Nigeria had become Independent in 1960. Preparation had been made carefully. There were some 50,000 young men and women with full secondary schooling, and many graduates, ready to fill offices formerly taken by Europeans. Africanisation proceeded smoothly. The Union Jack was replaced by the vertical green, white, green of the new national flag. A new National Anthem replaced God save the Queen. Many departments had already changed hands e.g. the Director of Medical Services had for several years been an African. Others followed without resentment on either side.
The Methodist Church did not lag far behind and prepared enthusiastically for autonomy in 1962.
Those preparations included a short list of older retired missionaries. We were both invited to attend a big inaugural conference in Lagos. We were very pleased to accept.
The conference in Lagos was a very grand occasion. Those of us who could go back over thirty years were very happy to see the amazing growth in the Church and to witness the official birth of the “Methodist Church in Nigeria”. No longer a European Chairman along with other men and women from overseas occupying the positions of importance. We all stood as the Revd. Joseph Sorernakum B.D. was welcomed as the first President of the Nigerian Conference, along with the Secretary and other officials, all nationals.
This Session was led by the President of the British Conference. The Revd. Leslie Davison supported by his Vice President Lowry Creed, Headmaster of Kingswood School. The legal documents from the British Conference were duly handed over and from that ceremony onwards, the first Nigerian President took up his presidential duties.
I notice a sense of shock and shame amongst some of our English congregations when we point out that we recall days when our Missionary Prayer Manual listed the names of 100 workers sent out to Nigeria from the Home Church which met the entire cost of salaries, passages, and allowances. Today’s list is reduced to one. She is a social worker in Uzuakoli Leper Colony. This is no matter for shock, or shame. African personnel is sufficient to fill, and much more than fill the positions held by those 100 from the United Kingdom and Ireland. We rejoice at this growth and changes.
We had a very pleasant extra reason for this re-visit. Anthony, our younger son had completed his schooling at Kingswood and had a year to spare before entering London University’s King’s College. He offered that year to the Voluntary Service Overseas organisation. He was willing to go anywhere in the world. It seemed to us as almost incredible for, without any wire pulling whatsoever, he was appointed to Nigeria. More extraordinary still, he was to join the staff of the Methodist Grammar School at Imesi-ile.
More than thirty years earlier, I had begged parents in Imesi-ile to let us have at least one child from each compound. The work had grown and grown through the ranks of secondary modern to the now full status of Grammar School. The well qualified African Principal was one of those boys who thirty years ago had been sent to school by a reluctant parent. It would have seemed out of this world to think then that one of our own sons would serve on the staff headed by that Infant Class-One African learner. Yet it was so. One other European (Roy Bowcock) was also on the staff and shared his house with Anthony.
We of course got a great reception everywhere we went. The Imesi-ile dispensary was going strong and had also a European Sister, another far cry from the days when Joyce placed the first African nurse and Bernice had trudged through the dangers of the thick forest by day or amidst the spine chilling noises of the night. Joyce’s faith and initiative had been wonderfully blessed. The chiefs and people of Imesi-ile rejoice that she opened her first country dispensary and stationed a nurse there.
We too were glad, as our visit to Imesi ended, that we sped along the road in an hour instead of our day long 26 miles walks of long ago.
In Ilesha too, growth had taken place in church, schools and hospital. Dr Andrew Pearson took us round his fine new buildings. As we emerged from the operating theatre, Joyce very naturally compared the crude mud building which thirty years earlier had the title “The Theatre”. Amongst early operations she referred to was one done on a young boy with a very large mass of T.B. glands. Nearby, a man was standing in the shade of a beautiful flamboyant tree. He obviously heard what Joyce said for he walked up to us. He was Sunday Gureje the very one from whom she had removed the T.B. glands. He displayed his neat scar where his neck had been stitched up when he was a boy. Anthony commented “It’s good to know Mother that they did not all die”.
We paid one other visit that stands in my memory. Igbo-ora was the first place I was sent to learn the language. Apart from one farmer who had a helpful knowledge of English, Yoruba was the only language spoken.
The development which had taken place since those early days was remarkable. Frank and Jessie Longley entertained us in their Mission House. Church buildings and schools were to be seen in most villages and English was spoken by large numbers of the younger generation. Two items, I want to report:-
Igbo-ora was the first place where I had been able to practise the crash medical training in Livingstone College, London. One delicate young woman had been brought to me. She suffered much through Guineaworm. I had been taught to wind these revolting, apparently, yards of white worm round a match stick. We must never stretch one to breaking point, that could cause an ulcer. I remember winding up this girl’s worm an inch or two each day probably a total of two feet long. Now, Frank who had been told the tale many times, presented a middle aged woman who wanted to say thanks. I was humbly grateful.
