IKOT EYO, Nigeria — With Latter-day Saints in West Africa anticipating the dedication of the Aba Nigeria Temple, members in the Nsit Ubium Nigeria Stake gathered to commemorate the baptisms of 184 African pioneers in a two-day period here 26 years ago.
Presiding over the event April 30, President Stanford B. Owen of the Nigeria Uyo Mission led an entourage of local Church and government leaders at the historic baptismal site near the village of Ikot Eyo in Akwa Ibom State. The event included the unveiling and dedication of a monument to those early African member pioneers who prepared the way for the Church in West Africa.
"The events surrounding the dedication were designed to increase awareness of the activities of the Church, especially the upcoming open house for the Aba Nigeria Temple," President Owen wrote in correspondence to the Church News. He added that invitations to the open house were presented to village chiefs and other dignitaries. "Several hundred people attended the daylong event," he wrote.
"The saints in Nigeria, West Africa, are holding many activities designed to increase awareness of the upcoming open house and dedication of the newly completed Aba Nigeria Temple," President Owen added.
Other events included a public affairs day and fireside on May 5 in Calabar, Nigeria, presided over by Elder Sheldon F. Child of the Seventy and president of the Africa West Area, and which included visits to civic leaders and traditional tribal rulers.
The open house for the Aba Nigeria Temple is scheduled to begin June 18 and continue until July 2, except on Sundays June 19 and June 26. The dedication of the sacred edifice is scheduled for Aug. 7. (Please see the March 26, 2005, issue of the Church News for additional dedication information.)
The new monument at Ikot Eyo is several feet tall and includes the simple message that this is the site where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints baptized African pioneer members within a year of the revelation on the priesthood in 1978. Those attending the dedication of the monument were invited to come forward and push pebbles into mortar on its front.
"The area around the baptismal site," wrote President Owen, "while still entirely 'in the bush,' has now grown to a stake (the Nsit Ubium stake) with eight wards, seven branches and over 2,500 members. The stake president, President Etim T. Ekong, is from the original pioneer unit. Bishop Daniel T. Akpadiaha, the current bishop of the Ikot Eyo Ward where the monument is located, conceived the idea of the monument, raised private donations, and was the moving force behind the dedication."
The historic site was memorialized by a photo taken March 4, 1979, by Janath R. Cannon of a line of African pioneers leading into the water where Elder Edwin Q. Cannon was performing baptisms. The Cannons and Elder Rendell N. Mabey and his wife, Sister Rachel W. Mabey, were the first missionaries sent by the Church to West Africa after the June 1978 revelation on the priesthood. Years earlier, during the 1950s and 1960s, letters from West Africa had begun arriving at Church headquarters requesting information and membership. (Please see Jan. 17, 2004, Church News and Deseret Morning News 2005 Church Almanac.)
"Literally hundreds of black saints had been living the principles they had learned from the Book of Mormon and other literature which had been sent to them. They had organized branches . . . , all this was done without baptism and without priesthood authority, but with sincere hearts," President Owen related.
In the quarter century since then, the Church in Nigeria has grown in respect. During the May 5 public affairs day, Elder Child visited His Excellence the Governor of the Cross River State, Nigeria, and the traditional rulers of the three tribes in Calabar — His Eminence the Obong of Calabar, His Royal Majesty the Ndidem of the Quas, and His Royal Highness Muri, Paramount Ruler of the Efuts. The purpose of these visits was to invite them to the open house of the Aba Nigeria Temple and to the Calabar Nigeria Stake public affairs fireside that was held later that day.
Accompanying Elder Child was President Owen, along with Sister Joan Child and Sister Barbara Owen, and Calabar Nigeria Stake President Christopher N. Odock. They were warmly received by Gov. Donald Duke of the Cross River State, who complimented the Church for its beautiful buildings in Calabar and expressed his desire to attend the open house.
"He demonstrated great respect for the Church by requesting Church members to pray for the leaders of his state and country. Governor Duke is a strong ally of the Church," President Owen wrote.
President Owen continued: "The traditional rulers each convened their council of chiefs for their meeting with the Church representatives. Each ruler addressed President Child with glowing words about the Church and its members. President Child thanked the rulers and council members for their kindness and promised that members of the Church would be honest, law-abiding citizens of the city and state. The rulers committed to come to the fireside later that day."
At the fireside, two of the paramount rulers with their entourages occupied the first few rows of the chapel in the stake center. The event was attended by local media, and was featured the next day on television news programs. Speaking during the program were Elder Child; President Owen; Bishop Henry E. Williams of the Calabar 4th Ward, a former state councilman and assistant to the governor who shared his conversion story; and President Godwin O. Bassey, first counselor in the Calabar stake presidency. A 65-voice choir performed a medley of Primary songs.
"The public affairs day was a great success," President Owen related. "Many non-members committed to attend the temple open house in June."