THIS nation was conceived by the British early in the 20th century when they brought within common boundaries a staggering diversity of people speaking more than 250 languages. For many centuries these had had their separate kingdoms, city-states, and social systems. However, on October 1, 1960, when Nigeria became a politically independent sovereign state, then, as Nigerians view the matter, the nation was truly brought to birth. The country has been deeply influenced by its diverse heritage.
Nigeria is about four times as large as Britain and is more than twice the size of California. This great area is traversed by the Niger—the third-longest river in Africa, extending 2,600 miles (4,180 km)—and the Benue. These form a river system that roughly divides the country into three regions. In the North live the Hausa, the Fulani, and many smaller tribes. In the South, to the west of the Niger are the Yoruba, and to the east are the Igbo, along with about 200 other tribal groups. With their diverse cultures, traditions, languages, and religions, there are many divisive factors at work. But the English language has been an important bond holding them together as one nation, the most populous in Africa.
A CHALLENGING FIELD
Christian ministers who undertake preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom here find it a very challenging assignment. Nigeria lies just north of the equator. The climate is hot and humid along the coast. There are also vast swamplands. With this combination of circumstances, the country has been ravaged by diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, leprosy, and intestinal worms. This is part of that area of West Africa once called the “White Man’s Grave.” The situation in the North is somewhat different. It stretches toward the Sahara, becoming semidesert in some places.
The predominant religion is Islam, which seems to have been introduced around 900 C.E. and which established a firm hold in the North. About half the population of the country are Muslims, one third are “Christians,” and the remainder hold fast to their ancient cults. Whole communities, mainly in the South, were “Christianized” in much the same way that Europe was—by coercion or enticement rather than by making disciples of individuals. So it comes as no surprise that traditional beliefs and practices of their ancient cults still strongly influence their lives.
Christian ministers who serve here must face the problem of widespread illiteracy. They also find themselves preaching in villages where sacrifices are regularly offered in demonistic rites to fetish gods. They run into opposition from secret societies such as the Odozi Obodo and juju organizations such as the Ekpo. They have frequent encounters with witch doctors.
But that is only part of the picture. A Christian coming from overseas cannot fail to be impressed by the readiness of the people—even some Muslims—to discuss religion. Many Nigerians are truly lovers of the Bible. The newspapers usually carry considerable discussion on religious subjects. Religious names and slogans are frequently seen, often causing amusement to visitors. Shops may be called “Blessed Trading Company” or “God First Food Store.” Motor vehicles may bear the slogan “God Is My Helper,” and words painted on a wrecked lorry may proclaim “Man Proposes—God Disposes.”
The work of making disciples in Nigeria has been closely linked with theocratic progress in other West African countries. At various times the Watch Tower Society’s West Africa branch office, located in Lagos, had oversight of Ghana, Sierra Leone, Benin, Togo, Niger, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea. Nigerian pioneers, special pioneers, and missionaries have served in these countries, as well as in The Gambia, Central African Republic, and Liberia. How did it all begin?
Evidently it was toward the end of 1921 that the good news first reached Nigeria, when Claude Brown paid a brief visit and did some preaching, particularly in the North. Brother Brown was a West Indian who had lived in Winnipeg, Canada. He again visited Nigeria in 1923 and gave several lectures in Lagos.
By this time Bible study classes were being conducted by Vincent Samuels, a black American who had set up a tailoring business at Tinubu Square in Lagos. He took the initiative to preach from house to house, and he used the Watch Tower publication The Harp of God in study classes with a group of about 15 people in the home of one Mrs. Odunlami.
James Namikpoh, a bookbinder and printer in the government printery in Lagos, heard of these classes and began associating with the little group in 1923. He made quick progress and became the first Nigerian to take up active preaching. Mrs. Odunlami soon followed. Later that year Joshua Owenpa saw The Harp of God on the table of a co-worker at the railway office in Lagos, borrowed it, read all night, quickly began to associate with the study group, and became the third Nigerian active in Jehovah’s service.
That same year, William R. Brown, a Jamaican, entered the West African scene. He came from Trinidad, which had been his base for preaching throughout the Caribbean. Having given a witness in most of the islands there, he was invited by J. F. Rutherford, the president of the Watch Tower Society, to ‘proceed to Sierra Leone, West Africa, with wife and child.’
From there he visited Nigeria in November 1923 and gave his first lecture at the Glover Memorial Hall. During this brief visit he also distributed hundreds of Watch Tower publications in business houses and government offices. W. R. Brown was again in Lagos in 1926, this time lecturing to overflowing crowds at the Glover Memorial Hall. On this trip he also encouraged Brothers Namikpoh and Owenpa to widen out the scope of their preaching activity. Brother Owenpa later wrote:
“Brother W. R. Brown invited me to enter colporteur service [now pioneering] and I resigned from the railway . . . July 1, 1927. I started colporteur work the same date. He gave me Scriptural instructions and encouragement by calling my attention to Philippians 1:28 (Weymouth): ‘Never for a moment quail before your antagonists. Your fearlessness will be to them a sure token of impending destruction, but to you it will be a sure token of your salvation.’”
Thus Vincent Samuels from America and two West Indians named Brown played important roles in the early stages of the work in Nigeria. A good start was made and the work continued to grow.
“BLACK” BROWN AND “BIBLE” BROWN
Claude Brown came to be known as “Black” Brown. William Brown was called “Bible” Brown, for, as he himself wrote: “When lecturing I always used lantern slides, enabling me to flash every Scripture text on the screen and then explain it.” It was first in Sierra Leone that he was called “Bible” Brown, because he was fond of saying, “Not Brown says, but the Bible says.”
Regarding the religious leaders, William Brown wrote: “At the time the public had little regard for what they called ‘the white man’s religion.’ It was appropriate that I speak at the Glover Memorial Hall on the failure of Christendom’s religion. Accordingly I advertised the lecture in the three leading newspapers. A Catholic editor submitted my write-up to Dr. Moses Da Rocha, who wrote a letter and had it published alongside my ad. He urged the government of Nigeria to prohibit my meetings or at least send policemen to preserve the peace. He appealed to various religious leaders in Lagos to send their ablest representatives to my meeting and smash to pieces my ‘heretical theses.’ Policemen and many church representatives did show up.
“Throughout the exposé of Christendom the audience interrupted with applause. When the meeting was opened to questions, the son of an Anglican clergyman asked two questions, which were answered, and attempted a third, whereupon I said: ‘Please sit down and allow others to ask.’ . . . I closed the meeting, offering them the paper-covered Deliverance book. . . . They emptied all the cartons . . . and even came to my home that night for more . . . 3,900 books! They went far and wide placing them with their neighbors.”
LAGOS BECOMES A HEADQUARTERS
Recognizing that the Nigerian field seemed more fertile than any other West African country at the time, William Brown transferred his residence to Lagos by the end of 1930. The Society’s West Africa branch office was also established there, having oversight of Nigeria, Gold Coast (now Ghana), and Sierra Leone.
In 1931, Ibadan and Lagos were among 166 cities worldwide that had closing sessions in extension of the Columbus, Ohio, international convention. Nigerian Witnesses added their joyful voices in embracing the remarkable “new name,” Jehovah’s Witnesses. The convention’s news pamphlet, The Messenger, carried this report from Brother Brown:
“A vigorous witness is being given [in West Africa]. The little band here travels over 2,000 miles [3,200 km] along the coast by steamships and other means of conveyance. They also travel by train and car over 700 miles [1,130 km] into the interior. Although more than half the population in this vast area is illiterate, yet it’s surprising to see how readily the reading community purchase the books, in order to know something about God and the Bible.”
MAKING USE OF VERNACULAR LITERATURE AND SPEAKING TOURS
Since these books were in English and benefited only those who could read English, the next step was to make them available in local languages. The Yoruba version of The Harp of God (Duru Ọlọrun) had already been published in 1930, having been translated by Sister Odunlami with the help of J. P. Ogunfowoke. S. A. Adediji, an Anglican clergyman who first began reading Brother Rutherford’s books in 1929, had also begun translating the book Deliverance. Then in 1931 he resigned from the church, concentrated on translating the book Reconciliation and the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World, and thereafter entered the pioneer service. Additional publications were translated into several other vernacular languages.
As soon as The Harp of God became available in the Yoruba language, Ogunfowoke promptly took a supply to Ibadan and Ilesha. He gave lectures in the open air at two or three places in Ilesha, at which he placed large quantities of the book and organized a study group.
Such preaching tours proved to be an effective means of reaching people with the truth. W. R. Brown traveled extensively to give public lectures and get the Kingdom work started in new places. He wrote: “I never felt at home sitting in the chair in the office for any length of time. I would budget my time so that I could be out . . . delivering the good news orally and by printed page. . . .
“When entering a village . . . I would go to the chief and invite him to attend the lecture to be given in front of his compound. It was not uncommon for the chief to send a man around the village advertising the talk with a bell. The chief’s people would spread a large carpet for him and place a chair on it. There he would sit with a man holding an umbrella over him and sometimes a man with a large ostrich fan keeping him cool. Thousands would attend.”
THE TRUTH SPREADS
Among those who now received the truth was Alfred Nduaguibe. He responded to one of Brother Brown’s lectures in 1931 and later pioneered the preaching work in much of Igboland.
