Baba Paul Gindiri, Gofo Gunen
Paul Gindiri, as he was popularly known in northern Nigeria, was a confrontational preacher from his conversion to his death in 1996. He saw himself as an Apostle Paul to his generation. As such, he hardly used his surname, Gindiri, the name of his hometown, or his native name, Gofo, given to him by a Fulani neighbor.
He was not given to diplomacy in his preaching and attacked both Muslims and bad political leaders in Nigeria, a country he saw as a battleground between Christians and Muslims. When a Muslim governor gave Muslims a space in the public motor park along Bauchi Road in Jos, Paul Gindiri demanded that Christians also be given a piece of land in the same area to build a church.
The governor gave a comparable piece of land to the Christians who built a church there. Even though no one worships in the building (2004), Paul Gindiri had made his point: what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Paul Gindiri was one of the greatest Christian revivalists of all times in northern Nigeria. His revivalism came at an auspicious time. The Gindiri spiritual revivals of the 1970s spread like wildfire on the Plateau and throughout central Nigeria.
The churches were hungry for the Word and huge crowds gathered at Paul Gindiri’s crusades. Many Christians in northern Nigeria owe their spiritual renewal to these crusades.
Paul Gunen Gindiri was born to Gunen Saidu Sedet and Magajiya Naru on March 3, 1935 in Punbush (Kasuwan Ali), a village near Gindiri among the Pyem of Mangu Local Government area of Plateau State in central Nigeria. Magajiya Naru was Sedet’s second wife. Paul Gindiri was the second son among fourteen children (seven boys and seven girls). Both parents were traditionalists.
The Pyem (or Fyem) are proud of their history. They consider themselves immigrants from Gobir in Sokoto emirate in the northwest of Nigeria.
They emigrated from there and settled in Bauchi but then the jihad spearheaded by Usman dan Fodio in the early nineteenth century pushed them out of Bauchi. They then settled in Pyangiji and dispersed to various other locations. One of their principal settlements is Gindiri where the SUM missionaries began to settle in 1934. In the pre-colonial period, the Pyem were middlemen in the slave trade between their immediate neighbours, especially the Maghavul and the Ron, and the Hausa/ Fulani of the Bauchi emirate.
Paul Gindiri’s father and his siblings had Maghavul names because their ancestors had moved out of Gindiri and settled among the Maghavul in Kumbun. Later some of Paul Gindiri’s clan returned to Gindiri while the others stayed back and were assimilated into the Maghavul ethnic group. Before Paul was born, his father had moved from Gindiri and resettled in Punbush.
Paul Gindiri probably heard the gospel from the first Pyem converts, Akila Wantu Nachunga and Mallam Tagwai. He enrolled in the mission primary school where he studied for only four years because his father refused to continue to pay his school fees, preferring that he stay at home and help him on the farm. After Paul dropped out of school he took an appointment in the mission compound as an apprentice mason.
Richard Bruce has shown how the Pyem converted to Islam or Christianity through social contacts in colonial times. We are not certain if Paul Gindiri became a Christian through his apprenticeship in Gindiri but, in any case, permanent spiritual transformation took place later.
Not satisfied with his apprenticeship, Paul confided to his mother that he was going to the city to learn driving. He arrived in Jos in 1949.
With no money to pay for driving tutorials, Paul took a mining job in the Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria (ATMN). While working there he enrolled in the driving school and not only learned driving but also automobile mechanics, skills which were invaluable assets to him later on.
He got his driving certificate in 1951. As a motor mechanic/driver, it was not difficult for him to get a job. He worked for big organizations such as the National Institute of Trypanosomiasis at Vom, a few kilometres southwest of Jos, and later the Tin Mining Association, a tin mining camp southwest of Jos with headquarters in Barikin Ladi,.
Paul Gindiri was a good mixer; he soon got involved with non-Christians, especially Hausa/Fulani Muslim youths. His association with these Hausa youths helped him to improve his Hausa, which he spoke more fluently than his mother tongue. He probably became a Muslim himself, though probably only a nominal one because he also became a heavy drinker. Paul also had problems with womanizing, smoking, and occult practices.
In 1960, Paul decided to marry Lami, his fiancée, whom he had courted for six months. He brought Lami to Jos. Lami had been raised in a strong Christian home, so as soon as she realised that her husband was not a Christian, she started to pray for him intensely. Paul Gindiri did not attend church, but Lami began to attend the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), the first ECWA church in Jos called “Bishara 1” (in Hausa) which was close to their home.
Eventually Lami was baptized in the church and became very active in the women’s fellowship. Every fellowship period, Lami would ask the other women to support her in prayer for her husband. The turning point in Paul Gindiri’s life occurred when he was working with British Engineering West African Company (BEWAC) as a driver and a salesman. He had gone to Minna, one of the major towns in northwestern Nigeria. The first night in a hotel in Minna, Paul Gindiri, under the influence of alcohol, almost killed a rival over a prostitute by smashing his head with a bottle. Luckily, the man did not die otherwise Paul might have spent the rest of his life in jail.
When he returned to Jos, Paul Gindiri vowed not to drink. The resolution was perhaps strengthened by a dream he had one night. In the dream he saw Jesus who told him,
Listen. I am Jesus. I had earlier appeared to you and called you to become mine. Now I am appearing to you for the second time. I was the one who brought to life the man you hit to unconsciousness in order to give you a chance to repent. From today onward, you should never again drink alcohol beverages. All the sins you have been committing must be stopped forthwith. Failure to repent will make me appear a third time and I will take your life and cast you into hell fire.
Paul Gindiri took the message of this dream very seriously, and his life never was the same after that.
After the dream, Paul Gindiri bought two Hausa Bibles and two Hausa hymn books, for his wife and himself. ECWA Bishara 1 had a revival service and Lami invited her husband. The preacher that day seemed to speak directly to Paul who thought Lami had gone and talked to the preacher about him. The next Sunday another preacher said similar things that convicted him. He could hardly wait for the altar call and was the first and only one who raised his hand in response. After his conversion, Rev. Kure Nitte, the pastor of the church, discipled him. To show his conversion was genuine, Paul Gindiri publicly confessed his involvement in occult practices. One particular Sunday, Paul Gindiri brought all the objects he had used in his occult practices and they were burned on the church premises. Turning to Muslim passers-by who had stopped to watch the fire, Paul Gindiri roared at them, “It is your religion that has cheated me and led me into all these evil deeds. Your religion has no truth and unless you repent, you are bound for hell fire!” Paul Gindiri was subsequently baptized into the ECWA Bishara 1 in 1962. He became an elder in the church ten years later and acted most of the time as treasurer until his death.
Later Paul Gindiri enrolled for private tutoring in evangelism under Rev. J. A. Jacobson, an SIM missionary. He was trained in basic Arabic. With this basic training, he began to preach in the streets of Jos specifically to Muslims. On weekends, Paul Gindiri would preach in Muslim communities and in the Jos market where there were many Muslim traders. He was glad to learn that there was an SIM missionary, Dr. Andrew Stirrett, whose passion was the conversion of Muslims and who had made the Jos market his preaching center from the 1920s until his death in 1948. Paul Gindiri also found the newly established New Life For All (NLFA) suitable for his type of ministry to Muslims. The NLFA was founded by the Rev. Gerald Swank, another SIM missionary, for mobilisation of all church members in the churches in northern Nigeria for evangelism, especially to Muslims. Paul Gindiri founded the Gospel Team as a branch NLFA and which was under his control. NLFA became synonymous with Paul Gindiri to such an extent that he was called Sabaon Rai (i.e. New Life). A song was created and sung at all preaching sessions. This song became Paul Gindiri’s favourite. In Hausa
Rai domin kowa…
Ku zo ku karbi Sabon Rai
Kaka ni ma zan yi domin
Nima in sami Sabon Rai
Idan ka mutu ka kare
Ina zaka? Gidan wuta
Ni na tuba zan bi Yesu
Yesu bani Sabaon Rai
Life for all
Come and receive New Life
What shall I do
To receive this New Life
If you die, you are gone
Where would you be? Hell fire
I have repented I’m following Jesus
Jesus, give me New Life
Paul Gindiri was so full of zeal to preach the gospel to everyone, especially to Muslims, that he resigned from his job with BEWAC and began his own private transportation business. The transportation business was so successful that it gave a birth to a stone crushing company, which developed into a multi-million naira venture. This self employment gave Paul Gindiri the opportunity to preach whenever he wanted rather than just on weekends. The business also provided him with the financial resources to fund the activities of the Gospel Team. For instance, virtually all the motor vehicles used by the Gospel Team for outreach were bought by Paul Gindiri.
Paul Gindiri was a polemicist. Whenever he preached to Muslims, he had the Bible in one hand and the Qur’an in the other, trying to prove to them that Islam was a false religion. Sometimes Muslims would listen to him in silence, sometimes they would react violently. Paul Gindiri was always happy when he was “prosecuted” by Muslims because that made him a modern apostle Paul. Like the Paul of the Bible, Paul Gindiri would triumphantly list the number of times Muslims had persecuted and stoned him. Most of the time when he was in Muslim dominated cities, Paul Gindiri would ask permission to preach on the premises of the emir’s palace. His requests were often granted, but soon his confrontational preaching would invite violent attacks from Muslim extremists.
Many Christian leaders opposed Paul Gindiri’s method of evangelism which they felt was not diplomatic or tactful. But in spite of his tactless preaching, Paul Gindiri had Muslim converts, one of them Mohammed Davou Riyom, who wrote Paul’s biography. Most Muslims in Jos and elsewhere in northern Nigeria might have disliked Paul Gindiri’s manner of preaching but they admired his honesty, his transparency in business, and his high moral integrity.
Christian leaders also disagreed with Paul Gindiri’s refusal to obey the government’s ban on public preaching made to curb inter-religious violence. According to Paul Gindiri no government could stop the preaching of the gospel of Christ. He further argued that if any preachers needed to be banned, it was the Muslim preachers, especially the members of the Izala sect, who instigate trouble while preaching.
Paul Gindiri could be called the architect of the theology of Christian self-defence in Nigeria. In the 1980s, Christians fled whenever they were attacked by Muslim fanatics and hoodlums and even stood helplessly by while hoodlums burned their churches. Some lost their lives in road accidents while fleeing. Paul Gindiri re-interpreted Matthew 5:39, where Jesus said, “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Paul Gindiri argued that Christians in Nigeria, especially those in northern Nigeria had given Muslims both the right and the left cheeks, and did not have a third to give. So Christians had to stand and defend themselves and their churches. In one of his sermons, Paul Gindiri declared,
Only Christian self-defence is our solution to this aggressive pursuit by Muslims. The Christian community is tired of being pursued by evil men. Right from 1960, we have been running, but in 1991, we have stopped running. We have been pressed to the wall and there is no other option but to turn and face our enemies.
Paul Gindiri’s theology is contextual beyond what the missions had taught him. This theology is well rooted in the minds of Christian youths in northern Nigeria today, and explains their militancy in periods of religious misunderstanding and conflict. This theology attracted wide acceptance as it was adopted by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an ecumenical group that embraces almost all churches in Nigeria.
Paul Gindiri was also a critic of inept governments and institutions in Nigeria, especially the military. He was fearless in his attacks against corruption in government and in the church. He was agitated by what he saw as the government’s manipulation of religious sentiments to create tension and by the plans by Muslim military leaders to turn the country into an Islamic state. So his messages to Muslims always oscillated between their depravity and need for salvation through Jesus and a condemnation of evil government machinations to Islamicize Nigeria. His fearless attacks on falsehood and dishonesty in government and the church earned him respect and admiration from many, Christians and Muslims alike.
Paul Gindiri and Lami had seven children named Musa, Iliya, Dauda, Yakubu, Joshua, Victoria, and Wudeama. Their only daughter, Victoria, was killed in a motor accident while traveling with her father to one of his preaching outreaches in November 1990. Musa, Paul Gindiri’s first son, has not only taken over the family’s business, he is also an evangelist (2004).
Paul Gindiri enjoyed good health until March 31, 1993 when he had a stroke which paralyzed him. He recovered but while he was undergoing physiotherapy he was diagnosed with prostate cancer that led to his death on April 8, 1996. At his funeral, Nigeria’s Head of State was represented by the second most powerful person in government, Lieutenant General Jeremiah T. Useni, among other top government functionaries. Lami Paul Gindiri also had a stroke on April 6, 1999 and died April 28