b. c. 1921
United Missionary Church of Africa
Rev. Sule Magaji was the United Missionary Church District Superintendent of the Arewa (northern) District from 1973 to 1991.
Sule Magaji was the youngest son of Bata Pani and Obko, born around 1921 at Kdigni, now in Mahuta Local Government Area of Kebbi State, then Sokoto Province of Nigeria. He comes from the Romna clan of the Lelna, formerly known by the Hausa name, Dakarkari.
Magaji's wife is Zore and they have five children and 13 grandchildren.
Before his birth, Magaji's father Bata moved back to Kdigni, a few kilometers from Pani, in response to a dream, because after the birth of the two oldest children, Magaji's mother, Obko, had had five girls who all died. At Kdigni, Obko had a girl and 3 boys.
In 1925, the United Missionary Society sent Paul and Pheobe Ummel to work in Zuru, about 15 kilometers away. They learned the language and began translations of the Gospels but there were no converts until about 1933.
However, in 1933, when Magaji was about 12, his father told him what his grandfather, Para, had said years before: "People will come to us bringing books that will tell us how to fear God." Bata's family was considered to be seers, often telling the chiefs of Pani of future events. Magaji believed this prophecy. Paul Ummel visited Pani, but did not go to Kdigni. Bata asked those who heard Ummel's preaching to tell him about it, however, and he encouraged those who wanted to become Christians. One young man named Kibo later became the first pastor in a Pani settlement called Ubege.
Bata never formally became a Christian although toward the end of his life he renounced his years of involvement in the traditional worship called Mgila. He burned and buried his items connected with the cult and told his sons that the sins committed in this worship were great and that it was a waste of time.
Magaji left home in 1940, when he had finished the bride service with his peers and went to Minna, a city in Niger Province (now State capital), to find work. There he worked first as a farm laborer, then in a gold mining operation at Chanchaga. Magaji learned to read English from an Igbo trader near Minna. His first language is C'Lela, then Hausa, then English. He probably learned "barrakanchi" (Nigerian Pidgin) in the army, as well.
In 1944, the year his father died, Magaji joined the army like many other Lelna men who were recruited for the British Army during World War II. He learned more about the practices of Christianity in the army from fellow soldiers, but they could not explain to him how to become a Christian. He left the army in 1948. In Ubege in 1950, however, Kibo explained the Gospel to him and he became a Christian.
Magaji intended to become a teacher but was told he was a gifted preacher. Paul Ummel, afraid that as an ex-soldier Magaji might backslide easily, asked him to wait a couple of years before going to a Bible School. In January 1953, Magaji went to Salka Bible School, Niger State, Nigeria, where he studied for 2 years and then applied to a Teacher's College in Kagoro run by Sudan Interior Mission, but was not accepted.
At Salka, however, Magaji had a dream. In the dream he was traveling about and came upon a large village where all the people were suffering from smallpox. When he tried to run away a strong man caught him and said, "You are the one who should heal them all." When he woke up, he decided that the smallpox represented sin and that this was God calling him to save His people by preaching the Gospel.
In 1955 Magaji went to the Advanced Bible School at Tungan Magajiya for a year, and returned to Salka to teach and to pastor the church until 1959. He was the first Nigerian pastor at Salka since the United Missionary Society had started to work among the Kamberi people in 1923. From 1960 to 1962 Magaji studied at United Missionary Theological College in Ilorin in the Certificate program and pastored the first Hausa-speaking congregation in Ilorin, helping them to secure land for a church building.
From 1963 to 1973, Magaji was pastor in Tungan Magajiya where, to satisfy his lingering desire to be a teacher, he also helped many young men qualify for primary school so they could continue their education. Magaji held the church services in Hausa because many people from several northern tribes came.
On several occasions during his pastorate, Magaji confronted local African traditional religious beliefs when lightning struck houses causing many deaths and injuries. Many villagers, terrified of the guardians of the thunder cult and of Magiro (the god representing the ancestors) thought Magaji would be struck down for his defiance of the gods. But the fact that he remained unharmed and his compassion toward the victims inspired many to become Christians. Magaji was also the first Christian leader to evangelize in nearby Rijau where the Muslims had forbidden the presence of any Christians.
In 1974, Magaji became the District Superintendent of the United Missionary Church Association's Northern District, which included the churches among the Salka, Auna and Agwara Kamberi, the Dukawa, Fakai and Lelna, and the Reshe. He moved to Zuru and visited congregations by bicycle.
From 33 congregations in 1974 the district grew to nearly 200 in 1991. Magaji was in great demand to perform weddings and baptisms as there were few ordained pastors despite the growth of the Hausa Bible School at Salka and the English School at Tungan Magajiya.
After the student revival movement in the 1980s started introducing charismatic practices into home churches, Magaji mediated between the older generation, intent on preserving church tradition, and younger church members seeking more freedom. Within the church he opposed the official position on the acceptance of polygamous family members who had become Christians and freely conducted baptisms and naming ceremonies of Christians.
When, in January 1978, the United Missionary Society handed over all property and government of the church to the United Missionary Church Association, Rev. Magaji was one of the signatories.
Magaji retired as District Superintendant in 1991 and he and his wife now live on a small farm between Dabai and Zuru.
Pastor Apollos Agamalafiya and Clare Fuller, interview, Pan Africa Christian College, Nairobi, Kenya and United Missionary Church Association Bible College Magajiya, Niger State, Nigeria.
This story, submitted in 2000, was researched by Dr. Francis Manana, Professor of Evangelism and Missions and DACB Liaison Coordinator, Pan African Christian College, Nairobi, Kenya.