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*Broad Street, Lagos – the UNA Church

By Bisi Lawrence
Whoever, by the way, was Tinubu? It is a question that was generally shrugged off, or totally unasked,
for decades. The name  was not given any prominent attention in the history of Lagos as the colonialists were the authors when it was still featured in the curriculum of primary schools.

The figure hibernated under the cover of an enigma for decades. Here was an important centre of the city named after someone who must himself have been very important in the history of the city, but about whom so little was known.

When the facts began to emerge, the first surprise was that the subject was actually a woman.
The family compound was very near the square, lying almost opposite the Santa Anna Court. But neither the old Supreme Court which was demolished, nor the lackluster fountain which replaced it, could offer any clue to the identity.

The recent presentation of Madam Efunroye Tinubu’s statue, however, has at last resolved the mystery.
She was definitely an Egba lady. That is easily known from the prefix of “Efun”, in her name.

She was a wealthy trader and a lady of great mettle who dared to dabble into the dangerous politics of succession, being not only a stranger in the land, but a woman to boot. Prince Kosoko, of whom we are sure to hear about later, had made his claim to the throne of his fathers unsuccessfully on a few occasions. At last, the warrior prince invaded Lagos and threw out the reigning king, Akitoye.

The  king escaped to Badagry, but Kosoko’s influence made him all uncomfortable guest there. So he sought refuge in Abeokuta. Madam Tinubu was fortunately at hand to play the part of a providing and protective hostess, until the British were  able to capture Kosoko and return Akitoye to the throne.

So the statue stands today in the square named after  her, supported by an abstract representation of “Wings of Liberty’’ in stone.

To the Northeast of Tinubu Square is one of the commercial hubs of the city. It used to be called Victoria Road, (in honour of Queen Victoria of Britain) but it is now known as Nnamdi Azikiwe Street. It was the “Kasbah” of the Lebanese and Syrian traders and merchants years ago, but has now been taken over by Nigerians.

Here lived one of the most colourful lawyers of his day, E.J. Alex-Taylor. He was the father of two other lawyers, both of them “Oxonians” and first-class cricketers. In fact, they were the opening batsmen for Nigeria in the “inter-colonial” (because they were colonies) against Gold Coast now Ghana.

On court days, the old man would walk down the road to the square, one son to the right, one  son to the left, and he was short step in front of them – all in their imposing legal wig and gown. In those days, some· 60 years ago, it was simply awesome!

We shall go into Nnamdi Azikiwe Street from the other end later. But let’s continue down Broad Street from Tinubu Square. The road slopes gradually towards Marina some two kilometers away. At first, it looks like a very busy shopping area, and so it is. But a lot of the history of the Anglican Church in Nigeria is enclosed within its rows of buildings.

One should not forget that the Methodist Church also has one of its own historic institutions here. The Tinubu Methodist Church is one of the oldest in the country. Whilst innocent of any baroque influence, the church is stately in structure and also features one of the oldest and best church clocks in the city. It has the “Big Ben” chimes and, on a clear and quiet night, it could be heard about one kilometre away.

Only a short distance away from the square, one of the truly important churches in the evangelical history of this nation lies, all but hidden to the view in Phoenix Road. It was first known as the United Native African Mission Church – UNAMC but later became the First African Church Mission. It was truly first in everything.

It introduced the using of indigenous music in Christian religious worship in Nigeria; it had the first African prelate, and popularized the wearing of Nigerian clothes to church.

It was all in keeping with the resolution which brought it to life. The founders were nine friends who were parishioners at the St. Paul’s Breadfruit Anglican Church, off Broad Street down the road. They had suffered with other parishioners for a long time under the overbearing ways of the white missionaries who lorded it over their Nigerian counterparts as a matter of policy.

The year was 1891 and they were still smarting over an act of discrimination against Bishop Ajayi Crowther, and so decided to retire to a quiet place from the church during a service to discuss the issue.  What came out  was a resolution couched in straightforward language to state their intention, without reflecting their deep resentment.

They said they were resolved that “this meeting in humb1e dependence upon Almighty God, that if Africa is to be evangelized, taking into account  the climatic and other influences the foreign agencies at work at the moment cannot grasp the situation …..” It was hence resolved furthermore, “that a purely African Church be founded for the evangelization and amelioration of  our own race, to be governed by Africans.”

And that was just what they did. They were determined to hold their services anywhere, even in the open air, but one of the parishioners who later joined them, fortuitously had a plot of land in Phoenir Street where they put up the first church building. His name was Taiwo Olowo

His statue now lies on the other side of street from Phoenix, having been moved from its former location which was right in the middle of Martins Street. He was a very wealthy man, even as his name indicates. But he was not really one of the nine founders, whose names are as follows: John O. George; N. T. Nelson; J.A. Thompson; G. A. Williams; D.A. Glouster: John S. Kenny; R. Chase; Leigh; W.E. Cole; and Rev. C. W. Cole.

They were the pioneers who gave the green light for the forward movement of indigenous Christianity, if you please, mostly because of their resentment against the domination of the foreign priest over the congregation, apart from the system of worship. But look over the names again and you will find a common link: they belonged to Nigerians but they are all foreign. No comment

In any case, of all the Christian denominations which originated from this country, this was the first. The United Native Africa Church blazed the trail   even   for the white-robed congregations. Its administration introduced titles like Apostle and Evangelist into the Nigerian church hierarchy and opened the gate for the indigenous beat and rhythm in church worship.

It was not a smooth journey all the way, but the wave of support which rose from the sheer number of imitators has seen them safely ashore. They established a system of admini tration which reposed the executive administrative responsibility in the hands of the laity, and which has become a source of an unending bickering over the years.

If success is sometimes evaluated from the quality of the successor, a church like the African Church Cathedral Bethel today stand’s as a testimony to the viability of the great proposal of  liberty, by the nine men who founded the founded the UNA Church in front  of  which it stands, and almost entirely obscures.

The lower part of Broad Street used to feature a few department stores which set the pace and style for the others. The grandest among them was the Kingsway Stores Further down the street was the UTC.

A crop of satellites sprang up around them, but they kept the lead until the bottom fell out of the import market and emphasis was shifted to manufactured goods. All the shops closed down. We shall stay in Broad Street  just   for  a while longer to consider that development next week. Time out.


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