Frank had taken us to salute the chief. He was out at farm that evening, we went again to find him. We wended our way through narrow muddy passages with the aid of a bush lamp. As we drew near his door we were amazed to hear Big Ben strike seven, followed by “This is the BBC World Service. Here is the news.”
Progress? Well, a terrific change any way in thirty odd years.
Amos Solarin was one of the young African Ministers of whom we were very fond. I had the pleasure to bring him forward as a candidate for the Ministry. He had done well in his training and afterwards. He was appointed to Ilesha, where I stationed him in our largest church. During the war he served as a Chaplain in Burma. He was awarded the M.B.E.
At the 1962 Conference, it was grand to meet him and his wife again. He had invited us to have dinner one evening at a Lagos hotel, we were very glad to accept. Round the table the four of us talked of big changes in Nigeria. Amos was now Superintendent Minister in one of the large Lagos circuits.
It was a great pleasure to visit Nigeria once more. My sister, Elsie, who had served Ilesha Hospital, mostly as Matron for over thirty years, was visiting us and one evening we talked of Nigeria and of our hope to revisit. Casually we asked “Would you like to come with us?” Now, despite her years, she is remarkably active. It was no surprise therefore when she came down to breakfast next morning to hear that she would accompany us. In due course the three of us flew to Lagos.
There have been tremendous changes in Nigeria since Independence in 1960.
Oil had been discovered earlier but now its rich harvest had become apparent. The first fruits were obvious in traffic. The roads just could not cope. Dr Andrew Pearson met us and the fourteen mile drive to the Lagos Marina took us exactly two hours. We had breakfast en route for, with bumper to bumper, long stops were frequent and we enjoyed our novel picnic. A start had been made with a circular fly-over round the island similar to the elevated system in parts of London. This was fine once access had been gained but congestion ruled at all access and exit points.
Through a failure in one Department, (some critics unkindly suggested corruption) it became easy to obtain an import licence for cement. Profits on all building supplies were considerable. The result was that wharfs at Apapa could not cope with the handling of the stuff and, as we flew over the harbour I counted twenty cement ships at anchor. Some had been there for months.
Our splendid large Mission Compound which had been the site for our Boys High School, Girls High School (MGHS) and the residence of the Mission Chairman, was all changed. The half which had been MGHS and Chairman’s residence was now ‘Wesley House’, an eight or ten floor block with all the accommodation needed for Conference Headquarters, committees, bookshop, chapel, presidential offices and accommodation etc. The other half of the compound had a fifteen or more, floor building. This is occupied by Shell and becomes church property on the expiry of the lease.
Whilst the layout and the tremendous potential value of the buildings impressed us, we were conscious of nostalgia. The Chairman’s House, old and with rusting corrugated sheets had been the place we stayed in Lagos. When Vivian Simpson was the accountant, his room was there. The room in which his pet monkey climbed up the rods of his mosquito net and from this elevated position squeezed a trail of toothpaste at us. Then there was the evening when the Chairman’s wife was away, George Martlew of the Boys High School was organising the dinner. He entered the lounge from the Dining room and announced that the meal was ready. The Chairman correctly indicated that his guest the Bishop should lead the procession, but Bishop Jones stepped aside and said “oh no, after you”. Again the Chairman waved the Bishop forward with another “after you”. This had gone far enough for George who, I think came from Yorkshire, saying loudly “Don’t be daft” he stepped out and led the way into dinner.
Another Chairman had a wife who was a stickler for everyone being in time for each meal and soundly reprimanded any unfortunate young missionary who was late. In those early days our District Synod was a very small affair. One lunchtime the only late arrival was the Chairman himself. The lady of the house was more and more annoyed, finally she asked the next senior to say grace. Then the Chairman arrived to be hailed with a broadside “you are late” he answered “Yes dear I am sorry”. Still fuming she demanded “Why are you late?” Grasping a cablegram in his hand the Chairman held it out to her. “I’ve just heard that my father has died.”
That old Mission House faced the Lagoon, a truly enviable spot, catching the gentle afternoon breeze that made life bearable in terribly hot and sticky Lagos.
Another reminder of the old days came with an invitation to take part in the nineteenth anniversary of our Olowogbowo church. This large airy building had come to the end of its life. A fine new complex is to replace the corrugated sheet roofed place of worship. I was glad to have a part in the closing services of the old building where I had led worship many years before when on our annual three weeks of Synod meetings in Lagos.
During the first part of our tour inland we were guests of Andrew and Jean Pearson and in their car we left Lagos. On the road we were simply amazed to see a three wheel push cycle van bearing a well known label “Stop me and buy one” miles inland how well we recalled our annual visits to Lagos where one of the thrills was a visit to the Cold Store. This was the one and only place where it was possible to get a quick ice cream and I mean the word quick, for it melted very easily and we could not prolong the delightful experiences.
