Rem­i­nis­cences With Rev. Fr. Ray­mond Hickey

Sunday Trust - - FRONT PAGE - From Lami Sadiq, Jos

Fa­ther Ray­mond Hickey was born in Dublin, Ire­land in 1936 and or­dained a Catholic priest in Fe­bru­ary 1960. He came to Nige­ria in Oc­to­ber 1960, as a Catholic mis­sion­ary and served in Borno and Yobe states for 28 years. The 82-year-old Rev­erend Fa­ther speaks Hausa flu­ently and says he is both Nige­rian and Ir­ish. He watched Nige­ria trans­form from in­de­pen­dence through mil­i­tary coups and civil war, to the years of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship and now democ­racy. Fr. Ray­mond has lived among the peo­ple of Zal­a­dava of Pulka, the Karekare, Ngezim and Ng­amo of Fika di­vi­sion, the Kanakuru and Bura of Shani. He also served in Bekaji, Jimeta/Yola, as well as Jos, La­gos and Mararabar Ngurku, out­side Abuja. He is cur­rently a priest of the Jos Dio­cese.

What mo­ti­vated you into be­com­ing a priest and why did you come to Nige­ria?

That is a very per­sonal ques­tion. It was a fun­da­men­tal de­ci­sion, just like the per­son you would agree to marry. It is a com­mit­ment to which one is bound to God and some­thing that needs prepa­ra­tion, prayer and ab­so­lute con­vic­tion that this is the right thing in the eyes of God. It is some­thing that one wishes to use one’s life to do what is right, or use one’s abil­ity to serve God, our neigh­bours and oth­ers.

As far back as I can re­mem­ber as a boy, I wanted to be a Catholic priest. I saw priests and their lives, which urged me on. At that time, my coun­try, Ire­land, was a very Chris­tian coun­try. When I was grow­ing up, there was a great com­mit­ment to the mis­sion­ary apos­to­late, and I wanted to bring to oth­ers, what was the most im­por­tant thing in my life. I wished to share that con­vic­tion and faith with oth­ers.

I never had any doubt, and I was helped by my fam­ily, the school I at­tended, the priests I knew and by mis­sion­ar­ies who re­turned from Africa. In the Catholic Church, there are dif­fer­ent broth­er­hoods in a way sim­i­lar to the Ti­j­janiyya and Qadriyya fam­i­lies of a cer­tain tra­di­tion.

Again, the founders of th­ese broth­er­hoods in Is­lam, for us, are those who founded the fam­ily of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi; Fran­cis­can or­der, St. Do­minic of Spain; Do­mini­can or­der, the So­ci­ety of Je­sus; the Je­suits and my own par­tic­u­lar fam­ily, the Spir­i­tu­al­ity of St. Au­gus­tine of Hippo in North Africa. That was the fam­ily I had an un­cle who was a priest and had worked as a mis­sion­ary in North Queens­land, Aus­tralia.

It was my wish to be­come a priest and mis­sion­ary be­cause the Prov­ince of Adamawa was con­fided to the Ir­ish Au­gus­tinian of St. Au­gus­tine fam­ily. Our first mis­sion­ar­ies came to Yola, Jimeta, Sugu, in Chamba-land in 1940. In 1953 they were asked to ex­tend their work to Borno Prov­ince as it was called.

I ar­rived here in Oc­to­ber 1960. I was or­dained priest in Rome ear­lier that year. I came out first to Yola, where our su­pe­rior was in Bishop Street in Jimeta, St. Theresa Cathe­dral and I was sent off to Maiduguri, a rather new place. That was where I spent 28 years. I lived in the cen­tre of Maiduguri, near the Fed­eral Sec­re­tar­iat by the right and St. Pa­trick Cathe­dral on the left. All the Catholics there were mi­grants from south­ern Nige­ria. There was no indige­nous Catholic in Borno Prov­ince at that time.

I had to learn the Hausa lan­guage be­cause we used it, not Ka­nuri, to com­mu­ni­cate. The peo­ple of Ka­nuri were 100 per cent Mus­lims; sec­ondly, Hausa was stronger and a widely spread indige­nous lan­guage.

How long did it take you to learn Hausa lan­guage?

