The Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers

Simeon A. Coker,[1] Organizing Superintendent, Christ Army Church, to William H. Ferris, Literary Editor, Negro World

The Negro Church in West Africa

Dear Sir:—

I am a regular reader of the Negro World; I do appreciate the great work which the great Negro Leader, Mr. Marcus Garvey, with the courageous support you and others are giving him, is doing. We all here who understand and realize what such a great movement is for our race wish and pray for success.
In a recent number of the Negro World there is an extract from Sir F[rederick] Lugard's report after returning from Nigeria.[3] His reference to the Braid [Braide][4] movement is, I am afraid, wilfully misleading. My special letters as Organizing Superintendent of Ch[ri]st Army Church in the Lagos Weekly Record at the start of the movement,[5] copies of which were supplied the government, fully cleared Braid and the Church of all malicious statements in English and other papers.[6] I regret I cannot get copies to send you. However, the two pamphlets herein enclosed[7] will enlighten you. I am for the spiritual independence of my race and I am only too sorry I cannot do as much as I would wish owing to failure of health. I do not lose hope. Success to the U.N.I.A., I am, yours respectfully,
S. A. Boker [Coker]
Printed in NW, 31 July 1920.
[1] Simeon A. Coker (b. 1862), leader of the African Church in Lagos, Nigeria, was previously a curate of the Church Missionary Society church, St. Paul's Breadfruit, a well-to-do and important church in Lagos. Frustrated by his lack of advancement to the pastorship and supported in his actions by his parishioners, Coker led a secession in 1901 to form the African Church.
In 1909 he founded his own church, the African Congregational Church. In May 1916 he helped the followers of the prophet Garrick Sokari Daketima Braide found the Christ Army Church. Coker helped publicize Braide's cause in a series of articles in the Lagos Weekly Record, including one published 14 April 1917 entitled "The Theology of the Niger Delta Pastorate" that "remains the fullest defence of Braide and the most provocative attack on the [N]NDP" (G. O. M. Tasie, Christian Missionary Enterprise in the Niger Delta, 1864–1918 [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978], p. 194), and in a public lecture in Lagos, "Rights and Duties of African Natives to Organize Indigenous Churches Uncontrolled by or Unattached to Any Foreign Organization." Coker was also a founding member of the Lagos Auxiliary of the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society in 1910 (S. A. Coker, "The Truth about Garrick Braide Lately Designated Elijah II: The Christ Army Church or the Niger Delta Native Church and the Part Played by the Delta Pastorate Church in the Recent So-Called 'Prophetic Movement,'" LWR, 10 February 1917; E. A. Ayandele, The Missionary Impact on Modern Nigeria, 1842 – 1914 [London: Longmans, 1966]; S. A. Dada, A History of the African Church [Ibadan: Aowa Printers and Publishers, 1986]).
Rev. S. A. Coker
[2] Olowogbowo, the southwest corner of Lagos Island, was also known as Saro Town. Recaptive Nigerians from Sierra Leone, known as Saro, were granted the land in 1853. Olowogbowo functioned as a self-sufficient community with its own church, schools, and associations (Pauline H. Baker, Urbanization and Politic al Change: The Politics of Lagos, 1917 – 1967 [Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1974]).
[3] Sir Frederick Lugard (1858–1945) was appointed commissioner in Nigeria's hinterland in 1897. From 1900 to 1907 he was high commissioner for Northern Nigeria. He served as governor-general of Nigeria from 1914 to 1919, during which time he was responsible for the unification of Northern and Southern Nigeria under British rule. On his return to England after his tenure as governor-general, Lugard compiled his "Report on the Amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria" in December 1919. Part of the report dealt with the threat that the colonial authorities in Nigeria perceived in the pronouncements and activities of Garrick Braide. Denouncing Braide as a charlatan, Lugard reported: "Religion was not unmixed with political propaganda and Braide declared himself hostile to all exotic influences whether European or native. The drinking of spirits was prohibited probably with the object of dealing a blow to European trade, and there was great hostility to the Niger Delta Mission of the Church Missionary Society" (Parliamentary Report, December 1919, Cmd. 468, p. 67, para. 185). Lugard was also a member of the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations from 1922 to 1936 (A. H. M. Kirk-Greene, ed., Lugard and the Amalgamation of Nigeria: A Documentary Record [London: Frank Cass, 1968], pp. 159–160; CBD).
[4] Garrick Sokari Braide (1882?–1918), healer and prophet, founded Nigeria's Braide Movement, an extraordinary religious revival also known as the prophetic movement, which swept the Niger Delta in 1915 and 1916. Born in the Niger Delta, he had no formal education and worked selling fish and rowing the boat of Chief Marian Braide of Bakana. Braide was baptized in the Church Missionary Society (CMS) church in 1910 and was confirmed by Bishop James Johnson in 1912.
