BABA, BABA, BABA…………….THERE ARE BABA AND THERE ARE BABA !!!
February 19, 2012
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Please find below an article by a member of the Cathedral congregation, Dr. Olufemi Ogundipe. Dr. Ogundipe, who calls himself “A peasant from Eruuwon,” is a voice consistently and bravely challenging the powers that run his beloved Nigeria as though it were their private plantation. His blistering words have no doubt made it impossible to visit his native country. We all pray for the day when Nigerian leaders remember this history that Dr. Ogundipe so powerfully explicates in the following pages and become the statesmen and women that the Nigerian people so deeply deserve. Perhaps the legions of new Christians rising up in the shadow of the great Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther will honor his memory by living exemplory Christian lives of love, justice, honor and peace! Though it is lengthy, this article is well worth the effort to read it. Not only is it a wonderful history lesson about the very first African Anglican Bishop, but it is the story of the long and holy shadow cast by that giant of a man on the subsequent State of Nigeria (and all it’s nations!). St. James Cathedral, like Nigeria is extremely blessed by being home to people from numerous nations, including, fortunately, a sizable contingent from Nigeria. We have been blessed indeed by their rich culture and heritage and by the way the values of their culture (such as the honor and care of elders) challenges the current manners and morals of modern America. In this and other ways, they are prophets to us.
Dean Carlos L. Raines
This article was first published in a Nigerian newspaper The News last year and has found its way to the websites of two Anglican Churches in Nigeria: Epiphany Church Erunwon and Saint John’s Anglican Church, Aroloya, Lagos. My parents attended both churches in their lifetime.
Subject: BABA, BABA BABA…………….THERE ARE BABA AND THERE ARE BABA !!!
“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time ; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.”
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history ? ”
Those were the immortal words of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman scholar ,orator and politician, and philosopher who lived from 106 BC to 43 BC. Permit me to make an interesting digression. Cicero’s peerless scholarship and his writings on humanism did not go unnoticed by the early Catholic Church which then bestowed upon him the title, ‘ righteous pagan.’
In the Yoruba language, Baba means very simply father. It is, like Mama, one of the earliest words a Yoruba child, perhaps instinctively, learns to say as that child begins to speak Yoruba.
I will start by saying with a few words about the man who was my own biological Baba. I intend to use the word Baba also as a title throughout this communication and I do hope as you read the entire passage you will understand why. Emmanuel Akinneye Ogundipe was born in December 1899 in the village of Erunwon in the Yoruba nation, some fourteen years before Sir Frederick Lugard , the British colonial administrator decreed on January 1, 1914 the creation of Nigeria from nearly 300 ethnic nationalities. So, he became, in addition to being a citizen of the Yoruba nation, a citizen of the state of Nigeria and a subject of the British Empire. Let me be emphatic : I am being deliberate in describing Nigeria as a state and not a nation. Truth be told, the nations that today make up Nigeria are several centuries older than the country Nigeria whose name they bear.
The half – century between 1841 and 1891 was a seminal period in the history of present- day Nigeria. 1841 was the inception of the Niger Mission of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther to evangelize his people into Christianity. It was the period of ‘planting the seed’ in the vast vineyard, which in the succeeding half a century ‘yielded bountiful harvests,’ to paraphrase that eminent scholar and historian, Professor Jacob Festus Ade-Ajayi of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther toiled in the vineyard of evangelization and education and economic development with great aplomb till he breathed his last in the dying hours of December 31 , 1891. Church missionary activity, indeed , had preceded, by several decades, the formal British administration in Nigeria. It was this remarkable man, an African, a man of the cloth, a quintessential Baba, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowder of Oyo in the the Yoruba nation who was the originator of the concept of ‘church and school’ which endured for decades and till this day after his passing in December 1891. And that is why to this day, we have Saint John’s Church Aroloya, Lagos and Saint John’s School Aroloya, Lagos, Saint John’s Church Igbein, Abeokuta and Saint John’s School Igbein Abeokuta, Saint Peter’s Church, Ake , Abeokuta and Saint Peter’s School, Ake , Abeokuta. Christ Church, Porogun, Ijebu-Ode and Christ School, Porogun, Ijebu-Ode and , I dare not forget, Epiphany Church Erunwon where I was a chorister and Epiphany School, Erunwon where I was a pupil.
