Early Christian Missionaries and Their Effective Contributions in Nigeria


From the onset, the missionaries who established Western formal education in Nigeria did not have the aim of educating the natives in the real sense of the word. Their primary objective was evangelical. The main goal was to convert the heathen natives to Christianity.

Three major types of educational institutions eventually emerged, namely: the grammar or classical; the teacher training and pastor-training institutions, and the vocational and agricultural schools.

Foremost among the grammar schools was the CSM established in 1859 which was also Nigeria’s first secondary Grammar School.

In contrast, the Roman Catholics established an agricultural school in Togo in 1897. Students and families were settled on plantations and taught the rudiments of agricultural production.

The missionaries through their introduction of the Christian religion contributed significantly to the development of Nigeria’s educational development in the following ways.

 Missionaries established schools.

The missionaries contributed to the raising up of educated elites through their education policy which contributed in no small measure to the termination of colonial administration and the emergency of nation-states in West Africa.

In their attempts to bring Western education to West Africa the missionaries set up schools in every mission station and so the foundation of the modern education system was laid.

They also established Teacher Training College and made a beginning in higher education by founding Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone in 1816. This was the only institution of higher learning in West Africa until the University College, Ibadan was founded in 1948.

Missionaries contributed to politics.

The missionaries also contributed to the political developments of West Africa in that their activities aroused nationalistic feelings in the Africans.

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First, the missionaries through their education program produced a class of elite who became familiar with the British parliamentary system of government and at the same time because conscious of their rights to fight for the independence of their countries.

It was from this class of educated Africans, a product of the missionary schools that the leaders of nationalism and the movement for self-government were found.

Missionaries contributed to medicine.

In the medical sphere, the church’s contribution is very spectacular as well.  The church for more than a century was the ideological vanguard solicitude for the lowly in society, for the diseased through medical care, inoculation of individuals with philanthropic impulse, and content for self-help.

They took care of the sick, and the orphans and organized relief for the poor. As a result, they built hospitals to care for the sick and orphanages for the orphans. Today, we can still see many mission hospitals in different parts of West Africa.

Missionaries contributed to culture.

The missionaries were responsible for the establishment of true cultural contact between Europeans and West Africans. The previous contract of West Africans with Europeans had been entirely based on trade, either legitimate or slave trade.

The missionaries were the first to have time cultural contact with the people. They lived nearer the people cured the sick and comforted those in sorrow.

By mixing with the people in these ways, Africans learned the ways of life of the Europeans while the Europeans on the other hand learned the ways of life of the Africans.

Missionaries contributed to language development.

The missionaries also produced many books both in English and vernacular language. These books were used in the mission schools and to do their printing job, the missionaries also established a printing industry in West Africa.

Missionaries ended negative cultural practices.

Furthermore, there is no point in denying the existence and practice of cannibalism, human sacrifices, and the killing of twins in Africa on the arrival of Christian missions in West Africa.

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The condemnation and stoppage of these ancient customs by the church may appear to have dislocated the African pattern of life, yet it is undisputed fact that the church successfully reduced the magnitude of this ancient practice and vices to the barest minimum of West African society.

Missionaries stopped slave trades.

Equally significant is the attitude stand of the church on the slave trade and slave raids. Whatever may be their motives, evidence abounds to point to the fact that the church took to achieve an effective step in suppressing and eventually putting an end to the slave trade and replacing it with legitimate trade.

In achieving these objectives, the church introduced new crops and set up plantations in strategic places in West Africa to direct the attention of the slaves to a new source of occupation and at the same time provide them with a new avenue for employment.

Major Problems of Early Missionary Schools in Nigeria

  • Resistance and hostility from the local communities: Many places in Nigeria do not accept the doctrines and faith of Christian missionaries. This kind of attitude restricted them to function well.
  • Bad weather: Hostile weather condition affects the work of the missionaries.
  • Manpower problem: Inadequate manpower to facilitate or assist the operation of the missionaries in Nigeria.
  • Financial problem: Shortage of finance and other material resources are another major problem facing the operations of missionaries. There is nothing to be achievable without funding.
  • Problem of transportation and communication: Another hardship in transport and communication affect the work of missionaries.
  • Disease attack: There are some strange and dangerous diseases such as malaria and sleeping sickness limiting the work of the missionaries.
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