Habila Aleyideino is best known for the creation of an ecumenical congregation in Kaduna (northern Nigeria), called the United Church of Christ or in Hausa Hadaddiyar Ikklisiyar Kiristi a Najiriya. The church is popularly known by its Hausa acronym HEKAN. Kaduna was created by the colonial legislation in 1917 and subsequently became the capital of the defunct Northern Region of Nigeria. As such, Kaduna was cosmopolitan from its inception. But a number of people–most of them civil servants from central Nigeria–had no church with which to affiliate. Aleyideino saw the need to establish an ecumenical congregation.
Habila Aleyideino was born on the occasion of the “Via rato” of Imburu village on March 17, 1907, the only child of his parents. As his father had trouble with relations, he gave him the name Agoso, meaning “Leave it as it is,” which was to say, in effect, “Let us maintain status quo. No reconciliation.” But the name was later changed to Aleyideino, which means “It is not my saying,” that is, he had withdrawn his earlier statement. His father’s name was Viungon, but he was also called Iguda and at his baptism he took the name Ibrahim. Habila Aleyideino’s mother was Moryamo, also called Maryama, and at baptism she was named Mary. They were both Bwatiye (formerly called the Bachama) of Mbula origin found in the northeastern part of Nigeria. Habila Aleyideino was born in Old Numan (Nomwen).
The British district officer ordered the Bwatiye to move to a new location southwest in 1913, the same year the first missionary of the Sudan United Mission (Danish Branch), Dr. Niels Hoegh Bronnum, arrived. The Bwatiye hesitated because they had buried their dead in their huts, and did not want to leave them to go elsewhere. The British had to use force to relocate them and the community moved in one day. The British moved in to take the place vacated by the Bwatiye. This location is still the posh part of Numan called the Government Reservation Area (G.R.A).
Iguda became one of Dr. Bronnum’s “boys.” Before he met Dr. Bronnum, he had been a traditional priest of the Bwatiye deity Nzeanzo, the youngest and most benevolent of the Bachama demigods. Like Jesus Christ, Nzeanzo is said to have a mother (Vunon) but no father. He determined when to be born and the day he was born, he began to walk and plan to save his elder brothers from being killed by a wicked uncle. The story of Nzeanzo might have provided some common ground between Christianity and Bachama traditional religion. It is no wonder that the Bachama became Christians en mass.
Later, Iguda began to teach the missionaries the Bwatiye language. Habila Aleyideino was fortunate to be raised in a Christian home as there were privileges in being closely associated with missionaries. For example, Aleyideino became Miss Hansine Kristiansen’s “son.” In 1921, he also enrolled as one of the first students in the newly opened mission boarding school run by Pastor Axel Pedersen. He was the youngest in the class and so had to endure the bullying of older students until the class was divided according age group thanks to an increase in the number of teachers. In school, he excelled in wrestling, soccer, tennis, and general athletics. Later, he also enjoyed hunting.
While at the boarding school, Habila Aleyideino joined the baptismal class and was baptized by the headmaster, Rev. Ernst I. Engskov, on August 26, 1926, at the same time as his father. His father could not be baptized as soon as he became a Christian because he had three wives. He had to send his second and third wives away. His second wife, Tabitha Omtobilum, became a committed Christian and was baptized on April 17, 1927. She was employed as a housemother in the Girls’ Boarding School, Numan. After his baptism, Ibrahim Iguda was elected an elder in the Lutheran church in Numan.
Habila Aleyideino married Salome Zakariya from the Waduku royal family on July 5, 1931. Before Aleyideino made the proposal to Salome, he consulted his father. His father told him to pray about it. He further told his son how to determine if it was God’s will to marry Salome. Aleyideino should behave as Abraham’s servant did in Genesis 24, he advised. If, when he made the proposal the girl agreed, then it was God’s will. If she did not, then it was not the will of God and he should look elsewhere. Aleyideino followed his father’s advice and Salome agreed. The Lord blessed them with many children before Salome went to be with the Lord. Afterwards, Aleyideino married Veronica, a widow.
In 1926, Habila Aleyideino was sent to the Numan Training School to prepare for a teaching career and was one of the first students to be admitted. After completion, he was posted to the Girls’ Boarding School, Numan, where he worked for ten years. He found teaching these girls the most difficult of all the jobs he had had because most of the girls were not enthusiastic about learning. At that time, it was believed that educating girls was a waste. A few worked hard and became leaders among the women in the young church in Numan.
During World War II, Habila Aleyideino helped to connect Christian soldiers from Adamawa Province with the church and with their families back home. Nissen reports that he even “visited army camps, encouraging the Christian soldiers, bringing greetings from the Church at home.”
In 1941, Habila Aleyideino was employed by the mission as a secretary to Pastor Engskov. While doing this, he was included among those to be trained as pastors. The training took months. Five candidates were enrolled for the pastors’ training course and, at the end, they were all ordained in 1948. These were the first pastors of the Sudan United Mission (Danish Branch), or what became the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (LCCN).
Habila Aleyideino was first assigned to work at Demsa among the Mbula who lived near the Bwatiye. After working there for about two years, he was employed by the government of northern Nigeria in the Social Welfare Department in Kaduna. The government sent to him the United Kingdom from 1956 to 1957 and to Canada from 1962 to 1963 for further training in social work. He rose to the position of chief social welfare officer in 1970 and retired from public service in 1972. He was the first in the Lutheran Church in northern Nigeria to earn a bachelor of arts degree.
Before his retirement from social work, Habila Aleyideino had begun to help a number of Christians from various denominations in 1961, working as a part-time pastor. The Christians were mostly from SUM established churches who did not have their own of churches in Kaduna. That was why the church Aleyideino founded was called the United Church of Christ. In Kaduna town, HEKAN has expanded to eight branches and there are now branches in Zaria, Lagos, Sokoto and Abuja. There are 25 HEKAN churches among the indigenous Hausa of Katsina, Kano and Jigawa. In 1962, HEKAN became the eighth member of the Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Nigeria.
Habila Aleyideino was one of the founders of the Northern Nigerian Christian Association in 1964. The association was established as E. P. T. Crampton says, “to watch over the interests of Christians in the North irrespective of tribe, party or denomination.” This organization metamorphosed into the Christian Association of Nigeria in 1976.
Habila Aleyideino spoke Bwatiye, Hausa, Fulfulde and English. He translated a number of hymns into Bwatiye. These hymns have been published under the name Dyenshi Kwa Bware and are now being used in the LCCN church.
On Monday, January 13, 1992, Habila Aleyideino died at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital.
Musa A. B. Gaiya
Habila Aleyideino, “Labarin zamanina da yadda na zo wurin Ubangiji da yadda aka kira ni cikin aikinsa,” (manuscript).
Margaret Nissen, An African Church is Born: The Story of Adamawa and Central Sardauna Provinces in Nigeria (Numan: LCCN, 1966).
E. P. T. Crampton, Christianity in Northern Nigeria (Zaria: Gaskiya Corporation, 1975).
Izhar Bongotons Oliver, “The United Church of Christ in Nigeria (HEKAN): Its Origin and Growth in Northern Nigeria, 1961-1986,” B.A., Christian Religious Studies Thesis, (Faculty of Education, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 1987).
This article, received in 2003, was researched and written by Dr. Musa A. B. Gaiya, Senior Lecturer in Church History at the University of Jos Department of Religious Studies, Jos, Nigeria, and 2003-2004 Project Luke fellow.