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Dikki, Baba Ezra
c. 1928 to 2011
United Missionary Church of Africa
Nigeria


An Abridged Biography

A northern Nigeria proverb says “it is the patient that cooks a stone.” This perhaps describes the life of Baba Ezra Dikki. His patience with life, his family, ministry, and every endeavor that the Lord placed in his hands was legendary. Exact records do not exist, but Dikki was estimated to have been born into the family of Dikki and Mandi, of the Lelna tribe, around 1928. He had the privilege of being born into the family of Dikki, who was a first generation Christian in the village of Senchi in Zuru Emirate of the then Sokoto Province. This province became North Western state and later split into the present day Kebbi state of northern Nigeria. Baba Ezra’s father Dikki wholeheartedly embraced Christianity in the early days of the 20th Century. When the missionaries asked him to separate from his second wife after his conversion, he did. Also, he was extremely diligent to ensure that all his children accepted Christ, in an era when the head of the family decided the direction of the family. Most of his children became either pastors or evangelists.  

Although Baba Ezra Dikki was among the youngest in the family, Elder Aaron Dazi revealed in 2007, during the first UMCA Arewa District Heroes of Faith ceremony, that Baba Ezra Dikki was the first indigene of Zuru to be ordained as a reverend in the Arewa District of the United Missionary Church of Africa (UMCA), which was initially known as the United Missionary Society (UMS). Baba Ezra Dikki recorded in his diary that he accepted the Lord as his personal Lord and savior in 1937, and because he totally embraced and committed his life to Christ after conversion, he decided to go to Bible school to train and become a pastor. He therefore went to Salka Bible School in the present day Niger state in northern Nigeria in the early 1950s. After graduation, Dikki decided to accept the call to be a missionary pastor instead of returning to his native home area of Zuru. He was then posted to a newly planted UMCA church in Majinga among the Kambari people of Niger state on April 15, 1957. Thus began his pastoral missionary work among the Kambari people, a work that spanned about twenty-four years. However, before we continue to discuss his family life and ministry, it is important to give a synopsis of missionary work in Zuru land, which is where Dikki was from, and is also where he came into contact with the gospel.

Missionary Work in C’lela Land (Zuru Land)

Paul Ummel, a missionary, was the first to bring the gospel to the Zuru area, around 1925. He preached the gospel in C’lela land and went as far as the Dukkawa land of Darangi. Ummel could not go further to Rijau at that time because of colonialist fraternization with Islam, which forbade missionaries from working in Muslim areas. [1] Indeed, Islam benefited from colonialism across Africa in similar ways. [2] First, Ummel spent time learning the language, and thereafter started his ministry among the Lelna people. Ummel served under the supervision of Rev. Sherk who was then the second UMS mission superintendent in Nigeria, the first having been A. W. Banfield, who with his wife set foot on the shores of the river Niger in October of 1905 in a Nupe settlement, to pioneer the mission work that has now become the UMCA. [3]

It was around this time that Dikki, along with his friend, the chief of Senchi, named Daniel Dazi Senchi (Gomo), converted to Christianity, which then led to the conversion of Baba Ezra Dikki and his siblings. Conversion to Christianity was not that easy for Lelna people because of their attachment to their culture and the worship of mgila (the traditional religion). Before 1943 only Zuru had a church, it was only after this that other churches came into being, including that of Senchi. In 1946 Rev. Sloat became the UMS Superintendent. It was during his time that a church was planted in Tungan magajiya among the Dukkawas and work on a hospital was begun by someone named Hunsberger and Pastor Mai Kyau. The hospital was to play a huge role in the growth of Christianity, as the gospel was preached every morning before the day’s operations started and in the wards afterwards. The writer also experienced this practice as a young boy in primary school until the government took over mission schools and hospitals in the early 1970s. [4]

The Family life of Rev. Baba Ezra Dikki

Baba Ezra Dikki married Arzumi Dorcas Bandi before going to Salka Bible School in the early 1950s and she was his companion in ministry until his death on the July 9, 2011. It is known that great ministers of the gospel have, often not consciously, neglected their families in the heat of ministry. A typical example is Eli the priest in 1 Samuel. But this was not the case with Dikki, as this tribute given at his burial revealed: “He is a shining example of discipline, humility, and service to God and family. He gave his all to the family. He diligently labored over the lives of his children with the sole object of their coming to embrace the faith.” [5] God granted him the reward for his labor, and all nine of his biological children (Charles, Philemon, Benjamin, Rebecca, Michael, Grace [deceased], Helen [deceased], Joy, and Mercy, and two adopted children, John Tamaha and Alheri) came to know the Lord and committed to the service of Christ.