In Yorubaland there was Joseph Ogunniyi, a prominent civil servant who was also standing in as minister of the local Anglican church (Church Missionary Society). Joshua Owenpa had visited him while passing through Ile Ife in February 1931. Soon up to eight persons were meeting in his parlor and in the house of the chief, the Obajio of Ife. By October 1932 Joseph Ogunniyi undertook service as an auxiliary (similar to an auxiliary pioneer today) to spread the truths he had learned. He and three others covered the principal towns, visiting a different one each day. “Soon we became many,” he wrote. So the truth was spreading in the West—Yorubaland—with groups studying in Lagos, Ibadan, Oyo, Ile Ife, Ilesha, and Abeokuta.
Down in the Midwest there was Egor Egha, a very energetic man whose interest in the truth was sparked in July 1932 when he joined a group of people who were listening to a lecture. Two days later he traveled to his hometown, Oyede, to inform everyone of what the lecturer had said. Leaving his job as a court messenger in Ughelli, he became a zealous preacher throughout Oyede, all of Isoko down to Forcados, and in the Ughelli area.
‘IN NO RESPECT FRIGHTENED BY OPPONENTS’
As Brothers Brown, Ogunfowoke, Adediji, and Owenpa moved about the country they were now running into much opposition. When Brother Brown visited Ilesha in 1931, the assistant district officer threw him out of the catering rest house and confiscated all of his books. When the governor in Lagos took up the matter, having had a complaint lodged by Brother Brown, the Resident blamed his officers, apologized, and returned the books. However, religious opposition increased against the fledgling group of Bible students.
Describing this, Brother Ladesuyi says: “Catholics, Anglicans and others, who were formerly antagonists, now united against us. They even conspired with pagan chiefs to stop the Bible study meetings which we were holding in a carpenter shop. Our books were seized and we were arrested more than once. When Brother Adediji was arrested in 1932, he was tried in the native court, where he was greatly humiliated and mocked.”
At about the same time, Ogunfowoke was arrested at Oyo when the clergy incited the district officer to prosecute him. Then Joshua Owenpa was arrested at Ibadan and ordered to leave the town within 24 hours. By now, too, the public halls in Lagos had been locked against Jehovah’s Witnesses through the efforts of the clergy. We can see why Brother Brown used to quote Philippians 1:28 in counseling new pioneers not to be intimidated by opposers. They exhibited firm courage as a zealous segment of the more than 80 Witnesses then preaching throughout West Africa.
Sadly, however, not all remained loyal to Jehovah and his visible organization. One who shared in full-time service began to solicit money from the brothers and to use the Society’s funds dishonestly. He became an outright opposer and used the public press to vilify faithful Witnesses. Another sought special prominence when giving lectures. He objected to the requirement of monogamy, defied instructions for all to report their preaching activity, and opposed those who in time properly began to teach that not all should partake of the emblems at the Lord’s Supper. Finally, he left the Lord’s organization and formed a religious group of his own.
WILLING WORKERS BLESSED BY JEHOVAH
Meanwhile, the faithful pioneers were taking the truth into new areas. In 1933 Peter Otudoh, who had been baptized in August 1932 and was working in the branch office, volunteered to go to Badagri near the border with Dahomey (now Benin Republic). He and four others preached in Ikoyi and Ipokia, then in Ijofin and across the border down to Porto-Novo.
In January 1934 the Society sent Alfred Nduaguibe into eastern Nigeria to visit Igboland as a pioneer. He traveled by steamer to Port Harcourt, visited many towns and villages along the coast, from Abonnema to Calabar, and penetrated inland to Enugu, Abakaliki, and even Kaduna in the North. He returned to Lagos and reported to Brother Brown on conditions in the field. After the Watchtower Study that Sunday, Brother Brown asked the audience: “Who are those who want to go to eastern Nigeria to find Jehovah’s sheep there in the preaching work?” Alfred Nduaguibe, Peter Otudoh, and three others volunteered. It was not long before their preaching began to be greatly opposed by the religious leaders. But the brothers were aware that Jehovah was blessing them. As Brother Otudoh said, they “viewed the persecutors as flies perched on the back of an elephant.”
STIRRING PUBLIC LECTURES AND ASSEMBLIES
Perhaps the public lectures were the outstanding feature of the preaching activity at this time. And what subjects they chose! For example, one advertised in Ibadan was entitled “No More Revenue for the Clergy, See Ezekiel 34:10; No More Long Robes to Deceive, See Zechariah 13:4.” No wonder the brothers drew the fire of the clergy.
Assemblies, too, were playing an increasingly important role and were growing in size. The brothers looked forward to them as real spiritual feasts. And what efforts they made to attend! Jacob Ajakaiye tells that he and two others “walked a distance of 150 miles (240 km) from Kabba to Ilesha, took a lorry from Ilesha to Ijebu-Ode, and had to return home the same way.” Brother Egbenoma recalled walking 36 miles (58 km) to an assembly at Sapele. Brother Emeghara trekked 70 miles (113 km) from Aba to another assembly in Calabar.
Such long-distance traveling was both tiring and dangerous. Brothers Brown and Otudoh, for example, narrowly escaped from robbers armed with knives and machetes on the road from Benin City to Agbor. They avoided the roadblock by swerving the car to one side and then had to drive fast in order to escape the pursuing bandits.
A POWERFUL INSTRUMENT FOR SPREADING THE GOOD NEWS
New equipment and a new technique—use of the sound car—appeared in January 1936. Let Brother Brown tell about it:
“It is a pleasure to enter a village for the first time with the sound car, everyone looking with astonishment. . . . We always inquire for the center of the village, and from there we operate, commencing with a lively song record. You can see the people coming toward the car from all parts. In some places the farmers are almost a mile away from the village, plowing the farms, and on hearing the voice from the records . . . they look around and above to see where the voice of God is coming from. Not seeing anyone, they rush toward the village . . . After the lecture we announce the books and booklets; then they rush. . . . Some days we distributed over 1,400 penny booklets.”
There were now 250 publishers, including 38 pioneers and 28 auxiliaries, in West Africa.
UNUSUAL PREACHING METHODS
Every available means was used in spreading the Kingdom message: placards hung on spears, phonograph records, the sound car, and speaking trumpets. These trumpets, some of which were trumpets from old gramophones, came into use throughout the land as soon as the brothers noted the fine effects the sound car was producing. Reactions, of course, were varied. So were the techniques used by the trumpeters and the unlikely locations they chose as strategic points from which to sound their trumpets.
In the Opobo Division, in southeastern Nigeria, Peter Udosen Mkpong would climb a tree as early as 4:00 a.m. and sound the trumpet with song followed by Bible teaching. He got good results. On the other hand, when Daniel Uwaekwe and his companions tried to use the trumpets at Isiekenesi, the people attacked them with sticks, machetes, and other weapons.
TESTED AS TO LOYALTY
In the meantime, the West Africa branch was benefiting from organizational refinements that were being put into effect worldwide starting in 1938. The companies (congregations) were gradually reorganized to conform to the Scriptural theocratic pattern, and all appointments of servants began to be made directly by the Society. This called for greater individual submission to organizational instructions. It called for complete loyalty to theocratic arrangements. And it is this loyalty that came under test at about that time.
In 1939 S. A. Adediji, who was then working in the branch office, received an article that argued that the Lord Jesus Christ was not present. A covering letter pretended that it came from the Society’s headquarters and instructed that it be read in the various congregations at a stated time. Brother Brown was temporarily away. Adediji knew that the article had come from a Canadian apostate named Salter. He knew that The Watchtower of June 1, 1937, had reported that Salter had been disfellowshipped, and that it had been resolved to “destroy without reading any such literature received through the mail or otherwise.” Yet he sent out instructions that copies of the article should be read and discussed at one of the meetings of each congregation in Nigeria. Much harm resulted in a number of congregations as a result of this. In time, the tendency that Adediji there manifested caused him to withdraw from the organization, and he went back to being an Anglican clergyman.
In contrast, some of the brothers who received the letter refused to read it to the congregation, because they recognized that it was fraudulent. Their alertness and loyalty helped to safeguard the flock.
By 1940 “the little one” became a thousand in Nigeria. There were 1,051 active praisers of Jehovah. (Isa. 60:22) But severe pressures lay ahead.
WORLD WAR BRINGS RESTRICTIONS
The outbreak of World War II brought severe trials to Jehovah’s Witnesses in many lands. On May 10, 1940, an Order in Council prohibited the importation into Nigeria of Watch Tower publications, claiming that they contained seditious and undesirable matter. But who was it that found them to be “undesirable”? Not the common people but the clergy, whose organizations had been exposed therein as religious frauds. Now they used their age-old tactic of employing the secular state to oppose and hinder the Kingdom message.
Though the government’s prohibition was issued on May 10, it was “deemed to have come into operation on the 13th day of March.” Why? Because 15,450 copies of the book Enemies in Yoruba had arrived from New York on the 14th of March. And that was a book that the clergy especially feared.
