In this article, we describe the impact of Christianity in Nigeria. We shall begin by examining the term ‘Christianity’ before discussing the impact of Christianity in Nigeria in terms of education, socio-politics, and health.
Christianity as a Religion
The Oxford University Press Dictionaries (2012), has the following to say about Christianity:
“The religion based on the person and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or its beliefs and practices …It originated among the Jewish followers of Jesus of Nazareth, who believed that he was the promised Messiah (or ‘Christ’) … In 313, Constantine ended official persecution in the Roman Empire and in 380, Theodosius 1 recognized it as the state religion. Most Christians believe in one God in three Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and that Jesus is the Son of God who rose from the dead after being crucified; a Christian hopes to attain eternal life after death through faith in Jesus Christ…”
The incursion of colonial masters into the entity we now call Nigeria brought Christianity to the people. Thus, the advent of colonial masters led to the introduction of a new religion, Christianity, which is added to the two available religions, African traditional religion already exiting then.
The coming of colonialism and its concomitant Christianity helps to abrogate ritual with human being or human sacrifice. In order words, the phenomenon help to put an end to some of the traditional religion rituals conducted by sacrificing human being to appease the gods.
Despite the pessimism that followed as a result of the threat of rapid Islam advances and harsh treatment meted out by the authorities, Christianity has indeed spread like wild fires in Nigeria and the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
The impact of Christianity in Nigeria
1. Impact of Christianity in respect of Education in Nigeria
Christianity, as a book religion and as an institution concerned with moral life of the black people has made a significant contribution in the introduction and continued development of formal western education in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa.
In order for Christianity to make significant progress in its evangelization activities, Nigerian people’s literacy and numeracy had to improve. This requirement necessitated serious education initiatives on the part of Christian missionaries.
Churches and missionaries advocated mass education, because of their emphasis on the need for all believers to read the Bible in his or her own language.
Hence, Christianity would provide principles for moral guidance, while legitimate commerce and education would encourage Nigerians to produce their own goods and to trade with Europeans.
The role of traders who collaborated with western missionaries can therefore be neither ignored nor denied. The traders and missionaries believed an educated population to be a precondition for the spread of commerce and Christianity; the first European educational ventures were a direct product of their activities.
It is not surprisingly, therefore, literacy rates till today remain higher in Christian dominated regions of Nigeria compared to Islam-dominated areas.
Furthermore, church education opened people’s minds to democratic ideals. Mass education fosters democracy by increasing exposure to democratic ideals, promoting economic growth and the rise of a middle class, and dispersing influence beyond a small elite.
2. Impact of Christianity on the Socio-political Life of Nigerians
Christianity definitely had an impact, both positive and negative, on the socio-political life of the people of Nigeria.
Some missionary enterprises did not just focus on evangelization, but displayed a holistic approach to the missionary enterprise encompassing the whole spectrum of human activity, which included commerce, Christianity, and civilization (meaning good government, education etc.).
Some missionaries believed that the Lord had raised people up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation. Hence, they were totally against the horrors of slavery and every cruelty.
These missionaries believed that the task of fighting against or opposing the slave trade was indeed the work of those filled with the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, they believed that the commitment of Christian men and women to root out slavery was akin to Christ’s commitment and resolves to save the world.
The gospel message brought about real transformation, which instilled divine principles and humaneness in the socio-political lives of Nigerian people.
For instance, missionaries and their supporters were the main lobbyists for the immediate abolition of slavery and other forms of forced labor in the whole of Africa. In other words, Christian missionaries were aggressively vocal against the injustices meted out to, and oppression of, the native inhabitants.
The missionaries’ fight for justice helped to introduce certain humane considerations and actions into the activities carried out by the colonial authorities.
In this respect at least, therefore, Christianity can be regarded as being in the forefront of social and political reform in the country. Conversion to Christ and the advancement of his kingdom necessitates transformation and this, in turn, is not only related to certain democratic values but, importantly, is based on true love for God and for one’s fellow human beings.
Recall the Scottish missionary Mar Slessor, who stopped the killing of twins in coastal towns of southern Nigeria.
3. Impact of Christianity on Health in Nigeria
Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa in general has been known for being a “home” to a myriad of diseases and epidemics, that plagued the people of this region for centuries before the introduction of medical science.
In African thought, good health is regarded as equal to life itself, which is why health is among the highest aspirations of Nigerians and black Africans.
Medical advances in the region have made this aspiration a reality.
The importance of Christianity in the introduction of health care and medical science is captured in the following statement: “… Christian missions have been almost everywhere the introducer of western medical, surgical, and public health methods, and the pioneer trainer of Nigerians and Africans in these skills.”
Missionaries made a point of ensuring that hospitals and other health facilities were erected in their area of missionary activity. As a result, it is true to say that the African health landscape changed for the better: there was a decline in child and maternal mortality rates, and an increase in the life expectancy of Nigerians.
In parts of Nigeria, mission work would not be complete without serious attention to health care.
Medical services served as a necessary ingredient in bringing the people to medical treatment for their ailments and for relief of their physical suffering: whereas soul healing and salvation were left to the Priest who was endowed with powers of providing spiritual cleansing.
The goal in introducing medical services in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa was to provide Africans with a more holistic service, given that, as far as the African is concerned, there is no separation between the physical and the spiritual dimension of human life.
Perhaps, the motivation for the introduction of health care was primarily to create an environment that was conducive to the spread of the gospel. The introduction of medical services in Christian mission stations contributed a great deal to the good health enjoyed by Nigerians converts to Christianity, particularly because this integrated approach to health care also eliminated the many epidemics which, historically, had ravaged the Nigerian and African population.
The missionary and the medical practitioner were therefore equally significant as far as the spread of Christianity was concerned.
Today, HIV infection and AIDS are particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa. In present day Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV epidemic is one of the most disruptive social problem in the continent. Nonetheless, there are people who trust the church’s ability to help, especially as a result of the church’s teaching influence, which specifically warns against indulging in risky sex behavior.
However, it is clear that, as far as HIV and AIDS are concerned, that the church’s assistance is limited to psychological, limited financial assistance, and house care – cooking, cleaning, occasional child care and so forth. More importantly, the church also provides people living with HIV with a community.
In this article, we focused on the positive impacts of Christianity in Nigeria. The article showed how Christianity affected Nigeria, in terms of education, socio-political life, and in health. Our findings show that Christianity have been significant in all the three spheres of life.