Chapter 11


NIGERIA is a vast country, four times the size of Great Britain, and I had only one week to spare for it. My main purpose, however, was to visit the Prefecture of Oyo, which is the only territory of Nigeria in the charge of the White Fathers.

Leaving Dahomey at 7.30 in the morning we flew to Lagos and then to the great town of Ibadan, where I said Mass in the lovely University Catholic chapel. In response to the Catholic Chaplain's cordial invitation we promised to return later, and after breakfast set off in a car that had been sent for us. The car belonged to no less a person than the chief Minister of Oyo who is a Catholic. He is also the Regent, in the event of a vacancy of the throne, of the High King of Yoruba. He is the King-Maker who actually crowns the King at a coronation. We called to thank him for his kindness in sending us his car and were delighted to see a picture of Our Lady in his reception-room.

At the mission, the Prefect Apostolic, Monsignor McCoy, from Liverpool, made it clear in a hundred pleasant ways that we were most welcome guests. He was my constant companion during the five days I spent in Oyo. From Monsignor and the missionaries I got an overall picture of the problems of the Church in Nigeria.

The vast Northern Province is almost entirely pagan and Moslem. The Moslem Emirs of the north succeeded in inducing the British Colonial authorities to discourage Christian missionary activities, the Government accepting this deplorable restriction as a matter of expediency. One disastrous result of this is that this area lags far behind the Eastern and Western Regions in Education. The Northern Province is certainly the most backward of the whole country.

The Eastern Region is the most Catholic area and there the Holy Ghost Fathers have done splendid work, especially with their schools.

The Prefecture of Oyo in the west of Nigeria is the home of the famous Yoruba people. It is only a small corner of Nigeria, but an immense territory for one Bishop and his twenty-six priests — being twice the size of Wales. There are a quarter of a million people to evangelise — as well as 24,000 Christians and catechumens to look after. The White Fathers came here only at the request of the Holy See, and all the rest of the vast territory of western Nigeria is in the charge of the Irish Province of the Society of the African Missions, (S.M.A.). The work of these Irish Missionaries in the field of Education is beyond praise. At Ibadan they still look after the spiritual interests of the Catholic students of the University, where thirty per cent of the students are Catholics, and from their schools some six hundred and fifty Catholic students are now in England and Ireland for higher studies.

The parish of Oyo is ninety miles long and seventy miles wide! Yes, one parish! And it is by no means an uninhabited area. Thirty miles from the mission we drove through Ogbomosho, a town of 139,000 people ! There is an out-station there which can be visited only once a month. Further on is Fiditi with 23,000 people, where once a month, seven to eight hundred people come to Mass. I passed through Iseyin with fifty thousand people, and Shaki eighty-five miles away with twenty-two thousand, which have not even an out-station chapel. Mass was offered once a year, in a hut.

"We need twenty-five priests at once, just to occupy the big centres," said Monsignor McCoy, "and even where we have missions there is room for many more parishes. I have one town of 120,000 souls — just waiting for any community or group of priests that would like to come and help us."
Monsignor McCoy tries to make up for the shortage of priests by establishing schools wherever he can. He had already eighty-nine of them in which he employed four hundred Catholic teachers to teach ten thousand children — the Catholic men and women of tomorrow. He had only two secondary schools as yet, but was most anxious to open still more.

"Do you know," he asked, plaintively, "any priests or brothers who would come to do this great job? There are people everywhere, needing us and asking for us — but we just can't do more than we are doing."

That is pretty well the story of Nigeria and the Church there. Thirty-two million people but only six hundred and fifty missionary priests. Eight thousand catechists are employed. Figures like these convey little, but divided up, we get places like Oyo, and like another Prefecture in the north, twice the size of Ireland: it has three priests and one brother. There is still another that has only three priests - and between them these six priests have six million souls to bring to God! Granted these two latter are in the Moslem north, but nevertheless I saw here the grim reality behind the late Holy Father's recent anguished appeal for help in Africa. Unless help comes — and in no small measure — one cannot see how these vast areas can be won for the Church.

Seven years previous Mgr. McCoy brought out four Franciscan Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception from Glasgow; there were ten of them now with two primary schools, two secondary schools, one grammar school and one teacher training college. Mother Abbess was there on Visitation and she told me that they hoped to begin a noviciate for African Sisters in the near future. She had found the climate a lovely change from the winter in Glasgow !

Friday, June 11th, was my last day at Oyo, and Mgr. McCoy drove me to Ibadan to enable me to keep my promise to re-visit the University.

