The Oracle: Why and How History Defines Who We Are (Pt. 3)

By Chief Mike Ozekhome


In my last three outings, I have been able to show that history offers a storehouse of information about how people and societies behave. History offers the only extensive evidential base for the contemplation and analysis of how societies function, and how people need to have some sense of societies function simply to run their own lives. Today, I shall continue with same.


Crowther was born with the name Ajayi in Osogun, in the Egba section of the Yoruba people, in what is now western Nigeria. When he was 13 years, he was taken as a slave by Fulani and Yoruba Muslim raiders and sold several times before being purchased by Portuguese traders for the transatlantic market. His ship was intercepted by the British navy’s anti-slave trade patrol, and the slaves were liberated in Sierra Leone. There he became a Christian, taking at baptism the name of an eminent clergyman in England, Samuel Crowther. Excelling at school, he became a mission teacher and one of the first students of the Fourah Bay Institution, founded by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1827 to train able Sierra Leoneans for Christian service. He assisted John Raban and (probably) Hannah Kilham in their studies of African languages, and in 1841 he joined J.F. Schön as a CMS representative on T.F. Buxton‘s Niger Expedition, contributing signally to it. He studied at the CMS College in London preparatory to ordination in 1843–a landmark for the Anglican ministry. With Henry Townsend and C.A. Gollmer, he then opened a new mission in Yoruba land, centered in Abeokuta, by now the homeland of Crowther’s Egba people. (He discovered some close relatives there and was the means of conversion of his mother and sister). His role in producing the Yoruba bible, which set new standards for later African translations, was crucial. Crowther’s visit to Britain in 1851 influenced government, church, and public opinion about Africa. The CMS secretary, Henry Venn, saw Crowther as a potential demonstration of the feasibility of self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating African churches and in 1857 sent him to open a new mission on the Niger. The entire staff was African, mainly from Sierra Leone, and Venn moved toward an Anglican version of the “three-self” formula by securing Crowther’s appointment in 1864 as “Bishop of the countries of Western Africa beyond the Queen’s dominions.” In the upper and middle Niger territories Crowther pioneered an early form of Christian-Muslim dialogue for Africa. He oversaw J.C. Taylor’s ground-breaking work in Igboland and directed the evangelization of the Niger Delta, with notable results at such centers as Bonny.

In the 1880s clouds gathered over the Niger Mission. Crowther was old, Venn dead. The morality or efficiency of members of Crowther’s staff was increasingly questioned by British missionaries. Mission policy, racial attitudes, and evangelical spirituality had taken new directions, and new sources of European missionaries were now available. By degrees, Crowther’s mission was dismantled: by financial controls, by young Europeans taking over, by dismissing, suspending, or transferring the African staff. Crowther, desolated, died of a stroke. A European bishop succeeded him.

Part of the Niger Mission retained its autonomy as the Niger Delta Pastorate Church under Crowther’s son, Archdeacon D.C. Crowther, and at least one of the European missionaries, H. H. Dobinson, repented of earlier hasty judgments. Everyone recognized Crowther’s personal stature and godliness; his place in the history of translation and evangelization has often been undervalued.

HAILE SELASSIE I (23 JULY, 1892 – 27 AUGUST 1975)

Haile Selassie I was born into the family of Lij Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael, but given the name Haile Selassie (trans. “Power of the Trinity”) at his infant baptism – a name which was adopted as part of his real name in 1930.

Selassie I was an Ethiopian regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor from 1930 to 1974 who remains very visible in Ethiopian history even till this day. Following the catastrophic 1973 famine in Ethiopia, Selassie I was eventually removed from the throne. In 1975, after a coup d’état, he died at the age of 83 as a result of strangulation.

He was famous for his multilateral and internationalist views and policies, which led to Ethiopia becoming a Charter member of the United Nations. His passionate speech at the League of Nations in 1936, condemning Italy’s use of chemical weapons against his people during the second Italo-Ethiopian War still resonates through time.

Even today, followers of the Rastafari movement still revere the late Selassie as the returned biblical messiah or God incarnate destined to usher in a golden age of eternal peace, righteousness and prosperity – a claim which Selassie himself publicly refuted on at least one occasion during his lifetime.


Over the next four decades, Haile Selassie presided over a country and government that was an expression of his personal authority. His reforms greatly strengthened schools and the police, and he instituted a new constitution and centralized his own power.

In 1936, he was forced into exile after Italy invaded Ethiopia. Haile Selassie became the face of the resistance as he went before the League of Nations in Geneva for assistance, and eventually secured the help of the British in reclaiming his country and reinstituting his powers as emperor in 1941. Haile Selassie again moved to try to modernize his country. In the face of a wave of anti-colonialism sweeping across Africa, he granted a new constitution in 1955, one that outlined equal rights for his citizens under the law, but conversely did nothing to diminish Haile Selassie’s own powers.


By the early 1970s famine, ever-worsening unemployment and increasing frustration with the government’s inability to respond to the country’s problems began to undermine Haile Selassie’s rule.

In February 1974, mutinies broke out in the army over low pay, while a secessionist guerrilla war in Eritrea furthered his problems. Haile Selassie was eventually ousted from power in a coup and kept under house arrest in his palace until his death in 1975.



Oyo Empire, in present-day South-Western Nigeria, that dominated during its apogee (1650–1750). Most of the states between the Volta River in the West and the Niger River in the East. It was the most important and authoritative of all the early Yoruba principalities.

According to traditions, Oyo derived from a great Yoruba ancestor and hero, Oduduwa, who likely migrated to Ile-Ife and whose son became the first alaafin (alafin), or ruler, of Oyo. Linguistic evidence suggests that two waves of immigrants came into Yoruba land between 700 and 1000, the second settling at Oyo in the open country North of the Guinea forest. This second state became pre-eminent among all Yoruba states because of its favourable trading position, its natural resources, and the industry of its inhabitants.

Early in the 16th century, Oyo was a minor state, powerless before its northern neighbours, Borgu and Nupe by whom it was conquered in 1550. The power of Oyo was already growing by the end of the century. However, thanks to the alaafin Orompoto, who used the wealth derived from trade to establish a cavalry force and to maintain a trained army.


Oyo subjugated the kingdom of Dahomey in the West in two phases (1724–30, 1738–48) and traded with European merchants on the coast through the Port of Ajase (now Porto-Novo). As Oyo’s wealth increased, so did its leaders’ political options; some wished to concentrate on amassing wealth, while others advocated the use of wealth for territorial expansion. This difference was not resolved until the Alaafin Abiodun conquered his opponents in a bitter civil war and pursued a policy of economic development based primarily on the coastal trade with European merchants.

Abiodun’s neglect of everything but the economy weakened the army, and thus the means by which the central government maintained control. His successor, Alaafin Awole, inherited local revolts, an administration tenuously maintained by a complex system of public service, and a decline in the power of tributary chiefs. The decline was exacerbated by quarrels between the alaafin and his advisers; it continued throughout the 18th century and into the 19th, when Oyo began to lose control of its trade routes to the coast. Oyo was invaded by the newly risen Fon of Dahomey, and soon after 1800 it was captured by militant Fulani Muslims from Hausaland in the northeast. (To be continued).


“The very concept of history implies the scholar and the reader. Without a generation of civilized people to study history, to preserve its records, to absorb its lessons and relate them to its own problems, history, too, would lose its meaning.” (George F. Kennan)


I thank Nigerians for always keeping faith with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb., Ph.D, LL.D I enjoin you to look forward to next week’s treatise.

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