Christian Missions and the Training for Political Leadership in Eastern Nigeria

Article excerpt

Introduction

African historiography owes much of its creation to scholars with secular tendencies, and it is not surprising that they place more emphasis on the political and cultural effects of religion rather than on the nature of religious change. In Nigeria, the failure to pay adequate tribute, outside the confines of religious studies, to the enormous contributions of the Christian missions to nation building has been described as a deficient cultural nationalism. (1) This paper aims to set the record straight.

The impact of mission education on the political landscape of Eastern Nigeria in particular has remained an important factor in the region's socio-cultural history. In the pages that follow, we shall look at the various stances of the Christian denominations with regard to the political training and political participation of their adherents in Eastern Nigeria. Throughout the colonial period, the Protestant missions maintained a comfortable lead over their Catholic counterparts in the provision of political leadership in the country. In 1955, Father J. Jordan, the education adviser to the Catholic missions, was at pains to note that the premier, his deputy, and eleven out of the twelve cabinet ministers, in other words the entire government of the then Eastern Region, were Protestant. (2) The paper shall attempt, among other things, to analyse the causes of this disparity, which although the Catholics had the status of a numerical giant, accorded them that of a political dwarf. It also accounted, in part, for the brand of cultural nationalism that tended to depreciate the role of religion in the nation-building mechanism of the polity.

Post-primary education and national consciousness

The imbalance which existed in the exercise of political control among the products of the missionary schools is essentially the outcome of the different approaches which the Christian denominations gave to secondary education in Nigeria. Among the missionary societies which came to Africa in the 19th century, there was a general awareness that education, especially at the secondary level, was necessary for all aspects of nation building in the continent. Their plan was, in the words of the secretary general of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), to train a body of natives, "who may form an intelligent and influential class of society and become f0unders of a kingdom which shall render incalculable benefits to Africa." (3) It was the Protestant missions which took the lead in translating this general principle into practice, not only in Eastern Nigeria but also throughout the country. It was a move that brought their adherents into intimate contact with the political struggle for independence.

Long before British rule was established in Nigeria, the Protestant missions had begun to prepare their African members for leadership, especially for leadership in the local churches envisaged in the country. Realizing the relevance of higher education to nation building, the mission societies sent their African parsons and senior teachers to colleges in England and America, and to Fourah Bay in Sierra Leone, that powerhouse of Protestantism in West Africa. The elevation in 1864 of Ajayi Crowther to the position of bishop in the Anglican church to lead an all-African staff on the Niger, was the high water mark of the pioneering indigenization efforts of the Protestant missions. (4) It was the products of this Protestant initiative which eventually spearheaded the establishment of Protestant grammar schools in Nigeria, and saw education as an instrument of emancipation from perpetual servitude. It was against this background that Eyo Ita, the first premier of Eastern Nigeria, launched his national education movement in the 1930s. "Education", he said, "will not Europeanize the African, but on the contrary will Africanize him ... It must now become a powerful dynamic force to liberate the people, soul and body, and it must do that at a rate never dreamt of before. …