Rev. Dr. Yusuf Ibrahim Wushishi, the General Secretary of Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) and a conflict resolution and security expert has just been appointed Programme Executive for Peace Building in the African Region, World Council of Churches (WCC), Geneva, Switzerland. Soon, he will be leaving for the place to oversee the affairs of the organization, as an expatriate. He recently spoke to Effects, on his life’s trajectory, from a young school leaver, who dreamt but did not get to go through secondary school education as he had hoped. But in spite of the fact that he skipped secondary education, he was able to leave his mark on the sand of time by embarking on the path of self-improvement that eventually saw him becoming a doctorate degree holder, as well as ambassador of peace.
Tell us a little about your background, sir.
I was born into a humble home of Late Apostle Ibrahim and Hauwa Yusuf in a village called Zuturung Ungwan Sariki Zangon Kataf Local Government Area. There, I completed my primary school before learning a trade. When I look back at my life, I have the conviction that you are the only one that can be an enemy of the progress to yourself. When I finished primary school I did not have the privilege of attending secondary school though my parents did their best to make sure I did but it was not possible. So in 1980/81, they asked me to go and learn a trade. I was a child that did nothing without my father’s consent.
As a village boy, I didn’t go to the village square to play ball without my father permitting me to do so. So whenever my mates wanted me to play ball with them they would go to my father. Once, he said: “go,” I would go. On the issue of why I could not attend secondary school, we were on the farm, one day, when my uncle came from Jos and saw me. He asked if I had gained admission to secondary school and my parents said no. So he suggested that I learn auto mechanic. Because my parents were involved, I could not say no because I respect them so much. I followed him down to Jos to learn auto mechanic. I spent fours years at the workshop doing so.
But while in Jos, each time I passed through a secondary school, and there were about 16 of them where we used to live, I would come back home crying because of the opportunity I was missing. But because my parents said I should learn auto mechanic, I had to learn it. When I finished the apprenticeship, I came home to the village. In 1985, I felt that the Lord was calling me into the ministry. But my sister who was married to a military officer and living with him in Makurdi, felt it was better I joined the Air Force. She told me that with my trade certificate I could join the force, that I could be recruited. Her husband referred me to Kaduna and gave me a note to the recruiting officer.
What made you not to eventually enlist with the Air Force?
When I came home and told my parents, they were happy that I was going to join the Air Force. That’s how I went and lived with my uncle and my cousin who was a student at Wangari. In the evening, they would come and ask me to go with them. But they requested to know if I was a member of the drinking club. But my brother said no. I could see young men and women drinking and getting drunk. I didn’t understand what was happening. So as I was looking at them, at young people drinking, something came into my mind and I had a change of mind. I asked him to let us go home and I told him that I was not going to join the Air Force any more because God was calling me to be a Pastor. He thought I was joking but I tore the letter given to me the next morning. I went back to the village. When my parents saw me, they were happy but I said I was no longer going to join Air Force. But nobody supported me on my decision to become a Pastor. I said God would support me. From that day onward, the struggle began because my parents turned their back on me. I have to struggle on my own. I started farming yams in preparation to go to school.
How old were you then?
I was 19 years then. I attended Pastors’ or Bible school with primary certificate. I bought the form. I was growing yam to support myself in school because my parents could not support me even thou they had the money. When I was about leaving for theological school, my mother started weeping. But when I told her that it is God that owns me and He could do whatever He liked with me. I asked her which one she wanted: for Him to take my life away and she would not see me again, or to go to Bible school and she would be seeing me? On hearing that, she stopped crying. That was how I went to Bible school. I must have been the youngest trainee pastor in the seminary. Even my head teacher openly said that they had never taken a small boy in the seminary before, that they don’t know how they admitted me. In the first exams, I took the fifth position. But later I took second. One of the teachers suggested that for the benefit of those who did not go to secondary school, the school should introduce courses to enable them write external exams while they are in pastoral school. That’s how I took six compulsory subjects in the external exam. They include English, Economics,Literature, Mathematics and General Sciences, and to the glory of God, I passed all of them. After the Bible school training, I was posted to Mubi where I continued my tertiary education at Federal Polytechnic, Mubi, which is today, the Adamawa State University. I found one of the courses, Shorthand, very difficult. But one of the teachers encouraged me and said: “You are a pastor and you teach us that everything is possible. The course is not designed for angels but human beings. And all the people you see there are human beings, why can’t you pass it?’ I took up the challenge and indeed, passed it and longhand courses. I got admission into University of Jos where I read Mass Communication. I later graduated with BTh (Bachelor of Theology), at the seminary, after passing my eight credits in GCE. That was what I used to gain admission into the university. I took a course in Business Administration and went to Dublin on a scholarship fully sponsored by World Council of Churches (WCC). I later had my Masters in Peace Studies at Nigerian Defence Academy.
How did you get to Dublin?