When Brother Brown interviewed the governor about the matter, the governor expressed annoyance at the exposure of the Catholic hierarchy in that book. He claimed that the church had done good in Nigeria. This led to a discussion concerning which Brother Brown reported:
“I told him the people who have read the literature are better Christians and more law-abiding than the others and I pointed out that officials throughout Nigeria acknowledge their good conduct. He looked at me squarely with a frown, and a smile, and said, ‘You know, Mr. Brown, we are expecting a conflict, and if your books are widely read, they will become Christians and will not join up. After the war the books will be released.’”
ARRESTS AND PETITIONS
Already in 1940 district officers and some rural policemen had begun to arrest the brothers for distributing literature. Brothers were arrested at Ilesha, but they were discharged by the Magistrate’s Court in Ile Ife. The prosecutor was reprimanded for his overzealousness. When Brother Owenpa was arrested in Sapele and all his books were confiscated, he advised the brothers to continue preaching with their Bibles alone.
Police in Lagos, too, arrested publishers witnessing from house to house. On July 31, 1941, they confiscated seven truckloads of books and 700 records from the Society’s office. Although it was understood that this literature would be returned at the end of the emergency, over 250,000 pieces were officially burned in 1943, much to the astonishment of the general public. The Daily Service, a Lagos newspaper, pointedly said that “the destruction of these books is entirely unjustifiable.”
The brothers kept making petitions to the government for the ban to be lifted; but the only concessions granted were to individuals, allowing them to keep their own private libraries. Thus the Bible was now the only book that Jehovah’s Witnesses could use in their public ministry, and they used it to the full. In addition to that, they took advantage of local newspapers to advertise the Theocracy. There was a feature column in the West African Pilot, under the heading “Public Opinion,” in which articles submitted by Brother Brown appeared regularly. And they managed to print thousands of handbills (tracts) locally in English and Yoruba for wide distribution. However, it was the program of public lectures and personal Bible studies that particularly bore fruit. Hundreds of new disciples were being made. Let us introduce some of these who received the truth during the war and later served in the branch office or as traveling overseers.
THEY CAME OUT OF THE WAR
Asuquo Akpabio was 19 years old in 1943 when he first saw Jehovah’s Witnesses giving open-air lectures at Itu, near Calabar. He and his friends tried to disrupt the Witnesses’ meetings. But not for long. First his friends became interested in what they heard at the lectures and started to study with the Witnesses. Then, no longer having their support, his opposing remarks were silenced at one of the lectures by someone in the audience who shouted: “Why are you kicking against the goads?” Asuquo walked away; but the Witnesses visited him the next day, and he started studying the Bible with them. He and his friends were baptized that same year. Remembering those events, he says: “We became preachers facing the same opposition we had given—enduring constant beatings from the priests and prominent church members.”
Samuel Opara was baptized in 1943 at the age of 13. He had been receiving a religious upbringing by his mother’s stepbrother, who was a schoolteacher and the pastor in the local African Church although he had two wives at the time. Coming in contact with J. F. Rutherford’s books, this pastor was convinced by the ring of truth and became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. So Samuel also learned the truth and started on a career of faithful service that brought him much opposition from family members and townspeople.
Then there was Albert Olugbebi—baptized in 1945. Albert’s father had taught him the truth but was later expelled from the congregation for polygamy. Nevertheless, Albert continued firm and, despite his father’s strong opposition, later gave up a promising civil service career to become a pioneer.
By 1946 the war had ended, and the Witnesses in Nigeria rejoiced to see how much Jehovah had blessed his people. They had come through six hard years, and yet they had grown in number from 636 in 1939 to 3,542 in 1946. The time now seemed right to make a big effort to get the ban on the Society’s literature lifted.
The 1947 Yearbook describes it as follows: “Early this year information was received from headquarters that in some parts of the Caribbean success was achieved as a result of a Petition signed by the general public appealing on behalf of Jehovah’s witnesses. We decided to follow suit, [and to get] a few . . . members of the Legislative Council to take up the matter at a meeting which was due to be held on March 18, 1946. . . . We had barely a fortnight to get matters through, but the brethren worked hard and were privileged to secure over 10,000 signatures of the educated class. . . . The authorities were astonished to see the names of almost all the leading citizens . . . [Two months later] the ban was rescinded, to the joy of the brethren and the general public, who cheered us wherever we went. The news was gazetted by the government on May 18, 1946, and on the following morning the local press blazed it out in bold headlines.”
The brothers immediately wrote to the government requesting the return of seized literature and recovered what had not been destroyed by the police. Then in December they joyfully received the new books “Let God Be True” and “Equipped for Every Good Work” at their “Glad Nations” Conventions, which had a combined attendance of over 5,000.
FIRST GILEAD GRADUATES ARRIVE
A new chapter in the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in West Africa opened up in June 1947 when the first Gilead graduates arrived in Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast (now Ghana), and Nigeria. It was really a joyful occasion when Brother Brown led the Lagos Bethel family in welcoming Ernest V. Moreton and Harold Masinick, from Canada, and Anthony C. Attwood, from England. Since then, 51 other non-Nigerian missionaries have served here at various times.
With trained missionaries to help, the branch office and Bethel organization were brought more fully into line with the procedure followed at headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. The 201 congregations were formed into 11 circuits, each served by a servant to the brethren (circuit overseer). These included Samuel Ladesuyi, Asuquo Akpabio, Joshua Owenpa, and Amos Wosu. Semiannual circuit assemblies now began to be held and were supervised by an appointed district overseer who, at that time, was one of the Gilead graduates.
The Service Meeting and Theocratic Ministry School in each congregation also began to serve more effectively in training the brothers to be productive teachers of the Bible. Instead of the former widespread proclamation that was made by sound car and recorded speeches, more emphasis was placed on the preaching and teaching activity of the individual minister.
GETTING TO KNOW THE MISSIONARIES
The brothers were eager to meet the new missionaries—the first white brothers in Nigeria. They soon had opportunity to get acquainted with Brother Attwood as he accompanied Brother Brown to four circuit assemblies. Non-Witnesses too were curious about these new arrivals.
An experience of John Charuk—a missionary who came later—is typical of how the villagers responded. He tells us: “As we walked to my place of lodging [at Umutu] . . . half the village was following and eventually almost all the inhabitants had gathered to see the white man and his place of accommodation—a humble African home. . . .
“On Saturday morning about 50 men, women, and children followed me around to record with their eyes the unbelievable sight of a white man preaching the gospel in their homes through an interpreter. . . . On Sunday, in spite of rain, 21 were immersed and 794 gave rapt attention to the public talk. Two weeks later I heard that six of the villagers had burned or ‘drowned’ their jujus [had thrown them into the river] and are now Kingdom publishers.”
There were also reactions in Lagos and other big cities. Brother Attwood says: “We were the first white people who as Jehovah’s Witnesses had ever entered Nigeria. . . . So one can well imagine that other white people here, . . . particularly government officials, would be . . . a bit concerned about [our activities]. Brother Brown had given them plenty of headaches. His fearless preaching all over the country had not been a thing that they had enjoyed very much . . . and now to have someone from England . . . carrying on the same kind of activity, was somewhat distasteful to them.”
BROTHER KNORR COMES
At the end of the same year in which the first missionaries arrived, the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, and his secretary M. G. Henschel made their first visit to Nigeria. This was truly one of the highlights of the year. Brother Knorr gave a public lecture in Lagos, and they attended one of the two conventions arranged for their visit. All together, 10,000 persons at Ibadan and Lagos heard Brother Knorr’s lecture “The Permanent Governor of All Nations.” Mishaps encountered along the way prevented them from getting to the other convention, in Igboland. But Brothers Attwood and Moreton managed to cross the Niger River by canoe, and after a midnight journey by truck, they reached Enugu to serve the convention there.
At the Ibadan assembly Brother Attwood’s appointment as branch overseer was announced. Brother Brown had served faithfully for 25 years, but now the greatly increased work at the branch office, coupled with his age and failing health, made it desirable to have the burden fall on younger shoulders. Brothers Moreton and Masinick, who were at first working in the field in Lagos, were also called into the office.
POLYGAMY POSES PROBLEMS
Ever since 1934 when some individuals objected to the requiring of monogamy among Jehovah’s Witnesses, polygamy had continued to pose problems for the brothers. Many who had become associated with Jehovah’s organization still kept several wives. These included some prominent ones who misapplied the scripture at 1 Corinthians 7:20: “In whatever state each one was called, let him remain in it.”
However, The Watchtower of January 15, 1947, some months before Brother Knorr’s visit to Nigeria, explained that the Scriptural standard of one wife to one husband must be maintained worldwide. A letter was then sent to the congregations, giving polygamists six months to clean up their marital affairs or lose their privileges. The majority of the brothers were very happy to see this firm stand for conformity to Bible principles.
But hundreds of Witnesses now faced a decision: Would they give up an age-old and socially accepted institution for Christian standards, which some of them had known for only a few years or months? Could they make a stand against the ridicule of friends and the outright opposition of their families? Some openly expressed doubts that Jehovah’s Witnesses could succeed where the churches had failed. Many people of the world predicted that if Jehovah’s Witnesses tried to abolish polygamy from their ranks, it would mean abolishing the ranks.
Recalling what happened when Brother Knorr discussed the Society’s directives on polygamy at Ibadan and Lagos that year, Brother Moreton wrote: “Johnson Adejuyigbe, from Akure, had three wives and ten children. Right there in the booth, immediately after the booth was cleared, he got his wives in front of him and told them what was to be done, and he settled his affairs then and there.”
