NIGERIA and THE CAMEROONS
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.
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
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
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
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.
Return to Top