It was dif­fi­cult in Maiduguri. I learnt the lan­guage in the course of my work and by friend­ship with other priests se­nior to me. I spent three and half years and took a six-month hol­i­day, I went home in March 1964. When I re­turned, I was posted to a new place near the bor­ders of Cameroon, called Pulka. It was part of the for­mer United Na­tions North­ern Cameroon Trust ter­ri­to­ries, which later be­came Sar­dauna Prov­ince. I was there for the UN plebiscite, by which a ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple in North­ern Cameroon voted to join Nige­ria. So I went down to Pulka, and there was only one other Catholic in the whole area, a cat­e­chist with me, no­body else. And a priest goes down to mix with the peo­ple, know the peo­ple, love the peo­ple, help the peo­ple and to pray. A priest also tries, as a hu­man be­ing, to fol­low the ex­am­ple of our Lord Je­sus Christ (Yesu Al­masihu) and pass on his mes­sage as we have in the New Tes­ta­ment (Lin­jila).

I had the priv­i­lege to bap­tise the first three indige­nous Catholics, who were not from Borno State. Some peo­ple from Karekare in Po­tiskum had been bap­tised in 1962 but were chris­tened in 1964. One out of the first three, Peter Zadva, went on to be­come a mem­ber of the House of As­sem­bly of the North-East State, He is still alive up there in Borno. We met last year. Their lan­guage was Man­dara, not Hausa, so I had to learn a lit­tle Man­dara. I was also teach­ing in Hausa. It was a case of the blind lead­ing the blind, if you like. Man­dara is a very strong indige­nous lan­guage in Cameroon, as well as Mora and Bama. I spent some time there, and all the time, we were on the fringes be­cause we were told from the be­gin­ning to re­spect the Ka­nuri peo­ple be­cause they had been Mus­lims for 900 years and had a very rich tra­di­tion and his­tory. So I had good friends but we never went out to evan­ge­lise. There was re­spect and I was re­spected too as it hap­pens in true re­li­gion. I had good friends up there, such as Shetimma, Kashim Ibrahim and a very young Ali Mongunu. I learnt a great deal.

I must say there was never ten­sion, and I found that all over. But where I worked was al­ways on the fringes among the non Mus­lim peo­ple like the Karekare of Fika and the Ngiz­imawa of Ng­amo; then I worked in Shani and Buma, among the Kanukuru and the Bura of that area.

Did you have any knowl­edge of Nige­ria be­fore com­ing in 1960?

I learnt as much as I could be­fore com­ing. I came at the age of 24, and now, I am 82. I re­mem­ber buy­ing a book, a pa­per­back: the Gi­ant of Africa by Sam Ebele. It was writ­ten for In­de­pen­dence in 1960. There were very fine books avail­able, writ­ten usu­ally by colo­nial of­fi­cers who worked and served here, es­pe­cially Michael Crow­der: the Story of Nige­ria and the His­to­rian; and An­thony Kirk Green, who died this year.

We have to know a peo­ple to ap­pre­ci­ate their cul­ture and re­spect it. And for a Chris­tian mis­sion­ary to have the con­vic­tion, this is some­thing the gospel of Je­sus Christ, which passes on last­ing val­ues to a so­ci­ety and which those who have re­ceived the gift of faith as Chris­tians, would wish to share with oth­ers, but al­ways with re­spect for their iden­tity and back­ground.

There was a lot of eu­pho­ria in 1960 when you ar­rived Nige­ria, but it was fol­lowed by coups and the civil war, how did you feel when all th­ese things were hap­pen­ing?

I watched the Bi­afra-Nige­ria war with great sad­ness be­cause there were much po­ten­tials and hope at in­de­pen­dence. The hope turned to a huge sad­ness as ‘things fell apart,’ Chinwa Achebe was quot­ing from an Ir­ish au­thor, Wil­lam But­ler Yeats, when he wrote “Things Fall Apart,’’ talk­ing about the Ir­ish sit­u­a­tion, its In­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain. Things fell apart, and the next words were, ‘the cen­tre can­not hold.’ So Nige­ria was fall­ing apart, it was a weak fed­er­a­tion.

There were only three re­gions when I ar­rived, but each re­gion had a great deal of au­ton­omy. Each re­gion had a premier; its own ed­u­ca­tion and laws were dif­fer­ent. It had its own courts and le­gal sys­tem. The North had the Sharia courts, so it was a very weak fed­er­a­tion. The mas­sacre of the Igbo in the North fol­low­ing a de­cree which abol­ished the fed­er­a­tion and de­clared Nige­ria a uni­tary state was a great mis­take, Nige­ria can never be a uni­tary state; it is too di­verse, too big and dif­fer­ent. It has to be an agreed

fed­er­a­tion. It was Aguiyi Ironsi’s great mis­take.

