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the first church

By Bisi Lawrence
Echoes: I will appreciate it if you can highlight the roles of these men in the founding of UNA – J.W. Martins and Dada Adeshigbin of the Singer fame; besides, the Taiwo Olowo monument was never on Martins Street, but in his own compound (Court) on Taiwo Street; it was however relocated to Garba Square. Lagos had only three of such monuments – Martins, Taiwo and Oshodi.

You made the mistake many people fall into, of confusing the United Native African Church in Phoenix Lane with the African Church Cathedral (Bethel) almost in front of it on Broad Street.

This is where you find members of the illustrious Adeshigbin family. There were no less than three of them at the founding of the African Church Cathedral (Bethel). Apart from Dada, there were Oke and Akin.

At a certain time, they were all members of the church committee, with Dada as the Vice Lay-Chairman, Akin as General Treasurer, and Oke General Secretary. Dada was the most prominent and played several important roles in the church. Same thing goes for J.W.

Martins and several others both in the UNA and the African Church. There were several stages of cross-fertilization among the churches who took on the “African” identity way into the first two decades of the last Century, and they were legion – the African Church Salem, the African Church Zion, and so on.

New one sprouted from the tentacles of the former ones, and were-absorbed again in some cases when there was a re-unification, until there was another  disagreement again.

The history of the “native” church, however, has been a glorious one. For one thing, it has not only survived but it has also thrived. But what is more important is that it also gave impetus to the fulfillment of  the yearnings of the people to be free from colonialism, for Christianity as unabashedly fused with colonial administration in Nigeria. Hence each effort to liberate the local congregation from the domineering supervision of the white clergy also strained at the hold of the colonial powers on the people. The African Church, its clergy and laity were, as a matter of history, at the vanguard of the fight for political freedom in Nigeria.

It could hardly be otherwise, but we continue to wrong history. The early church in Nigeria was the home ground of the intelligentsia of that age. It was made up of the freed slaves who had returned from Sierra Leone to rejoin their kin.

Having been exposed to liberty, their antecedents rekindled a passion of pride in their heritage. They bulked at the suppressive measures the foreign ministers imposed on them, and resented the open racial discrimination meted to them by the white men who were sometimes made to even supercede them.

For instance, the much celebrated Bishop Ajayi Crowther, the first Black Bishop, was given administrative responsibilities over a restricted area.

He was eventually forced to resign over some issue that has not been fully clarified till date. The obvious  successor, James Johnson, known as “Holy Johnson”, was not accepted by the white Anglican authorities despite the clamour of the congregations in all the parishes.

Those who were consecrated, anyway, were only designated Assistant Bishops, with limited authority. An example was the case of Bishop Isaac Oluwole and Bishop Charles Phillips who were both preferred before Bishop Tugwell, a white man, who nonetheless immediately became their boss.

That was why the Africans rebelled against the white clergy-dominated church, especially in Lagos where there was a large population of  the “returnees” from Sierra Leone. But, ironically and this should be mentioned for the sake of history – the first African.Church was founded in Ogbomosho, not in Lagos.

That was in 1888. And it was in the Baptist Mission, an affiliate of the American Mission in Nigeria, not connected with the Church Missionary Society – the CMS or the colonial Anglican foundation. Apparently, the Americans, with their racist antecedents, even found it more convenient to make the Africans in their charge resent them very deeply.

Three years later, the UNA planted its roots firmly on Phoenix Lane. But we are not on a historical trip. We are set on a stroll down Broad Street, Lagos.

8888888888888888      the church & nationalism 888888888888888888888888888888888

Echoes: Uncle, how could you be talking about irrelevancies like the development of a church, or the buildings on a street in one city when the country is engulfed in the rigours of electioneering? These are stirring times.

I believe I have inadvertently answered your question. The development of Christianity in any country, particularly this country, can never be classified under irrelevancies. As it is apparent above, it was in tandem with the development of the entire political system in Nigeria.

