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Henry Johnson Foundation: charting a new course for Nigeria

by Church Times









Ven Henry Johnson

By Gbenga Osinaike

At over 80, Dr. Christopher Kolade, erstwhile Nigeria Ambassador to the United Kingdom and a man generally referred to as Mr. Integrity still sees the vision of a new Nigeria that is birthed in God’s glory, doing the right thing. And this was evident recently when he presided over a symposium organized by The Venerable Henry Johnson Foundation for Theology and Social Transformation.

By the way, the foundation is the brainchild of the Bishop of the Mainland Diocese of the Anglican Communion, The Rt. Rev. Akinpelu Johnson. It came into being in 2016 to mark 25th anniversary as an Anglican priest with the aim of the foundation acting as a stop-gap between the theology and society. The goal of the foundation is to birth a new society where theology is used to shape the thinking and aspiration of people thereby providing a new lease of life to our nation.

Among many things, the foundation will see to filling the spiritual lacuna in the society. It will galvanize the society to doing the right thing and help to reduce poverty and ignorance among the teeming populace by providing necessary information and interventions. Part of its intervention will include; bringing theological education close to people, engage citizens in building a sane society and cause a change in the orientation of people, letting them know their role in the emancipation of the nation while also equipping them with necessary information that will help them take this lead.

So, on January 24, (the anniversary of the baptism of Henry Johnson) the foundation organized its first ever intervention in the polity bringing together some eminent Nigerians to brainstorm on the theme, Followership: An antidote to defective leadership. Hitherto, the leadership has always been the focal point. The ills of the society are often blamed on the leaders. But what role or perhaps in what way has the followership contributed to the mess in the country? How can the followership help in bringing Nigeria out of the mess? That was the issue that engaged the audience that graced the event that Tuesday of January 24 2018.

Speaker after speaker gave perspectives at the event while participants which included a cross section of the society and students from Vivian Fowler School, Revd Canon James Pearce College and Dowen College had field day asking probing questions and making useful contributions. The Bishop of Owo Diocese of the Anglican Communion, The Rt. Rev Stephen Fagbemi, Former Deputy governor of Lagos State, Princess Sarah Sosan were guest speakers at the event. Other speakers were Senator Tunde Ogbeha who is a great grandchild of Henry Johnson, Mr. Supo Sashore, former Attorney General of Lagos State and Professor Ibidapo Obe, Former Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos.






For those who don’t know, The Venerable Henry Johnson, whose name the foundation is bears, worked under Bishop Ajayi Crowther as Archdeacon of the Upper Niger, and was stationed in Lokoja. They shared a common ancestor in Alaafin Abiodun of Oyo.  He was born and raised in Sierra Leone to liberated Nigerian slave parents Henry and Sarah, on November 10th 1840. Both parents returned to Nigeria in February 1858 at the invitation of David and Anna Hinderer where they labored as missionaries in Aremo and Kudeti stations in Ibadan. Both are buried at St David’s Kudeti Ibadan.

The Venerable Henry Johnson was sent to London in 1865 where he trained for ordination and was made deacon in 1867 and ordained priest in 1869 before he returned to Sierra Leone. During his time in London, he studied Hebrew and comparative Philology among other courses at the Church Missionary College, Islington, London. His education prepared him for the great work of reducing the Mende Language in Sierra Leone to writing. Among other things, he translated the New Testament into Mende. Later on in Nigeria, he would also translate the New Testament and Prayer Book into Nupe and prayers and the catechisms into Igbira.

In March 1873 he returned to England before being sent to Palestine on December 4th to study Arabic. He returned to England on April 28th 1876 and on January 7th 1877 arrived in Lagos as vicar of St. Paul’s Church Breadfruit. Whilst Vicar, it became necessary for him to take temporary charge of C. M. S. Grammar School after the sudden death of its founder, The Revd T. B. Macaulay. His extensive work on translations was recognized and on 12th November 1885 he was personally present to receive an honorary M. A. Degree of the University of Cambridge.

He was the first of five boys, all of whom in one way or the other would work for the Church. His immediate younger brother was The Venerable Nathaniel Johnson, first Vicar of St. John’s Aroloya until 1901 and Vicar of St. Paul’s Breadfruit. There was also The Revd Samuel Johnson, author of The History of the Yorubas; Dr. Obadiah Johnson, who graduated from King’s College London and Mr. Stephen Adolphus Johnson, Lay Reader at St. John’s Aroloya. The two younger sisters would both marry clergymen. After the Niger Mission was destroyed due to racism, he returned to Sierra Leone to the Native pastorate where he met an untimely death at the age of 61.

Henry Johnson is the great uncle of The Rt. Revd Akinpelu Johnson whom God has used to raise the foundation in his honour. Beyond his memory however is his heart cry for an egalitarian society with a heavy dose of theological knowledge. For according to Bishop Johnson, the knowledge of God will readily birth a just society.

That was the thought that informed the symposium, which saw participants debating and discussing how Nigeria would get out of the wood of bad governance. Senator Ogbeha who shared his thoughts at the event, which held at the Bishop Adelakun Howell Church Hall, Surulere explained to the participants that there is a dialect between the leaders and the followers. He reasoned that at some point the follower becomes the leader and vice versa noting that creating a division between these two is a hard nut.

He gave his own example that while contesting for the senatorial seat, he had no option but to listen to the direction and guide of the ward chairman of his party who though had limited education understood the dynamics of politics. But as soon as he became the senator of his zone, the leader automatically becomes a follower. He then explained that there is a need for the follower to always keep the leadership in check by offering suggestions on good governance and by being bold to register their dissent without resorting to violence.

A former Vice Chancellor of the University of Lagos, Prof Ibidapo Obe who harped on the need for self-regulation by the leadership pointed out that he was able to mitigate crisis during his tenure as UNILAG VC because of his exemplary conduct and ability to distil the mood of the university community. He posits that a leader must be able to impose some self-restriction on his public conduct while also being able to feel the pain of the follower. He reasoned that the follower must be carried along in such a way that the leaders will feel what they are feeling and also find a way of reading their mood. But that can only be possible if there is a meeting place between the follower and the leader.

Obe noted further that the emancipation of Nigeria has been truncated on the altar of federal character pointing out that if merit is not given its rightful place, Nigeria will continue to fumble and wobble. “if we must make progress in Nigeria, appointments to key establishment in the country must be based on merit and not on whom you know. Unfortunately, merit is not important again. What is important is where you come from or who you know and that has to be totally jettisoned if we are going to make any progress. I have heard the argument that we introduced the Federal Character so that the country can remain one. Of course, when you follow federal character in your various appointments, you drive at what is called sub-optimal, because you are not using the best persons.”

He noted with dismay that when it comes to football which may not have direct bearing on our economic wellbeing we don’t apply federal character.  He asked, “Why is it that when we play football, we look for the best soccer stars that we can get from across the country and field them, but when it comes to doing government business, we want to balance things and at the long run put people who are not the best”, he then said, “If we must make progress we must go back to merit.”

He argued further that if there is no meeting place between the leaders and the followers it will be difficult to mitigate crisis. He reasoned that the inability of the leader to distil what the followership wants is a recipe for crisis noting that the example of Nigeria is a clear case in point. “It is the responsibility of leaders to develop their followers. Leaders need to sustain and mentor the followers. A leader must have knowledge and passion of seeing a transformation in the followers. A leader must be self-regulated,” he submitted.

In her paper at the three-hour event, Princess Sosan observed that the lack of will power among the followership is the bane of the political and social backwardness that Nigeria is experiencing. She observed that the followership has a docile attitude towards the polity adding that the class of people who present themselves for election are in some instances not the people who have the understanding of governance. “Nigeria is in a mess today because the followers are too docile. The followers produce the kind of leaders we get. There is no two away about it.”

She reasoned that graft and high-level patronage are twin instruments that have weakened the polity.

Sosan put the blame of Nigeria’s truncated growth on the followers. She said, “followers must shun Greek gifts from their leaders, in order not to lose their right to demand accountability. She noted that “many women keep quiet because of what they will get”, a development she described as unfortunate.

While responding to a submission by one of the participants that the paucity of quality education leads to poor voter participation which eventually leads to electing bad leaders she said, “I do not think that is the issue. We have quality education but the awareness is low and the will power to do the right thing is not there.  There are a lot of educated people who don’t even participate in the politics. That has been the experience over the years. I will rather that we do more of sensitization and encourage descent people to participate in the polity”

In his own contribution, Shashore the Lagos former Attorney General said bad leadership had thrived for so long because the followers seemed to have abdicated their role of demanding accountability from their leaders.

He observed that though two chapters of the Nigerian constitution dealt with citizenship, majority of Nigerians were not aware of their rights adding that people don’t even avail themselves of the constitution which according to him is in the public domain.  “The power that the citizens have is not being wielded. The power of protest is a constitutionally-recognised right,” Shasore said.

He also blamed the youth for failing to get angry in the face of bad leadership. He reasoned that both the followers and the leaders are interlocked in a hide and seek game adding that the very provision of the laws are being sidetracked for personal gains.

The Right Rev Fagbemi brought a theological dimension to the discourse stressing that the church has a role to play in the ensuring that politicians deliver on their promises. But what we have seen over the years is that politicians who lobby and persuade people to vote for them and do all kinds of things just to get to office suddenly become too busy to be accountable. He reasoned that many public office holders soon find out that they are no longer available to respond to the yearnings of the people. “this is worrisome. But they are never too busy to seek for the vote of the office. When it comes to accountability and reporting back to their various constituencies, it becomes difficult to see them. If we must make progress there must be a way of tying public office holders to their promises.” He counselled.

Kolade who supervised the sessions noted that leadership is a call to serve and not a call to funfare or some extravagant lifestyle. He then reasoned that if leaders are to serve it is unthinkable that the person who has been called to serve has to pay the electorate to serve. According to him, leadership is a sacrifice and good leaders are often called not the other way round. “But the scenario we find ourselves is that the leader who wants to serve in some cases has to buy his way to the heart of the follower. If that is the case which is the case in many cases, we will not be getting anywhere because the person who pays his way to serve certainly in many instances will first want to recoup his investment”

He stressed further that the Nigeria constitution is defective in that it does not allow room for quality leadership to show up. “Our constitution only says the Nigerian leaders should have minimum educational requirement. The implication is that if you have a school certificate even if you failed many of the subjects you can still qualify to seek for elective position. That is the reason why the leadership quality is poor. There is a need for the constitution to look at the issue of merit in terms of the intellectual capacity of the person that can seek election. There is also the need to look at the age requirement and the track record of the person vying for elective position. We followers must take a lead to define what we want in the constitution and we must begin to make the leaders accountable for them. We followers have something in us that we can apply to help defective leadership get better. That is the essence of a forum like this,” he said.

Commenting on the lecture, the founder of the Foundation, The Rt. Rev Johnson stated that the foundation is a product of a quest to ensure that the church contributes to the ongoing debate for a just and egalitarian society. He told Church Times that the church should be a solution and not be part of the problem or those complaining.

“The decision to have the foundation is borne out of my desire to see that we build a sane society using the tool of theology. It is okay that we talk and complain about the problem, but then we must be seen to proffer the solution. If I say I have the solution I may not be correct. I believe the solution can only come from an aggregate of views when issues are looked at from a broad spectrum and when the citizens are central in such quest.”

Beyond intervening in the polity and creating a synergy between the follower and the leaders, Johnson believes the foundation will help in many ways to drive the needed change in the society.

“Many of what we are planning are futuristic. But we will take one step at a time. Our goal is to continually engage the larger society and this is not a one-off exercise. It is an ongoing thing. We have acquired a large portion of land somewhere in Epe. Some people have made pledges to build for us on this land. We are prospecting for more sponsors. Our vision is to make the foundation an institution where people can go to do research and retreat. It will be a centre where theology will meet with society with a view to proffering solution to the myriad of problems plaguing us.” He said.

On the choice of the name for the foundation, he said, “Well, naming the foundation after The Venerable Henry Johnson is my own way of immortalizing Henry Johnson’s strategic role in the Church of Nigeria and his involvement in the politics of the country. He is my great grand uncle. We share somethings in common. But beyond the name is my deep concern for the church and the society. I was in discussion with some people and it occurred to me that rather than whine about the situation in the country we need to be practical and proffer solutions. Like I said the solution is not a one-way thing.”

He gave a hypothetical case. “Many politicians patronize clergy men and some strategic people like journalists in the society and thereby make it difficult for such people to speak the truth or so we think. We must be able to solve that dilemma. It is not for me to say that that it is not good for these people to be patronized or not. In Africa hospitality is something that is more like a culture. If a clergy man visits a politician and he is served lunch or given some gifts must he reject it? If he rejects it, will that help to shape his thinking? If he accepts it to what extent will that action affect his ability to say the truth? What do we advocate? So, a case like that makes it important for us to engage ourselves in some form of discussion that will bring these issues to bare and find a long-lasting solution.”

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Samuel O. Laraiyetan March 13, 2018 - 7:34 am

Whenever I look at my unread mail which time does not permit me to read, I usually find time to read that of Church Times. This is the reason why I do not neglect mails from Church Times. You are committed to making our society a better place.

Gbenga Osinaike March 13, 2018 - 8:35 am

Thanks so much sir. We are encouraged

Tunji Isaac March 17, 2018 - 12:17 am

This is a giant move in order to make our society a better place. Thanks sir ur Lordship


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