We continued our journey to Igbo-ora and next day to Ibadan where Andrew Pearson had arranged to hand us over to Syd Elton who was to be the host in Ilesha. We duly met and were welcomed. After some shopping Syd Elton had planned we would lunch at the University. Now Ade Oyo, where the University is built is four to five miles from the centre of Ibadan. The traffic was so heavy that instead of getting to the Cafeteria before it closed at 2.00 pm we arrived a whole hour later. Five miles of bumper to bumper, and no lunch. We set out on the remaining 70 miles to Ilesha where we arrived in time for evening meal.
The Eltons were very kind to us and Elsie was to stay with them over Christmas whilst we continued our journey to Zambia. Meanwhile we all three, stayed with them.
There had been sad events at our hospital where, normally we would have been staying. There were now no European staff.
With the great influx of money from the sale of oil, a very unwise proposal was made by a man called Ojiji. He moved that every Government worker should get 100% increase in salary. The result was chaotic. Thousands of teachers and others rushed to buy cars. We have already seen the effect in bumper to bumper conditions. But, while the commercial firms could pay the 100% by doubling the price of commodities the Missions just could not compete. In our Ilesha Hospital were two union-backed employees who loudly voiced the demand for their Ojiji rise. Poor Andrew Pearson was not believed when he said he had no money, a strike was called until he could pay out the money which he was alleged to hold. At length, he escaped by climbing over a wall. Work had almost come to a halt, the African Matron was helpless and the Hospital virtually closed. The remaining European staff moved out. Andrew later got a leading job training African doctors in new buildings put up in a big rural complex at Igbo-ora the place I had been sent to study Yoruba in the early days.
The two agitators had since gone and work under Government control had restarted. We were able to visit the hospital. It was sad to see some of the splendid buildings made possible with special funds from Holland, now empty and idle. We still have a Christian Chaplain for staff and patients but all the old missionary zeal and purpose has gone. One of the unwelcome changes.
It was good to be able to visit Imesi-ile again and the schools and work in Ilesha. Very interesting to us was the fact that our mission house, now the residence of our African Superintendent Minister, is still called “Ludilo compound” unchanged for forty years. We were glad to find in a country with such high infant mortality and with such a poor life expectancy age, many of our friends, now old friends, were still alive and active. Sir Olaleye and Lady Abigail Fadahunsi, Isaac Ajanaku and many teachers, now retired. Otapete church in Ilesha is still a full church, with its hundreds of pairs of sandals, arranged in rows on the concrete forecourt, God’s words to Moses are respected “Take off your sandals because you are standing on holy ground”. I was glad to take the opportunity of addressing the large congregation.
When Isaac Ajanaku heard that we wanted to go to and through the northern pioneer circuit, he generously placed at our disposal one of his cars, an air conditioned Mercedes and a liveried chauffeur. Isaac had made a lot of money in transport and his furniture factory although he had never shone academically as a boy in our Otapete School. Of a very generous nature he had helped in the building of a large new church on the style of Westminster Central Hall, not yet complete but with galleries it will seat over 2000. He also donated its large pipe organ. This had already arrived, stored in wooden crates.
So, very comfortably seated in his luxurious Mercedes we sped northwards. Instead of open windows to catch the breeze and the heavy dust, we sat with tightly closed windows breathing in cool and cold air thanks to his air conditioning.
Our first stop was over the north/south border at Offa. We visited our mission compound and the new church being built there. It was a pleasure to find Joseph Toriola as the occupant of the manse. Trained at Wesley College he had had a long career as a catechist and teacher and had been a true friend and colleague through our pioneer years and now twenty four years after we left he was still actively engaged in the work.
The big appointment of that day was a reception at the Offa Grammar School. I have told the story of its beginning (14.1). Not only does it cover a full secondary school curriculum with a large all-African staff of qualified teachers in science and other subjects, but it now had become co-educational.
The Oloffa and his chiefs with the Board of Management sat on the platform in the large “Ludlow” hall. Speeches of welcome and a programme put on by the Staff and pupils lasted for more than an hour.
One item of great amusement to us three was the official greeting. My sister Elsie, who had served for over thirty years in our Ilesha Hospital is some six years older than I am. Remarkably, she has still got a good head of hair but without any stray grey hairs. So she looks a lot younger. So much so that we were welcomed as the Rev R.M. Ludlow, our founder, his wife Doctor J.R. Ludlow and their daughter Miss Ludlow. We did put this point right, tactfully I hope, as we replied to their welcomes.
Then came the presentations. I was given an eighteen inch wooden carving of the Offa wrestlers. This stands on the window sill in our Study. The official address, copied on parchment-like material by a skilled signwriter would be followed later by an album of the many photographs being taken of the happy day.
