Regular statistics in Nigeria have always revealed that the Christian/Muslim population in the country stands at almost a 50/50 balance.
While Christianity has its stronghold in the south due to early missionary activities from the sea, Islam is strong in the north due to the trans -Sahara trade route and activities of the Fulani jihadists.
Christians across Nigeria on September 24 2012, marked the 170th anniversary of Christianity in the country. Though according to available records, the religion is said to have been introduced and practiced in the then southern protectorate before 1842.
However, the distribution of some early mainline churches into various regions of the country in the early days still accounts for the influence and dominance of such denominations in their geographical area of strength across the country.
Christianity came to the region now known as Nigeria in the 15th century through Augustinian and Capuchin monks from Portugal, although officially, the religion was unveiled while the first mission of the church of England was established in 1842 in Badagry, now in Lagos State by Reverend Henry Townsend.
As the religion gained prominence after the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, history has it that in 1864, a former slave boy of Yoruba origin, Samuel Ajayi Crowther was elected Bishop of the Niger.
Portuguese explorers and traders had established relationships with the defunct Benin Kingdom way back before the first British missionary’s visit to Nigeria, this may have informed an earlier introduction of Christianity into the region.
The September 24, 1842 date was however adopted, being the date of the first official open air service held in Nigeria under the memorial Agia tree in Badagry, flagging off the official entrance of the religion in the geographical area now referred to as Nigeria.
Like the partitioning of Africa by the European world powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884, early mainline Christian denominations may have unknowingly and unintentionally done a similar partitioning, each one pitching tent in areas so conducive and where accepted.
The activities of Methodist’s Reverend Birch Freeman and his friend, Reverend Henry Townsend of the Church of England who had staged the first open air church service in Badagry, no doubt had strengthened both denominations in the areas around the then colony of Lagos.
Today, the Anglican and Methodist missions are well rooted in the south western part of Nigeria from where both missions have proceeded into other regions of the country. The Church of Nigeria also known as the Anglican Church in the country is now the second-largest Province in the global Anglican Communion, and second only to the Church of England going by the population of its baptised members. The church now boasts of over 18 million members being administered by over 161 Bishops as at January 2013.
On its own the Methodist Church Nigeria was founded in 1842 and headed by a Prelate. It is also a major Christian denomination in the country with over two million members. According to the former Prelate of the Church, Prelate Sunday Ola Makinde, the church outside the western Nigeria has spread across the country including the northern part of the country despite the recent terror activities. “I don’t know any other denomination that has been affected if the Methodist church has not been affected by the Boko Haram terrorists,” he said. Makinde however added that “We have lost churches, members and resources to the terrorists but the church of God is waxing stronger.”
While the Anglican and Methodist churches maintained their holds in the south west, and in the south south, the Roman Catholic church has remained strong in the eastern part of the country where an average family in the south east can be said to have been greatly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. As a matter of fact, according to Wikipedia, the Catholics among the south eastern Nigerians account for about 70 percent of the total Catholic population in Nigeria.
Today, the Catholic Church in Nigeria is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, with the Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis I as the spiritual head. However, there was an estimated 18 million baptised Catholics across nine archdioceses in Nigeria in 2009 and only Nigeria with Congo Democratic Republic, account for the highest number of priests in Africa. The involvement of the Roman Catholic Church in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised especially in the health and education sector.
Another Christian denomination of note in Nigeria is the Nigerian Baptist Convention. The denomination, which began in 1850 as a foreign missionary project of the Southern Baptist Convention of the United States of America, was officially formed in Nigeria in 1914, the year of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates. The Nigerian Baptist Convention is now completely self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting. It also has started other Baptist conventions in West Africa, precisely in Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Today in Nigeria, the Baptist convention has been involved actively in the education sector in which it has made significant impact, establishing hundreds of primary and secondary schools and a university. The church had also established book shops across the country. However the mission, whose headquarters is in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, is prominent in the western part of the country around Lagos, the former Federal Capital, Oyo and Ogbomoso both in Oyo State where the denomination’s biggest seminary was established.
While the above mentioned denominations flourished in the south western and eastern parts of the country, American missionaries under the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM) arrived Nigeria, pitching their tents in the savannah. Their missionary activities began around the area now known as the middle belt or the north central. The mission later metamorphosed into what today is called the Evangelical Church West Africa (ECWA) in 1954 and until recently when it again metamorphosed into the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA).
ECWA was established through the missionary work of SIM which began in 1893 by three missionaries; Walter Gowans, Roland Bingham, both Canadians and Thomas Kent from the United States. While Kent and Gowans died in 1894, Bingham returned to Canada and unable to return due to illness. He however sent out another team led by Reverend Tommy Titcombe.
In 1908, the first ECWA Church, Egbe was established along with primary and secondary schools in the region. Today, there are over 6,000 ECWA churches organised into 74 District Church Councils with over six million members and several others who have benefited directly or indirectly from the SIM/ECWA collaboration.
The mission has established a radio station, two Theological Seminaries in Igbaja, Kwara State (1941) and Jos, four hospitals, over 110 clinics, a central pharmacy and a school of Nursing and Midwifery in Egbe, Kogi State along with the famous Titcombe College established in the same town in 1951. ECWA also has several bookshops and over 1,600 missionaries serving across Nigeria and beyond.
Another denomination prominent in Nigeria’s north central is the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), formerly Church of Christ in Nigeria. COCIN was founded in 1904 with headquarters in Jos, Plateau State. The church believes in the infallibility of the Bible as the word of God and has membership strength of over 2,000,000. It is a member of the World Council of Churches, member of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Reformed Ecumenical Council and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
However, COCIN has been at the fore front of the fight against terror in the north of Nigeria through which it has lost several church parishes, ministers and members. It has also been in the fore front of providing basic services to Nigerians especially of northern origin. Some of the basic activities of the Jos headquartered church include education, health and agriculture. Some of the schools established by the mission are the famous Boys Secondary School, Girls High School, Gindiri Teachers College (Now COCIN Comprehensive College) and The School for the Blind. It also established a Theological College, giving quality theological education up to the first degree level. It had a school of nursing in Vom, Plateau State, which the Nigerian federal government took over.
No doubt, the advent of Christianity in Nigeria has brought about unquantifiable development in all sphere of the national life namely education, health, politics, governance, agriculture among other sectors.
However, another denomination that is contributing its quota in the education sector is the African Church. According to the Primate of the church, Bishop Josiah Udofia, the church had seceded from the church of England after the African laities noticed an inconsistency between what the English missionaries taught and their lifestyle. “The African church is a unique name. When our people started embracing the Lord, they started seeing that what they were being taught was not being practiced by those teaching it; the expatriates.
We were originally Anglicans and as at 1901, we secede and established the African Church,” Udofia explained. The cleric however added that “the Africans were actually waiting for reconciliation, for dialogue, but the whites said let them go, they will come back begging. I want to believe that was the last straw that broke the Carmel’s back.” When asked what the relationship between the African church and today’s Anglican church which has also metamorphosed into the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Udofia said “by the grace of God, the relationship is wonderful. As at now, we have the Anglican/African church Commission, we meet and before the end of the year, we are meeting again, most of the time, we do a lot of things in common, we use the common prayer of the Church of England, the creed, the hymns are there.” Today the African church is also well represented across Nigeria and beyond.
Apart from the foreign churches, Christians in Nigeria has also formed strong indigenous denominations a lot of which had been exported across the world.
Chief among these is the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC). The CAC is distinctly an indigenous African Church, an independent church by its structure, belief and practices.
The history of one of the first indigenous churches in Nigeria is traceable directly to those who midwife the mission. These men include Oba/Pastor Isaac Babalola Akinyele, the then traditional ruler of Ibadan, western Nigeria, Pastor David Ogunleye Odubanjo, Joseph Sadare, Miss Sophia Odunlami and Evangelist (late Apostle) Joseph Ayodele Babalola who began mission work 11th, October, 1928. History still has it that Babalola’s call subsequently led to the great revival of 1930 through which many got converted to Christianity with attendance healing and miracles.
Before the commencement of the mission however, there was the Faith Tabernacle era during which many prayer groups were established between 1918 and 1928. Some of these groups include the Precious or Diamond Society found in small pockets all over Nigeria. The pioneers of this group were Joseph Sadare, D. O. Odubanjo, Oba I. B. Akinyele and Miss Sophia Odunlami, majority of who were members of Saviour’s Anglican Church, Ijebu-Ode who met regularly for prayers and spiritual guidance in 1918.