There are three quarters of a million people living in Ibadan, and as we drove through the crowded streets I did not see a single white man, and I noticed the predominance of national dress. We approached the town from a hill and stopped to look down on it. Practically all we could see was miles and miles of corrugated-iron roofs that looked for all the world like a brownish red sea of rust. But there are of course, modern buildings in the town and one of these which made me think of a futuristic beehive, was being put up for the Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles from Ireland. They have a private girls' school and a commercial college.

Bishop Finn, S.M.A., entertained us to lunch and talked about the University. There are six hundred students of which thirty per cent are Catholics. "They're a splendid group," he said. "The Praesidium of the Legion of Mary is, I daresay, as active as any other in the diocese and we also have a branch of the International Students' Association, Pax Romana. Naturally it is on the University students that we build our hopes for an enlightened and good Catholic elite, and at present our hopes are high."

I was delighted to hear Mgr. Finn speak of his desire to encourage African arts and crafts. He took me to the Protestant chapel to see an unusual and vivid carving of the Resurrection of Our Lord. It is the work of the well-known Catholic sculptor of Nigeria, Mr. Ben Enwonwu. There were lovely carvings on the doors of the Catholic chapel. Father Carroll, S.M.A., had the good idea of telling some African craftsmen the main events in the Life of Our Lord, and then asking them to interpret them in their own way on the doors. The result is as unusual as it is beautiful, and is a fine example of adaptation by these missionaries from Ireland, using whatever is good in the culture of the people they were sent to evangelise. It is a pity this spirit is not more widespread, but with the growth of the African clergy and a Catholic lay-elite it is bound to develop.

The University itself is a compromise in architecture. It was built by the British architect, Mr. Fry Drew. It reminded me of pictures of South America and it fits well into the surroundings and suits the climate.

In the evening we went to Lagos on the coast where we were to en-plane for the Cameroons after the weekend. Once again it was the kindly African Missionary Society which gave us hospitality in the old Reception Centre near the docks. The house was about to be pulled down; if it were not it would soon fall down and there were already gaping holes in the floor boards. It is right in the middle of the slums, but Father "Joe" there told us not to bother about locking doors.
"No one steals here," he said. I thought of the clever thieves of Accra!

This house was occupied only by the Nigerian Father Adeneye, Editor of the local Catholic newspaper' 'The Nigerian Catholic Herald". Father Adeneye seems to work all night and day. He told me that you will not find a single pagan under thirty years of age in Yoruba country; they are all either Moslem or Christian. Paganism is out of fashion.

Out in the streets the people were affable and smiling. Many came along to talk. The town was full of "strangers" from up country, many of them were young men who spend four or five years here earning money to pay the bride price before being married. The exorbitant demands of future fathers-in-law would appear to be one of the blights of Nigeria.

We called on Archbishop Taylor, S.M.A., and learned that there were only eleven African priests in the whole arch- diocese, and three of these were from Moslem families. I was a little surprised to find so few indigenous priests, but how my brethren of North Africa would rejoice to hear of priests from Moslem families. Of course, Islam lies somewhat lighter on many of these races than it does on the Arabs of North Africa.

By long hops down the West Coast, and pushing inland from the great ports, we had seen something of Sierra Leone, Dahomey and Nigeria, and then we arrived at Duala in the French Cameroons. This means we had left what is officially called West Africa and had arrived in Equatorial Africa. In a few days we were due to cross the Equator itself.

The first question I had fired at me on arrival at Duala was: "When are you leaving?" And then to my reply came the second shot: "Can you prove it?" Having persuaded the man in the braided cap that my intentions to leave on a certain date, were quite sincere, I was let free. We walked through the docks, passed a few European houses and shops, and went on to the "native" town of poor dilapidated huts, which looked better than they were because of the delightful green setting.

Duala is on the Gulf of Guinea which is noted for its heavy rainfall, and thick tropical vegetation is the result. The people in the streets reminded me of Dakar — unsmiling and apparently unfriendly. The Cameroons were in a state of political ferment. There was strong nationalistic feeling among all the Africans I met, and I was told that the Communist influence was strong and being carried over the border into the Congo too. Some African students I listened to said, that they were anxious to learn all they could from the French: "We can take correction and rebuke, but the trouble is we often feel treated like insects".

That evening an old missionary full of sympathy for the way Africa is growing to maturity said: "Only seven years ago I baptised a baby here: the family was a group of primitive people, half naked. Today I baptised another baby of the same family, and you should have seen them ! They were beautifully dressed in their national costumes and full of real dignity".

In the more developed areas we missionaries must realise that the African now looks to us much less as a temporal father than he did. Local government is increasingly undertaking material work and the standard of living is rapidly improving. These changes, however, are causing new problems and are bringing about a state of affairs wherein the African needs our help as priests more than ever before.