Braide gained followers by practicing healing and prophecy. In contrast to the formal services of the CMS, his meetings encouraged clapping, dancing, and singing in the indigenous language. While himself a monogamist, he allowed polygamy among his followers, and encouraged the destruction of traditional shrines and charms. In January 1916 he made a speech at Abonnema (located near the colonial administrative headquarters at Degema in the Niger Delta), to the effect that "the white man's days were over and that it was up to the native peoples to determine their fate" (cited in H. W. Turner, "Prophets and Politics: A Nigerian Test Case," Bulletin of the Society for African Church History 2, no. 1 [December 1965]: 112–117). The following month Braide was condemned for his heretical teachings by Bishop James Johnson, head of the Niger Delta Pastorate, from which Braide split after Johnson refused to grant him special recognition as a prophet within the church. Following this, the Pastorate's Church Board instituted an official ban against Braide and his movement. In March 1916 he was arrested by the colonial district officer at Degema, Percy A. Talbot, who was of the view that the prophetic movement was "essentially one of Ethiopianism, of blacks against whites, and to a certain extent against all authority," and that Braide was responsible for inciting "a seditious feeling against the government" (cited in Turner, "Prophets and Politics," p. 108). Braide was charged with collecting money under false pretenses, conducting himself in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace, and causing damage to idols. In November 1916 eight further charges were brought against him and eighty-four of his followers, who were charged with riot, assault, or unlawful assembly. In April 1917 Braide was convicted and sentenced to six months at hard labor. He died on 15 November 1918, shortly after his release from prison. One contemporary estimate placed the number of his movement's adherents at one million, although recent scholarship considers this figure too high.
Patriarch J. G. Campbell replaced Braide as the head of the Christ Army Church, Garrick Braide Connection, in 1919. The church spread throughout Igboland and opened schools and churches, some in areas that had had no previous contact with Christianity (S. C. Chuta, "Africans in the Christianisation of Igboland, 1857–1952" [Ph.D. diss., University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1986]; M. T. Pilter, "More about 'Elijah II,'" Church Missionary Review 68 [March 1917]: 142; Turner, "Prophets and Politics," pp. 97–118; O. U. Kalu, "Waves from the Rivers: The Spread of the Garrick Braide Movement in Igboland, 1914–1934," Journal of Niger Delta Studies 1, no. 2 [1977]: 88–100; Frieder Ludwig, "Elijah II: Radicalisation and Consolidation of the Garrick Braide Movement, 1915–1918," Journ al of Religion in Africa 23, no. 4 [November 1993]: 296–317; E. A. Ayandele, Holy Johnson: Pioneer of African Nationalism, 1836 – 1917 [London: Frank Cass, 1970], pp. 361–362; Tasie, Christian Missionary Enterprise, pp. 186–191).
The prophet Garrick Braide
[5] Close to the time of Braide's trial, a series of letters written by Rev. Coker appeared in the Lagos Weekly Record under the general title, "The Truth about Garrick Braide Lately Designated Elijah II." Coker, one of Braide's chief Lagos supporters, was instrumental in assisting Braide's followers with organization of the Christ Army Church, which challenged the Niger Delta Pastorate for control of the indigenous church movement. Strong support in Lagos was also provided by Otomba Payne, African nationalist and editor of the Lagos W eekly Record, who devoted the editorial in his first issue to a defense of Braide. A subsequent editorial on 14 April 1917 declared its support for "Christian churches organised and manned by African natives" in contrast to "the offshoots of foreign and exotic organization," a reference to the role of the Niger Delta Pastorate (LWR, 18 November 1916; 10 and 24 February, 10 March, and 14 April 1917; Ludwig, "Elijah II," pp. 311–314).
[6] Several articles concerning the Braide-led religious revival in the Niger Delta appeared in the missionary and foreign press, e.g., "'The Nigerian Prophet': Native Bishop's View of the Movement," Times (London), 13 July 1916; "Mahdism in Nigeria," African Mail, 30 June 1916, reprinted in Times of Nigeria, 15–22 August 1916; A. W. Banfield, "A Prophet in Iboland," The Bible in the World 12 (1916): 137–138; P. A. Talbot, "Some Beliefs of Today and Yesterday," JAS 15, no. 60 [July 1916]; James Johnson, "Elijah II," Church Missionary Review 67 (August 1916): 455–462; "A Missionary Survey of the Year 1916, VI, Africa," International Review of Missions 6, no. 21 (January 1917): 46–47; and Pilter, "More about 'Elijah II,'" pp. 142–145.
[7] Although the two pamphlets have not been identified, it is likely that they were A. C. Braide's Life of Prophet Garrick Braide of Bakana (alias Elijah II), ed. Patriarch J. G. Campbell (Lagos, n.d.), and Coker's own Rights of Africans to Organize and Establish Indigenous Churches, Unattached to and Uncontrolled by Foreign Church Organizations (Lagos: Tika-Tore Printing Works, 1917). A. C. Braide, reported to have been "one of Braide's earliest acquaintances," went on to become one of the "vast number of self-consecrated native evangelists who began to call themselves ndi amuma—the 'sons of the prophet'" (Tasie, Christian Missionary Enterprise, pp. 174, 179). Coker's pamphlet contained the published text of his public lecture delivered in Glover Memorial Hall in Lagos on 10 April 1917.