Narrating his own reactions to Brother Attwood’s talk at a district convention in Warri earlier that year, Richard Idodia said: “I did not wait for the six months to elapse before I dismissed the surplus [wives], retaining only one.”
Some, though, did not see clearly that this instruction had come from God’s Word. Asuquo Akpabio, for example, relates that the brother with whom he stayed at Ifiayong woke him at midnight and demanded that he change the announcement regarding polygamy. Because he refused to do so, his host threw him out in the pouring rain that night. Nevertheless, polygamy was soon eliminated from the congregations, with very little loss in numbers.
LITERACY PROGRAM LAUNCHED
It had long been recognized that illiteracy was a huge problem. In 1946 Brother Brown estimated that, of the 23 million inhabitants of Nigeria, barely one million could read and write, and that only 2 percent of the people in the North were literate.
Although a greater proportion of Jehovah’s Witnesses were able to read, many were illiterate. They had learned the truth of God’s Word solely by hearing it preached. To share most effectively in the ministry, they needed to learn to read. In October 1949 literacy classes were started in each congregation, using manuals that were prepared locally by the Society. This literacy campaign continues to this day.
BAMBOO BOOTHS AND BROKEN IDOLS
Growing attendance at assemblies over the years had made it difficult to find halls large enough for the district conventions. So the brothers built giant booths of bamboo, palm leaves, and locally woven reed mats, often in clearings surrounded by rich tropical vegetation. At times the attendance at public meetings would reach staggering figures, because an entire town would turn out to hear the lecture. At an assembly in Obiaruku, in midwestern Nigeria, for example, the brothers numbered only 300, while 4,626 showed up for the convention.
At Okpara Waterside in February 1949, newly interested ones attending the circuit assembly asked the brothers to come to their homes to clear out their idol gods. The assembly practically broke up the religious racket of the juju priests in that town. In another town, a native king who used to persecute the brothers was deposed and run out of town by the enraged populace because of his corrupt rule. When the brothers came together for a circuit assembly, the chiefs handed over the vacated palace to be used for assembly sessions and to house many of the visitors.
AU REVOIR, “BIBLE” BROWN
After 27 years of service in West Africa, Brother Brown and his family left Nigeria on April 4, 1950, for the West Indies. This was considered newsworthy by a member of the Legislative Council who was also editor of the Daily Times. He published an article captioned “‘BIBLE BROWN’ SAYS AU REVOIR, NOT GOOD-BYE,” in which he said: “Today ‘Bible’ Brown has become an institution and is the friend of all, young and old, European, African and Lebanese, even by those who disagreed with him and hated his religious propaganda. . . . Lagos will miss the familiar figure of ‘Bible’ Brown, and all his friends will wish him and Mrs. Brown good luck in their home in the Caribbean Isles.” Ten years later, in connection with Nigeria’s independence celebrations, the governor-general, who well remembered the good work done by “Bible” Brown, invited them to return to Nigeria for a visit as guests of the government.
In their farewell letter to Brother Brown in 1950 the brothers said, that “‘one man has become thousands’ is not idle talk.” Yes, the number of Kingdom publishers in Nigeria had grown to 8,370. Jehovah was plainly blessing his own work in this land.
The Gilead missionaries took up where Brother Brown was leaving off, and they had wonderful experiences serving assemblies as district overseers. They traveled by airplane, car, truck, canoe, bicycle, and oftentimes like Jesus, on foot. Their assignments took them off the beaten track into villages deep in the dense rain forests, the bush, where time seemed to have stood still for hundreds of years and where pagan juju worship held sway, with its secret societies exercising almost unlimited power.
Coming to Aka Eze for a circuit assembly, John Charuk, who, with his brother Michael, had arrived in Nigeria from Canada after graduating from Gilead in 1949, reported:
“I found Aka Eze . . . happy to live on in primitive conditions. All the houses were round mud huts with conical grass roofs. There is no well and the only drinking water is a shallow creek where everyone bathes. . . . The brothers, however, have built their own compound on the edge of the village and keep it very clean. They have a good Kingdom Hall and have planted flowers and shrubs round it. . . . After the public lecture, attended by 990, several people remarked, ‘We too must become Jehovah’s Witnesses.’”
As the truth penetrated into remote areas, more and more people were being freed from false religion and idolatry. Secret societies and other idol worshipers did not like this and opposed the brothers. But somehow there usually opened up a way of beating back such opposition. For example, in Itu, where we had much opposition from secret societies, the district officer, a Canadian, advised all the chiefs of his district not to fight against Jehovah’s Witnesses. He said: “They are not many but they are powerful. They have changed the laws of Canada. No one fights them and conquers.” This put fear into the chiefs and many came to the public lecture of the district convention that they had opposed, bringing their followers with them.
At a district convention in another part of the country, a man who was steeped in demon worship made known his desire to be free. Fearing to destroy his idol gods, he came to the Witnesses late in the evening, requesting them to do the job. It was late at night by the time some 100 brothers reached the man’s house. The juju house was set on fire, and countless idols and charms were thrown into the crackling flames. Through demon-inspired oracles and priests these jujus had been imposing needless restrictions on the lives of the people. The man had spent all his money trying to satisfy these idol gods. Now he was free!
MORE GILEAD GRADUATES
In 1951 it was felt that more organized witnessing should be done in Ibadan. With a population of over 320,000, it was the largest city in Nigeria. (The population of Lagos was at that time a little more than 200,000.) So a missionary home was opened there in April to assist the local publishers. The missionary family included the Charuk brothers and Charlie Young, who had arrived from England with Wilfred Gooch.
As of September 1, 1951, Brother Gooch began to serve in Lagos as the branch overseer. Then in December, Brother Young began to share the district work with the Charuks, and later, when his companions were refused new visas and so were reassigned to Liberia, he became the sole district overseer. Thereafter, for more than a decade, Brother Young traveled all over the country, dwelling in the homes of publishers in villages and towns, serving assemblies. Because of this, he developed an intimate interaction with the people and perhaps had a more widespread personal impact upon the brothers than any other non-Nigerian Gilead graduate that had served in this land. The brothers felt a great loss when he and his wife Anne returned to England in April 1965.
But it was a cause for joy when three of our own Nigerian brothers (Asuquo Akpabio, Matthew Prighen, and Reuben Udoh) graduated from Gilead’s 18th class and returned to take up their work as circuit overseers. These were the first of 17 Nigerians who have attended the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead.
POLYGAMISTS IN CONTRAST
The Society’s magazines continued to produce good results in the lives of honesthearted people. Such a person was a chief who subscribed for The Watchtower and recognized the truth in what he read. But he did not know what to do next. In due time the circuit overseer visited him, and they studied the Yoruba Watchtower. Deciding to become a witness of Jehovah, he put away 13 of his 14 wives and got baptized.
On the other hand, some secret polygamists were discovered in a long-established congregation that had been making very little progress. When they were expelled in line with the instructions on disfellowshipping in The Watchtower of March 1, 1952, Jehovah’s blessing on the brothers again became manifest. The number of publishers jumped in a few months from 130 to over 200.
There were also unexpected blessings in Ebute Metta, Lagos, a year later, when some who had followed an apostate many years previously in favor of polygamy had their spiritual sight restored. Albert Olih, a member of the Bethel family, dealt with this because he was then presiding overseer in the Ebute Metta Congregation. Here is his story:
“One day some members of [an apostate group that called themselves] ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses Organisation’ came to see me. They wanted to know how to come back to the theocratic organization. They said they could no longer agree with the other members on the matter of polygamy. They were advised to move out from among them if they were convinced that Jehovah is using only one visible organization on earth. So on one Sunday evening 100 of them walked into our Kingdom Hall and declared their stand for Jehovah. It was like a congregation being born in one day. They made needed adjustments in their lives.”
PUBLIC MEETINGS—NIGERIAN STYLE
The Kingdom work continued to move ahead rapidly, and public lectures given in the villages were having a fine effect. The way in which they were organized reflects the flavor of life in this part of the world. Here is how a district overseer described them, starting with the arrival of publishers in the village:
“The group breaks up . . . going from house to house, all except [one with a large metal horn] who walks down the center of the road announcing a public lecture. . . . [Later] the Witnesses . . . proceed to a large open space in the middle of the village under a huge mango tree. A table is brought out from a nearby house, . . . a [kerosene lamp] is provided. . . . The Witnesses form a neat semicircle before the speaker and soon the villagers, some three to four hundred, are crowding behind. . . . Darkness has now fallen and all is quiet . . . as, Bible in hand, the speaker drives home his points.”
These public meetings took on a new dimension when the Society’s films began to be used. Whole villages would turn up for the showings, swelling the local congregation of a few publishers to an attendance of 500 or more. These would sit on the grass, African style, in front of a large elevated screen. At circuit assemblies large audiences of up to 8,000 people were frequently attracted.
PENETRATING UNASSIGNED TERRITORY
By 1954 unassigned territory campaigns during May, June, and July had become a regular annual feature of the preaching work. Although that was the season of heavy rains, it was a time when the brothers, most of whom were farmers, could devote much time to the preaching activity. It was also a time when many people could be found at home.