However, after the revival of 1930, Apostle Ayo Babalola had to name the Revival Group “Apostolic Church” and at about 1939, the Church changed its name to Nigerian Apostolic Church. The name was again changed to United Apostolic Church until 1942 when it changed again by divine instruction to Christ Apostolic Church, which name was registered as No. 147 of May 4, 1943, under the Lands Perpetual Succession Ordinance. However, Apostle Joseph Ayo Babalola became the first General Evangelist of the church.
Today, the CAC is well entrenched in the South western part of the country from where it has launched out to the uttermost part of the world. The church has also established various institutions in the south west including a university named after Apostle Joseph Ayo Babalola; Joseph Ayo Babalola University.
Another notable indigenous denomination is the Cherubim and Seraphim (C&S) movement. Founded by Moses Orimolade Tunolase in 1925, the founder claimed to have received a divine instruction to form the denomination. Orimolade was born in 1879 and history has it that his birth and development was strictly mysterious.
Several years after the creation of the C&S, different denominations had emulated its traditions to secede and formed new churches. The Church of Aladura, which began in 1930 under the leadership of Josiah Oshitelu, was one of the churches that began under “similarly spectacular circumstances” as the C&S, and by the 1940s, the Aladura movement church had begun to spread throughout the world, from places in Africa to other English speaking countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
Before his demise in 1933, Orimolade had established churches in the areas now known as south-south and north central parts of Nigeria in addition to the south west where the church is more pronounced.
While most indigenous denominations sprang from the south west, perhaps being the entry point of the white missionaries who had introduced western education, a major denomination also was introduced in the south eastern part of the country.
The Qua Iboe church is a peculiar church in the old south eastern state, now Cross River and Akwa Ibom States. The name “Qua Iboe” is the name of a river in South Eastern Nigeria. Samuel Alexander Bill was the first missionary to the Ibenos, a fishing people in the coastal village of Qua Iboe River. As other missionaries joined Samuel Bill, it became natural to speak of Qua Iboe as their location in Nigeria. The name was eventually adopted by the Missionary Society and the indigenous African Church.
The first missionary to the Ibnos was Samuel Bill, who left for the unknown region 14 September 1887. After few weeks in Calabar, he left for Ibeno to commence his mission work among the rural people, who were well entrenched in idol worship. He however set up a little school on the veranda of his house where boys learned to read and where he learned to sound and meaning of the vernacular language.
The Qua Ibo church, though established by a foreign missionary can be said to be an indigenous mission because the white missionary had established the mission strictly for the indigenous people who had since continued the work. Today the church, though also represented across Nigeria, has much prominence in the Akwa Ibom area.
However, in the contemporary Nigeria, among the fastest growing indigenous denomination is the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
Founded in 1952 by the late Pastor Josiah Akindayomi (1909-1980), the RCCG today has spread through the length and breadth of Nigeria and beyond. Today, the church is in its second generation of leadership as Akindayomi handed over to Pastor Enoch Adeboye, a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Lagos, who joined the church in 1973.
Andrew Rice, writing in The New York Times, calls the RCCG “one of Africa’s most vigorously expansionary religious movements, a home-grown Pentecostal denomination that is crusading to become a global faith.” Also, a pastor in the church, Daniel Ajayi-Adeniran, commented that “in every household there will be at least one member of Redeemed Christian Church of God in the whole world.”
The church’s headquarters are located in Lagos from where the church oversees its branches across the nation. Elsewhere in Africa, it has a presence in Burundi, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The church is also represented in Europe, the United States, Canada, Asia, the Carebean, Australia, New Zealand and islands of the South East Asia.In all the RCCG has presence in 197 countries of the world.
In the Middle East, the church has parishes in Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon and in nearly all seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates.
In all, Nigeria is blessed with several imported and indigenous denominations distributed across the country which have continued to wax strong, providing essential services. The government can only assist these missions by providing enabling environment needed to assist these and other missions that have continued to assist the government in its duties.
However, terrorism and religious intolerant have continued to hamper the operations of some of these organisations especially in the northern part of the country where lives and properties have been unnecessarily lost in recent times.
The major enabling condition the government must provide as a mater of urgency is security. Though the federal government through its relevant agencies have done a lot in this regard, more still need to be done to assist those missions that have suffered attacks, noting that these organisations have played and continued to play major roles in the national life in the area of education, health care services and human development.