Two weeks ago, 32 of us met in Zaria to commemorate our first reunion that cold day of 5th January 1968 as the new intake of Barewa College Zaria. There were 132 of us in the set of 1968. So far, 35 of us have transitioned to the next world. In our conversations on the departed ones, it turned out that most of them died in road accidents over the 50-year period.
Surviving in Nigeria is a lottery and so many of us die early due to completely avoidable accidents. We reflected on changing times. In 1968, we were in the middle of one of the most bloody civil wars in Nigerian history. Nonetheless, most of us were simply directed to the motor park without any escort and took lorries and buses from our provinces to Zaria and on to the school. Fifty years later, many of us were apprehensive about going to Zaria due to the multiple conflicts in our provinces. Those from Adamawa, Sardauna and Bornu provinces spoke of the persistence of the insurgency in the North East. Friends from Plateau and Benue provinces were concerned about inter-communal conflicts and the pastoral challenge they face.
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The members from Sokoto, Zaria and Katsina provinces recounted stories of their communities being sucked into rural banditry while travellers from Kano, Kabba, Ilorin and Niger provinces said they too are no longer safe. The last hurdle was of course the Abuja-Kaduna crossing where everyone had the fear of kidnappers on their mind.
I had not seen some of my class mates since we went our various ways after the WAEC exams in 1972 and some of them looked very old. Maybe that was my brain telling me that I am getting old myself. We used the Golden Jubilee celebration to launch improvements to the school facilities sponsored by the Class of 1968 as we had been agonising for a long time on how dilapidated the school had become. One thing that surprised me was when some of my mates told the principal that they never came back for the school certificates. Within ten minutes, the principal was able to give all of them their certificates. It was good to see that all our files are still intact.
One of the greatest influences in our lives has been the broad introduction we had to comparative religious education in Barewa College. This was through daily readings in assembly from: “A Book of Prayers and Readings.” In 1958, the Northern Nigerian Government published the book for use in mixed assemblies of Muslim and Christian students. In his Forward to the book, Minister of Education Aliyu Makama made the important point that:
“Both Muslims and Christians are <people of the Book> and it is my earnest prayer and hope that from this book of Prayers and Readings the younger generation in particular may learn the vital truth that the things which unite us are far more important than the things that divide us.”
The daily readings created in us the realization that our religions have the same values and that everyone that respect their religion must also respect other religions that draw from the same belief and value pool. It is this education about comparative religion that is missing in Nigeria today and we have so many young people who lack education in their own religion and their ignorance pushed them into the belief that the other religion is the enemy whose adherents must be killed. The book taught us about the unity of God.
THE UNITY OF GOD
God is One, the Ancient of days: Eternal, having no beginning: Everlasting, having no end, continuing for evermore. He is the First and the Last, whose wisdom extendeth over all. He cannot be likened to anything else that exists, nor is anything like unto Him, nor is He contained by the earth or the heavens, for He is exalted far above the earth and the dust thereof.
I am the first and I am the last, and beside me there is no God.
Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting: and blessed be Thy glorious Name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. Thou art the Lord, even Thou alone; Thou hast made heaven and the heaven of heavens, with all their host; the earth, and all the things that are therein; the seas and all that is in them; and Thou preservest them all and the host of heaven worship Thee.
GOD’S LOVE FOR MAN: MAN’S OF GOD
Ere he made us He loved us, and when we were made we loved Him.
JULIAN OF NORWICH
Who so knows God, loves Him, and who so loves Him He makes to dwell with Him, and whom He makes to dwell with Him, blessed is he, yea blessed.
RELIANCE UPON GOD
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so cloth the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
If ye rely upon God as He ought to be relied on, He will provide you as He provides the birds; they go out empty and hungry in the morning and come back big-bellied at eventide.
Ask and thou shalt be given it.
IBNI MASUD (T.I)
Ask and ye shall receive; seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.
ST MATHEW’S GOSPEL
THE SPIRITUAL COMBAT
In the field of this body a great war goes forward against passion, anger, pride and greed; it is in the kingdom of truth, contentment and purity that this battle is ragging and the sword that rings forth most loudly is the sword of His Name. It is a hard fight and a weary one, this fight of the truth seeker, for the truth seeker’s battle goes on day and night; as long as life lasts it never ceases.
Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the price? So run that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things, now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I therefore run not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; but I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
HUMILITY AND PENITENCE
My God, of Thy mercy forgive me my sins. O Lord, through my sinful deeds make me fear Thy justice, yet the greatness of Thy compassion makes me hope in Thee. O Lord, I have not merited Paradise by my deeds, and I cannot endure the pains of Hell, so I entrust myself simply to Thy grace. Wash me from my sins; give me the hope of redeemed and in Thy mercy cast me not away from Thy presence.
YAHAYA B. MADH-EL-RAZI
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sins; cast me not away from Thy presence, and take Thy Holy Spirit from me.
THE VALUE OF KNOWLEDGE
Wisdom is glorious and never fadeth away; yea, she is easily seen of them that love her, and found of them that seek her. She goeth before them that desire her, in making herself first known unto them. Whoso seeketh her early shall have no great travail, for he shall find her sitting at his doors.
WISDOM OF SOLOMON
Knowledge is to the mind as a lamp to the eye, and as the light of the sun to the sight. Knowledge was given to man by God, so that his reason, making use therefore, might enable him to realise how the darkness of ignorance veils him from the remembrance of the next world and the regard of his Lord upon him.
My prayer today is that state ministries of education should look up this book of readings and prayers and use it or a similar instrument to teach the younger generation what we learnt – that Christianity and Islam draw from the same principles and value pool. Let it be known that the greatest ignorance is Christians and Muslims killing themselves in “gods” name. Knowledge is knowing it’s the same God that we worship.
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja