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At the dawn of the history of Catholic Church in Nigeria, especially in the Eastern part, the Colonial masters and the Chiefs played great role for its initial realization. The warm reception, generosity and hospitality of the eastern Chiefs became the conducive soil on which the initial evangelizing attempts commenced. To this, V.A Nwosu quoted Father Lutz to have confessed that when they arrived at Onitsha, the king showed himself very disposed towards them and their request to be allowed to settle in his domain was granted. 1 This typifies the manner in which the missionaries encountered the people of the eastern Nigeria represented by these chiefs unlike in the north. Some of the Chiefs who impression in the annals of history are, Chief John Samuel Okosi I of Onitsha, Chief Ojiako Ezenne of Adazi, Chief Michael Muoyekwu Onyiuke II of Nimo, Chief Solomon Ezeokoli I of Nnobi and so on. This work is going therefore to expose the role of these chiefs generally in the colonial environment of the then Masters. It may not exhaust all that could be written on this topic but it will go a long way to attempt a commendable summarized expose on the subject matter. May I kindly be excused when I omit or misrepresent an idea as that is not ill-intended. THE COLONIAL RULE AND THE GROWING CHURCH The very truth of history is that ‘Christ and Caesar’ walked down the road to development and civilization of Africa together. A. G. Nwedo wrote that “while the missionaries, in obedience to the voice of the Vicar of Christ, are quietly but quickly scattering the seed of the gospel, the enemy of peace is also busy sewing the choking cockle”.2 This means that as national awakening become more intense in various parts of Africa, delicate political and social strategization were applied by the colonial masters who in turn aided unconsciously our growing Churches. Concretely, the colonial masters made use of the warrant chief system of administration. Many of the chiefs who contributed positively or negatively to the growth of the Catholic Church in the East operated in this system from 1900. Following the increased control which the Masters gained over the interior of Igbo land and Southern Nigeria, they started to institute native courts. There were two types- minor courts and higher councils. The minor courts were presided over by the local warrant chief appointed by the British political competent officer and given judicial powers to operate under the guidance of the native laws and customs that do not oppose natural laws. Besides, the two courts were also

Nwosu V.A., The Laity And The Growth of Catholic Church In Nigeria, the Onitsha Story 1903-1983, AFP, 1990, p.1


Nwedo A.G., The Church, Colonialism and Islam in Nigeria, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria; Lagos, 2000, p.1

empowered with so much powers vested in the warrant chiefs, it was easy for chiefs to extend their power to matters other than political and the general maintenance of law and order. We shall see how this contributed to the growth of the growing church THE ROLE OF THE CHIEFS AND ITS EFFECTS ON THE GROWING CHURCH. As aforementioned, some Chiefs paid prizes positively or otherwise to help the early growing Church in Nigeria. This follows the wisdom of the missionaries to use the local Chiefs in evangelization. According to Nwosu V.A., “these Chiefs fall into two broad groups; those who were not Christians but gave strong support to a Christian church in their domain; chiefs who not only supported a Christian Church but became adherents themselves”.3 The later group was fewer but made more profitable contributions to the church. In the first group, Chiefs like Onyeama of Eke, Orjiako of Adazi and Odimegwu of Ihiala are examples. The second group included Chiefs John Samuel Okosi I of Onitsha, Michae Onyiuke of Nimo, Michael Eze of Ukpo, Solomon Ezeokoli of Nnobi and Henry Umeadi of Igbariam. These Chiefs typified the fortunes of Catholic Church in Igbo land under the Warrant Chief system of Native administration. Concretely these Chiefs helped the missionaries in great ways. 1. ACCEPTANCE: when the missionaries arrived at their respective communities, they welcomed them warmly and accepted them to work in their communities. This enabled the missionaries to apply their knowledge that where the king is, there is the religion. 2. DONATION OF LANDS: This is another important aid granted to the missionaries by these generous Chiefs. Large mass of lands were freely donated for building of Schools and Churches. This is a kind gesture common to all the Chiefs. They may had done this for the gain of it while others for the love of the Christian God, but what matters is that God’s young Church kept steadily in growth.

3. PROPAGATION OF FAITH AND EDUCATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT TO SUBJECTS: Some of these Chiefs did not stop at permitting the missionaries but went a long way of encouraging their subjects to involve themselves with the novelty. For instance, Chief John Samuel Okolo Okosi I of Onitsha, is reported to have constantly helped in teaching Catechism in the evenings (Nwosu p.6), Chief Orjiako also was paying school fees for all the pupils in Adazi for 12 years and prevented the Protestant Anglican from entering Adazi which accounts for the high level of Catholicity today in Adazi,4 Chief Michael Onyiuke irrespective of his Father’s refusal to send him to school, later struggled and was educated, thus, built a technical workshop for his people in Nimo. He also prevented the establishment of


Nwosu V.A., Ibid. p.7


Ibid., p.10

Protestant Church in Nimo.5 But Ezeokoli fought against the Catholic Church in Awuda but promoted Protestantism. CONCLUSION We have seen that Chiefs were powerful instruments of evangelization, especially in the initial stage of the Church in Igbo land. To this, the Catholic Missionary Conference asserted the power and inevitability of Chiefs when they instructed that every foundation of a school must go through the Chiefs. Surely, they were operating on the maxim that where the king is, there is the peoples religion. Therefore to convert a Chief is to convert his entire community. This saw the success of mission in the Eastern part of Nigeria unlike in the north.


Ibid. p.14