Role Of Christian Missionaries In The Colonisation Of Nigeria

Role Of Early Christian Missionaries In The Colonisation Of Nigeria

The role of early Christian Missionaries in the Colonisation Of Nigeria was to facilitate the establishment of British Colonial rule in Nigeria.

Early Christian Missionaries In The Colonisation Of Nigeria

The story of the role played by early Christian Missionaries in the Colonisation of Nigeria begins with Yoruba Slaves that had been rescued by the British Navy as part of Britain’s efforts to abolish the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

These freed Slaves were taken to Sierra Leone where they embraced Christianity due to the efforts of the Church Missionary Society before returning to their respective homelands between 1839 and 1845.

Once freed Slaves like the Rev Ajayi Crowther returned home to Nigeria, they began working with the Church Missionary Society to spread Christianity in Nigeria starting with Christian Missions in Badagry, Abeokuta and Lagos. 

Meanwhile The Catholic Church and other European Missionaries including Baptist Thomas Bowen and the Presbyterian Rev Hope Waddel penetrated the Nigerian hinterland in areas like Calabar, Bonnie, Brass and Dahomey where Mission Stations were established.

Whilst early Christian Missionaries achieved some success in gaining converts at Missions like Badagry, strong Pre-Colonial African institutions in Kingdoms like Dahomey, Abeokuta and Lagos prevented early Christian Missionaries in Nigeria from gaining converts and penetrating deeper into the Nigerian interior.

In addition, despite Britain’s attempts to end the Slave Trade, some of the most prominent Kingdoms of West Africa such as Dahomey and Lagos continued to profit from the Slave Trade resisting efforts by early Christian Missionaries to penetrate the Yoruba interior because Christian Missionaries would undermine their Political authority in addition to lowering their profits from the Slave Trade.

Meanwhile, following the Abolishment of Slavery, Britain was eager to expand the ‘legitimate goods trade’ in Nigeria, and the Yorubaland interior was regarded as a key strategic market for this new Trade in consumer goods produced by Europe’s Industrial Revolution.

During this time, the Slave Trade was unfavourable to Britain’s Economic interests, and it became necessary for the British Empire to devise a means by which it could secure the vast untapped Yoruba interior to secure a firm foothold in Nigeria for its new trade.

Collaboration Of Christian Mission Missionaries With The British Empire In The Colonisation Of Nigeria 

Due to the opposition from African Kingdoms faced by Christian Missionaries in Nigeria, Christian Missionaries in Nigeria concluded that in order for them to spread Christianity effectively in Nigeria, it was necessary to completely transform the existing Social and Political order in Nigeria to bring about a system which would replace the established customs and institutions of Nigeria.

In order to achieve the objective of spreading Christianity in Nigeria, early Christian Missionaries realised that the opposition from  Nigeria’s African Kingdoms which was motivated by their desire to maintain their own sovereignty and to continue profiting from the Slave Trade could only be overcome with the intervention of the British Government.

The early Christian Missionaries in Nigeria viewed the Colonisation of Nigeria as a justifiable means of spreading Christianity in Nigeria in a peaceful unhindered environment that could only be brought about by the establishment of British Colonial Government in Nigeria. 

The Bombardment of Lagos in 1851 which would lead to the annexation of Lagos by 1861 is a clear example of the role played by early Christian Missionaries in the Colonisation Of Nigeria.

The Church Missionary Society repeatedly appealed to the British Government to bombard Lagos under the pretext that it was a den of ‘barbarism and harbinger of the Slave Trade’.

In addition, the Church Missionary Society highlighted the Trade benefits that would be gained by the Colonisation of Lagos because it was a gateway to the lucrative Trade market in the Yoruba interior which could only be accessed by establishing British Colonial control in Lagos.

As a result, during the Kosoko succession dispute between the Princes of Lagos, Christian Missionaries persuaded the British Government to intervene Militarily in support of Prince Akitonye who entered into a Treaty which gave the British control of Lagos from 1851.

After the Bombing of Lagos, a permanent Christian Missionary Station had been established in Lagos by 1868.

Christian Missions also flourished at Lokoja, Abeokuta and Ibadan until Christianity extended to Benin.

Important to note is that during Christian Converts in Nigeria was largely in the South whilst the North remained largely Muslim. 

Legacy Of Christian Missionaries In Nigeria

The role of the early Christian Missionaries can be seen in the impact of British Colonial control of Nigeria.

Once British Colonial occupation of Nigeria was established, the Slave Trade declined until it was eventually eliminated.

Whilst basic Education and Healthcare were introduced to Nigeria due to the activities of early Christian Missionaries in Nigeria, the entire economy was structured to extract wealth out of Nigeria which meant most of the Education provided to Nigerians by Christian Missionaries was directed at training Africans as low level Administrators.

The activities of the early Christian Missionaries in Nigeria also resulted in the spread of Christianity in Nigeria. 

As a result, Africans abandoned their Ancestral Religions like Voudon and The Ifa Oracle which were demonised by Christian Missionaries in Nigeria.  


The role played by early Christian Missionaries in the Colonisation of Nigeria was to justify the Military invasion of Nigeria in order that peaceful conditions could prevail for the uninterrupted spread of Christianity throughout Nigeria.

In its bid to end the Slave Trade and capture the new market in the Yourba hinterland for the new ‘legitimate’ trade in Europe’s manufactured goods, the British Government intervened in Nigeria based on the requests of Christian Missionaries throughout Nigeria in the name of bringing Christianity and Civilization to Nigeria.

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