“Filled with the Joy of the Gospel and guided by the spirit, we are an international missionary Society with a family spirit. Sent out to the African world and wherever our charism is needed, for a prophetic mission of encounter and of witness to the love of God” (Capitular Acts 2016, p. 17).
This positive affirming statement of the 2016 Chapter Document has encouraged the Ghana/ Nigeria Province to respond to the call of mission by unanimously agreeing to propose opening a mission in Minna Diocese. Such a move would also greatly help in missionary and vocation animation and, besides other positive advantages, would provide to confreres on home leave a pied-à-terre closer to their homes.
In what follows, each of these points will be further elaborated.
1. A Mission in Minna Diocese
The Catholic Diocese of Minna covers the main part of Niger State. It is part of the ecclesiastical province of Kaduna. Niger State is the largest State in Nigeria and covers 76,363 km2. Its capital city is Minna. It is situated in the central part of Nigeria. The Catholic Diocese of Minna started in 1911 as an Outstation of Lokoja by the Society of African Missions (SMA). The Minna Outstation expanded into a mission territory and was established as the Apostolic Prefecture of Minna in 1964, and then it was detached from Kaduna Archdiocese and handed over to the St. Patrick Fathers. In 1973 the Apostolic Prefecture of Minna was raised to the status of Diocese. Currently, Minna Diocese has 54 Parishes, six quasi Parishes, many Mission Stations and seven Chaplaincies spread over an area of about 56,229 km2.
Apart from the indigenous Nupe and Gbagyi ethnic groups, the Diocese has a substantial number of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba people, as well as a sizable number of people from other ethnic groups from all parts of Nigeria. The population of the Diocese at present is 77,589, out of the total population of Niger State of about 4 million. There is a sizeable number of Muslims in Niger State, who in fact hold most of the key government positions.
The Provincial Fr. John Aserbire, his Delegate Fr. Emmanuel Mambwe and Fr. Victor Shehu, visited the Bishop of Minna in December 2017 and a formal letter was written afterwards, to seek for insertion into the mission of the Diocese. The Bishop of Minna Diocese was not only happy to welcome the Missionaries of Africa to the diocese, but also asked the Vicar General to show us some pastoral areas where we could insert ourselves and take part in the evangelisation of Minna Diocese. These mission places are Azhin-Bisa, Kuduru, Azhin biji, Azhin Kasa and Kuchiko (These villages are at most 3km from each other all under that St. Michael’s Parish Garam). We are renting a 3-bed room bungalow in the Estates of Kuduru. St. Joseph Azhin Bisa (two kilometres from Kuduru) is supposed to be the goal post of our mission, with other places as outstations. Kuduru is small town at the border between Abuja and Niger State. We are under the Diocese of Minna, but closer to Abuja than to Minna town.
St. Joseph Catholic Church Azhin-Bisa is an outstation of St. Michael’s Garam. Christians are the majority and the Muslims in the area are settlers. There are also many people who have left the Abuja area due to evacuation by the government and who have settled down in Azhin-Bisa, Kuduru and Kuchiko. Azhin-Bisa and Kuduru are highly populated. There are possibilities of opening new outstations in these areas. They will be fertile lands for Primary evangelisation, youth animation because of a polytechnic and other schools, Ecumenism, JPIC, Encounter and Dialogue (and the possibility of teaching in the Polytechnic (now a proposed university), Catholic Veritas University and in the School of Law.
2. Missionary and Vocation Animation
Since the arrival of the Missionaries of Africa in Nigeria in 1943, the mission of our Society has always been in the western part of Nigeria. There is currently a “vocation boom” in the country, but it is noteworthy that most applications come from the northern and eastern parts of Nigeria. Indeed, also most of the confreres come from these parts of Nigeria. Among the 13 indigenous confreres, there is not even one from the Western part of the country since we started our mission in Nigeria 75 years ago
The land mass of Nigeria is 925,000 sq. km. Travelling from the western part of Nigeria to the north means having to cover great distances. For example, the distance from Ibadan to Abuja is about 659 km, from Ibadan to Sokoto 932 km and from Ibadan to Maiduguri 1,478 km. Large parts of these trips are over bad roads, which only adds to the fatigue. Minna Diocese which is 10 km away from Abuja and which is situated at the centre of the country will not only be ideal but also practical for reachability and mission.
3. Other Important Advantages
Among other advantages of having a Mission in Minna Diocese, which is close to Abuja, the following may be mentioned:
- Administration: Since Abuja became the administrative capital of Nigeria all the Embassies and Headquarters of all the government and non-government agencies are in Abuja. This means that at present we are forced to make the long journey to Abuja for such things as applying for visas. It involves a lot of expenses for both travel and accommodation.
- The only Provincial project that we have in Nigeria is the formation house, which only has two bedrooms for visitors. As mentioned above, having a Mission in Minna, would provide a “pied-à-terre” for confreres who are on holidays. Minna would indeed be an ideal place since most of the confreres come from the central and northern parts of the country. Furthermore the 2016 Chapter document spoke about care for confreres. It is worth noting that the first ordained Nigerian/Ghanaian confreres have already celebrated their 25th Anniversaries. No doubt, sometime in the future they would need a retirement home. Minna would be ideal both for retired confreres and for confreres who would need medical care.
- One of the international Airports of Nigeria is in Abuja and for practical purposes confreres can easily fly to and from Abuja instead of flying to Lagos and then to make the long journey home.
- Last, but certainly not least, apart from English, Hausa is one of the dominant languages of this area. A mission in Minna could be a gateway to communication with confreres in PAO, most especially in Niger.
What has been done so far? As soon as the go-ahead was given by the General Council to open a new community in Minna Diocese, Frs. Victor Shehu and Kenneth Obinwa were asked to look for a house for rent. After days of touring around they were able to get a number of houses, which were proposed to the project team. The suitable house that was chosen was a three-bedroom bungalow. Most of the houses around these areas are either 2-bed rooms or 3-bed rooms. The house was rented for two years. Victor Shehu was sent to equip the house. On the 3nd of December 2018, we started using the house. On the 20th of December the Nigerian confreres who were on holidays went there for a meeting of the Nigerian confreres on holiday. After months of attending the functions of the diocese and image making the “White Fathers” are now known by the priests and lay faithful of the diocese, the Deanery, and the mission area.
Fr. Virgilius Kawama has joined Victor Shehu in the mission house and he is currently in the language centre to learn the Hausa language, which will enable him to communicate with the locals and also celebrate the Eucharist.
The Community of Kuduru is called the Sancta Maria community.
In line with the 2016 Chapter Document the Province proposes to expand our mission in Nigeria by opening the above-named parish, which will enable us to be involved in Encounter and Dialogue with Muslims and Animists, in Ecumenism (CAN – Christian Association of Nigeria), in JPIC with the people who have been evacuated from Abuja and have settled in Azhin Bisa, in Youth Animation with the students and youths of the village, and finally in Primary Evangelisation.
We thank the Lord for the gift of the mission. Our gratitude goes to the Superior General and his Council for allowing us to open this new mission. Mighty thanks to the Provincial and his Council for the constant support. We are hoping that a land will be purchased so that we can have a stable community which can accommodate the confreres on mission, those passing by and the vocation house. We look to the future with hope and confidence as we evangelise this mission and fertile land of Minna Diocese. Ad Majorem, Dei Gloriam!
Author: Victor Domshiwe Shehu, M.Afr.