It is assumed that Yohanna Gaji was born in 1933 to Mr. and Mrs. Gaji Damina, at Samban Daji, in the Jaba Local Government Area in Kaduna State, Nigeria. His survival after birth was somewhat unexpected, because the couple’s first four children had all died in childbirth. The parents had been advised that when the wife reached the eighth month of her pregnancy, she should move out of her matrimonial home to an unknown place. Indeed, after the eighth month, the husband sent her to an undisclosed place and left her under the care of the people there. Fortunately, she gave birth to a baby boy there, and returned one month later. That baby grew up to become Yohanna Gaji.
Conversion and Baptism
Yohanna was born into a Christian community, and his parents used to attend a church of the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM), the mission that led to the formation of the Evangelical Churches of West Africa (ECWA). During a revival service organized by an SIM pastor in Yohanna’s village in 1948, he became a Christian. It was a day of joy for his parents, because he had been very troublesome, and they believed that the conversion would produce positive changes in his life.
All those who were converted during the revival were encouraged to attend the “inquirer’s class” that would lead to baptism, but Yohanna refused to go. After he missed three consecutive classes, the pastor sent for him. He came with many excuses and complaints, but he was encouraged and persuaded to attend the training. Because of the respect he had for the pastor, and out of fear of what God could do to him, he started attending the class. On April 23, 1953, he was among those that were baptized by the church, in his own words, “a rafinda ana kira da sunan gada Madugu” meaning “at the river that is called Madugu.” He was baptized by Pastor Habila Moude of the SIM, at the First SIM Church, Kwoi, in Kaduna State. At the time, there were only two Christian denominations in the area: the SIM and the Roman Catholic Church.
From 1952 to 1955, he attended Native Authority (NA) Primary School, popularly called Mallam Moude Primary School, in Kwoi. He could only go as far as primary four because his parents could not afford the school fees, and they also wanted him to join them on the farm.
To be able to continue with his schooling, he had to move to Kafanchan to raise money by doing manual work. He did this and got the money, but his father was not able to use it to pay his school fees, because the money was collected from him to pay his taxes, as he was already a taxable adult by then. His education was stopped again, but as the Bible says, “and we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose,” (Rom. 8:28). So it was that in 1963, he was admitted to the Baptist Pastor’s School in Kaduna and graduated in 1966, with a Certificate in Theology. He proceeded to complete his primary education at Ngarsu Primary School, Kwoi from 1972 to 1973, and returned to school in 1983, this time at Kafanchan, and obtained an advanced Bible School Certificate. He also attended some short courses and seminars which served to support to the little formal education he was able to acquire.
On December 18, 1954, he married the former Miss Fatu Jatau at the Sudan Interior Mission Church in Samban Daji. In accord with the tradition of that time, his parents found his wife for him. Yohanna said “the day she (my wife) was born, my father went there and announced to her parents ‘I catch this one for my son,’” and that settled it. No man went there again to ask for her hand in marriage. Yohanna and the girl grew up together in the village knowing that they were to become husband and wife. The marriage was blessed with nine children, of whom five are still living: Daniel, Victoria, Dinatu, Deborah, and Talau. They also had fourteen grandchildren (2010).
Immediately after his graduation in 1966, he was posted to Jaban Kogo Baptist Church in Kaduna State and served there for four years. In 1960 he was posted to Baptist churches at both Barde and Angwal in the Jaba Local Government Area, still in Kaduna State. In those places, he established three preaching stations and these later became the Baptist churches of Ramindop (1968), Kwarabe (1969), and Ngartan (1969).
On January 3, 1969, because of his zeal, hard work, and the church-planting spirit he had shown in Kaduna, he was invited to pastor the First Baptist Church in Kwoi, and he served that church from 1969 to 1998. To strengthen and encourage him, he was ordained into full-time ministry on November 20, 1974 at the same church. The Lord used him there to plant nine Baptist churches, namely: Keny (1973), Kurmin Dangana (1973), Kurmin Jatau (1976), Kurmin Bauna (1979), Kurmin Musa (1982), Flourish English Baptist Church, Kwoi (1983), Saban Gida (1984), Gora (1988), and Subzuro (1993). From 1993 until he retired in 1998, no church was planted, as there were internal problems between him and some members of the church who felt that he should retire. Also, instead of planting more local churches, the church had decided to concentrate its efforts on strengthening the existing preaching stations.
From 1980 to 1998, Gaji was instrumental in the training of many ministers, both at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, and at the Baptist Theological Seminary, Kaduna. Among those he assisted in training at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso were: Rev. Thomas G. Ndandok (1980-1983), Rev. Sani Yero Magaji (1982-1985), Christiana Sani Magaji (1983-1986), Rev. Ahmadu Y. Kalangu (1983-1986), Rev. Joshua Dodo Magaji (1983-1983), and Rev. Dauda G. Fujuno (1983-1986). Those whose training he supported at the Kaduna seminary included: Rev. Alex H. Nyam (1994-1997), Rev. Andy H. Ndandok (1995-1998), Ruth Andy Ndandok (1995-1997), and Rev. Stephen Ibrahim (1995-1998). These pastors came from what was then the First Baptist Church in Kwoi, and they were fully supported by the church while Gaji was pastor.
Gaji held many positions of responsibility in the church and in government circles. He held many offices within the Nigerian Baptist Convention, especially within the northern zone. For example, he was the chairman, Nasiha Baptist Association (1984-1990), the pioneer for the establishment of the Baptist High School in Kwoi (1991), and the recording secretary when Kafanchan Baptist Conference was created out of Bethel Baptist Conference (1992). In the government, he was a member of the committee that created Katsina out of Kaduna State. He was also a member of the Security Council in the Jama’a local government (1980-1993).
Yohanna Gaji will especially be remembered for his achievements at the First Baptist Church, in Kwoi. This church was the first indigenous Hausa speaking Baptist church to be able to employ two full time ministers, from 1983 to 1986. In 1979, Rev. Johnstone, a Baptist missionary, referred to it as the best and largest structure among the Baptist Hausa speaking churches in Nigeria. The church is the first and probably the only Hausa speaking Baptist church that has produced so many trained Baptist ministers in northern Nigeria. The church can also be said to have planted the most Baptist churches in northern Nigeria, especially during Gaji’s tenure.
On a personal level, Gaji loves farming, visitation and counseling. He retired from active pastoral work in the Nigerian Baptist Convention on November 28, 1998. In 2003, he had a motorcycle accident and was hospitalized for nearly one year. In 2005, he experienced a major stroke that nearly took his life, and he has been in a hospital bed since then, having lost the use of his legs.
Sani Yero Magaji
Rev. Johnstone, Baptist Mission, comments made during church dedication, 1996.
Retirement Service Program for Rev. Yohanna Gaji, Kwoi, November 28, 1998.
Adamu Kwasau, interview by author, September 15, 2009, Kwoi.
Ndandok Guybok, interview by author, September 16, 2009, Kwoi.
Fatu Yohanna (wife), interview by author, September 17, 2009, Samban Daji.
Personal exchanges with Yohanna Gaji, in course of pastor training at NBTS.
This story, received in 2010, was written by Sani Yero Magaji, a Ph. D. candidate at Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, under the supervision of Dr. Michael L. Ogunewu and submitted by Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.