Haruna Jacob Dandaura, a Hausa Christian, was born in Gizo in Gummel Emirate of former Kano Province of Nigeria. Out of his experience as a Christian from a Muslim background, Dandura developed a method of dialogue-based conflict resolution that has had a significant and positive influence on Muslim-Christian relations in Nigeria.
After his father’s death, Dandaura and his sister, Kande, were adopted and raised by their uncle and aunt, Yusufu and Fatu. Yusufu and Fatu were indigenous missionaries to Kano and had no children of their own. Yusufu, a former Muslim, was banished from his village as a result of suspicions that he practiced witchcraft. He fled to Kano where he made a living by practicing magical arts. In Kano Yusufu converted to Christianity through the ministry of Dr. Walter R. S. Miller, a Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionary to Zaria City, Nigeria. Yusufu’s conversion was total and genuine, and he never looked back to his old life. He and his wife were baptized and given the Christian names Istifanus and Lydia.
Istifanus loved people and welcomed all. People of all walks of life came to him for counseling. He had friends among Muslims who came to his house to discuss religious matters. Istifanus would quote passages from both the Bible and Qu’ran to support his views. Istifanus could read Arabic so it was not difficult for him to read the Qu’ran in Arabic to support his views to his friends. He and his guests would argue back and forth from one religious topic to another. No matter what he discussed with his guests, Istifanus always managed to end the conversation on a religious note.
Haruna was eight years old when he went to live with Istifanus. He knew next to nothing about Islam, the religion of his own parents, and therefore grew up as a Christian. After adopting his nephew and niece, Istifanus introduced Haruna and his sister to the Christian faith through his life, his witness, church attendance–which he made compulsory–and by enrolling them in a CMS School, a mission school of the Anglican Church. He conducted family prayers every morning and evening. The two children grew in Christian devotion.
Apart from his uncle, another person that greatly influenced his faith was the pastor of the Anglican Church, Rev S. O. Odutola, who, in Haruna’s eyes, was a perfect Christian. As a result, he decided he too would become a pastor. At times he went to his room and imitated the pastor. He would wear a priestly collar made from cigarette packet foil paper and preach to his empty room.
As Dandaura grew up, he had a friend who taunted him about how he, a Hausa man, could be a Christian at the same time. Confused, Dandaura decided to learn more about Islam. He told his friend to teach him about Islam and resolved in himself that if he found the light of salvation through Islam he would revert back to Islam. Dandaura’s friend began to teach him, starting at the beginning of the Qu’ran. Dandaura also began to learn how to read and write in Arabic. Later he obtained an English version of the Qu’ran to help him understand it better. Dandaura remembered some of the conversations that his uncle used to have with Islamic scholars. As he studied the Qu’ran, Dandaura was particularly struck by a passage concerning Jesus. It was in Surat Al Imram 54-55, which reads:
Then Allah said, “O Jesus, I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in my presence and clear thee of those who disbelieve and make those who follow thee above those who disbelieve to the day of the resurrection. Then to me is your return, so shall I decide between you concerning that wherein you differ. Then those who disbelieve, I shall chastise them with severe chastisement in this world and the hereafter, and they will have no helpers.”
Dandaura found a passage in the Bible that helped him interpret this passage from the Qu’ran, which reads:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2: 9-11)
Dandaura was gripped by this passage because to him it meant that that one day, both those who accept Christ as Lord and those who do not will bow in worship to Christ and confess Him as Lord. He gained further illumination when he read John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life and whoever rejects the Son will not see life but God’s wrath remains in him.”
As he studied the Qu’ran, Dandaura learned that even the Qu’ran instructed Muslims to consult the Bible for further clarity concerning its teachings–or so he interpreted Surat Yunis 10:94: “But if thou are in doubt as to that which we have revealed to thee, ask those who read the Book before thee. Certainly the truth has come to thee from the Lord, so be not thou of the doubters.”
After thinking deeply about these passages, Dandaura resolved in his heart to remain a Christian.
After completing his primary school studies, Dandaura enrolled in Dr. Walter Miller’s school for further training. In 1943 he enrolled in Police College, Kaduna. These years constituted the extent of his formal education.
As a policeman, he distinguished himself in several duties and won the admiration of the European police officers who gave him special duties on account of his obedience, courage, and neatness. This provoked the jealousy of his colleagues who set a trap for him by sending spies who offered him marked money as a bribe. Dandaura, not realizing it was a trap, refused the money and threatened to shout for help if the people continued to pester him. A few days later, Dandaura realized it was a trap. Those who set the trap for him were later jailed for taking bribes themselves. Thereafter, Dandaura continued to live a life of remarkable integrity.
In an effort to improve his education, Dandaura acquired four books: Police Law, Police Procedures, Police Duty, and Police Evidence. He studied the four books assiduously. The commissioner of police, A. C. Locke, seeing his competence, recommended him to teach police law at Police College, Kaduna. He began teaching in 1950, by which time he had already married his wife, Aminia.
Throughout his life, Dandaura continued to study both the Qu’ran and the Bible. This study shaped his understanding of Islam and his relationship with Muslims, which is characterized by love and respect. In fact Dandaura studied the Qu’ran not to disparage Islam but, as he puts it, “for one’s knowledge of his creator to grow higher.” Dandaura believed that a non-Muslim could not get the attention of Muslims unless he understood what Muslims believe. Dandaura began to admonish Christians to respect the holy writings of other faiths, even though they should only regard the Bible as authoritative and a guide to life.
Dandaura rose from being a police constable to a police inspector. Then he become the president of the Mixed Court, then a provincial judge, a commissioner of Public Complaints, a judge of the Customary Court of Appeal, chief commissioner of Federal Public Complaints, and finally the chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau.
An honest, incorruptible and patriotic Nigerian, Dandaura’s major contribution was his attempt to bring a peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria. He believed that dialogue between these two groups was not only possible but also the only remedy for peace between the two groups. The kind of dialogue he calls for is that which allows both parties to have some understanding of each other’s feelings and to find ways to live together in spite of their differences. He modeled this kind of dialogue in his own work. At first, he was like a lone voice in the wilderness, but today, many people agree on the importance of dialogue in resolving conflicts.
He has made a valuable contribution in his lifetime by teaching that dialogue can minimize or eliminate conflicts. This type of dialogue, he says, does not have to only be between leaders but can take place in several places and ways. It can be organized in schools, at civic centers, via the radio, on national and local television stations, worship places, etc. The most important thing, he insists, is that both groups discuss their concerns and fears with a view to finding solutions to them.
It was in recognition of this noble contribution that Danduara was awarded the national honor of Member of the Order of the Federal Republic (MFR) in 1979 by Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo, the Head of State and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
Even in his old age, Dandaura has not ceased to call for religious harmony and peace in Nigeria: “What is most important in my mind is peaceful co-existence among us whether Christian or Muslim, or whatever religion. There is nothing better than living in peace.”
Dandaura retired as judge in 1986 and since then he has continued to call for peaceful co-existence between people of various religions. When asked whether he considered himself a fulfilled man, he answered, “I am a sinner and God, by His grace, saved me.”
Musa A. B. Gaiya
Adapted and abridged from Musa A. B. Gaiya, Honourable Justice J. H. Dandaura. Apostle of Religious Harmony (Jos, Nigeria: University of Jos Press, 2003) by Olabisi Chukwudile, DACB Project Luke affiliate, 2008-2009 and Director of the Women Who Care program of Children Evangelism Ministry International, headquartered in Ilorin, Nigeria.