In 1892, in the battle of Magbon in the Remo part of Ijebu country, the British eventually militarily conquered the Ijebu people of the Yoruba nation. The Ijebu were among the last of the Yoruba groups to be militarily conquered by the British. That opened up more territory to spread the Christian faith into. The Christian church was established in Erunwon in 1893 and with it came Crowther’s signature ‘church and school,’ Epiphany Church Erunwon and Epiphany School, Erunwon. So, Baba Emmanuel Akinneye Ogundipe became a beneficiary of the epochal life’s work of Baba Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther who had completed his life’s journey some eight years before Baba Emmanuel Akinneye Ogundipe was even born. After primary school education in the village school , Emmanuel Akinneye Ogundipe gained admission to the venerable Saint Andrew’s College , Oyo, a teacher training college founded and operated by the Anglican Church . The college was residential. In those halcyon days, there was no public transportation to get to and from school and he would do the journey, like other students, by foot from his village to his school some forty miles north for every school term. After he qualified as a trained teacher, he taught in several schools in Ijebu-Ode, Imodi-Imosan, Odoogbolu, and briefly at the Baptist Academy ,Lagos to name a few.
Emmanuel Akinneye Ogundipe had a mid life change in career when he stopped teaching and switched to studying, by correspondence, book-keeping and accountancy. He then joined the British colonial service at the LEDB, Lagos Executive Development Board, which was involved in developing and implementing the master plan for the Metropolis of Lagos . Through land reclamation , sand-filling and pushing the Lagos Lagoon and the Atlantic ocean back, the land area of Lagos was expanded. Parcels of land were then allocated to citizens to build their homes and many people always sought his help to see to it that their applications went through seamlessly. He did his job with devotion and without ever seeking gratification from the public. He always told me that he would carry his banner without stain, with honesty and pride. He bequeathed a moral compass to guide me.
I vividly recall several Baba Emmanuel Akinneye Ogundipe’s father-and-son conversations with me on diverse topics. A subject nearest and dearest to his heart was my education, stressing that it was the only inheritance he had for me. “No one would ever ever be able to take your education from you,” he would intone in his Ijebu dialect. It was from him that I first learned the Yoruba proverb which runs thus : Eni gboju l’ogun yo f’ara re f’osi ta. (Translated into English, this means: Whosoever looks forward to inheritance is certainly preparing himself/herself for destitution). He loved quoting from the Bible. Two of his favorites were from Genesis 3:19 , and Thessalonians 3 : 10 which respectively stated ,” In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread…….” and ” He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” Many in his generation were the unsung silent heroes and I solemnly say to him and many many others like him , THANK YOU VERY MUCH, BABA AND INDEED ALL THE, BABA LIKE YOU wherever you may be. The children and students whose lives you touched would for ever be the most eloquent testimony of your lives.
Now I go back with deep gratitude to that quintessential Baba, Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first African ever to be consecrated a Bishop of the Anglican Church. He was consecrated in the UK as Bishop of the Niger in 1864 and in that same year . he was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree from Oxford University. He was born in 1806 in Osoogun ,Oyo country of the Yoruba nation and taken into slavery in 1821. That was the time of the internecine Yoruba wars of the nineteenth century with communities raiding their neighbors for slaves. That dark chapter of our history, trading our brothers and sisters and children as mere commodities is a most painful reminder of a depravity of spirit that has contributed in no small measure to the disdain we suffer to this day.
Yes, we sold our people, in a trade by barter, as if they were commodities like oil, gin,sugar, munitions or grain to Europeans during that barbaric Trans-Atlantic slave trade starting from the 17th century and lasting well into the 19th century , past 1807 the year the British Parliament officially outlawed the iniquitous slave trade. The practice continued and communities would wage wars on their neighbors to capture as slaves those they had conquered, slave-raiding in essence.
Ajayi Crowther was captured from his home town of Osoogun in Oyo part of Yoruba and sold into slavery in 1821. He went through a most dehumanizing journey from one slave merchant to another until he arrived in chains on the island city of Lagos in 1822 where he was bartered to Portuguese slave merchants. Like cargo, he was, along with other slaves in chains, loaded into a ship headed for Brazil. By an act of Providence, the anti-slavery squadron of the Royal Navy of Britain boarded and arrested the Portuguese ship and Crowther was taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone freed and released to the care of the Missionary Society of the Anglican Church. He was taught to read and write and by six months Ajayi Crowther had read the entire New Testament. On 11 December 1825, he was baptized and named Samuel Ajayi Crowther.