Nige­ria could have set­tled down af­ter the 1966 coup be­cause mil­i­tary gov­er­nors in the four re­gions, in­clud­ing the new Mid­West, had been ac­cepted and trust was re­turn­ing. There could have been an or­derly re­turn to democ­racy. The counter-coup, the pogrom of the Igbo in the North and the tragedy of civil war could have been avoided if the fed­eral struc­ture of Nige­ria was main­tained.

The les­son for to­day is clear. The bal­ance between the re­gions, now 36 states, and the six ac­cepted non-po­lit­i­cal zones, is es­sen­tial for a sta­ble Nige­ria, held to­gether more by eco­nomic self­in­ter­est than a ‘na­tional iden­tity.’ Look at other African coun­tries: Look at what hap­pened af­ter the fed­eral struc­ture of Cameroon and of Ethiopia-Eritrea, was abol­ished. Frag­men­ta­tion is no so­lu­tion ei­ther. Look at South Su­dan to­day. Fed­er­a­tion with Su­dan was the an­swer, as John Garang wanted.

Where were you dur­ing the first coup?

I was in Borno, among the Karekare in Po­tiskum car­ry­ing out my work. I learnt about the coup on the ra­dio. I lis­tened to the Nige­rian ra­dio and the BBC world ser­vice. The news­pa­per then was the Daily Times; a Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment-owned daily. In the North, there was a weekly news­pa­per in Hausa lan­guage - Gaskiya ta fi Kwabo; and for Eng­lish, there was the Nige­rian Cit­i­zen. And just be­fore the first coup, the New Nige­rian came. Charles Sharp was the man who started it in Kaduna for the North­ern Re­gion, and within a week or two, the coup took place.

I have been in every state in Nige­ria. In fact, I am more Nige­rian than you, un­less you are more than 58 years old.

The church played a vi­tal role dur­ing the civil war, were you in­volved?

I pre­sume you are talk­ing of the role of the Car­i­tas, a Latin word for char­ity. It is an in­ter­na­tional body that helps in sit­u­a­tions of wars. To­day, Car­i­tas would be in South Su­dan and the Cen­tral African Repub­lic. They were fly­ing in re­lief sup­plies to Bi­afra. It was con­tro­ver­sial at that time, but peo­ple un­der­stood that the Catholic Church was in­ter­na­tional. It does not lean to any coun­try, tribe or group. Wher­ever there is dis­tress, hu­man dig­nity de­mands that we help those who are trou­bled.

You have spent al­most 60 years in Nige­ria, which of the cul­tures in the coun­try has fas­ci­nated you?

There are so many dif­fer­ent cul­tures in Nige­ria. And it is not as if it is a sin­gle peo­ple form­ing a na­tion with the same back­ground; there are so many groups com­ing to­gether and they have to work at liv­ing to­gether. The prin­ci­ple is that when you are in Rome you do as the Ro­mans do, so as a Catholic you try to in­te­grate as far as you can. It is the same for a Nige­rian who has lived in Eng­land for about 60 years his fam­ily will be­come Eng­lish. So I am a Nige­rian, shi ke nan.

Are you say­ing you feel more Nige­rian than Ir­ish? I think I am equally at home and happy with ei­ther. How of­ten do you visit Ire­land?

I go home every year and spend six weeks. I stay with my younger sis­ter. I am a priest, so I am not mar­ried. And my par­ents, may God bless them, went to God af­ter they were mar­ried for 58 years. I thank God that I came from a good and sta­ble fam­ily. I have an el­der brother who has been very ill for some years and is per­ma­nent in a nurs­ing home. I also stay with my fel­low priests of the Au­gus­tinian fam­ily.

Is there any sim­i­lar­ity between the Ir­ish cul­ture and that of Nige­ria?

We are all hu­man be­ings, and hu­man na­ture is the same. So you will find the same weak­nesses of hu­man na­ture. We be­lieve in sin from the very be­gin­ning from our first par­ents - Adamu and Hauwa. There isn’t that much dif­fer­ence.

How would you say the

church has evolved in Nige­ria, es­pe­cially with the rise of Pen­te­costal­ism?

The rise of sects is a huge prob­lem; it has de­stroyed a great deal of trust. I re­mem­ber when one of the sects in­vited a Ger­man evan­ge­list, Rein­hard Bonke to go to Kano to con­duct a cru­sade. There was noth­ing more provoca­tive or de­struc­tive of trust between Chris­tians and Mus­lims as that. They even wanted to con­vert Catholics.

