As we gravitate towards another religious festive season, it is not out of place to remind ourselves of people who have served to strengthen the reins of Religious beliefs in Nigeria. One of the numerous examples available we ought to familiarize ourselves with or recall is Samuel Ajayi Crowther: African Bishop and Missionary.
Born in 1807 to the Egba demography of the Yoruba people in Osogun, (now Iseyin Local Government in Oyo state, Nigeria), He was named Ajayi (also called as Adjai). ‘Ajayi’ was a name of symbolic significance and importance to his parents. They consulted the Ifa priest as regards his spiritual journey and possible dedication to one of the numerous deities. The Ifa however warned them against dedicating him to any idol foreseeing that he would grow up to worship the Almighty God. At the young age of about 13, he became a victim of Fulani and Yoruba muslim slave raiders, from whom he was eventually sold to the Portuguese for the transatlantic markets. Fortune smiled on him however, as his ship was intercepted by the navy’s anti-slave trade patrol, under the command of Capt. Henry Leeke, who took the slaves to Freetown, Sierra Leone and liberated them. It was in Sierra Leone that he became a Christian and was baptized by John Raban. Ajayi decided to christen himself with the name of another eminent Baptist minister in England, Samuel Crowther.
Ajayi Crowther: Man, Minister, Missionary
Man: Ajayi was said to be a highly energetic and enterprising man; full of zeal, vigour and expressed high leadership abilities in complicated situations. His nimbleness of mind was also expressed in his ability to learn a multiplicity of languages within short periods. A highly intelligent man, a good teacher and instructor. A commentator referred to him as one who “lived a blameless life both at home and in public.”
Minister: Having been under the influence of the Britons as a stooge, Crowther eventually turned an influence to the Britons. He influenced their opinion about government, church and Africa, so much so that the Church Missionary Society, considered him, as the potential demonstrator of the feasibility of self-governing. Self-supporting and self-propagating African churches.Ajayi’s Influence and impact was what influenced the CMS to strongly recommend that Africans, be used for evangelism amongst their people.But his influence spanned beyond just Europe, he was highly respected within the African community because of his great disposition of humility. Ajayi handled confrontations and challenges with wisdom to the point that, idol worshippers respected him and some, were eventually converted to Christianity. Many of the natives regarded him as the “hope they had nursed for many years.”To them, He was truly God-sent.
Bishop Ajayi Crowther was a missionary; a man on a mission. Within a particular year, he published and revised his version of Yoruba Grammar and Vocabulary, and the translation of four New Testament books; Luke, Acts, The epistle of James and the epistle of Peter. He was instrumental in the translation of the Bible and prayer books; much cherished works of high literary value today. The expeditions carried out with him was intended to achieve at least, the spread of commerce, the teaching of agricultural techniques, the spread of Christianity, and the end of slave trade.
Legacy, Death and ‘the Afters’
- In 1864, Crowther was ordained as the first African Bishop of the Anglican Church, and consecrated a Bishop on St.Peter’s day in 1864.
- He later received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Oxford.
- He is celebrated with a feast in the liturgical calendar of some Anglican churches in the United states and Nigeria, on the 31st December; a date that coincides with the date of his death from stroke.
- He was buried in the Ajele cemetery in Lagos. However, because of a particular government’s decision to use the land for official buildings, he was exhumed and reburied at a new burial site along with a cenotaph at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos.
Summarization of the Life and Times of Bishop Crowther
Bishop Ajayi Crowther was a man made for the moment; he was the conduit between the Church Missionary Society and the Evangelization of Africa, he was the connection between the leadership the natives required and the civilization the hinterlands needed, he was the channel of commerce between western goods and African household consumption.
The life of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther is aptly capsulized in the words of Owodayo;
Bishop Ajayi Crowther‘s career was unique; kidnapped a slave in 1821, rescued a slave in 1822, a mission school boy in 1823, a baptized Christian in 1825, ordained in 1843, a first negro bishop in 1864,where is the parallel to such a life? He lived in an atmosphere of suspicion and scandal, yet no tongue, however malicious ventured to whisper reproach against his personal character. Some might criticize his administration, no one ever questioned his sincerity and simplicity.
Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther; one to learn from and one to know of; Man, Minister, Missionary!
C.M.S. (Y) 4/3 10 Itan Samuel Ajayi Crowther, (1925)
Jacob Oluwatayo Adeyan, The Journey of the First Black Bishop: Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther 1806-1891. (np:Arthouse, 2011), 70.
Matthew O. Owodayo, Makers of the Church in Nigeria. J.A.Omoyajowo (ed). (Lagos; CSS Bookshops, 1995), 33.
J.F.A. Ajayi, Christian Mission in Nigeria (Longman), 128.