Sampson Anene is well remembered in Ohita, a tiny village in Ogbaru Local Government Area of the present Anambra State, as the man who brought Christianity to the town.
Sampson Chukwujindu Anene was born in 1883. His parents were Mr. Nnoliam Anene who was an excellent farmer and Mrs. Nwafulukwe Anene, a trader, who sold palm produce to the United African Company (U.A.C), a British colonial company with its depot in Atani town, close to the famous River Niger, in the late nineteenth century.
Nwafulukwe always took her produce to the depot in Atani accompanied by her young son Chukwujindu who was a very handsome boy, with a fair complexion like his mother. At that time the Church Missionary Society was in Onitsha, having been established there on the bank of the Niger under Bishop Adjai Crowther in 1857. Peter Okwuosa, an employee of the U.A.C at Atani, took a special interest in young Chukwujindu. He suggested to Nwafulukwe that he would like to arrange for Chukwujindu to go to school. Nwafulukwe was very interested in this possibility because she admired Peter for the way he dressed, for his ability to communicate in the white man’s language (i.e. English), and for the way he commanded authority at work when buying their products. Consequently, she asked Peter to come and speak with her husband, as women traditionally did not have many rights over a child.
Nnoliam, like his wife, was very interested in Peter’s offer to take young Chukwujindu and give him a western education. Nnoliam liked the way his wife tried to mimic Peter’s use of English in his negotiations and business transactions with the white men. Peter was actually surprised at how Chukwujindu’s parents agreed so readily to his proposal and allowed him to leave with the boy that same day. Chukwujindu was also happy at this turn of events.
In few weeks, Peter Okwuosa returned to the U.A.C. depot in Onitsha accompanied by Chukwujindu. The white men were happy to see young Chukwujindu and immediately made arrangements for his education. Chukwujindu was registered at St. Christopher’s Primary School, Onitsha, an Anglican school near Peter’s house. Chukwujindu was such a good student that before the end of the year he was promoted to the next class.
Chukwujindu asked to join the church choir and always went to the Bible study class. In Peter’s house, the entire family had morning and evening prayers together. Thanks to Chukwujindu’s faithful participation in the Bible study class, within two and a half months he had started reading the Igbo Bible.
In 1898, at the age of fifteen, Chukwujindu was baptized, taking the name Sampson. Having passed his Standard Six School Leaving Certificate at the age of sixteen, he was made a teacher and a catechist. He became the first indigenous choirmaster of St. Christopher’s Church, Onitsha and was well known for his songs until his death.
At that time, Sampson paid regular visits to Ohita, his hometown, which was about ten kilometers from Onitsha-a journey easily made on foot in those days. His parents also visited him in Onitsha to bring gifts of farm produce and fish to him and to Peter’s family. When Sampson told his friends in Ohita-a town known at that time for its traditional religion-about how everyone went about their Christian activities, his parents listened, awe-struck. They also admired the way Sampson led morning and evening prayer.
When his father visited Onitsha towards the end of 1903, Sampson spoke about his vision of establishing a church at Ohita to him and to Peter who both welcomed the idea with joy. From then on Peter, a high-ranking leader in St. Christopher’s Church, started working with the other members of the church on ways to make Sampson’s vision become a reality.
On Thursday, January 12, 1904, Sampson was given permission to travel to Ohita to plan the first church service. On Sunday, January 15, 1904, the first church service was held in the shade of a big “Ogbu” tree in the center of the town. Sampson led the first service and one of St. Christopher’s church teachers who had been assigned to go with him gave the sermon. This first service was a success because some members of St. Christopher’s church had worked with Sampson on Saturday to invite people and prepare for the next day. Led by Sampson and his father, they went from house to house, telling people about the service the next day. Most of the people who came for the Sunday service were in Sampson’s age group because, in Ohita, the townsfolk did things by age group. The members of Sampson’s age group were happy to see one of their own introduce such a new thing to the town. It is no surprise that today in Ohita town most of his generation have English names as baptismal names. They were the first to receive baptism in Ohita and were given English names, even including Sampson’s father who was named Philip and Sampson’s mother named Eunice.
The church started with about eighteen people including Sampson’s parents and his mother’s younger brother. The following year, the church was dedicated on July 21, 1905. For the first eight months Sampson came from Onitsha to lead the church service and give a Bible study. By 1906, the first mud house church was built on a piece of land donated by James Okonyia and named St. Peter’s Church.
But by the middle of 1906 traditional religion started drawing some of the members away from the church, especially among Sampson’s generation. This decline in the church is probably connected to the fact that Sampson had been permanently transferred to Onitsha and that James Okonyia who had donated his land had gone to seek greener pastures in Lagos. After a long time Sampson was transferred back to Ohita. He revived the church and even established a primary school with good supervision and coordination from the church in Onitsha. By 1908, the church had regained its health and Sampson oversaw the construction of the new school at Ohita. Two other churches were established in the same community thanks to Sampson’s efforts-one in Atani in 1908 and one in Akiliozizo in 1909. The establishment of these two new churches helped to strengthen St. Peter’s Church, considered the mother church in the Ogbaru area of Anambra State.
Sampson was married and had three children. One of his sons is presently an Anglican pastor. His only daughter is also a pastor and married to a pastor.
Sampson died in 1970 at the age of eighty-seven. Thanks to his missionary exploits, Ohita in Ogbaru, formerly known for the prominence of its traditional religion, is a well known Christian town. Today, old men and women in Ogbaru still remember the songs Sampson taught them at St. Peter’s Church in the early years of his ministry.
Kemdirim O. Protus
“My Missionary Work in Ogbaru Community,” compiled writings of Apostle Sampson Chukwujindu Anene, 1912.
“My Vision and Mission,” compiled writings of Apostle Sampson Chukwujindu Anene, 1965.
Mr. Christian Chukwulo Anene, eldest son of Apostle Sampson C. Anene interviewed by Anene K. Chigozie, a research assistant at the University of Port Harcourt in January 2005.
Pastor Patricia N. Emekene, an associate pastor of The Glory Reign Assembly Church, Port Harcourt, and the only daughter of Sampson C. Anene, interviewed by Anene K. Chigozie in 2005.
This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Dr. Kemdirim O. Protus, a senior lecturer in the Department of Religious and Cultural Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, a DACB Participating Institution. Dr. Kemdirim Protus is also the DACB Regional Coordinator for Nigeria.