During such campaigns it became commonplace to find “lost sheep,” but one party of brothers enjoyed the unusual experience of finding a lost congregation of “sheep.” This happened in a very isolated area of the swampy Niger Delta, where these publishers had never witnessed before. They met a group of about a dozen people who were regularly studying the Society’s publications and witnessing. This study group had come into existence when a publisher had gone there to pursue his secular work. When he left they continued to study and they preached, although no one in the Society’s office knew of the existence of that group until it was “discovered” during the unassigned territory campaign.
Another group was found in northern Nigeria. The brothers there received vague reports of interested people in a village where everyone else practiced the ancient traditional religious cult. The nearest publisher was a special pioneer 40 miles (64 km) away. In company with the circuit overseer, he made a special journey by bicycle to search them out. After losing their way, they finally reached the place, almost exhausted. Their effort was rewarded, however, when they found over 30 people studying together around a Bible. Their only previous contact with the Kingdom message had been by word of mouth.
TO KNEEL OR NOT TO KNEEL?
For a number of years the brothers around Warri had been having great difficulty over the matter of miguọ—kneeling before older men—a custom in the delta area. Some of the older brothers in the area had decided that all bowing to men was wrong. The branch office had been telling individuals to decide the matter for themselves. But a number of the older brothers continued to forbid the younger ones to kneel, even disfellowshipping for “idol worship” some who did kneel. On the other hand, those who refused to do miguọ were persecuted by the local people for failure to observe the custom, and this was hindering many interested ones who viewed it simply as a matter of showing proper respect.
Then came The Watchtower of May 15, 1954, answering the question: “Should we worship Jesus?” This settled the matter. It clearly showed the distinction between bowing out of respect or salutation and bowing out of worship or allegiance. The vast majority of the brothers were satisfied with this. But a small minority who had taken a stubborn stand for a long time were now too proud to back down, and they left the organization.
IMPROVED ORGANIZATIONAL ARRANGEMENTS
After having been refused a visa by the government in 1952, Brother Henschel was allowed to visit Nigeria again in November 1955. This helped to make the “Triumphant Kingdom” Assemblies that he attended at Aba and Ilesha very special for the nearly 34,000 in attendance.
Thereafter, adjustments were made in the congregations and circuits in order to give more personal attention with a view to helping individuals to advance to maturity. Since some 25 percent of the publishers in many circuits were not baptized, a teaching program was introduced to help these to progress to dedication and baptism. The congregations were reorganized and strengthened by combining small groups with stronger ones nearby. The circuits were also reduced in size so the circuit overseer could make three visits instead of two each year, thus enabling them to give more regular training to the publishers.
About this time it was realized that many congregations had been making the Memorial celebration a public affair in the marketplace. They were even counting passersby as attenders. This inflated the attendance figures and also led to indecorous incidents and arguments with opposers. Instructions in the Informant (now Our Kingdom Ministry) ended this, resulting in a lower attendance figure—24,330 in 1956 as against 33,027 in 1955—but a far more dignified meeting.
Magazine distribution was also given attention. The brothers were beginning to catch on to its value in spreading the good news. In January 1957 the new-style Igbo and Yoruba Watchtower appeared in color. The brothers were thrilled. A Lagos congregation increased its average magazine distribution from 0.7 per publisher in September to 7.0 in January. One brother went out on magazine day and placed 73 in two hours in a market. Another reported, “People run after us in the street to get them.”
Since people were literally ‘running after us,’ care had to be taken about those who were accepted for baptism. Starting with January 1, 1956, the congregation overseer was given the responsibility of testing baptismal candidates and signing a statement that they had to present in order to be accepted for baptism at an assembly. It was required that they first complete studying the book “Let God Be True,” that they be persons who had studied for at least six months, and that they be meeting basic Christian requirements.
ENSURING HONORABLE MARRIAGES
More help came in September and October 1956 in Watchtower articles on marriage. These came to grips with such problems as extortionate bride-price, trial marriage, sexual relations during the engagement period, and abandonment of undocumented marriages. Marriages performed according to traditional custom now had to be suitably documented. The “Declaration of Marriage” form was introduced, and its use was eventually restricted to those whose unbelieving mates refused to have the marriage recorded. However, the greater benefits of contracting marriages under the Nigerian Ordinance of Marriage rather than by the customary marriage system were stressed, and this produced a spate of registrations in various parts of the country.
A notable case was that of a 99-year-old brother and his 55-year-old wife. They were already married by customary law, but now one of the newspapers reported: “For thirty-four years, a man and woman lived [together] and bore seven children. Yesterday . . . they were declared husband and wife at the Lagos Marriage Registry. Mr. Edo . . . is a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect and both of them go out to preach the gospel.”
Over the years since then, many Kingdom Halls throughout the country have been licensed as centers for marriage ceremonies. The government recognizes appointed elders in the congregations as legally qualified to perform the registrations in such halls.
HISTORIC ASSEMBLIES OF JEHOVAH’S SERVANTS
Early in 1958 we had a truly historic convention in Benin City. For the first time, brothers speaking different languages had separate booths on the same assembly ground. Nine languages were represented, the attendance totaled 19,731, and 740 were baptized. Among those present for the public lecture was the Oba (traditional king) of Benin, Akenzua II, who expressed his appreciation to the assembled audience.
As the service year closed, Nigeria was represented at the “Divine Will” International Convention in New York by 12 delegates, including two Gilead students who graduated on the first day of the convention.
Then early in 1959 a rousing call went out to all the Witnesses in Nigeria: “Come to Ilesha, March 12-15!” Why? For the “Divine Will” National Assembly, which Brother Knorr would attend. The government had denied him entrance in 1952. On Sunday, 27,926, representing 11 language groups, listened with rapt attention as he spoke on the subject “A Paradise Earth Through God’s Kingdom.” The conventioners were also delighted to receive the new book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, a book that was specially suitable for Africa with its literacy problems.
SPECIAL SCHOOLING TO FILL OUR NEEDS
When the Kingdom Ministry School, for training overseers, got started in Lagos in September 1961, this marked a forward step in equipping them to care for their responsibilities more effectively. The literacy classes were also producing good results. The program had been streamlined, and better teaching manuals were provided. The brothers were also encouraged to cooperate with the government literacy program, and many were becoming literate through that arrangement.
Back in 1952 one brother, who could not read four years previously, had learned to read so well that he was made instructor of the reading classes in his congregation. Ezekiel Ovbiagele was illiterate when he was baptized in 1940. He enrolled in the literacy class and learned to read and write; he became a pioneer and by 1953 was sufficiently qualified to be appointed as a traveling overseer.
Many who have learned to read were already elderly and thought that they no longer had the ability to learn. But their desire to read the Scriptures for themselves and teach others reawakened their eagerness to learn. A sister over 60 years old, who had been sick for more than 20 years, regularly traveled five miles (8 km) each week by canoe to attend her reading class. She demonstrated her advancement at a circuit assembly in 1952 when she stood up and read fluently from the Scriptures. What joy such progress brought!
By 1961 several thousand adults had become literate through these classes. Commenting on this, Brother Gooch said: “Kingdom Halls are used to hold reading classes to which all in the village are welcome.” Illustrating the results, he told of the Umuochita Congregation, which had many villagers attending congregation meetings because the Kingdom Hall had become their “schoolhouse.” Our figures show that 19,238 additional adults were taught to read and write in our congregation classes between 1962 and 1984.
BROTHER GOOCH DEPARTS
In 1963 after Wilfred Gooch attended a special ten-month Gilead course in Brooklyn, he was assigned as branch overseer of the British Isles. His wife, Gwen, joined him there. He had served in Nigeria for 12 years and had contributed much toward organizational stability within the branch office and in the congregations.
Woodworth Mills, who had been serving in Nigeria since 1956, replaced him as branch overseer. Brother Mills, originally from Trinidad, and his wife Oris had pioneered in Aruba before attending Gilead and thereafter coming to Nigeria.
SOLID FAITH IN THE MIDST OF NATIONAL UNREST
Postindependence political troubles were now plaguing the country, and economic conditions were deteriorating. May and June 1964 witnessed serious labor unrest, including riots as well as postal and harbor strikes. This was just a foretaste of what was to come. But Jehovah’s Witnesses did not get involved. They kept busy in the work of Kingdom witnessing.
The unsettled conditions affected field service activities. But the 35,039 publishers did what they could, and the outlook for continued progress in the Kingdom work was bright. Among those serving Kingdom interests were many elderly publishers who were showing solid faith. With trust in Jehovah, they gave evidence of strength beyond what is normal. For example, to attend the “Fruitage of the Spirit” Assembly at Oshogbo in 1964, an 80-year-old brother walked 97 miles (156 km).
At this time there were 1,919 in various forms of pioneer service taking the truth into new areas and organizing congregations in remote villages. They often faced demonic opposition, as happened in the village of Ago-Ṣaṣa.
Because a pioneer disregarded orders to quit the village in seven days, a priest of the tribal god Sango cursed him. The next day an unseasonal thunderstorm struck the vicinity of the Kingdom Hall where the pioneer was studying privately. Lightning destroyed a nearby tree and momentarily paralyzed him. A few days later a villager made this remark to him: “You must have powerful medicine. When the Sango priest left you, he got bitter kola [the nut from a tropical tree] and a fowl and made a curse against you before Sango. Sango struck your hall but you lived. Today that priest was struck dead by lightning in his own home.”
