The boundaries of Nigeria were fixed towards the end of the 19th century during the partition of Africa. Its immediate neighbors are Cameroun to the East, Chad to the Northeast, Niger to the North and Northwest and the Republic of Benin to the West. The entire South is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean.
The population is estimated at over 100 million. It is inhabited by people of various ethnic groups like Hausa, the Edo, the Ibo, the Yoruba, the Efik, Ibibio, the Kanuri and many others. The peoples’ religion is either Christianity, Islam or traditional religions.
Christianity, as it now exists in Nigeria, was established with the arrival of Thomas Birch Freeman in the country. On September 24, 1842, Thomas Birch Freeman, a Wesley Methodist Church Missionary, with two devoted helpers, William DeGraft and Mrs. DeGraft, landed in Badagry. They had come to Nigeria in response to the request for missionaries by the liberated people who had returned to Abeokuta from Sierra Leone and another request by James Ferguson, an ex-slave who had settled in Badagry. From the mission stations established in Badagry and Abeokuta, the Methodist Church spread to various parts of the country West of the River Niger and part of the North.
In 1893, the Revs. Fairley and Ben Showell, missionaries of the Primitive Methodist Church, arrived in Archibong Town from Fernando Po, an Island off the southern coast of Nigeria. From Archibong Town, the Methodist Church spread to various parts of the country, east of the River Niger and crossed to parts of the North. The church west of the River Niger and part of the North was known as the Western Nigeria District and east of the Niger and another part of the North was known as the Eastern Nigeria District. Both existed independently of each other until 1962 when they constituted the Conference of Methodist Church Nigeria. The conference is composed of seven districts – Lagos, Ibadan, Ilesa, Umuahia, Port-Harcourt, Calabar and the North. The church has continued to spread into new areas, established an Outreach/Evangelism Department and appointed a Director of Evangelism.
An Episcopal system adopted in 1976 was not fully accepted by all sections of the church until the two sides came together and resolved to end the disagreement. The two sides fashioned a new constitution which was ratified on May 24, 1990. The system is still Episcopal but the points which caused discontent were amended to be acceptable to both sides.
Methodist Church Nigeria now has 36 dioceses in contrast to its 7 districts in 1962. In addition to its concern for the spiritual life of the people in Nigeria, it also takes part in the social and economic welfare of the people. All its secular schools, like those of other denominations, have been taken over by the government. However, new schools are being established in addition to paying greater attention to Sunday Schools and chaplaincy services in public schools and other establishments. The decision to establish a Methodist University was taken recently. The church runs centers for the lepers at Uzuakoli and the mentally ill at Emudo Itumbauzo in Abia State, to mention a few. It also runs a model farm at Kaiama in Niger State.
Methodist Church Nigeria is headed by the Prelate, who is the head of the church and who presides over conference, the overall governing body of the church, which meets every two years to deliberate and take decision on all issues affecting the life of the church.
Presbyters with assistance of other ministers, administer the circuits and local congregations.
The Nigeria Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, separated into two halves by the River Benue, is located in the Northeastern part of Nigeria. It attained Conference status in 1992 and has its own resident bishop. The headquarters is in Jalingo, capital of the new Tabara State of Nigeria.
The first foundation for mission in Muri was laid in September, 1906, when the Reverend Dr. C. W. Guinter of the Evangelical church, a forerunner of the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) traveled up the Benue River to Ibi near Wukari. Guinter had come from the United States with four other missionaries to work for Jesus Christ in the Sudan – a region extending across Northern Africa, south of the Sahara.
In 1946, the Evangelical church became part of the newly merged Evangelical United Brethren (EUB). Mean while, the British Methodists were having trouble in staffing and financing their mission work in Nigeria while still recovering from World War II. So in 1947, the British missions on the southern side of the Benue River were merged with those of the EUB on the northern side.
From 1923 until 1954, the EUB Church in Nigeria had been run by the Missionary Council. In 1954, it became the Muri Regional Church Council. The foreign missionaries were brought under the same Church Council as the indigenous Nigerians.
In 1954, the first indigenous leaders were elected. After pastoral training, the first ordinations of Nigerians took place in 1958 and 1964. Four district churches were also created in 1964, two on each side of the river. Today there are 15 districts and 180 charges.
At the United Methodist General Conference it was resolved that the Evangelical United Brethren Church in Nigeria would become part of the West African Central Conference as “Muri Provisional Annual Conference.”
Bishop Arthur F. Kulah of the Liberia Annual Conference was appointed as Itinerant Bishop to Nigeria from 1984 to 1988. In 1989, he was replaced by Bishop Thomas S. Bangura of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference. Finally, in May 1992, Nigeria became a full Annual Conference, and on August 14, Dr. Done Peter Dabale was elected as its first Resident Bishop.
In 1989, the church established its theological seminary at Banyam to prepare students for ministerial work and degree programs at other theological seminaries. The Kakulu Bible Institute in Zing and the Didango Bible School met our demands of evangelists.
An evangelical program in our Church is at work establishing new churches and directing annual workshops and courses for the clergy and evangelists.
The church sponsors programs in agriculture, rural health, rural development, women’s work, youth and aviation. We have been able to work harmoniously both at home and abroad for the success of church growth and development in Nigeria.
The work of Methodism in North Africa was started in 1908 by missionaries from the USA. Before Algeria became independent in 1962, there were no restrictions on church work in this country. Open evangelization was allowed. The Methodist Church owned church buildings, children’s homes and clinics. At that time, the Church in Northern Africa was organized as an annual conference, to which local pastors, lay preachers, and evangelists belonged. Then the country dissolved its ties to France. This was a historic juncture that had serious – and for many, painful – consequences. Many local Christians left the country, believing that there was no place for a Christian Church in an independent Algeria. Finally, eight years later, events followed which were to define the next period: half of the Methodist missionaries were deported, children’s homes and boarding schools were forced to close, and Church property was taken over by the state.
In 1972, the Methodist Church fused with most of the other Protestant denominations to form the Protestant Church of Algeria, and Methodist work in Northern Africa was reorganized as a district of the annual conference of Switzerland/France. This work also includes the cooperation of various churches in Tunis, Tunisia, with its emphasis on social services (delivering food, clothing and medicines), on assistance for immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, and on the organization of ecumenical worship services and university Bible groups.
Today, the Christian Church is a tiny minority in Algeria, where Islam is now the state religion. Fairly recently, it was possible to run a congregation in an organized manner, in spite of state-ordered limitations (prohibition of public evangelization, prohibition of all activities not directly related to church work, prohibition of all services to Moslem children, youth and students). The political and religious developments of the past few years have not exactly made Methodist work any easier in this country.
However, there are worship services, Bible studies, weddings and baptisms. In Algiers and Oran, especially, these take place through ecumenical cooperation. More and more people are expressing their interest in the Christian faith. Through the social services supported by the UMC in Switzerland, a sewing school for deaf women in Constantine is run, which means that some young women are receiving a chance for a better future.
The training of local staff is a major priority of Church life today, because although leaders in the Methodist congregations in Algeria continue to maintain existing relations, they also hope to increase the level of local responsibility.
Structurally, the Protestant Church of Algeria is now constituted as a federation of Protestant congregations, in which Methodist personalities continue to carry out important leadership functions. However, this has no effect on the cooperation in personnel and financial matters between the Methodist congregations in Algeria and the Annual Conference in of Switzerland/France.