Dikki was a man of vision, and he and his wife labored to send their children to good Christian schools, even with inadequate funds. He refused to send his children to the Native Authority schools (which were free) because he wanted his children to have both Christian and secular education. Today, his nine biological and two adopted children are all university graduates and Christians. In view of the fact that the one shilling six pence pastor’s salary that was paid then, and which could not feed his family for even two days, was insufficient, he tried his hands at several things to meet the needs of his children. He farmed corn, groundnuts, bambara nuts, onions, tomatoes, pepper, sugar cane, oranges, mangoes, etc. He even went into soap making, sewing, and many other such trades just to train his children, and he did this without neglecting his pastoral duties, because he would still visit his congregation members from evening till late in the night. He did this in addition to ground breaking missionary outreaches and church planting outings to villages on foot or bicycle. When he eventually got a church started, he continued to diligently carry out his ministry.

Although he passed rapid results [exams] qualifying him for college abroad, Dikki sacrificed his hunger for further education, having concluded that doing so would hinder the possibility that all of his children would receive a quality education. Rev. (Dr.) Jacob Bawa Salka, the youngest in a joint UMTC class with him, who went abroad to study and eventually became the national president of the UMCA, wept openly about missing a dear elder brother who had encouraged him to go for further studies. Today, as a legacy of his sacrifice, there is a professor, a medical doctor, an architect, accountants, a pharmacist, an administrator, and a marketer finally turned pastor, all of whom he prayed for. The pastor graduated from graduate theological school on the day Baba Ezra Dikki was called home to glory. It is also significant that one of his sons is at the forefront of translating the Bible into C’lela , his native language and that of the Zuru people, which was one of his dreams. “Your memory will spur me to attain your dream of the Bible in C’lela,” [6] his son Benjamin said, as a confirmation. Presently, the New Testament in C’lela, barring any changes, is scheduled to be commissioned in the month of April, 2012.

He was not only passionate about his family but was also very passionate and sympathetic towards the underprivileged. He and his wife assisted innumerable needy people. For example, he adopted a sulking young man who walked into his house one day, unable to go to school. He did this in spite of the burden of his own children, and today that young man is a permanent secretary in Niger state. A mother who had a vision for her first daughter but was unable to train her pleaded with him to adopt her child and his tender heart could not resist the additional burden. Today, she too is a graduate working with the biggest broadcasting organization in Nigeria, and he was privileged to give her hand in marriage before he died. There were several others whom he was not able to accommodate in his house, but assisted them in their own homes. Through his ministry many became laborers in the Lord’s vineyard. Indeed, this is only an abridged story of his family life. It is not easy for the writer to forget an experience in 1968, when we endured a cold night after missing the only available transportation to a mission school, and how he went about looking for twigs to light a fire to keep his son warm through the cold night. His children are eternally grateful for his sacrifice; they are who they are today because he sacrificed.

One great legacy that he left for his family therefore, is the lesson of sacrifice and of welcome, of receiving everybody irrespective of their status. Several times, as children, we had to sacrifice our meals to visitors, no matter how hungry we were, without complaining, and to wait for another meal to be cooked. We remember every Saturday, which was the Salka market day, when the pigmented Kambaris would come in large numbers and eat all available food and find a resting place. Many feared coming near them, from anxiety about being stained, but many came to Christ because of this hospitality. He and his wife visited their homes and ate with them, a task that was difficult even for his children. The Kambaris, both Christians and non-Christians, wept openly on the day he left Salka for Tungan Magajiya. Many wanted him to remain. Indeed, on the day he was buried, many heard a weeping lady exclaim that “today fellowship has died.”

Even in his old age and retired, Dikki would visit his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, former church members, those in spiritual need, and friends, every day, to pray and encourage them. It was on one of his visits on the fateful day of July 9, 2011, that he was knocked down by a motorcyclist and went to be with the Lord. It is important to note this because ministry to the family, as an important calling and just as crucial as going to the mission field, has been greatly diminished in pursuit of ministry success.

His Pastoral Life and Ministry among the Kambari

The family life of a minister is a part of ministry that is often overlooked by many great men of God, but family life was an integral part of Dikki’s core mission work. As mentioned above, Dikki graduated from Salka Bible School and was posted to Majinga on April 15, 1957, where he began his real pastoral work among the Kambari people. Through evangelism and mission work around the neighboring settlements that make up Majinga, he was able to grow the church among the Kambari people. But after pastoring for three years, the desire for further theological training took him to United Missionary Theological College Ilorin (UMTC) around 1960, where he earned a Diploma in Theology. Upon graduation he was posted briefly to pastor the UMCA Church in Yauri for a couple of years, but the need to train more indigenous pastors necessitated that he be reposted back to Salka as a missionary pastor and also to teach in the vernacular Bible school, where he himself had graduated some years before. This happened in October of 1966. He later became the first indigenous principal of the Bible School and graduated many students who are still serving today as pastors and are responsible for planting many UMCA churches. These churches accounted for the growth of the denomination in the Arewa District, which split into three districts years later, with Salka. That was where he worked and assisted in planting several churches for over twenty years, and it eventually became the headquarters of one of the created districts.