There was then only a congregation book study being held at Ago-Ṣaṣa; but the townspeople who heard the priest threaten the pioneer regarded it as a trial of spirit power. Convinced of Jehovah’s supremacy, many villagers took an interest in the truth.
A CRISIS BEGINS
The riots of 1964 proved to have been just a token of what was to come. Political disturbances, army revolts, lawlessness, and tribal violence escalated during 1965. This culminated in a coup by army officers on January 15, 1966, which placed the country firmly in the grip of a military regime.
These events put great strains on the Kingdom-preaching work; yet April of 1966 was the first month in which more than one million hours were spent in the field service, and the 800th congregation was enrolled. Interestingly, out of 42,000 publishers reporting field service in 1965, there were 4,280 persons between 51 and 70 years of age; 808 were over 70, and many of these were among the 5,460 who had been in the truth for more than 15 years. They had already given evidence that theirs was an enduring faith.
By mid-1966 there were 1,514 publishers and 26 special pioneers in the northern provinces. These are the ones that now underwent some of the most severe hardships.
Violent riots broke out in May and continued intermittently till October. Angered by the assassinations of their political and religious leaders during the coup and by the political stance of Igbo leaders, and irritated by the success of Igbos working in the North, the northern tribes rose up against them, making them the target for massacres. Most of the brothers were Igbos and had to flee to their hometowns in the southeast. Even so, about 20, including some servants and pioneers, were killed. Many lost all their possessions. Two Kingdom Halls were burned, and others were badly damaged. By mid-September the preaching of the good news in the North came to a virtual standstill.
PROTECTED BY NEUTRALITY
The Society immediately organized relief aid, sending out clothing and household materials. Meanwhile the neutral stand of these brothers, coupled with the preaching they had been doing, earned protection for many of them.
When rioters in Zaria broke into a compound and started to destroy the buildings, their leader suddenly stopped them and said: “The people living here are not connected with our political trouble.” He had seen the brothers and our publications in the houses.
At Kano a brother was walking home with a co-worker when they were suddenly surrounded by a mob. The brother was knocked down. As one of the men drew his knife to kill him, another mobster shouted, “Stop! Do not touch him! He preached to me two days ago!” Others agreed that the brother was not one of those they were looking for. They left him but killed his non-Witness companion.
MEETING THE TIMES OF CRISIS
In the midst of violence that was spreading throughout the country, 67,376 persons attended three “God’s Sons of Liberty” District Assemblies in November 1966. However, the political situation was deteriorating rapidly. The Igbos were being harassed in Hausaland to the north and in Yorubaland to the west. Even Igbo-speaking members of the Bethel family were threatened by the growing terrorism. Igboland to the east was becoming isolated.
Brothers Mills, Akpabio, and Olih from the office visited eastern Nigeria during April 1967. Encouragement and counsel were given. This was just in time, as the very next month the country was plunged into war.
COPING WITH A WAR
The eastern states proclaimed secession from the Federation of Nigeria on May 30, creating the Republic of Biafra. The existing state of emergency became critical. The federal army was mobilized. A total economic blockade was imposed against the East, and all telephone, telegraph, mail, air, and road links were cut. The tensions exploded into a violent civil war.
In mid-June, before the outbreak of full-scale fighting, Brothers Mills and Akpabio made a hazardous 12-day visit to Biafra. Meetings were held with the brothers, who were helped see the need for maintaining strict Christian neutrality and staying close to Jehovah’s organization. A hand-to-hand mail delivery system was organized, and arrangements were made to direct instructions and literature supplies to Asaba on the western bank of the Niger River. It was hoped that they could be transmitted from there to the East. But by August 15, war had spread to the Midwest, and the branch office was cut off from contact with two more districts and 22 circuits in that area. This was a serious disruption, because the Midwest was the funnel through which spiritual supplies and communications got in to and out of the eastern districts. Now this funnel was sealed.
Happily, this situation proved to be only temporary. Yet, even during that time the pioneer spirit among the brothers in the affected areas was high. A brother who was then district overseer in the Midwest recalls: “Even when we were cut off from the branch office by the war in 1967, the publishers were so eager to pioneer that we had to form a special committee to make provisional appointments for them.”
INTEGRITY AND INCREASE DURING WAR
Since Biafra was aflame with the war, the Igbo brothers were cut off from participation with the 47,452 who attended the series of “Disciple-making” District Assemblies during December of 1967 and January of 1968. But they were active in the preaching work. As communication trickled through, it was learned that they had reached a peak of 11,812 publishers in December, and that the next March 16,302 gathered in 217 places for the Memorial. In one area the brothers secured just one bottle of wine, and each congregation got about two spoonfuls for the celebration.
These dedicated Christians maintained strict neutrality toward the conflict. While the authorities on the Nigerian side generally took no issue with this, the Biafran authorities rejected any neutral stand. One divisional officer said: “People who are not prepared to contribute to the winning of this war of survival must be ready to quit this republic.” Biafran newspapers published hostile comments against the brothers, and there was a wave of incitement that whipped up public opinion against them. The fire of persecution became intense.
As actual fighting got closer and closer to them, the brothers kept retreating through the bush in groups. Moving from place to place, they built huts in which they held Bible meetings each day. Non-Witnesses who observed them were greatly amazed that they would not indulge in looting as they passed through abandoned properties, not even eating cassava from abandoned farms, though they were almost starving. When food became so scarce that many of the starving population were reduced to eating human flesh, the brothers did not join them. Trusting in Jehovah, they kept alive by eating lizards, snakes, grasshoppers—anything that contained protein or could fill their stomachs without poisoning them.
Throughout this time the brothers were hunted like animals. Many were dragged forcibly to army depots and brutally beaten when they refused to become soldiers. One pioneer was beaten with 374 strokes. A young pioneer’s assertion that he was already a soldier of Christ brought a blow across the head with the comment, “Your appointment as a soldier of Christ is terminated; you are now a Biafran soldier.” Courageously he answered, “Jehovah has not yet notified me that my appointment as his soldier is terminated, and my appointment stands until I receive such notification.” He endured further brutal treatment. He was even forcibly carried to the war front; but since he had no enrollment number, the commanding officer said: “I cannot fight with an unidentified soldier.” He ordered that he be taken back to camp to obtain a number. On the way, the soldier that was sent with him said: “If you like you can go now. You have no number and nobody can succeed in tracing you.” The brother thanked him and left.
Another brother was held and tortured in an underground bunker at Atani on the bank of the Niger River. A maimed brother who was appointed to take food to him returned with the report that even though the brother had insufficient air and was covered with perspiration, he was always singing praises to Jehovah. He encouraged other brothers to be of strong courage. After some days, he died singing Jehovah’s praises.
A GOD OF SAVING ACTS
Such experiences taught the brothers that Jehovah strengthens his servants to endure—even as far as death. But many survived. Some escaped after being buried alive, shot at by firing squads, beaten and abandoned as dead, tied and set ablaze. No wonder they now spoke of Jehovah as a God of saving acts.—Ps. 68:20.
Sisters also went through severe tests. Soldiers attempted to rape some of them. But when one sister prayed to Jehovah, feigned epilepsy and collapsed, frothing at the mouth, the soldiers took to their heels. Brother Ekong of Uyo Afaha Nkan was shot when he refused to let soldiers rape his daughter, and others, too, were killed because they would not allow their wives or daughters to be violated.
TRAVELING OVERSEERS HELP
The circuit overseers were playing a courageous role in building up the brothers spiritually. Benjamin Osueke, who now serves at the Lagos branch with his wife, was one of these. He gives us these recollections:
“The Witnesses proved to be their brothers’ keepers in the real sense of the word. Brothers from severely disturbed areas were accommodated by those in undisturbed parts. Because women had relatively freer movement than the menfolk, sisters provided food for the brothers who were hiding away from conscriptors. Through the help of a regular pioneer sister, I was able to visit several groups of publishers inside the bush. The other circuit overseers were equally alert to locate the bush areas where the brothers settled so they could visit these brothers and offer spiritual encouragement. The brothers appreciated this and also took risks on our behalf. Isaac Nwagwu, for example, ferried me over the Otamiri River in a canoe at great risk to his own safety. One of the group of publishers who came to see me off exclaimed, ‘This is the best day of my life. I never thought I would live to see a circuit servant in this life again. If I die now in the heat of this war, I am satisfied.’”
There were six Gilead graduates among them who provided much encouragement and strength. The three district overseers acted as a committee to organize and supervise the work. They kept in touch with the publishers, collected and compiled field service reports, and organized circuit assemblies. But were they able to communicate with the outside?
“CRISIS PROVISIONS” FROM JEHOVAH
Early in 1968 the Biafran authorities posted two of their civil service staff to important “sensitive” posts in Europe and at the Biafran airstrip. These two happened to be good friends. They were also Jehovah’s Witnesses. Now here they were at both ends of the only link between Biafra and the outside world. On their first surprise meeting in Port Harcourt in March 1968, they recognized and discussed the possibilities their appointment offered for establishing communication between the brothers and the Society.
