The growth of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) since the end of the Slave Trade has been a very rapid one.
It is interesting to know that within two centuries, Christianity and indeed Anglicanism, which started like child’s play in Badagry, and Abeokuta has spread like wild fire to all nooks and crannies of our country Nigeria.
Christianity came into Nigeria in the 15th century through the efforts of Augustinan and Capuchin monks from Portugal. However, it was not until 1842 that Henry Townsend of the Church Missionary Society sowed the seed of Anglicanism properly when he landed in Badagry from Freetown Sierra Leone.
After their ordination in England in 1842, the Revd. Henry Townsend and the Revd. Samuel Ajayi Crowther (a Yoruba ex-slave) returned to Abeokuta. With the untiring efforts of these evangelists, Nigerians began to believe in Jesus as the Lord and Saviour of the entire world. And so, on December 25, 1842 in Abeokuta, Nigerians were able to celebrate for the very first time, the glorious annunciation that the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, was born.They gave glory to God Almighty, experiencing the peace and joy of the Lord; Anglicanism had been born in Nigeria.
In 1846 the Revd. Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the Revd. Henry Townsend, in company the Revd. Colmer and Mr. Phillips worked together to consolidate the CMS Yoruba Mission.
In 1857, the Revd. Samuel Ajayi Crowther led the CMS Niger Mission to Onitsha and environs to found a formidable native pastorate. He was elected Bishop (The Revd. Samuel Ajayi Crowther) in 1864 and posted to the see of the Niger.
Anglicanism soon had a secure base in Lagos, which became a Diocese on December 10, 1919 with F. Melville Jones as Bishop and Isaac Oluwole, Assistant Bishop. Retired Bishop H. Tugwell acted as the Bishop on the Niger before Bishop Lasbrey’s consecration in 1922.
When Leslie Gordon Vining succeeded Jones as Bishop of Lagos in 1940, the Anglican Church in Nigeria had a new vista opened. By 1955 when he died at sea, Vining, the last “white” Bishop of Lagos and the first Archbishop of the Province of West Africa (inaugurated in 1951) had taken giant strides to expand the frontiers of the Anglican church and training scores of young and dynamic Nigerian priests.
The Niger Delta Diocese was inaugurated on January 1st 1952. Lagos Diocese gave birth to the Dioceses of Ibadan on 25th January 1952, Ondo – Benin on 24th February 1952. Northern Diocese on 27th January 1959. Between 1962 and 1977, further dioceses were created as follows: Benin (3/1/62), Ekiti (29/10/66), Enugu (16/8/70), Aba (9/1/72), Kwara(1/11/74) Ilesa (2/11/74), Egba/Egbado (3/8/76), Ijebu (8/8/76) and Asaba (10/8/77).
Thus it was that after due process, the sixteen dioceses in Nigeria were constituted into the Province of Nigeria on the Feast of St. Mathias, February 24, 1979 with the Bishop of Ibadan, the Rt. Revd. Dr. Timothy O. Olufosoye as the Archbishop, Primate and Metropolitan.
Under Olufosoye, eight dioceses were created. These were Kano (8/1/80), Jos (10/1/80) Akoko (28/2/83), Owo (1/3/83), Akure (2/3/83), Orlu (6/11/84), Remo (4/3/86), Awka (6/3/86), and Osun (3/8/87).
With the election of the Rt. Revd. J. Abiodun Adetiloye, Bishop of Lagos, as the second Archbishop, Primate and Metropolitan of Nigeria on April 14, 1988 and his presentation in June, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) was launched on the growth fast lane.
The Diocese of Abuja (covering the new Nigeria Federal Capital Territory) was inaugurated on November 26, 1989 with the Rt. Revd. Peter J. Akinola, erstwhile Missioner, as Bishop.
Decade of Evangelism
Then with unsurpassed missionary zeal, Archbishop Adetiloye initiated deft moves that culminated in the unprecedented consecration of eight missionary Bishops and the Diocesan Bishop of Kano on April 29, 1990 at St. Michael Anglican Cathedral, Kaduna. The missionary Bishops’ core remit was the fast evangelism of the predominantly Muslim Northern Nigeria.
To the glory of God, the eight missionary Dioceses were inaugurated in September 1990 as follows: Minna (3rd), Kafanchan (5th), Katsina (6th), Sokoto (9th), Makurdi (24th), Yola (26th), Maiduguri (28th), and Bauchi (29th).
The Diocese of Egbado (now Yewa) was inaugurated on November 2, 1990 and Ife two days later (4/11/90). Two more missionary Dioceses of Calabar (20/12/90), Uyo (27/11/92), followed.
By now the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) had been proclaimed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as “the fastest growing church in the Anglican Communion!”
Living up to its billing, Nigeria under Adetiloye created the Diocese of Oke-Osun (25/1/93), Sabongidda-Ora (27/5/93), Okigwe North (7/1/94), Okigwe South (8/1/94), Ikale-Ilaje (6/2/95), Kabba (12/2/96), Nnewi (14/2/96), Egbu (16/2/96), and Niger Delta North (16/5/96).
Then in December 1996, five more missionary Dioceses were inaugurated in the North: Kebbi (4th), Dutse (6th), Damaturu (8th) Jalingo (10th) and Oturkpo (11th). The Diocese of Wusasa and Abakaliki followed on (2/12/97) and (4/12/97) respectively. The autonomous Diocese of Ughelli was inaugurated on January 8, 1998 and Ibadan North (14/12/98).
Definitely the golden year which produced the largest number of Dioceses was 1999 when in the month of July four dioceses were inaugurated, namely; Oji River (11th), Ideato (12th), Ibadan south (13th), and Offa (14th), and then November bore eight Dioceses! … Lagos West (29th), Ekiti West (22nd), Gusau (24th). Gombe (25th), Niger Delta West (25th), Gwagwalada (26th), Lafia (29th), and Bida (30th). The year ended with Oleh on December 21.
Three Provinces One Church
Considering the sheer vastness of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), it was split into three Provinces on 20th September 1997 for effective management.
Province One, consisting of the Dioceses in the West, was headed by Archbishop Adetiloye who remained Primate of All Nigeria; Province Two consisting of the Eastern Dioceses had the Rt. Revd. Ben. Nwankiti of Owerri and after his retirement in 1998 J. A. Onyemelukwe, Bishop on the Niger, as Archbishop, while Province Three consisting of the Northern Dioceses had the Bishop of Abuja, the Rt. Revd. Dr. Peter J. Akinola as Archbishop.
Forging Ahead Vigorously
There can be no organisation as large and complex as present day Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) without problems.
But problems do not worry the new Primate, who, since he was presented on 25 March 2000, has made several efforts in pursuit of peace.
Archbishop Akinola has, together with the entire leadership of the Church, evolved a Vision for the Church of Nigeria, which by the grace of God and the co-operation of all will take us to our “Eldorado” in a record time.
The Vision is clear. In summary, it is to the effect that the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) shall be bible-based, spiritually dynamic, united, disciplined; self-supporting, committed to pragmatic evangelism, social welfare and a church that epitomizes the genuine love of Christ.
The machinery for achieving the set goals and establish a CARING CHURCH is in motion already with Twelve Committees working tirelessly in the service of God.