Three miles out of Duala the missionaries were constructing an enormous centre for the J.O.C. - the French equivalent of our Young Christian Workers' Association. I went out to look at it. It had an ultra-modern chapel with the floor sloping down to the altar like a lecture room, giving everyone a perfectly clear view. There were splendid lecture halls, dining rooms and dormitories for several hundred visitors. Enthusiastic French members of the J.O.C. were constructing this building. I hoped the African Young Christian Workers would show the same enthusiasm about using it. I could not help wishing that the Africans were doing the job themselves — for themselves.

I got an interesting sidelight on the unwise desire to rush to higher standards of living — or at least to get more money. I saw a factory in ruins with its machinery rusted and rotting away. An enterprising Frenchman had started a textile industry to provide work in the area. His workmen demanded higher and higher wages until the cloth they made cost more than that imported from France. The owner held out as long as he could, trying to put sense into his men's heads, but was at last defeated and went home. Nearby there was a cement factory now completely run by Africans. That will go the way of the textile factory if they are not careful. The cement made there already costs more, and is inferior to that brought all the way from Europe.

During recent elections great use was made of what was called the "Banana Scandal". A lot of bananas are grown here, and candidates demanded higher prices from the dealers on the spot, because they said: "In Paris people pay sixpence for a single banana, and here you only get sixpence for a whole root", There was no mention of the dealer's overheads, wages to pay, transport to France and then to Paris, middle-man's profit and retailer's gain. I know Europeans must not exploit the African as they often have done, but it is also certain that the African also often needs someone to educate him in simple economics.

We could only spare three days for our visit to the Cameroons so soon we had to say goodbye to the missionaries and set off once more for the airport. After a delay of four hours with only a ham sandwich and a bottle of Coco-Cola to cheer us up, we took off for Brazzaville.

The plane took off at 1.30 p.m. Two hours later, we landed at Libreville to refuel. We hoped for a meal. There was a bar, but no food ! Not even a bar of chocolate. We waited for one and a half hours — starving. We crossed the Equator at 4.50 p.m., rather too hungry to take much notice of the "news". At 8 o'clock we sank to the airstrip at Point Noire to refuel again — and there we destroyed, in record time, half a French loaf each ! At eleven o'clock that night we reached our destination — Brazzaville. People grumble a lot about the local air service but in fairness one must remember the local conditions too. I am sure the internal air service has done much to ease the life of missionaries and other Europeans in Africa. The airmail letter alone is a great blessing.
The Superior General of the Eudist Fathers was with us and we shared in the ceremonious welcome extended to him by the Superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers at the airport. The General of the Eudists had come to study the possibility of his Society taking over the local seminary, so as to release Holy Ghost Fathers for their proper mission work. If only more Orders, specialising in Education, could do likewise ! The ordinary missionary would be delighted to be free for his normal ministry and much more progress could be made towards the conversion of the African masses.

On Thursday, June 20th, we were due to go into Belgian territory. Looking back on what I had seen in West Africa, I was filled with admiration for the white men and women, both missionaries and others, who work there. Theirs is a hard task in a hard land. Many of the missions are in their humble beginnings; like those amongst the Dogon people and in the Prefecture of Kayes, but there is a spirit of enthusiasm for the mighty interests at stake. Sometimes we read or hear criticisms of missions and I cannot help thinking that much of that criticism comes either from jealousy or ignorance.

The achievements of these white men and women in Africa are, in fact, wonderful: they are changing the face of Africa, and raising its soul from the death of paganism. And at what a price! They suffer the heat, eat poor food, and often drink bad water. They are lonely men and women, struggling at what must sometimes seem a hopeless task. On the spot, they do not notice the changes they are making in the apparently unyielding soil, and in many cases among unsympathetic men, in a savage country which fights back in a thousand ways, resisting progress. I have often looked at these white people and wondered why they have come and why they stay. The missionary has the complete and perfect answer: he is seeking, through his labours, the establishment of the Kingdom of God in his own heart as well as in that of the people he works for. This is also true of some of the lay folk, but what of the others? A spirit of adventure and a love of the open spaces bring some into the Colonial Service, and many learn to love Africa and the Africans and sincerely try to serve them well. Some may have a purely selfish end in view — but whatever the purpose, they must all pay a high price.

Perhaps, in the eyes of God, part is a paying off of the mighty debt the white man owes for the horrors of the Slave Trade. Africans can reproach us much but they have also much to thank the white man for, and it will be to their detriment and shame if they forget what has been done for them, for it was men from Europe, and not the Arab, who finally stopped the Slave Trade.

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