- Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, is about equally divided between Muslims and Christians. Of 45 million Christians, Roman Catholics number 12 million, with the remainder divided among the numerous Protestant churches.The first Protestants to arrive were Methodist missionaries, who worked in the southwest among the Yoruba, one of the country's larger populations. The major figures were former slave Thomas Birch Freeman (1809-90) and William DeGraft (and his wife), who settled at Badagry in 1842. The mission was an outgrowth of the British antislavery effort, as freed Nigerians returning to their homes requested Freeman's ministrations. Some of the freed slaves had been converted by Church of England missionaries prior to their return. To serve them, in 1842 Church Missionary Society (CMS) personnel established themselves in the towns of Lagos, Abeokuta, and ibadan. The Anglicans had a great asset in Samuel Crowther (1807-91), a Yoruban who had been freed from slavery and educated at the Anglican school in Sierra Leone.In 1841, Crowther joined the Niger Expedition, an exploratory trip to prepare for the destruction of the slave trade in the region. As a result of his performance on the expedition, Crowther was sent to England for further study and ordination. After settling in Abeokuta in 1842, he helped translate the Bible into Yoruban and was a significant evangelical force in building the church. In England, Harry Venn, head of the CMS, had Crowther consecrated as bishop of "the countries of Western Africa beyond the limits of the Queen's dominions." He developed an all-African church on the Upper Niger that could have been a model for all of Africa. Instead, Venn was pushed aside and Crowther was succeeded by a white bishop. The church had to wait another century for indigenization.The Methodists and Anglicans were followed by Presbyterians (1846) and Baptists (1850). The Baptists were the source of the first autonomous indigenous Protestant body, the Native Baptist Church, established in 1888.Possibly the most important 20th-century addition to the Protestant community was the Sudan Interior Mission (now SIM International). Founded in 1893, it began work in northeastern Nigeria in 1935. By 1990, it reported more than 2 million members. It was rivaled in size among indigenous churches only by the Fellowship of Churches of Christ in Nigeria (Tarayar Ekklesiy-oyin Kristi a Nigeria or TEKAN). TEKAN was founded in 1954 as a federation of eight older missions, including four SIM works and the missions of the Church of the Brethren, the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, the Evangelical United Brethren (now the United Methodist Church), and an independent indigenous Nigerian church. Since its formation, three other churches have joined.Today, the Anglican Church of the Province of Nigeria, with more than 17 million members, is by far the largest Protestant church. At least 12 other Protestant churches have as many as a million members. Among these are several relatively new African Initiated Churches (AICs), including the Redeemed Christian Church of Jesus Christ and the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star. There are more than 1,000 separate AICs in Nigeria.Some of the more important Nigerian AICs trace their history to the 1918 influenza epidemic. Judging the mission churches impotent in the face of the widespread illness, a number of independent prayer groups emerged, and from them came the several Aladura churches, the several Cherubim and Seraphim churches, and the Christ Apostolic Church.As in most of Africa, Pentecostalism has made a significant impact in Nigeria, beginning with the introduction of the Assemblies of God and the Apostolic Church, a British body Both have experienced notable growth, and helped spread the Pentecostal experience among the AICs. The million-member Church of God Mission International, founded in 1968, made an impact in western Nigeria through its Archbishop Benson Idahosa (1938-98), who became a leader in the International Communion of Charismatic Churches that includes churches in Brazil, the United States, and Italy.Ecumenically, the Christian Council of Nigeria includes those churches otherwise related to the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches. WCC churches based in Nigeria include the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, the Church of the Lord Aladura, the Church of the Province of Nigeria, the Methodist Church Nigeria, the Nigerian Baptist Convention, and the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria. More conservative churches have united in the Nigerian Evangelical Fellowship affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance. Several hundred of the AICs have joined the Nigeria Association of Aladura Churches.See also Africa, sub-Saharan.Further reading:■ David Barrett, The Encyclopedia of World Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)■ E. P. T. Crampton, Christianity in Northern Nigeria (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1975)■ John B. Grimley and Gordon E. Robinson, Church Growth in Central and Southern Nigeria (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1966)■ W. B. Webster, The African Churches among the Yoruba, 1888-1922 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.