By Richard Dambo.
It was Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said: “Jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.” Upon seeing the life and times Bishop Bagobiri, an intellectual cum moral compass that endeared many to his side, you get the motivation to dare his feat. It is this reawakening in trying to dare the achievements of seemingly higher mortals like Bagobiri that makes Archbishop Sheen believes jealousy is sometimes a good indicator of where you want to be in life. The demise of Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Danlami Bagobiri, the Catholic Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese, elicits the afore said. His life is now a hovering standard many of us look up to. His Lordship was a conservationist with a modernist touch who cared about the Kingdom of God, the welfare and rights of God’s children. At some points, the late Bishop was accused of straying from his calling due to his unparalleled prophectic way of thinking. To paraphrase Ngugi Wa Thiongo, “Every Priest or Patriot must stray; it only depends on which side you stray!” Gladly, Bishop Bagobori strayed on the side of the down-trodden, voiceless and marginalized.
As expected, tributes have been pouring since his demise. Nonetheless, I dare to sing an unsung him. For starters, the world dimishes in substance with the death of great men in mould of His Lordship. From onset the late bishop dared to bequeath a sound legacy of education to the lay faithful of Kafanchan diocese-a people who are predominantly indigenes of various communities scattered around Southern Kaduna. Vintage Bishop Bagobiri envisaged education as a great social leveler. He opted to provide affordable and decent education towards propelling the people’s social rise. And just like the bliblical Joseph, his dream came to pass. Under his auspices the following academic institutions were established, St. Charles Borromeo Minor Semimary Madakiya, St Kizito’s College Gurza Mariri, Girls College of the Beatitudes Saminaka, St. Albert Institute of Higher Education, St. Francis College Zonkwa, St. Peter’s Cleaver Creative Minds Secondary, and a host of others. The clergyman understood to well that education was a tool to liberate a people from the shackles of socioeconomic stagnation and give them a voice to speak against aristocracy from the powers that be. Thus, he erected schools in the nook and crannies of Southern Kaduna- a zone he passionately defended from the pastime of apartheid. With electrifying nostalgia, I remember my encounter with Bishop Bagobiri as a student of St. Charles Minor Seminary Madakiya, in the outskirts of Kafanchan. I recall his admonishments to us as students. His Lordship, with a sonorous voice, will always urge us to be: “Voracious readers; saintly, scholarly and gentlemanly….”. He was definitive of his mission for establishing St. Charles Minor Seminary and other schools in similar mould. His dream was to raise a generation of solution-carriers that will add value to the society .
We must never forget the escapades of a great man, a shining metaphor for growing out of class antagonism, out of the violent subjection of one class by another. Prior to 2015 gubernatorial election, the Bishop, and two other high-ranking clerics of Southern Kaduna origin, Bishop Zakka Bonnet and Pastor Emmanuel Kure, under the body of Southern Kaduna Christian Leaders Council (SKCLC) resolved to settle for a consensus candidate that would represent Southern Kaduna at the gubernatorial elections . Sadly, some political jabbers lampooned the clerics for ‘straying’ from their calling. But the Catholic Bishop of Kafanchan Diocese poked the hornets in their nest when he called for the political participation of all and sundry . He mused and I quote at length: “Just as politicians can become interested on religious matters without necessarily being prelates, priests and religious; just as the issue of securing our nation cannot just be the business of a tiny fraction of those in the various security outfit of our nation, but of all Nigerians, in the same vein therefore, politicians must be magnanimous in allowing us as religious leaders the right of participating in politics in a way that benefits our people and in a manner that is not strictly speaking partisan”.
Today, we will be casting aspersion on our posterity if we don’t continue to thread the paths of His Lordship’s liberative sermons. I can think of no sermon by Bishop Bagobiri that failed to raise our placid sense of outrage undisturbed. Blame it on the moral burden of his calling. How would he have been silent when our secular kingdom suffers violence in the hands of venal men who serve the few more and the many much less.
Only last year when His Lordship clocked 60 years of age, my big brother, Francis Damina narrated to me the bridge -building efforts of His Lordship in the Zango Kataf crises during Babaginda regime when the Justice Okadigbo-led panel handed down the death verdict on General Zamani Lekwot and his fellow tribe men, it took fierce resistance by Southern Kaduna, assisted by the theocratic class that included the then Frs. Joseph Bagobiri, Matthew Kukah, Philip Gaiya, Laurence Bakut et al. Damina further said that these clergymen, in the course of their education, may have read about Martin Luther King Jr, Oscar Romero, Cardinal Sin. They may have done a course in Liberation Theology; bringing them face to face with the role of their colleagues in the fight against injustice in Latin America, to say the least. It is no exaggeration to say that it was the intervention of the Bagobiris of our clime that saved the lives of those elite already listed for execution by the Babangida regime.
As it is said of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, so it could be said of Bishop Bagobiri : ” He crisscrossed sociopolitical denominators to rise to the standard of our faith.” Now we are starkly aware of the fact that the time he no longer has is really ours, that the job he launched is now ours to redefine, wherever we go, whoever we are. Surely His Lordship has a date with history, his footprints will remain indelible in the sand of time. His death came at a time we really needed him. Yes, it was really a sting at Night. Good night good Bishop untill we meet in the morning at Jesus’ feet.
Dambo, is a postgraduate student of Education & Society, can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org