It was a long way back when I had appointed our own trained teacher, Solomon Ajayi, and opened a Middle Class I in a church building. Later, the day when I pegged out the land site and dimensions of the initial block of class rooms. We had no problems of religions. Many pupils were Moslems but despite my offer to arrange for a Moslem instructor to take his flock separately, the Board and Chiefs had said “No”. So Religious Instruction Christian fashion was attended by all.
Because of our Travel Time Table we just could not include a lot of places where we had opened up this pioneer field. But we must include a few visits in the non-Yoruba speaking area and particularly Kaiama and Bussa.
Our route was different and we followed a well sign-posted road marked ’Kanji Dam’. The old Bussa where we had such wonderful treks, excitements and good relations with the fine Emir of those days had all gone and were now deep beneath the head race of water. Only the memory of those days was fresh, of Philip Jaiyesimi and that grand day when the first five adult Bussawa were baptised in the mighty river.
The site chosen for the Niger Dam was at the river’s narrowest point above the Rapids where Mungo Park had been ambushed and killed. A new Bussa had been built and access from the Ilorin to the Sokoto Province was by a good road built across the tailrace and near to the high dam with its multiple turbines and generating plants.
In our time, it would have been beyond belief that the great river, which we had crossed so often in frail canoes, could be channeled into the bottle-necked canal directing that almost one mile width of water into waiting turbines. Not only had the inevitable pylons reached out in several directions to carry electricity throughout Nigeria, but also for many miles great banks had been heaped and concreted to hold back the powerful waters. Old Bussa was no more. Numerous villages had been allotted new sites outside the dikes or protecting mounds.
So we entered the New Bussa. The old isolated and quiet town where we had had to have a chain of interpreters to get out message over to the Emir and his people had given way to a large cosmopolitan centre.
The European consortium which had recognised the work of the Church and had designed and built a very modern place of worship for us. This tended to cater more for their large number of employees from many nations and tribes, than for the scattered Borgawa originals unaccustomed to bustling neighbours.
We were very glad to find amidst the changes, that the new Emir appointed was Musa, son of our old friend. He was a boy in our early visits to Bussa and his father was very proud of the boy’s ability to handle his horse. We had taken a cine shot of the lad and on each visit the Emir used to ask if we could show him the film, we always obliged. Musa was well versed in English. He too, like his father, was a good Emir.
Another advance under Independence was surprising to us. The Government Health Department had declared war upon Onchocerciasis, River Blindness. We actually watched a large, strong canoe, laden with drums of DDT or other fluids pushed out to cross the Niger. As the crew poled the canoe others unscrewed the bung stoppers and discharge the chemical into the water in confidence this would kill the bugs causing River Blindness. Remembering Ojiji, the village of the blind, we prayed they would succeed.
The church accepted this new challenge and had made Bussa a Ministerial appointment. We were delighted to meet again the Rev Michael Osinuga. Mike’s father was my first cook. He had produced his small son one day and asked if I could help to send him to school, i.e. pay the school fees. In return he would do all I required as steward and messenger. I kept this up for some time and much later was glad to bring Michael forward as a candidate for the Ministry. He had been sent to this appointment five hundred miles north of his birthplace. I do not like the word incumbent, it suggests resting, reclining, to describe Mike’s job in far away Bussa, we must find a more suitable word for activity.
We went southwards from Bussa and came to Wawa, the place from where even the chief with his people beat a hasty retreat to the bush on our first arrival there. A white face was somehow frightening and portentous. Now as we drove along a made up, dusty laterite road, a neat building had a signpost “Methodist Church Wawa”. Our Mission House was the home of the Circuit Agricultural worker.
On to Kaiama. We were sad that Stephen, faithful friend and colleague was no longer there. After his death his wife and children had gone to live near Offa. But there was the Dispensary and Maternity Centre with its European Sister. We were guests of the appointed Missionary Superintendent of the Borgu Mission. His wife and he and their little son made us very much at home in their Mission House.
The old Emir had been replaced but we paid our respects to the new Emir who was well informed of all that had happened since we first visited and started work there.
We returned to Ilesha, packed up and took our leave of the Eltons who had kindly given us such wonderful hospitality. Elsie stayed with them until after Christmas but we had to curtail all we wanted to do in Ilesha in order that we get our planes south to Zambia for Christmas with our daughter Elizabeth and family. We were glad however to fit in a Sunday at church and lunch at a reception given by Sir Olaleye and Lady Abigail Fadahunsi also a dinner given in his hotel, by our good friend Isaac Ajanaku.
In 1992 I received a wonderful suprise: an invitation to take part in the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the first non-government Community Grammar School in Northern Nigeria was received with two First Class air tickets. With my African friends I had started this school in 1943. It is now a huge school with a very high reputation, catering for both girls and boys from a wide catchment area.
The first week in February 1993 was a tremendous occasion for us all.