J.B. Wood

Whiteman in this illustration is most likely J.B Wood
Missionary, probably J.B Wood is depicted in 1870 book, “Missions-Bilder. Achtes Heft. Sierra Leone und Yoruba” Missionary here comforts a persecuted Christian convert in Abeokuta. Wood himself will leave Abeokuta during the Ifole Crisis of 1867. Photo: Orisha Image

J.B. Wood was the 19th Century Anglican Missionary to Nigeria and author of works on Yoruba grammar and literature whose History of Lagos up to 1861 was the first roundly chronicled story of the Nigerian coastal state. J.B. Wood, born in Yorkshire was posted as a missionary of the Church Mission Society to Abeokuta in 1857. He had left England in 1849 for Africa, first Sierra Leone and then the Yoruba mission when it was just in its fourteenth year. Ten years after his arrival in Abeokuta he returned to England on the event of the Ifole Crisis when Christians were widely persecuted by anti-modernizing agents. When an unfavorable report of the Niger Mission of the eastern Nigerian region headed by Samuel Ajayi Crowther reached London, J.B Wood was assigned to look up the situation. His report in 1880 of gross misconduct among native missionaries formed the basis, in F. Ayinka’s estimation, of latter domination of the mission with white persons. Wood’s report however was discountenanced at the Medeira conference of the following year, which he could not attend for “grave” reasons. The Niger Mission was however divided into two, with Danderson, Crowther’s son heading the Lower Niger, one of the two districts under Crowther. Many of Wood’s allegations against native missionaries were found to be true, and slowly, foreigners replaced them in their offices, leading to the domination by Europeans which characterized post-1890 Niger Mission, and a re-direction which ended in improved growth.

In his station at Abeokuta, Wood proceeded on his westernization agenda with a small group of Egba elites called the Christian Party. Opposition from a session of the town gravitated towards the French, Wood being British and a protestant Christian. French Catholic missionaries were urged on as a young French trader rounded up treaties that would have made Abeokuta a protectorate of his country. Wood communicated this impending danger to British interest to the colonial authority who swung into actions, to block the advance of the French. Finally, the Paris Convention of 1889 put Abeokuta and a few villages to the west within Nigerian borders.

Wood’s political stature in western Nigerian states reached an incredible level between 1881 and 1885, especially during the suicidal civil war which consumed the region. He identified himself with the Egba people until his death in 1897. At his funeral, well attended across quarters- including among Muslims and pagans, King Gbadebo testified that of all missionaries to the Egba it was his name that will never die.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer