Ajayi Crowther deserves the highest honour in Nigeria- Bishop Asaju

by Church Times

The Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Ilesa, Osun State, The Rt Rev Dapo Asaju has called on the government of Nigeria to confer the highest honour on Nigeria’s foremost evangelist and church planter, Bishop Ajayi Crowther.

He made the call while delivering a paper titled, Bishop Ajayi Crowther: The Forgotten Hero at the 160th anniversary of Crowther’s consecration as Bishop.

The anniversary was celebrated by the Anglican Diocese of the Niger at the All Saints Cathedral, Onitsha.

At the event which took place on June 29, Asaju who was full of praise to the Igbos for making out time to celebrate Crowther argued that the achievements of the late church planter and missionary were too compelling.

Items associated with Crowther

He said however that it is regrettable that the government of Nigeria has not given him a well-deserved honour. Bishop Asaju who is also a professor of theology brought with him to the lecture some of the items associated with Ajayi Crowther when he was alive.

Prof Bishop Dapo Asaju

He brought the pen he used to write his letters during his lifetime, the clock and compass he used for navigation during his tour to some parts of the world. He also brought the Bible that was presented to him when he was consecrated.

Asaju said the captain of the ship that rescued Bishop Crowther from slave traders and took him to Freetown was present at his consecration service on June 29, 1864

That captain according to Asaju expressed great joy that the boy he rescued has risen to become a bishop. He then offered to buy the consecration Bible and personally signed it.

He was reburied

Asaju said further “that the boat he rode in his lifetime and the throne he sat on after his enthronement as Bishop are still there. The remains of the house where he was captured, the tree where he was tied when he was captured are still standing at the village and still bearing fruit.”

Ajayi Crowther is noted for his remarkable work in translating the Bible into the Yoruba Language and also the first to translate it to Igbo. He lived between 1809 and 1891.

He was first buried at the Ajele Cemetery in Lagos and later re-buried at the Christ Church, Marina when the then Lagos State government wanted to build a secretariat at his first burial site. At his baptism, he named himself after Rev Samuel Crowther who was one of those who founded the Church Missionary Society and rescued him.

While recalling that he was one of those who received the apology from the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of Crowther for the way he was treated by the then Anglican Church Asaju said, “Today, there are three bishops fully robed that represent the ministry of Crowther at the canterbury.”

Consumed with missions

Talking about his mission exploits, Asaju said Ajayi Crowther was so consumed in missions that he had no time to visit Oshoogun, his hometown in Oyo State when he came back to Nigeria “He came back to Abeokuta. Lived with his mother. He never visited Oshogun until he died because was consumed with missions.” Asaju said.

Ajayi Crowther in Asaju’s words, “was a global citizen whose sphere of service is incomparable. He laid the foundation of the evangelization of Eastern Nigeria, the greater part of Northern Nigeria, and the West. Ajayi is the mother of Christianity in most parts of Nigeria. He supervised about 80 dioceses put together. Yet he had no car. He used a bicycle, boat, and his legs.”

Asaju said Crowther was highly spiritual, recalling how he went to pagan shrines and destroyed them during his lifetime.

“He came to communities where they said those who tampered with their gods would die. He tampered with so many gods and survived. He preached in a village and they drove him away. He shook the dust off his feet as he was about to leave the village. Of all the communities in the Niger Delta that community did not produce any significant person until the curse on it was broken by an Anglican priest years later”

Fulani raiders

Bishop Asaju noted also that “Ajayi Crowther was captured by Fulani raiders. They captured his parents. This happened over 200 years ago. The same Fulani people are still disturbing people today. We need to investigate this.”

He brought to the fore the noble role played by the London Missionary Society which metamorphosed into Church Missionary Society in the evangelisation of Africa.

Contrary to  what many think, Asaju said it was not the established church in England that brought the gospel to Africa but “young men who just graduated from Oxford University and had a burning desire to change the world through the gospel and abolition of  slave trade.”

By 1807 William Wilberforce championed a bill that saw to the abolition of slave trade which led to the freedom of people like Ajayi Crowther.

Giant strides of Crowther

Talking about the giant strides of Crowther, Asaju said, “He was the first student to be enrolled at the Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone.  He was so outstanding. He had a first-class brain. He applied himself to the study of languages. He studied language at the University of Oxford.

The north was not fully evangelized according to Asaju because the British colonial government passed an act forbidding evangelism by Christians in the north. “They were not allowed to enter the north. Lord Lugard signed a covenant with the Sultan that the North would not be tampered with. That is the origin of our problems.”

Ajayi Crother was a great intellectual. “He published the common prayer for the Yoruba Bible and also translated the Bible to Yoruba. He published a book on proverbs. The vocabulary of the Yoruba Bible. He originated the ABC of the Igbo language. He did that with the support of Simon Jonas. He wrote the ABC of Nupe Language. He produced a full grammar and vocabulary of the Nupe Language. Tell me any other Nigeria who is so detribalized. He was truly nationalistic. He was a polyglot. He spoke about 13 languages including Greek, Hebrew. and Latin. He built the first set of schools in Nigeria. He was a peace builder.”

He stated also that Henry Ven, son of John Ven who was one of the pioneers of CMS recommended him to be consecrated Bishop. “Henry Ven devised the three selves about the church in Africa. That the church should be:  Self-Governing, Self-financing, and Self-propagating. Upon his recommendation, Ajayi Crowther was consecrated as the first Bishop of African extraction.

Asaju said Ajayi Crowther was not just the Bishop of Nigeria. “He was the Bishop of West Africa. His labour in the east was most remarkable. He was the one who invited the  Roman Catholics to come to the East.

“Ajayi Crowther started the first Muslim-Christian interaction. He was an apostle of Agriculture. He brought the Cassava seedling to Nigeria. He spearheaded the foundation of education in Nigeria. Yet nothing significant has been named after him by the government of Nigeria. He ought to be awarded the GCFR.”


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