It was a very delicate and risky assignment, but these brothers recognized that the situation must have been maneuvered by Jehovah. Acknowledging this, one of them later said that “the arrangement was beyond something that humans could have planned,” and that it could not have occurred “by a fortunate coincidence.” The Society’s offices in Lagos, London, and Brooklyn were informed, and a steady flow of communication began. These same channels served in supplying our distressed brothers with relief materials forwarded through Gabon and Dahomey (now Benin).
REMARKABLE SPIRITUAL STRENGTH
The difficult physical conditions of our brothers in Biafra became known among Jehovah’s people earth wide. Their integrity was also becoming known, and this was bringing much encouragement to those who heard of it. (Compare Philippians 1:14.) Thousands of brothers attending the “Peace on Earth” International Assembly at Yankee Stadium in 1969 were thrilled by this experience:
“A young brother, Christopher Utoh, was among some youths grabbed for army service. He refused to violate his conscience. For this he was beaten, imprisoned, starved, and threatened with death. After a grueling month of torture he was summoned before the officer commanding the division. Further threatenings proved unable to break his steadfastness. Finally, the officer released him with this decree:
“‘To Whom It May Concern: The above-named full-time minister of religion has this day been released from recruitment/conscription. His release is based on religious ministerial grounds and all concerned are requested to give him all necessary assistance and help to enable him to carry out his duties as an ordained minister of Jehovah God.’”
Poor materially, harassed and distressed physically, but strong spiritually, the brothers maintained integrity to Jehovah, attachment to his visible organization, and zeal in Kingdom service. Among them were hardworking pioneers. Samuel Onyedire, who was then a circuit overseer, tells this about them:
“The massive air bombardment, the day and night hounding of boys and able-bodied men, and the general mobilization campaigns were not favorable conditions, but the pioneers knew that the good news must be preached, be the weather fair or foul. So, many stuck to their commission. Secondly, they realized that the full-time service enabled them to maintain spiritual consciousness and balance. This understanding gave them inner strength and stamina to push ahead. Thirdly, they used early hours and late evenings for service, since the bombers usually arrived on air raids as from 10:00 a.m. They also conducted Bible studies at any convenient time during the day. . . . During conscription drives, the pioneers used opportunities to preach to villagers hiding in the bush. They were able to comfort the frustrated people, making return visits and even conducting Bible studies in their ‘mobile territory.’ Neighbors were baffled. They could not understand why a person should risk his life just to spread his belief. But the brothers were happy pioneers.”
SUPPORT FROM “PEACE ON EARTH” CONVENTIONS
The “Peace on Earth” series of conventions provided opportunities to support the fortitude of these beleaguered but enduring brothers. Even now, on looking back, it seems a miracle that two of the district overseers were able to attend the convention in London in 1969. However, although Biafra was cut off and it was virtually impossible to leave the country, arrangements were made for these two brothers to do so. They arrived at the Uli airstrip in the dark of night and, despite great risk, boarded one of the planes that had brought relief supplies to Biafra, and flew to London via São Tomé and Lisbon. They consulted with Brother Knorr and received very warm encouragement and counsel from Brother Franz. Arrangements were made to send relief shipments of food, medicine, literature, and clothes to the brothers who were in dire need.
Nigeria’s “Peace on Earth” Convention was held in December at Ilesha, right in the midst of war. Although it was a national convention, only a few Igbo brothers from Enugu were among the 97,201 in attendance; but they certainly rejoiced to be among so many brothers, and to share in welcoming the 3,425 who were baptized on that occasion. Because of their well-known neutrality, the federal army gave the convention delegates full cooperation. They not only granted vehicle passes but issued written instructions ordering soldiers manning the roadblocks to “treat them politely, assist when necessary.”
Relief supplies were being sent in from the brothers in the British Isles and Ireland, using facilities of the International Red Cross and other voluntary charitable organizations interested in flying in relief for war victims. Also, the Society’s headquarters in New York and the London branch office sent donations totaling $24,000. During the entire period of crisis and after, the Lagos branch office sent out about 36 tons of food, clothing, and other materials.
After Brother Mills had returned from a trip during which relief supplies and spiritual provisions were delivered, he related his experiences in Lagos. As a result, many members of the Bethel family volunteered to make similar trips to encourage the brothers in refugee camps in areas ravaged by the civil war. So the Society sent Asuquo Akpabio with supplies by Red Cross plane to Calabar. A similar flight to Port Harcourt was made by Gerald Bogard. Then there was Wendell Jensen, an American; he and Lois his wife had come to Nigeria from Gilead in 1966. He managed to get to Port Harcourt with supplies of food, medicine, clothing, and literature, but was intercepted by soldiers and underwent harsh interrogation. Finally, he did manage to get the supplies to the brothers in Port Harcourt and Aba.
Gösta Andersson, a newly arrived missionary, took more needed supplies on a Red Cross flight to Enugu. After hours of walking to locate the brothers, and with jittery, armed soldiers all around, he got the supplies delivered. At one time when he stopped to have a snack by the roadside, a soldier came rushing toward him with his rifle pointed at him. Brother Andersson says: “I explained who I was and showed him the permit from the military authorities. He reluctantly withdrew and eyed me with suspicion as I picked up my things and left hurriedly while trying to conceal my fear.” He encouraged the local publishers and, borrowing a bicycle, rode out to a village where the brothers had arranged for a one-day assembly.
THEY CAME THROUGH AN ORDEAL
Suddenly, the war ended on January 15, 1970, to the surprise of both sides. As Jehovah’s Witnesses came out of hiding and again freely associated with their brothers, they told marvelous experiences demonstrating angelic protection and how they were saved by using and relying on Jehovah’s name. (Prov. 18:10) They recounted the frightening effects of air raids. They described the horrors of prolonged starvation and the horrible kwashiorkor disease, which, according to reports, caused the death of at least one million Biafrans. They told of how, as Jehovah’s Witnesses, they had suffered extreme harassment and persecution due to conscription drives.
Almost all of the Kingdom Halls in the war-ravaged areas had been looted. Some 50 of them had been demolished and another 50 extensively damaged by air raids and ground fighting. Yet the brothers had come through with their integrity intact and their faith strengthened. Fittingly, a circuit overseer remarked: “They proved . . . to be built of fire-resistant material.” Another, Samuel Onyedire, who has continued faithful in the full-time service since 1954, commented: “It is gratifying to reflect on how Jehovah sustained his servants during the turbulent days of the war. He fortified our faith and infused us with courage. We thank the brothers throughout the world whose prayers on our behalf were so wonderfully answered.”
RELIGIOUS LEADERS MEDDLED IN THE WAR
The record made by Christendom’s clergy was quite different. It was exactly as columnist Akin Elegbe wrote in the Morning Post of May 10, 1971: “While the crisis raged, the church, to the disappointment of all, . . . actively put oil into a blaze that nearly destroyed . . . Nigeria.”
Clergymen on each side called the war “God’s war.” The military ruler on one side was hailed by a Protestant bishop as the “Messiah of Black Africa,” and was urged by another minister to ‘work like Moses, Joshua.’ Another clergyman said that war against the rebellion had “the backing of the Holy Bible and the Koran.” Muslim leaders gave their support, saying, “War is necessary for peace.” On the opposing side, Protestant and Catholic bishops hailed their military ruler as “our Moses,” and called for help for “our soldiers and militia in the front not only with our prayers but also with every moral and material support.” The churches contributed for armaments and prayed to the same god for victory for their respective sides. Religious leaders in other lands also took sides in the conflict, creating great religious confusion.
It is no wonder that a Nigerian state governor said that the “crisis in Nigeria could have been averted if churches and other Christian organisations had played their part well.” Official protest was even made to the Vatican against the Church, which, according to one writer, “spared no effort in trying to divide” Nigeria.
The clergy themselves made expressions of self-condemnation. For example, decrying the churches’ role in the war, Pastor K. O. Balogun of the Christian Assembly in Ibadan said: “Those who called themselves messengers of God have failed. . . . We who call ourselves ministers of God have become ministers of Satan.”
Understandably, many people on both sides lost faith in the clergy. Also, the reverses of the war and the immeasurable suffering and hardship compelled them to reconsider their attitude toward Jehovah’s Witnesses. At such a time of trouble and perplexity, it was only Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been comforting them with a message of real hope. They alone had maintained a courageously neutral stand. No wonder that, toward the end of the war, honesthearted persons began to embrace the truth in great numbers. As the brothers later reported: “Even the soldiers were beckoning us to come and preach to them. They felt a sense of refreshment when they heard the message of God’s Kingdom.”
PERSECUTORS BECOME BROTHERS
A military officer who had unsuccessfully tried to force the brothers to take up arms—although other religious people were easily made to do so—visited Jehovah’s Witnesses after the war to find out how he could become one of them. The integrity and neutrality of the brothers had convinced him. “I have found the true religion,” he said. He was just one of scores of military personnel who thus benefited by taking note of the faithfulness of Jehovah’s people.