In 1826, he was taken to England to attend the Islington Parish School where he he began studying Latin and Greek . He was the person who translated the Bible to his native Yoruba language. He translated the New Testament into Yoruba from the original Greek version, and the Old Testament from the king James’ English version. In 1843, he published a grammar book for Yoruba and coming in tow later was a Yoruba version of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
Ajayi Crowther also studied and codified other Nigerian languages. He produced a primer for the Igbo language in 1857 and one for the Nupe language in 1860 and a full grammar and vocabulary of Nupe in 1864. All these were the fruits of his active participation in the British Niger Expeditions of 1854 and 1857. The study of Nigerian languages contributed in no small way to the development of education in the country called Nigeria today.
Bonny in today’s Niger-Delta region is arguably the Niger Mission’s epic sucess. Crowther had gone there at the invitation of the chiefs who wanted their children educated. His youngest son, Archdeacon Dandeson Crowther was his very able foot soldier in evangelizing through the schools. Elementary, industrial and secondary education were emphasized. The Bonny Boys’ Institute was begun and the Bonny Girls’ School was started, the first Girls’ Secondary School in Eastern Nigeria.
I must confess it is very hard to do full justice to the story of Samuel Ajayi Crowther and all I have done is to try to touch some of the highlights.
Next come two unique men of the cloth. Baba Rev. Canon Reginald B. Parker and his kindred spirit Baba Rev. Canon Leslie Donald Mason. These two English men were ordained clergy of the Church of England who answered the ‘call from Macedonia,’ and served with the highest distinction in the vineyard of secondary school education in Nigeria. Their lives of service to Nigeria bring to my mind the words of the poet and Booker Prize-Winning author Ben Okri, a Nigerian, who wrote in his poem,
The Awakening Age
” For we are all richly linked in hope,
Woven in history like a mountain rope,
Together we can ascend to a new height,
Guided by our heart’s clearest light.”
Reginald B. Parker , MA. (Oxon), B.Sc.(London) , a native of Liverpool, England, came to Nigeria in 1948 from the prestigious and academically strong English Public School, The Oundle School , Peterborough, England to become the Principal of Igbobi College , a boarding secondary school for boys outside the port city of Lagos, Nigeria. The School was founded in 1932 by the Anglican and the Methodist Churches.
Canon Parker, I must add, had served in the British Army as a major during the second World War. Discipline and good character were strongly emphasized. Each school day started with a morning devotion and and ended with an evening service. On Sundays, chapel services were held twice, in the morning and the evening . He broadened the school curriculum to include Additional Mathematics and Greek and all the science subjects, Physics, Chemistry and Biology ,were taught individually not as a mishmash of General Science. He shortened the length of time for secondary education from six years to five years and many other schools then followed his lead. The Canon was very respectful of his students. We were his children. Most of the students were from the Yoruba ethnic nationality and the Canon strongly supported the study of Yoruba as an academic subject. All our subjects were taught in English except Yoruba which was taught in Yoruba, and the Canon gave his blessing to this exception.
Athletics were encouraged and emphasized. Cricket, football (soccer) , field and track were available during the appropriate time in the school calender. The School had an official student pianist who enjoyed a scholarship for hie education. Other extra-curricular activities also included drama and debates. canon Parker almost always personally attended all our sporting events. And I must not fail to add that he personally preached many sermons in the College chapel on Sundays.
The Reverend Canon Leslie Donald Mason , MA (Classics) was a tutor at Igbobi College when Christ School, Ado Ekiti beckoned him. The School was an Anglican secondary School for boys ‘planted’ in Ado Ekiti by Archdeacon Henry Dallimore in 1933, a year after Igbobi College was founded. Adelola Adeloye , a professor of Neurosurgery , a medical historian per excellence and one of the pupils of Baba Rev. Canon Leslie Donald Mason elegantly and eloquently described Canon Mason as, ”Apollos of Alexandria” who watered Christ School to a modern famous school and one of the best in Nigeria. Canon Mason headed Christ School Ado Ekiti from 1948 after he left Igbobi College. One of his most distinguished pupils at Christ School was Nigeria’s internationally renowned neurologist, Benjamin Olukayode Osuntokun FRCP (London). While his neurological knowledge was catholic in scope, his research was in neuro-epidemiology. He studied community dementia among the Yoruba of Nigeria comparing it with dementia among African-Americans.