The idea of independence from foreign domination was first broached in “the cloisters.” The term, “self-government”, for instance, was itself introduced into common discussion by The James Johnson when he was accused by the CMS authorities of implanting the notion into the minds of the interior missions in Yorubaland. Even a word like “secession” first came on stream in the struggle of  the African Christians for evangelical autonomy.

Rev. Johnson was consequently removed from his position as the Superintendent of that area, but that did not faze him. That was around 1880, just under a decade before the establishment of the African Baptist Church, which preceded the other churches.

In fact, the newspaper of the day protested against his removal from office and supported him in terms that smirked of  home-grow politics. In the lead was the first Nigerian-owned newspaper, The Lagos Times, published by R.B. Blaize.

The movement for national independence was the flower that eventually blossomed from the tree of freedom without discrimination in worship.

And the party politics we practise today is but the distillate of the self-government which the founders of the African Church preached. Indeed, they borrowed copiously from the philosophy of the “Africa for Africans” movement which embraced the motivations of “Africanists” like Marcus Gavey and others.

No. To take another look at what are so entangled with our sources of development cannot be irrelevant, especially at this time. But if you would insist that this page should take part in what is going on, all I can say is, why not?

888888888888888 the winners & the losers 888888888888888888888888888
Since it’s all over bar shouting, I would like to congratulate Abike Dabiri for she return to the National Assembly for the third time. My gift to her would be a trumpet so she could have something to blow about herself. One does not depend on good works alone in politics, it would seem. Despite the sterling contributions she consciously made to her constituency, she almost lost due to her quiet ways which, unfortunately in politics, are seldom winning ways.
Were it not so, would Babatunde Raji Fashola have ever needed to bestir himself? But bestir himself, you will agree with me, he did. And with that and “a little help from his friends,” he got by as the people of Lagos State polled for him in an absolutely superlative manner.

I also would like to congratulate Chris Anyanwu. It is often said, as an over-stated fact, that whatever a man can do, a woman can do. Do me a favour – what this woman can do, and has done, not many men would even dare. In the days when, as a television reporter, she turned every news coverage of hers into the main feature, I used to call her a package of “beauty and brains”. But that was really trite. This lady is sheer guts.

Her political progress so far is an exposition of true grit. Other women are still whining about special privileges for their gender, saying that President Jonathan should not forget his promise to appoint women to one-third of official positions. Chris Anyanwu waits for nobody’s promise. She is a Senator again.

And so is Remi Tinubu for the first time, and deservedly too. Her strongest position, as some people estimated it, almost became her weakest point. But she eventually turned it all to her advantage. She has emerged like a star bathed in the glow of a full moon.

I have never come close to Chris Ngige, but I could tell from a distance that he is a winner.

See what he did to our dear, dear Dora, dashing her hopes to smithereens though by the whisker of a cockroach. I did not need to come close to Gbenga Daniel to know a loser when I saw one. He had it all, and lost it all. And let those who would laugh, go ahead.

He laughs worst, who laughs first – or how does that adage go? As for the man in Oyo, (or rather, who used to be in Oyo) we always knew he had nothing to give, but he went ahead and gave it all the same. Eh, what was his name, again?

Attahiru Jega has come through. His integrity is matched by a courageous sincerity. He makes me proud to be a Nigerian. Not so all those loud-mouthed people in charge of security – they make me sick. They kept boasting about how they had everything “in place”. And yet, reports of violence filled the headlines.

The PDP maintained its hold on the administration of the country. Congratulation President Goodluck Jonathan. Congratulations to Buhari; has nothing to be ashamed of, so far. He should let it be, for the sake of peace in the land.

The ACN regained its control over the Southwest. Congratulations to you, Asiwaju Tinubu… thanks for the comic relief in the person (and personality) of your presidential candidate, though we really did not need one any more, after a professional colleague had volunteered himself so generously for that role.

And now I must go on a vacation. Time out.

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