The Unbelievable Story Of The Mormon Temple In Nigeria, The Country’s Most Mysteriously Beautiful Church You Never Knew Anything About

INTRODUCTION

Mormons. Simply mentioning them is enough to spark endless controversies but I must say that the few Mormons I have met in my life seemed really nice, they even invited me to their sessions. Today, I am going to talk about a church that is in plain sight but yet hidden to millions of Nigerians. In fact, I will not be surprised if many Nigerians are hearing of it for the very first time. This piece is about a very controversial yet unique and utterly grand brand of Christianity and how it got to Nigeria.

HOW DID MORMONISM GET TO NIGERIA?

 History shows that the Mormon Church (also called LDS or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is one of the most recent sects to enter Nigeria. As at the 1950s, very few Nigerians knew anything about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and those who did were able to do so via magazine articles and church publications they came across while studying in the United States. These Nigerians took the knowledge with them when they returned home and with time, some of them wrote to the church headquarters demanding for missionaries. In 1960, Glen G. Fisher, who was returning from service as the South Africa Mission President was in Nigeria and he confirmed that the groups of enthusiastic Nigerians who were willing to join the Mormon Church were indeed sincere and serious.

LDS Church in Eket, Akwa Ibom State back in time.

The Mormon Church then made several attempts to send more missionaries but this move was impossible as the Nigerian government refused to issue visas to the missionaries. Why? Well, as at that time, the Mormon Temple had a very controversial ruling against blacks and preached that blacks could not become members of the church or become priests, part of the doctrine then was also that blacks were a cursed race and the most despicable of humans cursed by God and that whites were blessed.

Nigeria had just gained independence in 1960 and it was a time when the young country was seen as the hope of the black world and it was not going to allow openly-racist Mormon Temple missionaries into the country. 

Photograph of the Aba Nigeria Mormon Temple.

The Nigerian government insisted it was not going to issue visas to the missionaries of the Mormon Temple and this ‘standoff’ continued until 1978 when the leaders of the Mormon Temple said God had given them a new revelation and that all worthy males of all races (including blacks) could be made priests (why are religions so anti-women?).

Anyway, this change in the Mormon Temple ideology softened the stance of the Nigerian government and in 1978, the church was officially established in Nigeria and two couples were allowed entry into the Federal Republic of Nigeria as the special representatives of the church’s international mission.

The first member to be baptized in Nigeria was one of those who had waited for many years with faith for the coming of the missionaries. The first stake was organized in 1988 with David William Eka from Etinan in Akwa Ibom State as the president.  

First LDS Baptisms in Nigeria

By 1987, the church had experienced tremendous growth and its membership in Nigeria was almost 10,000. By January 1997, it had reached 30,300 and it was with pomp that the Africa Area of the Church baptized their 100,000th member. The membership in Nigeria was the highest of any country in Africa.

THE NIGERIAN MORMON TEMPLE

The Mormons are known for constructing some of the most beautiful religious buildings on earth and their Aba Nigeria Temple is not an exception to this architectural feat. In 2005, the church dedicated the Aba Nigeria Temple. Sitting on 2.5 hectares (6.3 acres or 11,500 sq ft), the temple was announced on the 2nd of April, 2000 and on the 7th of August, 2005, the dedication was done by Gordon B. Hinckley. The style of the temple is class modern with single-spire design done by Adeniyi Coker Consultants Limited. It is located at Okpu-Umuoha Road, off Aba-Owerri Road at Union Bank, Aba, Abia State. It is one of the most beautiful buildings (and arguably the most beautiful church) in Nigeria, see photos below:

At the very top of all Mormon temples is the statue of Angel Moroni, believed to have brought the revelations and the Book of Mormon from God to Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism.

GLORY: The beauty is just too breath-taking!

INTERESTING BELIEFS OF (AND THINGS ABOUT) THE MORMONS

  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church or the Mormon Church) is a Christian restorationist church and it was founded by the American Joseph Smith in 1830. The church has a membership of over 15 million globally.
  • Mormons see faith in Jesus Christ and his atonement as fundamental to their religion. They also believe that salvation is only through Jesus Christ.
  • Mormon temples are really majestic but they can take a very long time to construct. For example, the iconic Salt Lake Temple in Utah, United States took 40 years to build.