In 2003, my life changed when I went to Dublin for Developmental Studies. Before then I had never seen the inside of an airplane. I was in the village pastoring when they replied my application. Later, same year, another letter arrived congratulating me for my admission to study in Dublin. I was not the only one; most of my seniors had applied but I was the only one given admission. I was happy. My friends were happy for me, that God has seen my suffering and has rewarded me. I later sent a letter to them, that the money approved for payment was much. They replied that they have cut off the return tickets. It was first of its kind. On getting to Dublin, because of conversion of Swiss France to Euro, I ran short of money. There, I was receiving allowances of 400 euro while back at home I was receiving N1, 500. The apartment they gave me was like a senator’s house, a village boy like me. When I saw life in Europe, I asked myself: are we in the same world with these people? Each time, I visited Nigerian Embassy, I asked our Ambassador in Dublin, if our leaders in Nigeria, see what I saw in Dublin each time they come here. He said yes. I said they are wicked, how can they see these things and leave Nigeria the way it is? If I were in-charge of the economy of my state and after coming here and nothing changes in my state or village where I come from, then it is bad. The man kept quiet; he was speechless.
Thereafter, I started strategizing on how to come up with an NGO. That was how Hope Foundation was born. I was made the overall student representative in Dublin and started attending meetings with the Lords. Because of the way I was committed in serving God and humanity in Europe, people would send cheques to me, but who was bringing them I didn’t know. While in Dublin, I was involved in church work, even in the choir; all these made me known among the people. It was such that when I was leaving to return to Nigeria, they were shocked. They would rather I brought my family to Dublin to live there. But I told them that I have to go and change my people’s lives in Nigeria. They told me that my coming to Dublin has changed their perception about Nigerians. They said that they now know there are good and bad Nigerians.
What happened after that?
When I was coming back, I went to development manager with WCC in Dublin and told him the challenges we have in Nigeria, like lack of water. I told him that my people are suffering. He said Nigeria is not on the list of countries of priority they are working on. But he promised to assist me. And, truly he did. Before I could come back he reached their embassy in Nigeria. So that was how they sent somebody from Irish embassy to my village and gave us water. When they visited the villagers, they thought of how they could improve their lives. So they decided to dig 15 boreholes for us. And the people were happy.
How did you get involved with the journey into peacemaking and peace building?
It started with the work we did in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp. We were able to bring people to relate with one another as Christians and Muslims. For instance, we had programme in the North but their families told them not to attend. But as they came, we paired them to a room, a Muslim and Christian, in the same room. Both of them ate together and bathed together. The programme was tagged: “Food Security Advocacy In Kaduna.”
What do you have to say on the mutual religious antagonism between Christians and Muslims today?
Here we are fighting our brothers and sisters. Have we ever bombed Aso Rock? So why are we fighting ourselves? We realize that we have to change the mentality of the people, so killing is not the issue. But let’s live in peace as one.
How did you become a global ambassador of peace?
I was to retire next year. In fact, I had done everything, made every preparation possible to go back to my farm before this appointment came. I will be looking at what the position is and focus on it. As Programme Executive for Peace Building in the African Region, I would be living in Geneva, but under different status. I am now going back as an expatriate. When I was given the opportunity to serve as General Secretary in the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), I thought of what I could contribute. If leaders cannot improve on what our founding fathers had done, at least we can maintain the status quo. When I came in as General Secretary, I made sure I engaged the council in peace building. They asked me if it would not affect the mission work. But I asked them: how can we evangelize when there is no peace in the land? If you go to other places in Africa, it is either power or money. But in Nigeria, our problem is religion and money. It is unfortunate that what God gave us in Nigeria to become a source of sustenance is becoming source of tension and war. We cannot forge ahead in Africa without recognizing our potentialities and the gifts that God has given us. This is my dream and commitment. I lose some sleep when there is no peace in the land. I see this appointment as an opportunity to offer more of my service, at a global level; it is going to be more services to mankind as we try to fashion out how we can live peacefully together as Christians and Muslims. We are all created by God. The foundation works with peace building and cooperation. People need their inner person to be touched and, if it is not touched, it becomes a problem.
How do you relax?
I try to balance up by giving time to everything. Once my programme is over, there is complete relaxation.
What are your hobbies?
Travelling, watching soccer, reading, going round the farms makes me happy. I love working in the work.
What are your dressing styles?
I love just coming out in native wears. This is where I have problem with my wife. I love coming out simple. Even when they book a hotel room for me, I prefer taking a small place and sending the money to somebody in need. At one time, they gave me a room of N250, 000 per room, I called them and said that I am sad that this is coming at a time we are struggling to pay N30, 000 salary. I said this is wastage. So those things don’t impress me; they get me angry. We must spend wisely. In Europe, they spend their money to buy drugs and send to people in Africa. So, those are some of the things I don’t like. There are some who cannot pay their hospital bills. I go there to pay for them. Christianity is what you are doing for people, not the big Bible you carry about. Help those who will not be able to say thank you, to you.