- Nigerian-Vatican Diplomatic Relations: Evangelisation and Catholic Missionary Enterprise, 1884–1950 by Blaise Okachibe Okpanachi
This book provides the reader with a serviceable account of the structural development of the Catholic Church in Nigeria—north, south, east, and west. It tracks that history from failed attempts in previous centuries, and the successful setting down of roots in the 1860s, to the thriving institution that had emerged by 1950, when the Nigerian hierarchy was erected and supervision of the Church [End Page 870] passed from the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith to the Congregation for Bishops. The presentation of a comprehensive picture is of particular value because, up to this time, histories of the Church in Nigeria tended to be either sketchy or, when well-researched and scholarly, confined to a particular region or topic. For this reason, students will benefit from this book, which gives an overall picture of the remarkable nineteenth- and twentieth-century development of the Church in Nigeria.
The problem with this book, however, is its title. Nigerian-Vatican Diplomatic Relations purports to be a study of diplomatic relations between Nigeria and the Vatican for the period 1884–1950. This does not reflect well on the general editor-ship of the series, for in the 300 pages of this book only twenty-nine pages have any sort of relevance to this title (pp. 191–212, 221–29). Moreover, in these few pages, there are serious problems. In the first place, since Nigeria was a British colony for the period under review, one would expect an examination of British diplomatic records as well as Roman. But there is no evidence that the author has done so. By the same token, the only papers examined in the Vatican were those of the Congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs (AES), which, until 1967, was effectively a branch of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State dealing with matters specifically directed to it by the pontiff. One would expect to find most diplomatic papers relating to colonial Nigeria in the Secretariat of State papers. In addition, the material gleaned from the AES archive has very little to do with Nigeria, focusing on diplomatic traffic between the Vatican and France in relation to Somalia and Senegal, and to Britain in relation to Rhodesia and the Sudan.
Whereas the book’s title is problematic, its subtitle “Evangelisation and Catholic Missionary Enterprise” is a much more accurate reflection of its contents. The author provides excellent surveys of the growth of the Church in the different regions, with chapters on the foundational Prefectures Apostolic of Western, Eastern, and Northern Nigeria—each more a part of a continent than a country, given their widely differing ethnic, religious, and economic contexts. The author makes good use of graphs and tables to illustrate the progress of evangelization. However, these must be read with caution, because the size of the annual grants given by the Association of the Propagation of the Faith (the main funding agency for missions) depended upon the annual statistics supplied by the various jurisdictions, and so these (understandably) are not always reliable.
The inclusion of lengthy footnotes giving biographies of the main players will be valuable to students and those readers unfamiliar with that period of Church, Nigerian, and colonial history. However, the choice of those requiring such notice is not always judicious. For example, the lengthy referencing of St. Thomas Aquinas and a whole host of popes seems unnecessary. Nor can all judgments made by the author go unchallenged. His statement that “[m]issionary work was initially uncoordinated, but later won the interest of the Holy See” (p. 33) is a case in point. Since the foundation of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith in 1622 (by which Rome sought to wrest control of missions back from the Royal Patronado [End Page 871] of Spain and Portugal) Propaganda Fide exercised a tight...