    Salt Lake Temple is the centerpiece of the 10-acre (4.0 ha) Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.

  • The Mormons use four scriptural texts: the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. There is a lot of focus and emphasis on the Book of Mormon and Mormons believe this was delivered to Smith by an angel named Moroni on golden plates. These golden plates were found buried, interestingly, near the hill by Smith’s house. 
  • Mormons believe the church is headed by a president who is seen as a ‘prophet, seer and revelator’ whom God speaks to directly. They also believe that Jesus Christ directs the church.
  • Mormons also believe that they can get direct revelations from God. 
  • Symbolism is of extreme importance to the Mormons: The golden Angel Moroni placed on the capstone of the temple symbolizes the angel mentioned in Revelation 14:6 that will come to welcome in the Second Coming of Christ. The six spires of the temple represent the power of the priesthood. The three spires on the east side are a little higher than those on the west: they represent the Melchizedek, or “higher priesthood”, and the Aaronic, or “preparatory priesthood” respectively. The three spires on the east side represent the church’s First Presidency and the twelve smaller spires on those three represent the Twelve Apostles. On the west side of the temple the Big Dipper appears, which represents how the constellation was used to help travelers find the North Star and help them on their way, in the same way the temple is viewed as a symbol to help people find their way back to heaven. On the east side of the temple are “clouds raining down” representing the way God has continued revelation and still speaks to man “like the rains out of Heaven”. Above each door appears the “hand clasp,” which is a representation of covenants that are made within temples. Around the temple there are several carved stones known as “sunstones” which represent heaven, “moonstones” in different phases representing this life in its different phases, and “starstones” representing Jesus Christ. The center tower on each side contains a depiction of the All-Seeing Eye of God representing how God sees all things.
  • Male members can be made priests after reaching the age of 12.
  • For the Mormons, women cannot become priests (I ask again, why are religions so anti-women?).
  • Mormons believe in the concept of ‘celestial marriage’ which are done only in the temples in rooms called ‘sealing rooms’, the wedding itself is called sealing and the belief is that the weddings are valid even in heaven.
  • Mormons once believed in polygamy in the past but it was later abolished when it clashed with the laws of the United States, however, some fundamentalist Mormons are believed to practice polygamy in secret. These are called plural marriages.
  • All LDS young men are expected to serve a two-year, full-time proselytizing mission. Missionaries do not choose where they serve or the language in which they will proselytize, and are expected to fund their missions themselves or with the aid of their families. Prospective male missionaries must be at least 18 years old and no older than 25, not yet married, have completed secondary school, and meet certain criteria for physical fitness and spiritual worthiness. Something like spiritual NYSC but the same requirements does not apply to the ladies.
  • Mormons believe the Bible is imperfect and that was why Angel Moroni had to reveal the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. 

    Statue of Angel Moroni is found at the very top on every temple.

  • Leaders of the LDS Church assert that the LDS Church is the only true church and that other churches do not have the authority to act in Jesus’ name. 
  • There are several factions and sects within the Mormon church: The LDS Church shares a common heritage with a number of smaller faith groups that are collectively called the Latter Day Saint movement. The largest of these smaller groups is the Community of Christ (previously known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), based in Independence, Missouri, followed by the The Church of Jesus Christ, based in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Like the LDS Church, these faiths believe in Joseph Smith as a prophet and founder of their religion.
  • FOUNDER: Joseph Smith founded the Mormon Church. After Smith was imprisoned in Carthage, Illinois, he was killed when a mob stormed the jailhouse. Smith was shot multiple times before and after falling from the window. Among Mormons, he is regarded as a prophet on par with Moses and Elijah. While the exact number of wives is uncertain, Joseph had multiple wives throughout his life and he made attempts to become the President of the United States.

They also accept the Book of Mormon, and most, but not all, accept at least some version of the Doctrine and Covenants. However, they tend to disagree to varying degrees with the LDS Church concerning doctrine and church leadership. Below are some of the sects within the Mormon church and their founders:   

  • The main branches of the Latter Day Saint movement resulted from the crisis of succession upon the death of Joseph Smith. Other branches may be considered later offshoots of the LDS Church branch, mainly due to disagreements about plural marriage.

  • Mormons believe in sexual purity, fasting, observance of the Sabbath, health and they also pay 10% of their annual income as tithe and also pay additional fast offerings. Faithful members also set aside the first Sunday of each month to abstain from food and drink for at least two consecutive meals, and prayerfully dedicate the fast to a purpose of the individuals’ choosing. They donate at least the cost of the two skipped meals as a fast offering, which the church uses to assist the poor and needy and expand its worldwide humanitarian efforts. Members are further instructed to set aside one night a week, typically Monday, for a “Family Home Evening,” where they gather together as a family to study gospel principles and participate in wholesome activities.
  • Mormons do not incorporate African drumming and dancing in their services like the Pentecostal churches. Some analysts have pointed to this as one of the factors responsible for the relatively slow growth of the LDS, it is seen as too quiet and too organized. Mormon Temples do not adopt local customs and their services are the same across the globe.
  • The Mormon church globally is headed by a president and Mormons believe the president is a living prophet who hears directly from God. Thomas S. Monson has been the President of the LDS Church since 2008.

    Thomas S. Monson, President of the LDS Church since 2008.

  • Another amazing belief of the Mormons is called exaltation and the belief is that righteous people can become gods after they die and they will have their own planets to rule over. In short, our life on earth is just a preparation for the next world where we can become gods with our own personal planets if God finds us worthy. But you have to be a Mormon first.  
  • Mormons wear magic underwears because they are believed to have powers to protect from all forms of attacks and disasters, see how they look like below:  
  • The LDS is one of the wealthiest churches in the world, with an estimated net worth of over $30 billion made primarily from tithes and fast offerings. 

    The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, August 2009.

  • In addition to plural marriage, Mormon fundamentalist beliefs (held by Mormon fundamentalists who also have their own smaller sects) often include the following principles:
    • the law of consecration also known as the United Order
    • the Adam–God teachings taught by Brigham Young and other early leaders of the LDS Church
    • the principle of blood atonement
    • the exclusion of black men from the priesthood
    • the belief that missionaries should teach “without purse or scrip”
  • The Book of Mormon is believed to be another testament of Christ. 

    The written canon (four-part) of the LDS Church is referred to as its standard works.

  • Mormons believe that when Smith was aged 14, God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son appeared to him. For Mormons, this vision is the most important event in human history since the resurrection of Jesus. 

    A depiction of Joseph Smith’s description of receiving the golden plates from the angel Moroni at the Hill Cumorah.

  • One of the most controversial beliefs of Mormons is that dead people deserve the chance of salvation by baptism so they organize baptisms for the dead. This is tied to Mormon belief that families will be together in heaven. So you can be baptized on behalf of your late ancestors who were never Mormons. As I have said, this is a very controversial teaching of the LDS. The LDS Church teaches that those who have died may choose to accept or reject the baptisms done on their behalf. 

    Baptismal font in the Salt Lake Temple, circa 1912, where baptisms for the dead are performed by proxy. The font rests on the backs of twelve oxen representing the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

  • Mormons believe heaven is in three degrees called the celestial kingdom, terrestrial kingdom and the telestial kingdom. 

    A depiction of the plan of salvation, as illustrated by a source within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  • Mormon teachings insist that mainstream Christianity has strayed from the original teachings of Jesus Christ. In other words, they consider themselves to be the only true Christians on earth. The same claim every sect screams about – we are the only rightly-guided ones. However, Mormons do not preach that others are going to Hellfire but if God does not admit you into heaven, you will be banished alongside Satan into what is called the Outer Darkness and their church leaders are largely not paid.
  • Abstinence from alcohol, coffee, tea and tobacco is taught. Latter-day Saints follow a moral code, called the “law of chastity,” which prohibits adultery, all homosexual behavior, and any sexual relations outside of marriage. 
  • The LDS Church teaches that deceased persons who have not accepted, or had the opportunity to accept, the gospel of Christ in this life will have such opportunity in the afterlife. The belief is that as all must follow Jesus Christ, they must also receive all the ordinances that a living person is expected to receive, including baptism. For this reason, members of the LDS Church are encouraged to research their genealogy. Mormons believe Jesus had at least three wives: Mary, Martha and Mary Magdalene and father a number of children with them before he was crucified and that after he resurrected, he moved to North America where he was believed to the Red Indians, whom Mormons believe are actually Israelites. 
  • In 1978, following a series of internal challenges, civil rights movement in the United States and protests from places with new members like Nigeria and the Caribbean (especially Dominican Republic) with predominantly black population, the Mormon Temple announced that it had received a new revelation from God allowing blacks to also become priests and would no longer be excluded. Technically, God changed His Unchangeable Mind.  
  • Mormons have absolute belief that Joseph Smith was a true prophet sent by God to establish Mormonism on earth. Mormons also believe that on the day of Judgement everyone will be summoned before God, Jesus and Joseph Smith. 
  • Mormons have a number of rituals that outsiders regard as bizarre and occultic, entrance is strictly limited and they believe that taking part in these rituals is compulsory to become gods in the hereafter (you must pay your tithe to be qualified) see below for one of such rituals inside the temples:

  • Adherents believe that Joseph Smith was called to be a modern-day prophet through, among other events, a visitation from God the Father and Jesus Christ.

  • In August 2009, the Aba Nigeria Temple was closed down indefinitely due to outbreaks of violence in the area. In mid-June of that year, there was a hail of gunfire around the temple in the city of Aba and it was also a season of increased kidnappings. A Nigeria temple worker reported the mid-June incident in which four gunmen were seen carrying AK-47s, with shooting reported in the area around the temple, located on the outskirts of Aba. 

    Translations of the Book of Mormon. The LDS Church, which distributes free copies of the Book of Mormon, reported in 2011 that 150 million copies of the book have been printed since its initial publication.

NOT A SINGLE WOMAN IN SIGHT: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is the second-highest presiding body in the government of the Church (after the First Presidency). In addition to their primary responsibility to be special witnesses of Jesus Christ throughout the world, apostles have administrative responsibilities as they oversee the programs and development of the global Church.  The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is the second-highest presiding body in the government of the Church. Its members serve under the direction of the First Presidency, a governing unit of three men — the president and two counselors. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, October 2015.

Elder Dale G. Renlund (left) and Elder Gary E. Stevenson (center) and Elder Ronald A. Rasband were named as the three newest apostles to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the afternoon session of general conference, Saturday, October 3, 2015. 

The angel Moroni delivering the plates of the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. According to the Book of Mormon, Moroni was the son of Mormon, the prophet for whom the Book of Mormon is named.

MORMONS IN NIGERIA

Well, although many Nigerians may not be aware of the activities of the Mormon Temple, the members of this church are quite active. In February 1998, 12,000 members of the church met in the oil-rich city of Port Harcourt of Rivers State at a regional conference that was presided over by the President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley.

NIGERIAN MORMONS: Mathew Samuel and his family observe the Mormon practice of Monday prayer night in Lagos, Nigeria. The church now has more members outside the United States than inside it.

The Mormon Temple in Nigeria today boasts of a total church membership of 142,033 with six missions, 53 family history centres, 58 units (42 stakes, a stake is a group of congregations and 16 districts) and 454 congregations (310 wards and 204 branches, each congregation within the Church is called a “ward” and is made up of about 200 to 400 Church members who live in a particular geographical area) in various parts of the country.

Nigerian Mormons at the Aba Nigeria Mormon Temple.

There is only one Mormon Temple in Nigeria. This is out of a total of 498,976 members, 29 missions, 3 temples, 241 family history centres and 1,602 congregations in Africa.

Members in Nigeria gather during the dedication of the Aba Nigeria Temple on Aug. 7, 2005.

The six missions of the Mormon Temple in Nigeria are Nigeria Benin City Mission (organized July 1, 2013), Nigeria Calabar Mission (July 1, 2002), Nigeria Enugu Mission (July 1, 1992), Nigeria Lagos Mission (July 1, 1980), Nigeria Owerri Mission (June 30, 2016) and Nigeria Port Harcourt Mission (July 1, 1988).

  The LDS Church also has presence in other parts of Nigeria as it has numerous stakes and districts in the following major cities: Aba, Abakaliki, Abeokuta, Abuja, Agbor, Akamkpa, Asaba, Asaga Ohafia, Benin, Calabar, Eket, Ekpoma, Enugu, Etinan, Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode, Ikot Akpaden, Ikot Akpatek, Ikot Ekpene, Ikot Eyo, Ile Ife, Jos, Lagos (Agege, Egbeda, Festac, Ikeja, Yaba), Mbaise, Nsukka, Ogwashi-Nsukwa, Okpuala Ngwa, Okrika, Ondo, Onitsha, Oron, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Ukat Aran, Umuahia, Uyo, Warri and Yenagoa.  

Here are prominent Mormons in Nigeria:

  1. Honorable Justice Esohe Frances Ikponmwen, the newly sworn in Chief Judge of Edo State. Justice Ikponmwen is a devoted and long-standing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a Chief Judge, she will head the state judiciary and act as a chief administrative officer in addition to being the spokesperson of the judicial branch. When interviewed after her swearing in ceremony, she said her attitude to work is to follow the admonition of King Benjamin, a servant of God in ancient America who said: ‘When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.’ She joined the judiciary in 1980 and is the first female indigene of Benin Kingdom to be sworn in as the Chief Judge of Edo State. See photos and video below: 

  1. Adesina Olukanni the status of Fellow of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies. Olukanni resides in Lagos, Nigeria with his family and has retired as Africa West Area Director of Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

    Olukanni

Mormons in Nigeria via the LDS Charities which is an arm of the humanitarian program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint has helped save more than 1.8 million babies in Nigeria through the Neonatal Resuscitation Project in Nigeria in the past 10 years by working in collaboration with the Paediatrics Association of Nigeria (PAN).

  1. Peter Ezeigwe, President of Onitsha Nigeria Stake, (group of congregations) 
  2. David William Eka: As stated earlier, he was the first stake president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in Nigeria and West Africa. He was the president of the Aba, Nigeria Stake and is seen as one of the founding pioneer members of the LDS Church in Nigeria. He was also an area seventy (a kind of regional representative) and a mission president in the LDS Church. Born in Etinan, Akwa Ibom State, he promised God that if he survived the Nigerian Civil War that he was going to devote his life to serving humanity. In the early 1970s, he was first introduced to the LDS Church by his uncle but he did not join the church then until later on in September 1979 after returning to Nigeria. He helped in translating the Book of Mormon into Efik.

CONCLUSION

I have written about various religious sects in Nigeria and all I notice is that we humans are fundamentally the same, we face the same struggles and encounter the same challenges in life. The earlier we all see beyond all forms of artificial barriers and focus on what unites us all, the better for humanity.

THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.

ABIYAMO.

REFERENCES

  1. Facts and Statistics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
  2. Nigeria Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints 
  3. LDS Charities Helps Save 1.8 Million Children In Nigeria 
  4. ‘God Is Just’ Says Chief Judge Ikponmwen 
  5. Profile of His Lordship Honourable Justice Esohe Frances Ikponmwen, The Honourable Chief Judge 
  6. Esohe Frances Ikponmwen 
  7. LDS Charities Donates Medical Equipment In Anambra State, Nigeria 
  8. International Center for Law and Religion Studies Honors Retiring Nigerian 
  9. Three Named To The Quorum Of The Twelve Apostles 
  10. Quorum Of The Twelve Apostles 
  11. Church Leader Visits Alake, Blesses Egbaland 
  12. Profile of Nigeria 
  13. 1978 Revelation on Priesthood 
  14. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nigeria 
  15. David W Eka
  16. Mormonism is growing in Africa but is its rise ‘exponential’? 
  17. What’s The Mormon Community Like? 
  18. Aba Temple 
  19. Violence Forces Closure Of LDS Nigeria Temple 
  20. In Nigeria, The New Face Of Global Mormonism 
  21. Salt Lake Temple 
  22. Baptism For The Dead 
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