In this interview, Benjamin Kwashi, the immediate past Anglican Bishop of Jos Diocese, granted RALPH MADUGU, the cleric speaks about his roots, conversion, his work and walk in the Lord’s vineyard, Nigeria at 63 and his plans after retirement, among others. Excerpts:
Briefly tell us about your background
I am from Amper by birth. From the Luwaar family of Amper which is known as the ruling house of Amper. But I was born in a small hospital of Dr. Fox. Fox was the first missionary doctor who set up a small clinic that was supposed to be a hospital way back around 1916. But when he died, the clinic was still being run. So, I was born in that place on the 23 of September 1955. And the nurse who took my delivery was Mrs. Werr. Her husband was a missionary teacher in Kabwir at that time.
My mother was the daughter of the first Catechist of St. Paul’s Church as it was known then in Kabwir. My mother was raised by her actual mother’s senior sister because the Pastor didn’t have a child. So that is the man we know as her grandfather. That is where I was born. It was fun coming back again to that village at about age four and a half or so. For another 2 years before I went to Primary school, I had to go shepherding to know my roots.
Those two and a half years were fantastic memories in my life. Then, of course, I then started primary school. But Baba moved from place to place. I finally finished primary school in St. Lukes here in Jos. From there, I went to Military School. From Plateau State, I think there were four of us in that class. There was the present District Head of Kwo, His Royal Highness, Colonel Fidelis Attahiru, there was Gen. Dr. Ishaku Pennap and myself. There were three of us in that class from Plateau. There was also Herbert Edikake who is also a Josite but he is from Rivers State. His parents owned property on Williams Street. That was our class. That was when the story changed.
Tell us how that story changed
When we finished and went to our various units, I was posted to Lagos – Supplies and Transport. At that time, there was one gentleman, Major Danladi. He is from Shendam. He and Major Useini were our immediate bosses. And, in fact, Buhari was our Director at that point. And we were fully enlisted into the Supplies and corp. We were waiting for opportunities either to go to the university, academy or polytechnic.
The youthful period did not give me an opportunity to think straight. So, I would like to consider the two years after finishing military school. Complete waste! Not totally, but I would say that it gave me an opportunity. Now, I can look back and see the grace of God. And I can tell young people, I know the world and there is nothing in it. Because at that time, we could travel for weekends. My generation traveled to London for weekends and it was just N300, return ticket, by Nigerian Airways. You could go for parties anywhere in Nigeria, anytime of the day.
In fact, the safest period in Lagos was between 12 and 5am (laughs). You travel anytime to Ibadan, Abeokuta. We went for weddings; we went to do Guard Duties for our bosses. We served Nigeria as it were. And we were well paid, we were well looked after. You won’t believe it, but they used to cook food in the barracks for soldiers in case we were broke. So, ‘Mammy Market’ was our regular. But there was something you could always fall back on.
There was accommodation. There was everything. It was a nation that cared for its people. We didn’t pay school fees in military school. We didn’t buy uniforms; we didn’t buy anything. The Army supplied us everything, including our underwear pants, swimming pants, towels, blankets, shoes, socks, etc. They gave us everything, they gave us all our allowances. So, this was my experience. Like I said, I classify all that as a waste, rather than the investment of God on my life. Because, I wish I knew, I wish I was wiser, I would have saved up all those monies and opportunities that would have made me a millionaire by now.
For example, I was given Udoji. Udoji was the allowance General Gowon gave to us. It was a lot of money. I think mine was probably about 4000 pounds and the Nigerian naira with the pounds was equivalent. Now, looking back, I knew some of those within the barracks who fought the Civil War and came back. They were wiser. At that time in Lagos, you could go to Volkswagen and you would buy a Combi bus which was 2000 and put it on the road. Some of them are millionaires now. Some of them bought two buses and put on the road. Some of them built houses. We drank all of ours. Can you imagine? Young idiots (laughter). We wasted it. That is why I classified it as a waste.
Did these experiences contribute in shaping your life?
Indeed, yes, yes and yes. The only way you will get to know and value these experiences, all of it, is when genuinely you get to know who God is. And let me quickly say that it is not possible for you to know God if He does not reveal Himself to you. Because if God does not reveal Himself to you, you will always create God in your own image. So, what happened to me was an extraordinary experience of knowing God in Jesus Christ.
There was this gentleman by the name of Dominic Oke who was a lay reader in the Anglican Church with the Chaplaincy. It was his own style all the time to share tracts and witness to people. And, I think, if I remember correctly, the text he was sharing was about the thief that comes only to steal, to kill and destroy. But Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full in abundance.”
So, as he shared that tract, God in an extraordinary manner, as He always does not only to me but all people who seek Him sincerely, showed me that text that I had wasted my life. This was a year and a half down the road. The thief has stolen everything from me. I cannot account for my Udoji, I cannot account for anything. I was a wreak. So, literally, within less than ten minutes, my life was played before my eyes and nobody beat me, nobody forced me. I started crying. I began by sobbing and then it became real crying. And brother Dominic was helping me now to wipe away my tears. And my cigarette I couldn’t smoke any more.
I was blowing it formerly, but that was the last day I smoked any cigarette at all for any reason. And I then turned back, instead of going to town to go and continue the waste, I now turned my back towards the investment that God had for me. For the next six months, I began to ask the questions: “Dear Lord, what is my life going to be like? Is it going to be like this?” And for about a year of just staying quiet, I had no ambition in life any more. Then I began to go to the church and to the choir… I am a singer and I began to help in the church.
I started participating, gathering children, doing youth…and most people thought I was now going to go to into the chaplaincy. But it was within that context that I heard very distinctly and clearly, Matthew 6:33; “Seek first the Kingdom of God…,” and the Lord was asking me to go and look for young people like me. By this time, I was 21. To go and look for young people like me and let them see the light that I have seen. Lest Satan steal, kill and destroy them and waste their lives. But, specifically, also at that time, I was following Dominic and our chaplains to the creeks of Badagry and I found more excitement in that rural place.
For the complete interview, get a copy of the November 2023 edition of Today’s Challenge Magazine