ash Wednesday 14th February, 2018.
(2) Vatican summoned warring factions to Rome to resolve the crisis :
Pope Francis summoned to Rome the clergy, religious, the laity, and other interest groups in one of the numerous attempts to resolve and settle this feud. In this Rome meeting, they reached agreement to accept the Pope’s appointment of Okpaleke.
This peace accord was brockered on 9th June, 2017.
However, not sooner had the returning Rome delegation settled foot on Nigerian soil than that peace agreement collapsed like a pack of cards.
BAGOBIRI’S ROLE IN THE AHIARA CRISIS
While this Episcopal scandal lasted, Joseph Danlami Bagobiri was the only Bishop known to have openly and severally opposed to this appointment. He cited among others the manner of approach employed by the Catholic Bishops of Nigeria (of which he was a member) towards solving the problem. Bagobiri insisted that the Ahiara people should have been carried along in the decision making process.
CATHOLIC CHURCH QUERY’S BAGOBIRI
Bishop Bagobiri’s activism on the Ahiara saga did not go down well with the Catholic Bishops as it earned him a reprimand, reporting him to Rome and demanding an apology.
In obedience, Bagobiri apologized, but re-iterated his position on the matter, thereby making the whole issue a conundrum for his fellow CBCN.
Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri in defiance of Rome kept up with his fiery approach to the Ahiara saga. One of his public statements on this imbroglio was on 1st December, 2017 at a public Mass in Takkad village near Kagoro barely 3 months to his death. In this Mass he said – “Give Ahiara a bishop close to or who understands them.” He continued – “The Ahiara saga could have been avoided or resolved long ago if the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria had been courageous enough as a united force to follow the path of truth and justice by listening to the aggrieved party, and presenting their case positively, or in an emphatic manner.”
Joseph Bagobiri also declared – “People of Ahiara feel surcharged or shortchanged, excluded, or denied their rights to exercise a consultative vote on the discerning process.”
The fiery Bishop was not done yet – “Non of them was contacted on the appointment, they should not be dictated to, not according to due canonical process, and not submission to blind obedience.”
PEOPLE’S VIEWS ABOUT BAGOBIRI’S STYLE OF ACTIVISM
No doubt some of Bagobiri’s actions made him to be viewed as a radical activist. To some he was an enigma, a hard nut to crack. To others he was a man to love, yet some hated to love him.
Whatever your assessment of Bagobiri, you may be right, you may be wrong. And if you are sitting on the fence, you may guess. Your guess may be right, or wrong, or as good as mine.
Whatever your views about Joseph Bagobiri, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah’s assessment, who incidentally as a young priest encouraged Joseph Danlami Bagobiri to proceed to the Major Seminary in 1977 captures my feelings.
During Bagobiri’s funeral Mass in Kafanchan on Thursday 15th March, 2018, Bishop Kukah as the homilist put it succinctly – “Bagobiri was a man of strong convictions and very often, his convictions tended to blind him to other options, but he was deep down an honest man.” “……we thank God that it all ended so well for him.”
A revolutionary, workaholic, fearless, and uncompromising, Bagobiri was never afraid to speak truth to power.
This human machine was beginning to show signs of frailty caused by sickness. He had to be flown out of Nigeria to an Italian hospital for medical treatment, and after 6 months of medical care, Bagobiri returned to Nigeria on 26th January, 2017 to jubilant crowds cut across various denominations with elaborate welcome back ceremony. The good Shepherd was back.
Bagobiri was never a coward, and he never feared death. He must have been a good student of William Shakespeare who tells us in Julius Caeser that “cowards die many times before their death.”
Joseph Danlami had surmounted many difficult obstacles during his 61 years sojourn on earth. However, this sickness proved more tasking for the ‘people’s Bishop’ who displayed an uncommon tenacity to hang on to life and a determination to stay alive for the sake of his people.
DEATH, THE ULTIMATE END
Without any doubt, Bishop Bagobiri put his life on the front line on several occasions. And when death finally came calling on 27th February, 2018, this advocate for the emancipation of the people had no life guard, and no advocate to adjudicate on his behalf.
Bagobiri remained controversial even at death, especially to those who feared him, and those who revered him. If not, why did the government of Kaduna State not send a condolence message and tribute for publication in the funeral program.
It must be stated that Bagobiri’s reformation drive, radical disposition and activism, hard work, fame, and notoriety not only niched him closer to the hearts and minds of both the Muslim and Christian community In Southern Kaduna, but also endeared him to all Nigerians.
Well over 800 condolence messages / tributes were reported to have been sent to Kafanchan diocese from across the world but just 121 of this whole lot were published in the program brochures.
As expected, the outpouring was overwhelmingly unprecedented so much so that the high quality burial program had to be packaged in 2 volumes of 153 pages printed in the best quality production.
Dignitaries from religious faiths, governments, foreign embassies, corporate orgazations, NGO’s, Royalty, the academia, and of course the Vatican were among the tumultuous crowd that turned out in their numbers to bid farewell to the people’s Bishop.
Joseph Danlami Bagobiri gave his all, and the people gave him quality attention even at death.
And then, God told him that he had run the full distance in a good race, and should come over to receive his crown of victory.
Though dead, Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri lives on.
If by any mistake the church gives me that singular opportunity to write the epitaph for Bagobiri, this will be it : HERE LIES THE WARRIOR.
St. Enda’s Catholic Church, Zaria