For Catholics and Non-Catholics alike in Nigeria, the 24th June 2021 is a day they would not forget in a hurry. On that day, St. William’s Cathedral, Lafia hosted a mammoth crowd which turned out to witness the Episcopal Ordination and Installation of Most Rev. Dr. David Ajang as the 2nd Catholic Bishop of Lafia Diocese. The presence of the Papal Nuncio to Nigeria, His Excellency, Most Rev. Antonio Guido Filippazi as principal consecrator, the immediate past Bishop and administrator of Lafia Diocese and the Archbishop of Jos, Most Rev. Dr. Matthew Ishaya Audu and the Metropolitan of the See of Abuja, Most Rev. Dr. Ignatius Kaigama as co-consecrators plus 24 other Bishops, about 1000 priests, 500 female religious, top government functionaries ably led by the Governors of Plateau and Nassarawa States, Royal Fathers, Knights of the Church and their Ladies as well as people from all walks of life made Lafia a Mini-Vatican during the colourful ceremony.
While high points of the occasion include the presentation of pastoral staff to the new Bishop and a grand reception which was characterised by cultural dance from different ethnic groups as well as presentation of cash donations and gifts to the celebrant, one important take-away was the 1862-words’ inaugural speech which the Bishop presented to a bewildered audience. In his characteristic calm and calculated baritone voice, Bishop Ajang held listeners bound in a moving speech reminiscent of the great orators of the Church like Saints Ambrose of Milan and Augustine of Hippo. Speaking to the people of God in the 20-year-old Lafia Diocese, he said: “I come as your son, your brother, your servant, your father and your chief shepherd. From the land of the Plateau, I am one with all of you.” He also emphasized that: “I come not wearing the red cap but with a spirit of the Christian volunteer like our Lord Jesus and his Mother Mary. Please daily pray for me and my ministry to follow God’s will and to rest in his protective embrace and that we may all grow in holiness.
” Relaying on divine providence he noted “I see God’s hand in my appointment, He has brought me to this moment and I shall continue to rely on Him to guide my ways and walk.” Earlier, he acknowledged the Master of the vineyard, Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Citing his unworthiness for the exalted position, he remarked: “Inspite of my unworthiness and among all other excellent and Holy Priests” God “called me to the office of Bishop.” He disclosed that He alone knows why He chose him but he was consoled by the scripture which says: “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1st Cor.1:25). As a Church man that he is, Bishop Ajang thanked the Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis for reposing “confidence” and “trust” in him by appointing him “to serve as Bishop of Lafia.” Speaking further, he stressed: “I pledge my unending fidelity to him as the successor of Peter and entrust him daily to the Lord in prayer as he shepherds the Church.” In his litany of appreciation, he singled out the Emeritus Archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan and the Papal Nuncio for their physical presence.
To the Nuncio he said, “I will never forget in a hurry the gentle, loving and professional manner you handled me and the process, leading to your revelation of the Holy Father’s decision…” After extending his gratitude to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) through the President who doubles as the Archbishop of Benin City, Most Rev. Dr. Augustine Obiora Akubeze, he saluted all the Bishops and spiritual leaders from other denominations who graced the occasion. With an ecumenical tone, he emphasized: “Your presence is a proof that the prayer of Jesus – ‘that we all become one’ (Jn.17:21), has begun to yield dividend and that sooner than later, the unity Jesus prayed for, would be fully realized. It is also a reflection of your love of the Lord, Jesus…I am open to join in ecumenical activities and interreligious dialogue.” Posthumously, he acknowledged the Servant of God, Archbishop Gabriel Gonsum Ganaka, who not only had a great influence on him but admitted him into the Major Seminary and ordained him below the canonical age of 25 while saddling him with responsibilities which seemed beyond him.
“One of such was posting me to Nassarawa Eggon at the age of 25 and after just nine months of ordination. At that time, it didn’t make sense. With the help of hindsight, now like a puzzle, the pieces are beginning to fit together. I know that from the highest heavens he must be smiling down at us and enjoining me to strive as a bishop to be ‘a saint, a scholar and a gentleman.’ To the servant of God, I say, I shall try my best to keep your legacies alive” he disclosed. In like manner, Ajang thanked Archbishop Kaigama whom he described as “father and mentor” for nurturing his priesthood and making “it grow into what it has become.” He lauded Kaigama for appointing him the Administrator of Fatima Cathedral, Jos just six (6) years into the Priesthood and sending him to Rome, “the central station of Catholicism or Christianity… not only to acquire education but also to experience firsthand the organizational structure of the Catholic Church, which is termed the most organised institution in the world.” He also appreciated the Archbishop for giving him the opportunity to serve as a Formator at St. Augustine’s Major Seminary, Jos and the Spiritual Director/ Chaplain, Chapel of Grace, Government House, Plateau State. Recounting his tenure as Government House Chaplain, he maintained that “Working with the Plateau State government for about six years afforded me the opportunity to acquire an appreciable knowledge of how government works and how the politician thinks. I suppose more than any other period in my life, that knowledge will come handy now that I have to work closely with government and politicians.”
He also ceased the opportunity to thank Rt. Hon. Simon Bako Lalong and his Nassarawa State counterpart, Abdullahi A. Sule for their presence at the occasion while urging them “to be partners in national development.” He equally appreciated his successor, Archbishop Audu for his support and accepting to be one of the co-consecrators. “He did not only begin it as its first bishop, he also nurtured it, and watched over its growth to the height it has attained today. The people of Lafia Diocese will never forget you and May God bless and reward you for your labours” said he. He extended his gratitude to the Bishop who facilitated his retreat, Most Rev. Dr. Philip Dung of Shendam Diocese saying “Thank you for agreeing to facilitate my retreat. Your talks and lessons were practical and very reflective.” To all the Priests, Religious men and women, Consecrated Lay Persons, Seminarians and Novices of both Jos Archdiocese and Lafia Diocese who graced the occasion he offered special thanks. “Our common fraternity and bond of scared orders that link us together have been a blessing to me.” Recalling the sacrifices of members of his immediate family whom he described as “the greatest gift
God” in his life, he promised prayers while lifting deceased family members, Miss Ada Ajang Azhong, Gwei Kaneng Ajang, Stephen Nyam Ajang and Rosemary Shanfi (nee Ajang) to God in prayer. “I know that all four of them are smiling upon us as they are very much with us today” said he. As someone close to the grassroots, the new Bishop was grateful to the Knights of St. Mulumba, Zumunta Maza and CMO for serving as their Chaplain noting “I learned dedication and teamwork from you.” Without being shy of where he comes from, he acknowledged “the royal fathers of Plateau State especially the Chief of the Izere Nation, Agwom Izere, Dr. Isaac Wakili” with the words, “thank you for the support in my priestly calling, your role has been vital.” Using the bottom-top model, he thanked the Choir, Ushers, Mass Servers – the Youth, Parents, Diocesan staff, [organisers] – all who assisted in one way or another towards the success of the event while promising to say Novena Masses for their intentions. “We shall join hands together to work together for a beautiful and God-fearing Diocese. You remain in my heart and prayers” he surmised with a passionate appeal while asking for the intercession of his patron, St. David. Born on 31st March 1970, David Ajang attended St. John Vianney Minor Seminary, Barkin Ladi from 1982-1987. He studied philosophy at St.
Thomas Aquinas’ Major Seminary, Makurdi between, 1987 and 1990. From 1990-1994, he went to St. Augustine’s Major Seminary, Jos for studies in theology. He was ordained a priest on December 3, 1994. Until his appointment, he was the Parish Priest of Church of Immaculate Conception, Zarmaganda and Dean of Zarmaganda Deanery. He was appointed the substantive Bishop of Lafia Diocese by Pope Francis on March 31, 2021 which coincided with his birthday. We wish him God’s leading as he shepherds the flock entrusted to his care to green pastures!
• Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.