The next group of Baba are three and are Baba Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, Baba Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Baba Stephen Oluwole Awokoya. The three of them served in the political arena. Their seminal contribution is, however, the huge expansion of educational opportunities for the children of those who gave them the mandate to govern them. Both Baba Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Baba Stephen Oluwole Awokoya cut their teeth as trained teachers at the venerable Saint Andrews College Oyo, an institution founded by the Anglican Church and now upgraded to a university named Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo.
The Action Group Party led by Baba Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo had won the election to the Western Nigeria House of Assembly in 1952 and Awolowo made it clear from the start that education was to be the top priority of his government. It fell on the lap of Baba Michael Adekunle Ajasin to develop the policy paper to implement a compulsory universal free primary education for western Nigeria . It was a bold audacious leap into the future, the first of its kind in Africa. Ajasin drew from his experience in his days at the Institute of Education , London UK. There he had studied comparative education with particular interest in the Scottish system of education. The primary school education would be six years in duration followed by three years of junior secondary education , then three years of senior secondary education and finally four years of university education. The commencement day for the universal primary education was to be 1955.
Michael Ajasin was a member of the Federal Legislature in Lagos and so the herculean task of implementing the program fell on the rather broad shoulders of the Minister of Education for Western Nigeria, Baba Stephen Oluwole Awokoya who then introduced the proposals for implementation. Between July 1952 and Dec 1954 a massive teacher-training program was put in place. Facilities for secondary schools were expanded and secondary technical education was introduced.
The Free Primary Education Scheme was formally started on January 17, 1955. a historic milestone in educational development in Western Nigeria in particular and Nigeria as a whole. In Western Nigeria, the number of primary schools had risen from 3550 in 1952 to 6407 by 1955. In 1952, when Awokoya made his historic proposal, the number of children at school in the region was 381,000 while the number of children of school age was estimated to be 1,146,000. Thus some 66.75 per cent of school children age were not at school. This was dismal then and would be even more dismal today. Happily, there was progress. By 1958, five years on over one million children were enrolled in primary school. The increase in the enrollment of girls was heart-warming. It was the dawn of a new era where education of girls was now deemed important. For instance , the number of girls more than doubled between 1954 and 1955.
Baba Stephen Oluwole Awokoya was one of the earliest Nigerian- born science teachers and had the distinction of teaching science at the Abeokuta Grammar School, Igbein Abeokuta to the likes of Nigeria’s pioneer academic surgeon, Akinpelu Adesola , who taught several generations on Nigeria’s medical students and served with distinction as the Vice-Chancellor ( University President in American lexicon) of two leading Nigerian Universities , Lagos and Ilorin.
Another accomplishment of Baba Stephen Oluwole Awokoya was the role he played in starting The African Scholarship program of American Universities, ASPAU in the early 1960s. Chief Awokoya, himself a graduate of the University of London , had paid a visit to Dr Henry, the Dean of Admissions of Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was enthralled by Harvard and inquired how he could get Nigerians to come to Harvard. Dr Henry was smug and said that Harvard was very competitive. Awokoya was unfazed and told Dr Henry that Nigeria had a cornucopia of students who can hold their own at Harvard. Thus was born the ASPAU program which originally started as a pilot program for twenty four Nigerians and many leading American universities , Harvard included, participated. It was a resounding success and as the saying goes the rest is history.
All the Baba I have written about in this communication have made their contribution to Nigerians in the field of education and joyfully, I sing of them . I sing from A Psalm of Life, a poem first introduced to my class in our senior year in secondary school, by our English teacher, Solomon Adeboye Babalola, MA ( Cantab). PhD (London) The great nineteenth century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ( 1807 -1882) wrote :
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints , that perhaps another ,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main.
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother ,
Seeing shall take heart again.
Let us then,be up and doing ,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
Once again, I say loud and clear there are Baba and there are Baba. In this time of grave moral crisis for Nigeria, silence is not an option.
Peasant of Erunwon, Olufemi Oludolapo Ogundipe, MD, FACP.
PS : I wish to acknowledge my important primary sources in preparing this communication.
A Pariot To The Core. Bishop Ajayi Crowther and Christian Missions In Nigeria. The Making of a new elite . Both books are written by the eminent historian and Professor Emeritus of History , University of Ibadan. Nigeria. I feel very humbled to share the same Almer mater , Igbobi College, with Professor Jacob Ade-Ajayi.