In the Mid­dle East, trust has been de­stroyed between the an­cient Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties and the stronger Mus­lim pres­ence in Iraq and Syria. Ex­trem­ism is de­struc­tive. An ill ad­vised and overzeal­ous or fa­nat­i­cal Chris­tian or Mus­lim can de­stroy what has been built over the years in 24 hours. It was not so in the past, but I am still hope­ful.

How do you think we can fix this?

We can fix this by each per­son do­ing their best, such as a news­pa­per like yours. For ex­am­ple, Daily Trust on Sun­day can take a mod­er­ate, re­spon­si­ble ed­i­to­rial line as much as pos­si­ble. But you will al­ways find some ex­trem­ism, though by very few, but they can do a huge amount of harm.

What’s your best food?

Ev­ery­thing, but I don’t like sweet things. I like savoury bit­ter things like ku­nun tsamiya and tu­won dawa with miyan ganyen yakuwa, not taushe but yakuwa,

An ill ad­vised and overzeal­ous or fa­nat­i­cal Chris­tian or Mus­lim can de­stroy what has been built over the years in 24 hours. It was not so in the past, but I am still hope­ful.

ak­wai tsami . But now, it is eas­ier to buy se­movita in the mar­ket, or pounded yam. I also like talia, which is also known as pasta.

What do you do in your spare time?

I used to be very ac­tive, es­pe­cially in lawn ten­nis. I played lawn ten­nis un­til last year. In fact, even though I was 81 then, I con­tin­ued to keep my­self fit. But it is wise to give it up and I have given it up. I was into swim­ming, which I loved. I also played a bit of golf when I was in Abuja for some years. I am not strong enough for foot­ball or rugby, or any­thing like that. I did that at school, but I don’t have the physique for that. You can imag­ine; rugby? I would be buried; shi ke nan.

Which part of Nige­ria gives you the fond­est mem­o­ries?

Ab­so­lutely, it was at the be­gin­ning in Borno and Yobe. I told you about Pulka and the early days, and the bap­tism. I still have great con­tacts among the Karekare. I meet peo­ple and they tell me: “You bap­tised my fa­ther or mother,’’ My name up there was Ali Garga. I have good mem­o­ries of Po­tiskum, with the old Emir of Fika who had been emir be­fore the British came. I think he was born in 1888 and he was Emir of Fika un­til 1970. He was very friendly.

Why did they name you Ali Garga?

Ki tam­baye su (You have to ask them). The peo­ple in Po­tiskum gave me the name while oth­ers called me Kurege (squir­rel). For Kurege, as far as I know, it was the Sarkin Fika, the Ajiya of Nen­gere. Ajiya is a Ka­nuri word for district head, Hakimi in Hausa, Ajiya in Bar­barci and Ardo in Ful­fulde.

How many lan­guages do you speak?

We con­cen­trated on Hausa, so I was never flu­ent in an­other Nige­rian lan­guage. But when you go to a peo­ple you have to re­spect them. So I would learn about 100 words of Kakekarence, Man­dara, Bura. But I un­der­stand Ital­ian and French also; shi ke nan.

How many states have you vis­ited in Nige­ria?

I have vis­ited all the 36 states. Ni dan Arewa ne (I’m a north­erner), so I have lived mostly in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Plateau. I also spent seven years in La­gos, help­ing out at the of­fice of the Jakada Pa­paroma Nige­ria.

Hav­ing lived and worked most of your life in the North­East, how do you feel about the men­ace of Boko Haram and the num­ber of killings in that re­gion?

It is ter­ri­bly sad, es­pe­cially as the tra­di­tion there was al­ways mod­er­ate Is­lam. Us­man Dan Fo­dio thought the Ka­nuri were heretics, so he went to con­quer Borno. The Emir of Mis­sau had a flag to es­tab­lish his king­dom in Da­maturu, but they drove him out, so he es­tab­lished it in Mis­sau. The Ka­nuri were al­ways very wel­com­ing; they never prac­tised pur­dah, so their women dressed moder­ately but ele­gantly in their flow­ing gowns. That’s their cul­ture.

Rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties must do their best to stop the ter­ror­ism.

Fr. Ray­mond Hickey

Fr. Ray­mond, some­where around Borno

Fr. Ray­mond Hickey, with some of his stu­dents dur­ing the early days in the North East

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.