It is among the Kambari people that his ministry blossomed, and UMCA became the single largest denomination among the Kambari people for several decades. Combining his duties as a pastor and teacher, and later as principal, Dikki organized his students into a missionary force. Many students under him started their missionary work while they were still students. The writer remembers vividly that every Saturday students would be assigned to villages where they would preach the gospel as part of their curricular training. Wherever a congregation had been established, students would be assigned to pastor there every Sunday. When new students arrived, he would often be the one to take them to such churches or mission fields either on foot or by bicycle, to introduce them to the field. Thus, churches began to be planted in the surrounding villages: Kura, Wando, Raba, Auna, etc. As a result, today many churches have been planted around the entire Kambari land. Hundreds of Kambari Christians came in several buses to attend Dikki’s funeral when he was buried on July 16, 2011.

As he began to grow old, he desired to serve nearer to home, so he was transferred to pastor the Tungan Magajiya church about thirty kilometers away from Zuru in 1981. There, he continued pastoral work and encouraging mission work among the Dukkawas. It is from there that he voluntarily retired from pastoral work. Dikki also had a passion for passing on the Christian legacy to younger generations. Therefore, when the government of Niger state permitted the teaching of Christian religious knowledge, and they were looking for people who were qualified to teach, he was called out of retirement and offered the appointment to teach at the Government Girls College in Tungan Magajiya. His home was opened to many of them for counseling, and through him several gave their lives to Christ, and testified at his funeral service. It was from this job that he finally retired from active service and settled back in his home town of Zuru.

Since no-one is perfect, one can say that Dikki’s weakness was his inability to really put aside his disappointment and hurt when people he expected to have high Christian standards failed. His expectation of perfect standards of Christian behavior created a lot of tension with his wife, and sometimes his children. 

Parting Shot

Perhaps the most fitting end to this abridged biography of Baba Ezra Dikki is in what Rev. Philemon Bawa, his former student now based in Canada, said in his tribute entitled A Tribute to the Man Whose Heart was Always Broken by the Things that Break the Heart of Jesus, part of which states:
Baba Ezra Dikki was a friend to the outcast and hurting. Fearless witness of Christ’s saving grace, passionate voice of God to his students at the Bible School, his church and denomination; tender supporter of widows, the fatherless, and the poor. A spiritual father to generations upon generations-from the destitute to the powerful, from adults to teenagers, from loved ones to strangers from every walk of life…For four decades he served the Lord faithfully in his preaching, evangelistic, and teaching ministries, founding churches and leading outreaches that have grown nationally and internationally. I said internationally without exaggeration or reservation because myself, as one of his students at UMCA Bible School Salka in the 1970s, and his church member, now working and pastoring at Immanuel Fellowship (part of the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada) and by special grace of God, I have been touching lives for Christ…Baba Ezra Dikki applied a creative, innovative spirit to ministry. He preached from anguish and pain when Christianity was not a popular religion of choice in northern Nigeria, believing God works through our weakness…The impact of his life is immeasurable, not only in his preaching, teaching, evangelism, his simple unsophisticated philosophy of life, but in his love, devotion, compassion, and ability to stir faith for greater works of ministry. Now [it] is left for you and I to follow his example because he left us a great legacy. This legacy is not just for his biological children but to his spiritual children all over the world. [7]
This writer concludes by saying, “your passion, zeal, and dedication to the things of God infected all of us. No hero of faith in the Bible was perfect, what distinguished them was the passion they had for God and his things, in this you are truly a hero of faith.” [8] It is true indeed as the great missionary Elliot said, “He is no fool who lets go of what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Baba Ezra Dikki did just that and certainly he has gained that which he can never lose.

Michael E. Dikki

Notes:

1. Ogbu Uke Kalu, “Sharia and Islam in Nigerian Pentecostal Rhetoric, 1970-2003,” Pneuma 26, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 242-261.
2. Ahmed Issack Hassan, The Kadhi Courts: Setting the Records Straight (http://www.commonlii.org/other/KECKRC/2002/11.html (accessed March 6, 2010), and Jean-Louis Triand, “Islam in Africa under French Colonial Rule,” Islam in Africa, ed. Nehemia Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels,(Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2000).
3. Jim McDowell, UMCA Centennial (1905-2005) and the Visiting Teams from North America, http://www.docstoc.com/docs/40019106/UMCA-Centennial-_1905-2005_-and-the-Visiting- Teams-from-North-A# (accessed November 4, 2012).
3. Information from oral history, the diary of Rev. Baba Ezra Dikki, and as recollected by the writer.  See also Lois Fuller, ed., Faith of Our Fathers: Life Stories of Some UMCA Elders, (Ilorin, Nigeria: Indemac Publishers Ltd., 1999).
4. “Transition to Glory! An Interment Service Program for Late Rev. Baba Ezra Dikki,”  July 16, 2011, p. 8.
5. “Transition to Glory! An Interment Service Program for Late Rev. Baba Ezra Dikki,” July 16, 2011, p. 15.
6. Philemon Bawa, oral tribute read at the interment service of late Rev. Baba Ezra Dikki on July 16, 2012.
7. “Transition to Glory! An Interment Service Program for Late Rev. Baba Ezra Dikki,” July 16, 2011, p. 16.

This biography, received in 2012, was submitted by Michael E. Dikki, Ph.D Student in the Intercultural Studies Program at Africa International University, Nairobi, Kenya.