In a Biafran conscription camp a young brother refused enrollment for military training despite severe beatings. He was taken before a firing squad, tied to a pole, and informed that he would be shot after the count of four. As the officer called out each number, he paused to allow the brother to change his mind. He still refused. At the count of four, he was executed. But among those present was a young soldier who was now moved to examine his own position in view of the example of faith and integrity he had just witnessed. He had been raised as a Presbyterian and thought that all were worshiping the same God. Now he knew Jehovah’s Witnesses were different. As soon as the war ended, he started attending local congregation meetings and became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Many of such ones are now serving as pioneers. Some have even become circuit overseers or have served in Bethel. So those years of ordeal did not check the progress of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rather, there was phenomenal increase that brought their average number of publishers from 37,392 in 1965 to 62,641 in 1970. During those five years 24,486 new disciples were baptized, compared with 12,230 for the previous five years. Yes, Jehovah had indeed blessed the faithful endurance of his Witnesses.
AFTER THE WAR—REORGANIZATION
As soon as the war ended, the branch office quickly arranged to resume production of Igbo and Efik publications on which work had been suspended. Circuit and district overseers attended a special course of training in Lagos. When the training was finished, those who had come in from Igboland returned there to help the 304 reorganized congregations and isolated groups.
Meanwhile, steps were being taken to encourage and rehabilitate the brothers in the war-ravaged areas. On March 8 the branch overseer and others from the office started a nine-day tour of the East, carrying with them 11 tons of much-needed Bible literature, clothing, and food. Their visit brought much spiritual encouragement to the brothers.
FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION
Now that people in all parts of the country could again travel without hindrance, the time was ripe to bring all the brothers together for a large assembly. This opportunity came at the “Men of Goodwill” International Assembly in Lagos during December 1970. It proved to be one of the most outstanding events in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in this land.
Finding rooms for 100,000 Witnesses from all over Nigeria presented a staggering problem. But the brothers combed the city and suburbs, asking people to take in visitors during the convention. Kingdom Halls were turned into dormitories. Empty buildings, factories, schools, garages—all these were secured and put to use. When the crowds came pouring into the city, somehow everyone slept somewhere.
There were delegates present from 15 lands. Included among them, N. H. Knorr, F. W. Franz, M. G. Henschel, also Wilfred and Gwen Gooch. Preparing for the foreign visitors meant securing almost every hotel room in the city. Thus when the agent of a large international airline heard that his firm was sending some representatives to Lagos, he quickly sent word back: “No accommodation! Every hotel room occupied by Jehovah’s Witnesses.” “Can’t you take them into your own home?” came the reply. “I have six Jehovah’s Witnesses staying with me!” was the answer.
To provide the needed facilities for the convention, a bamboo city was built—17 seating areas with platforms, dormitories, cafeteria, and other departments. And here a program was presented in 17 languages simultaneously. For the public talk on the final day, 121,128 were present. It was truly amazing! The baptism itself was a mammoth event—3,775 new Witnesses immersed at the rate of 20 a minute.
The Igbo brothers and sisters were eagerly welcomed with warm embraces and tears of joy. Many of them had been helped to get to the convention by contributions from brothers all over Nigeria and overseas. They wept for joy as they drank in refreshing waters of truth and savored the upbuilding association that had been denied them for over two years. After the convention, some of the foreign delegates traveled by bus into Igboland to see firsthand the area most seriously affected by the civil war. A great sensation was caused in town after town as members of the touring party were greeted and embraced by local brothers. People rushed into the streets to watch. Such a demonstration of love and unity between black and white was something they had never seen before.
A GREAT CROWD OF KINGDOM PROCLAIMERS
During the decades since Claude Brown first preached the good news in Nigeria in 1921, there has been a truly heartwarming response to the truth. After 25 years, in 1946, there were 3,542 participating in the Kingdom work. By 1971 that number had grown to 75,372 Kingdom proclaimers. In 1976 an average of 107,924 shared in this activity. But then there was a period of decrease, and the average dropped to 91,217, as tests of faith sifted out those who did not prove to be built with ‘fire-resistant materials.’ (1 Corinthians 3:11-13) In the postwar era, some were swept up in the materialistic pursuits of city life; others, with immoral practices. But the vast majority remained solid in the faith. And in April of 1985 a new peak of 121,729 publishers was reached.
Among these is a growing group of zealous pioneers. The number of those in the regular and special pioneer work increased from 2,956 in 1980 to 4,556 in April 1985. During those same years the peak enrollment of auxiliary pioneers soared from 2,411 to 15,096!
Some of the full-time workers have been faithfully serving Jehovah since before 1940. Others have been in the full-time ministry for over 30 years. James Namikpoh, the first Nigerian to share in proclaiming the good news, was active in Jehovah’s service for 52 years. He was a pioneer for 46 years, serving until his death at 84 years of age. M. J. Orode, despite the loss of a leg, enjoyed the pioneer work for 32 years before he died in 1983. Many more such faithful ones are still serving, both in the field and at the branch office.
During the decades in which this marvelous growth has been taking place in Nigeria, Kingdom interests have also been cultivated under the direction of the Nigeria branch in nearby lands. Although space does not permit us to relate the details here, each of these countries has its own heartwarming story of small beginnings, faithfulness under persecution, and earnest effort on the part of self-sacrificing publishers to share the good news with others. Sierra Leone and Ghana now have their own branch offices. In other nearby lands our brothers carry on their ministry under governmental restrictions, which at times lead to imprisonment and harsh mistreatment. But loyal servants of God continue to demonstrate that the doing of Jehovah’s will is their foremost interest in life, and their numbers continue to grow.
CONVENTIONS TO CARE FOR THE GROWING MULTITUDE
Instead of continuing to hold major conventions in one location, as was done in 1970, it seemed wise thereafter to arrange to have a number of them in convenient locations throughout the country. The number has varied from year to year, until in 1984 there were 45 conventions, with discourses in 22 languages, and a total attendance of 287,894!
To care for this growing multitude, permanent assembly facilities have been built in many locations. Some of these feature a large covered seating area that is open on all sides to allow unimpeded ventilation. A few are in the form of a modified amphitheater. A number of the facilities include a baptismal pool, also large dormitories to accommodate the delegates. The brothers themselves have done the work, and they have produced facilities that are well suited to their needs in this tropical climate.
EXPANSION OF BRANCH FACILITIES
Back in 1972, supervision of the work in the branch office began to benefit from new theocratic procedures. In 1976 the Governing Body appointed a committee of mature brothers to give oversight to the Kingdom work, as was being done in other lands worldwide. A variety of brothers have shared in the responsibilities of oversight since the branch was first established here. All have made valuable contributions and have been loved by the brothers. Don Ward, who had been serving in Dahomey (now Benin), was reassigned to Nigeria to supervise the construction of expanded branch facilities and was appointed branch overseer in 1972. He became the first coordinator of the Branch Committee; but he had to return to the United States because of illness, and he died in 1983 after 41 years of faithful service. At present the Branch Committee includes Malcolm Vigo, and Brothers Andersson, Olih, Olugbebi, Prosser, and Trost.
The Bethel home, office, and printery have also had to be enlarged repeatedly over the years. Early in 1948 the printing was being done on a small platen press on the ground floor of the home of Sister Green on Campbell Street in Lagos. The office and the literature storage were at separate locations, and the Bethel family was housed at yet three more places. Since then we have had some fine branch facilities, but these have all been outgrown.
At the time of this writing, a completely new complex of buildings is being erected at Igieduma, on 55.5 hectares (137 acres) of land. A temporary camp for the construction workers was built in 1984. The Governing Body decided that the factory building would be prefabricated, and materials for this have been shipped from the United States. When completed, the new factory will measure 262 × 394 feet (80 × 120 m). A spacious office building, four connected residence buildings, and other needed facilities will also be constructed. Obtaining import licenses was truly an act of faith. And the arrival of everything at the building site in good order has been an evidence of Jehovah’s blessing. The local brothers have been joined by skilled Witnesses from abroad, working together to bring the project to a successful completion.
The Kingdom work has come a long way in this land. The brothers have gone through fiery tests of their faith. They have been molded into a strong theocratic organization. Over 60 years ago there was just one proclaimer of the good news in Nigeria. That “little one” has become, not only a thousand but now well over 120,000. These rejoice to be part of the unified, worldwide organization that today is experiencing the realization of Jehovah’s grand promise: “The little one himself will become a thousand, and the small one a mighty nation. I myself, Jehovah, shall speed it up in its own time.”—Isa. 60:22.
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GULF OF GUINEA
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Over 250 languages are spoken in Nigeria. Areas where a few principal ones predominate are highlighted here
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James Namikpoh—the first Nigerian Witness and a pioneer until his death at 84 years of age
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“Bible” Brown and his wife served for 27 years in West Africa
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Helmets bearing slogans, and megaphones, were among the instruments used to spread the Kingdom message
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Ernest Moreton (who enjoyed Nigerian clothing) and Anthony Attwood were among the first missionaries sent to Nigeria
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Asuquo Akpabio, one of the first Nigerian graduates of Gilead, with his wife Christiane
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Glimpses of life in Nigeria
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Woodworth and Oris Mills, Gilead graduates who have served for nearly 30 years in Nigeria
[Pictures on page 247]
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One of the permanent convention facilities built by Nigerian Witnesses
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Present Branch Committee. In front (from the left): Albert Olugbebi, Malcolm Vigo, Albert Olih. In back: Carlos Prosser, Gösta Andersson, Donald Trost
[Picture on page 252]
These present branch facilities have been outgrown, and new ones are being constructed at Igieduma