Igieduma Village in Uhunmwonde Local Government Area of Edo State has witnessed the opening of a historical museum which documents the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who were involved in the establishment of their preaching and community development activities in Nigeria since 1921.
Tagged “100 Years of Courage”, the museum which was opened by Jehovah’s Witnesses chronicles the 100 years of the work of the witnesses in Nigeria and extraordinary story of ordinary Nigerians and foreigners, men, women and children, whose acts of faith laid the foundation for the thriving activities of over 400,000 witnesses in Nigeria. It also depicts the various influence of non-witness actors that impacted the spread of their activities, both positive and negative.
The museum has been receiving tourists who have been expressing their views on the entire project.
“It is phenomenal to see how much opposition Jehovah’s Witnesses faced in the early years. But they were not deterred. They were brave, they were courageous,” said Seun Faluyi, one of the first set of tourists who shared his experience.
“I like how interactive it is. Sometimes you forget how much history you have,” said Celine, a teenage tourist.
Another tourist, Ayinola Olusoyan, said, “I have been around Jehovah’s Witnesses for some time, although I am not one of them. Today is a great day for me to be here.”
The history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nigeria began with the arrival of Claude Brown, also known as Bible Brown, in 1921. The museum shows that Witnesses first established their branch office in Nigeria in the same year and started their evangelical ministry. From the small beginning, they set about reaching the major towns and hinterlands of Nigeria, converting local people who in turn helped to spread the Bible message further afield. With limited transportation and mass communication methods available in the early 20’s and 30’s, the museum depicts how the Witnesses used a variety of initiatives, including the sound car, megaphones and phonographs to spread the message.
The museum further documents the challenges encountered by Jehovah’s Witnesses in their bid to spread the word of God. These included denial of physical access to areas they desired to preach in by local chiefs and religious priests, beating of new converts by relatives who misunderstood the Witnesses’ beliefs, arson, and in some extreme cases, murder.
But the Nigerian Civil War brought a new dimension to the challenges. Pictures and other artefacts in the museum show that the Witnesses in the former Biafran territory were cut off from their Nigerian brothers. With the resulting limited contact, the flow of Bibles and bible-based publications became strained. However, in remarkable demonstration of faith, the Witnesses on both sides risked their lives and freedom to cross the lines to deliver publications and directions to those in the war zone.
In heart-touching personal stories, the museum captures the experiences of specific witnesses who took part in the risky undertaking of crossing the war zones to reach their brothers and sisters on the other side. A cocktail of ingenuity and faith were often on display. Sadly, some Witnesses were killed by soldiers and others for refusing to fight in the war.
In interesting twists, some of the soldiers who fought in the war, including some who encountered or even killed Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to join the war, became Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves after the war, some becoming elders and missionaries.
In all, the civil war and other challenges did not appear to break the integrity of the Witnesses who continued preaching all through the war and even increased in number, as statistics available at the museum show.
The museum also features some of the major milestones in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nigeria – their conventions, or large gatherings. Each year, Jehovah’s Witnesses invite their neighbours, friends, and family to join them for these large gatherings. From Lagos to Port Harcourt, the museum chronicled the district and international convention history of the witnesses. The international conventions involved invited foreign guests and speakers and simultaneous translation into multiple Nigerian languages. Baptism of new converts was a constant feature of these conventions. These large gatherings strengthened the unity of the witnesses and gave immeasurable impetus to their work in the country.
One notable feature of the museum is that it is made to meet modern standards and expectations of information consumption. It has audio-video media which tourists can play or view through a special wifi-bluetooth connection and installed TV screens. These help visitors to get additional information about the historical event or character on display but also to more intimately relive the event.
The Spokesman of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Olusegun Eroyemi, said the public, journalists, tourists, and academics are invited to visit the museum following its official opening on June 1, 2023. He said tourists are encouraged to come with their phones, tablets or other handheld devices with either a Bluetooth or wired headsets to have a more interactive experience.