By Matthew Hassan Kukah
HIS Lordship Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan was buried on Thursday, 15th March, 2018. He was one of the best of Nigerian I met at the 2014 National Conference and I still remember our “Last Supper” at the Abuja home of Dr. Peter Odili.The homily below by Most Rev. Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese at his funeral mass is most befitting. Goodnite sir!
I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war (Ps. 120:7)
When my metropolitan Archbishop, Matthew Ndagoso called to tell me that roles had been assigned ahead of the funeral of our brother Bishop Joseph Danlami Bagobiri and that I had been assigned the role of preacher for this Mass, I knew I did not have an opinion in the matter. In a way, I could probably fall back on the fact that apart from members of his immediate family and close friends, I have known the late Bishop Bagobiri the longest compared to almost everyone here.
As a Deacon in 1975, I was assigned to St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, Kakuri to undertake the last phase of my pastoral work ahead of my ordination. I made friends but three or four stood out and one of them was Mr. David Bagobiri. We had struck a good relationship because he was a very active member of the parish. (Today, thanks be to God, his son, John, is a priest of the Diocese of Kafanchan and is likely to be one of the Masters of Ceremonies here). After my ordination, I was sent back to Kaduna to work as an Assistant to an old Irish man, the late Fr John Lee. Mr. Bagobiri remained a central figure in the parish.
One day, after Mass, Mr. Bagobiri approached me and introduced a young man to me. This is my junior brother, and his name is Joseph. He has just finished Secondary school and he says he wants to be a priest like you. I shook hands with the young man and asked him to come and see me the next day, Monday. He came early in the morning and told me he wanted to become a priest but did not know how to go about. He said he had finished from a Secondary school and not a Minor Seminary. I asked him the usual questions and more or less satisfied myself that he should be encouraged to apply to the Archdiocese of Kaduna as a Seminarian. Incidentally, I was the Vocations Director. The rest, as they say, is history. We had mutual respect for one another. That I should be standing here to preach at his funeral is an honour I cannot take lightly.
For most of you here in the audience, you may recall that the last time I stood before a huge gathering of this nature to undertake the same assignment was at the funeral of the late Sir, Patrick Yakowa, and Governor of Kaduna State on December 21st, 2012. I am told that till date, members of the Kaduna mafia have not been able to live down the contents of the sermon. Yet, then as now, they did not dispute the evidence I presented. Today, that Kaduna has become an open sore of injury and pain that it is the most divided and volatile state in Nigeria is the result of the seeds of disunity sowed in the corrosive legacy of the policies of exclusion that the mafia sowed. We are sadly still not out of the woods yet.
Today is a special day for Southern Kaduna people and the people of the state as a whole. It is a day of reckoning. It is as much a day of sowing as a day of reaping. It is a day of promise and a day of hope. The mixed nature of our gathering suggests very clearly that this is not an ordinary funeral ceremony.
Certain burials make certain demands. They set the records of history straight. They create an urgency of now. No one should expect that the burial of someone like Bishop Joseph Bagobiri should be a simple ceremony of burying a Bishop. If it were so, the Bishops could have buried their brother and returned to their Dioceses. But, these are no ordinary times in Nigeria and my sermon will draw from both Scripture and the streets.
Our gathering here is beyond the ritual of a burial. We are gathered for a memorial, a celebration, and a festival, even a carnival. We are gathered here not as mourners with tears of sorrow in our eyes. We are gathered as men and women joyous in hope and praise. We are not gathered in tribulation, but in confident optimism. We do not feel a sense of loss and defeat, but no, rather a sense of exultant triumph of the risen Lord. There are no mourners and sympathisers here. All of us, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Men, Women, young and old, are gathered united as family. We are gathered here as a company of witnesses to celebrate a great man, a warrior, a statesman, and a brave and fearless man. St. Paul says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1).
At no time is the beauty and essence of Christianity better manifested than at a funeral. During it, we Christians celebrate the assurance of our faith, we re-enact the essence of our faith. We celebrate the assurance that for the Christian, the future after death is not the subject of speculation, fear or uncertainty. No other faith in the entire world speaks with the certainty of Christianity about life after death. Our hope is anchored on testable, verifiable evidence of Scripture that after His crucifixion and death, Jesus rose from the dead. The event so confused the authorities of the time that they had to resort to bribing the guards they had placed at the tomb to deny that he had risen (Mt. 28: 12).
What we are celebrating today is the promise of Scripture that for us, as with Christ, the tomb is not a final resting place. It is a departure lounge for a journey to eternity. Jesus said: I have gone to prepare a place for you so that where I am, you too may be (Jn. 14:3). We are celebrating the hope that Bishop Bagobiri is a beneficiary of this promise. Therefore, as St. Paul said, with such thoughts as these, let us console one another with the same consolation that we ourselves have received from God ( 2 Cor. 1:4).
As it is with the history of our faith, these are no easy times to be a Christian anywhere in the world especially here in Nigeria. There is staggering but also verifiable evidence that Christians are today the most persecuted set of people anywhere in the world. Today, Christians are still faced with the challenges of proclaiming their Gospel in an environment that remains quite hostile to this Message. Yet, as St. Paul said to Timothy: We must preach the Gospel, welcome or unwelcome (2 Tim. 4:2).
Jesus lived and taught His followers a message that broke barriers and changed the course of human history. It was intolerable language then and it is still so today (Jn. 6:56). His message stood against everything that the world thought rational and reasonable. Imagine these texts: Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are you when men abuse and persecute you (Mt. 5:3). If you are slapped on one cheek, turn the other (Lk. 6:29). Love and pray for your enemies (Mt. 5:44). Give everyone that asks, if they steal your tunic, give them your coat (Mt. 5:40). Do not keep a record of offences, and forgive one another seventy times seven times (Mt. 18:22).
Bishop Bagobiri’s life was an effort at managing these conflicting demands in a society that had become violently opposed to both the principles of Christianity and those of natural justice. It is impossible to speak about Bishop Bagobiri without paying attention to the circumstances that provided a context for his rage, frustration and sense of moral revulsion and indignation. Like the rest of us, he had his tempers, but like Jesus, the injustice and corruption in the society exacerbated his sorrow. His frustration occurred in an environment of death, destruction and vulnerability of ordinary people. His anger had context.
Things in Southern Kaduna came to a head in the Southern Kaduna after the crisis of Zangon Kataf. Sadly, through what an author has called, the act of judicial terrorism that was the trial of General Lekwot and his kinsmen, the drift became more palpable. That trial will go down in history as one of the most gruesome abuses of judicial processes in history. In the end, true leadership failed to find lasting ways of healing our people and so our people in Kaduna became more divided both physically and psychologically. The people of Southern Kaduna took stock of their verifiable sacrifices and contribution to the development of the north and Kaduna state, their massive contribution in the civil war. They had reaped very little by way of benefits and inclusion.
Their perceived alienation and exclusion from the levers of power was palpable and clearly deliberately crafted. By the late 70s and to the 90s an array of very well educated elite had emerged across Southern Kaduna. There were thousands of eminently qualified graduates covering all fields of education. Naturally, with this quality of education, people were bound to think differently about their rights and their place in the society in which they lived.
After nearly thirty years of the creation of their state, none of them had occupied the seat of a Governor. None had qualified to represent the State as a Minister. They looked around and found a land barren of both federal and state government presence. There were no state television signals as we had to rely on Plateau State television for media coverage. There were no roads, not a single industry sited anywhere in the state. A highly educated work force became impatient with this perceived injustice to exclude them from power.
It would take a combination of President Obasanjo and Alhaji Makarfi to change the course of the history of the people of Southern Kaduna. It was in 1999 that Senator Isaiah Balat was appointed a Minister to represent Kaduna State. Even then, the key northern Muslims protested saying that Senator Balat was a Christian not a northerner. Then came the historic appointments of both Lt. Generals Martin Luther Agwai and Yusuf Luka to the positions of Chief of Army Staff and for Agwai, Chief of General Staff.
When I met President Obasanjo and thanked him for this, he said to me: There is nothing to thank me for. These two gentlemen were the best, they had the best career records and so we did not do them a favour. I felt sorry for General Obasanjo because he did not seem to understand that in the eyes of the mafia, merit, excellence, competence, were tied to religion and region and that in our case, being a Christian excluded you from certain positions.
To be concluded.