Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon: Man of God, adovocate of peaceful co-existence

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A FEW weeks ago, I sent a text message to the Anglican Bishop of Kaduna, Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon. It was a message that I had to send! I have admired the priest for long time, for his erudition, especially his knowledge of Islam, and his untiring effort at building inter-faith dialogue in Northern Nigeria.

Until I read the interview he gave to SATURDAY SUN of March 31, 2012, I did not even know, or really bothered, about where he came from! Just like we all took to the writings of then Rev. Father Mathew Hassan Kukah, during the years of military dictatorship,

I have been drawn to the works of Bishop Idowu-Fearon. With the interview, I understood the context within which his consciousness formed and largely explained his work for improved inter-faith relationships in the North. Like me, Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon was a child of the Northern Nigeria of the 1960s, and he grew up in his hometown of Lokoja.

Lokoja was a melting pot of peoples and in the context of the period, children like the young Idowu-Fearon, grew up in a multi-lingua world of Nupe, Ebirra-Koto, Hausa and Yoruba.

Muslims and Christians lived together and often shared the feasting which accompanied various religious festivities. The Northern Nigerian government of the Sardauna was committed to consolidating a Northern Nigerian identity amongst its diverse peoples; and because the basis of governance was selflessness and justice, people bought into the vision. Nigerians from other parts of the country were also part of the mix thatmoulded the priest. As he told his interviewers: “I was brought up to think as a Nigerian.

So, I will say, I have been very fortunate and God brought me up as a Nigerian”. The environment of the sixties were very interesting: “When we were growing up in the 60s, we did not see ourselves as Christians and Muslims; we saw ourselves as one people with different religions and the religion didn’t matter. For example, those of us from Kabba Province, who came to Zaria Military School were four.

We were two Christians and two Muslims, but nobody thought of me being Nupe, Ibrahim Ahmadu being an Igala, Paul Ajiboye being Ogori and Musa Dantsoho being Hausa or Muslim. We saw ourselves as young boys from Kabba Povince, coming to represent our Province…” But things have changed, in these days of identity politics: “Unfortunately, today we think in terms of religion and ethnicity.

And that is why the North is not the North we used to know, just because of what I will term marginalisation…because of our allowing our religion and different tribes to come between us as a people from the North. And that is bringing the lack of development because if there is no unity, if there is no trust, there is no cooperation, there cannot be even development. So, the present North is not the North I grew up in”.

This deeply felt worry informed the consistent work the clergyman continues to do for Northern Nigeria. Idowu-Fearon said “I am not going to comment on the national CAN; it is not my business…Here in the North we must get our [acts] together, as Christians and Muslims, because we have common problems that do not wear any religious façade.

As a Christian from the North, I want to be given an equal opportunity, as my Muslim brother who is also from the North. That is what the non-Muslims are saying; that if we have to build the North together, we have to be given equal opportunity to make our contributions. We had that during the time of the Sardauna”.

Underlining this, is the advocacy for inter-religious understanding: “if there is understanding between Christians and Muslims, an understanding of what each religion teaches, we would be able to see that the differences can be lived with…” Happily, the need for understanding is being taken up all over Northern Nigeria. During January, Kano Muslims went into churches in the city with a proclamation of understanding and brotherhood.

The JNI has been doing a lot of inter-faith work and just last week, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah hosted an inter-faith roundtable in Abuja. These are all part of a growing awareness that when the North is divided within itself, it will continue to fail in the struggle against underdevelopment. Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon is one of the most consistent voices for dialogue, peace and development in Northern Nigeria, and I think his work must be better-known around the country, and should be applauded!

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