NIGERIA: The Arrival Of Christianity. - OOU Campus Mirror

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Sunday 22 October 2023

NIGERIA: The Arrival Of Christianity.

 By Nuga Olasubomi. 

After some abortive attempts in the past, Christianity was at last successfully introduced in Nigeria. In 1842, the first batch of Christian missionaries landed in Abeokuta. They came in the wake of the liberated slaves returning home to Nigeria. Unlike the "overseas" Muslims some of whom were practicing Muslims before their captivity, the Christians had all been converted during their period of captivity in Brazil or Cuba or after they were granted freedom there or in Sierra Leone. Their sponsors were anxious to see the liberated Africans engaged in some useful pursuits; and indeed, some became gainfully employed in farming, trade, or missionary work. For the greater number, however, success did not come so easily because opportunities were limited: farming land was scarce and markets few.  It was, therefore, necessary to consider other ways of utilizing their newly acquired experience. 

Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1845) and others advocated that the Africans be returned to their country where they might all be engaged in agricultural development and evangelism. The combined introduction of the Bible would usher in light and civilization into the heart of the African continent. If unmoved by the idealism of Buxton, many liberated Africans were, at least, impressed by the idea of returning home to join their kinsmen. The missionaries and Sierra Leonean authorities, after an initial skepticism and indifference, became reconciled to these ideas. Thus began the mass movement of the liberated slaves back to their homes.

The first missionaries landed first at Badagry which they tried to make their base. They found the place unsatisfactory, for the loss of its former bustling slave trade had impoverished the town. The people were in no mood to receive Christianity and they offered the missionaries little cooperation. The missionaries therefore looked further ahead and entered into negotiation with the authorities at Abeokuta, a new town under a dynamic leadership, struggling for survival and seeking access to the sea. The Egba chiefs, despite the friendly disposition of Sodeke, their leader, hesitated and at first insisted in 1845 on keeping off the missionaries for the time being. But, they soon admitted the missionaries largely because they wanted their help in the political maneuvers against Lagos and other hostile neighbors. The missionaries were admitted in 1846 and they too began to paint a rosy picture of Abeokuta as their main gateway into Yorubaland and regions beyond, the veritable "sunrise within the tropics".

The missionary efforts of Townsend, Ajayi Crowther, and Gollmer at Abeokuta yielded some early fruits. Schools and churches were built and on February 5, 1845, the first converts were baptised. The methodist had also been active. They occupied a station at Ogbe, where Edward Bickerstetch, an Egba Sierra Leonean remained the sole agent till 1859.

The return of the emigrants also resulted in the introduction of Christianity into various other Yoruba towns such as Lagos, Ibadan, and Ijaiye, and some Christian presence in towns and villages as far away as Ede, Iragbiji, and Ilorin. From these centers, Christianity filtered to other towns in Yorubaland in the second half of the 19th century.

In the southeastern area, it was the Scottish missionaries who pioneered Christian evangelism. Compared with the Anglican and Methodists in Yorubaland, Hope Waddell who arrived in Calabar in 1846 preferred a policy of concentrated evangelism. He settled for Duke Town and Creek Town which were considered potentially Christian, and in preference to open-air preaching, schools were introduced, and instructions provided within the compound of the various houses. The pace of development was slow, and it was only in 1853 that the first baptism was conducted. In 1857, they built a church, Waddell leaving in that year, and in September 1858, the Presbytery of the Bight of Biafra was established. This made it the earliest mission to give the local church some say in the management of its affairs, though it was still the subject of the supervision of the Foreign Mission Board. 

The group of Christian converts swelled when the emigrants began to arrive in Calabar, settling mainly on the mission land at Duke Town. Some of these were Presbyterians, but most of the others were Methodists or Anglicans who had to attend the only available Presbyterian Church. The Anglicans began work in the Niger, first at Abo, and more successfully at Onitsha in 1857, Brass in 1861, and Bonny in 1864. Generally, they made more rapid progress and afforded the trading communities of the Delta the opportunities of schools for training literate clerks.

By 2020, Christianity accounted for an estimated 46.18% of the Nigerian population; two-thirds of which are Protestant. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2011, Nigeria had the largest Christian population of any country in Africa, with more than 80 million people in Nigeria belonging to various denominations. Christianity is the majority religion in the southern and central regions of Nigeria.

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