Iju Railway Station is the main gateway to a sprawling community of independent but interdependent communities that all have Iju as their main source. That is why today one hears of Iju Station, Iju-Ishaga, Iju Ogundimu, Iju Saala etc. There are about fifty different communities that come under the same appellation.
Christian life in Iju area was largely of protestant persuasion in the early beginnings. There was the Cherubim and Seraphim Church at Olowosokedile Village; there was the St. Andrews African Church located at the present day Lonlo Bus stop on Iju Road; and the St. John Anglican Church at Gudugba Iju. Though the Mothodist Church at Elliot had not come on stage, the Cherubim and Seraphim at Ago Aladura, built by Prophet Olatunji was at the rudimentary stage, while the First African Church at Ishaga that is today a cathedral with a bishop in residence was at Aga Village, from where it got relocated to the acquired land on Iju Road. If there were any Catholics around, there was no coordination among them.
The road from Agege to the waterworks yard was the only road that linked Iju Community with the outside world as at then. Motor vehicles that brought workers for shift duties in the waterworks yard were the main if not the only vehicles that plied the road. Sometimes however, the tippers (i.e. lorries) that carried sand and gravel to the city centre of Agege and Ikeja came on the road. Most people travelled on foot or in those vehicles where the drivers were either benevolent or charged fare. The local passenger trains stopped at the railway station to drop and or pick passengers and goods on festive periods like the Muslim or Christian festivals, hoards of settlers assembled at the railway station to connect trains that went to Abeokuta, Ilaro, Ibadan, Offa and Oshogbo for onward transmission to their various native places. A branch of railway line connects the Iju Waterworks yard with the main Lagos-Ibadan main track. Through this track coal and alum used in the waterworks yard are brought to the compound for their use.
Catholic presence was felt at lju as early as the first half of the last century, precisely, in the Nineteen-thirties, due to the pioneering efforts of one Mr. Anthony Martins. As a government official posted to the new lju Waterworks, he took up residence there.
The local church started as a Mass Centre, which was held from house to house of members and makeshift shelters Since the nearest real Catholic presence was at St. Paul’s, Ebute Metta, near Lagos, Mr. Martins persuaded known Catholics around, and they jointly organized Sunday Services, initially in individual homes in turns. Two permanent members then were late Pa Michael Sonde and Madam Harrietta Nichol.
Whenever a Rev. Father came visiting, Mass was said in the sitting room of Madam Nichol. However, Harvest Thanksgiving and Bazaar Sales were conducted under make-shift shelters. The proceeds, it was understood, were always taken away by the visiting Priests. Reports showed that those days were real jamboree days especially for the children as rice and stew which were rear commodities at that time were cooked and served to all present. Children used to earnestly look forward to those days. Children of other denominations and even Muslims and Traditional Worshippers congregate to enjoy the occasions. In fact many were by so doing converted to Catholicism.
By 1947, when late pa John Ogunjimi Faneye started his African Vocation Institute at the present site of the nearby St. Kizito’s Primary School, Catholic life had a dramatic change for the better. He made his school hall available for worship and influenced the visit of priests from St. Paul Ebute Metta or from as far as Abeokuta to come and say masses. Visiting priests from St. Paul Ebute Metta or from St. Peter Ota used to come on bicycle and those from Abeokuta would come on public transportation or train to Agege and do the rest on foot. Worshippers will accompany them to Agege before retiring to their different homes and/or offices. Some of the notable families who joined them at worship included those of Samuel Jago, Ambrose Oguntokesi, Ambrose Fatoyinbo, Mathias Okonkwo, Fasesan, Paul Agbebi, Olaiya, Madam Juliana, and Baiyewu.
In the late 1950’s lands around iju were auctioned and late Pa J. O. Faneye and Surveyor M. A. Seweje and Associates of 54, Herbert Macaulay Street, Ebute Metta, assisted the mission to acquire the land on which St Kizito’s Church now stands as well as the one opposite the nearby St. Kizito’s primary school. The portions of land initially belonged to the Late Ephraim Williams whose land was seized as a result of bad debt.
The first church building was then built around this period. The Church was rectangular, and made with mud and plastered with cement for about one hundred seated people. The working class provided the fund and the natives labour. The structure was however completed much with the assistance of Late Rev. Fr. Julius Oni, the first indigenous priest. While Pa Faneye, a dexterous organist moved his piano into the church. He also took up the responsibility of administering the church. Given the prevailing not-too-high standards of largely rural Nigeria of 1960, that church building must have been a Basilica in it’s own right. The church had an adjoining two-roomed Sacristy, later turned to Gateman’s living apartment. The modest conveniences and the kitchen were detached from the house.
Rev. Fr. Julius Oni arranged for and brought the then Archbishop of Lagos, Late Archbishop Leo Tailor to come and commission the church. As a result the church was blessed and named in honour of the patron saint of the Archbishop, Saint Leo. Activities in the church were only carried out during the weekends (i.e Friday to Sunday).
The year 1962 was a remarkable year. The African Vocational Institute collapsed as a result of internal dispute and the facility was transferred to the Roman Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Lagos converted it to a primary school and named it after St. Kizito, the youngest of the Uganda martyrs. This was about the time the twenty-two Uganda martyrs were canonised by the then pope. (Thus was the church – Leo and the school – Kizito). Pa. Faneye along with his family then relocated to the Lagos Colony Civil Service where he was made a customary court judge in Ikeja and Mushin environs. Nevertheless, a vacuum was created in the administration of the church. Sadly, his role in the church was left vacant for a while.
The head master and teachers who were posted to the school were lodged at the former residence of Pa. Faneye. Mr. Albert Ayinde Fashina, a younger teacher who was transferred to the school and Mr. John Olawore, a local worshipper were engaged as pupil teachers. These two coordinated church activities during the weekends. They organised catechism classes and choir rehearsal. Many of the pupils who attended the weekend programmes got converted at the end of the day. Both later left the teaching service. The former got enrolled in a seminary and became a priest. He is today the Bishop of Ijebu Ode Diocease. The later went for further studies and got employed by the then Lagos City Council as a stereographer.
The government takeover of schools after the Nigeria Civil War had the administration of St. Kizito Primary School transferred to the government. Teachers were posted to the school but the Church made sure she had some nominal say in the affairs of the school. The likes of Mr and Mrs Awonaiya, Mr. Ashuriba, and Mr. Anthony Kolawole Taiwo (all of whom are now late) took their turns to administer the school. When the number of pupils increased and the single building available could accommodate them all, the church building was used during the week for classes.
Interestingly, the outbreak of hostilities that cumulated into the Nigeria Civil War saw Pa. Mathias Okonkwo who had built his personal house on Ladipo Street, Iju relocate back to the Eastern part of Nigeria. By the time the war was over, he came back and his house as well as rent collected while he was away was restored to him. He and his family rejoined the congregation and we worshipped happily together thereafter.
The church had her fair share of confrontations from the Omo onile. Though part of Ephraim Williams estate had been auctioned by the government, the family had a sizeable portion retained by them. The head of the family, Mr. Alfred Williams (aka The Lion of Iju) happens to be at the fore front of the confrontation. He poked his nose into virtually everything that has to do with land. This affected him when he was to become baale . The whole community ganged up against him and preferred the one who was dear to them – Mr. Aduloju to become baale. With much intervention by some well-meaning members of the community, Mr. Alfred Williams became baale. However, he did not last more than three months in office. This story though not necessarily part of the discussion, but it helped the Catholic Church in Iju in a way. It prompted the congregation to send a powerful delegation to the Archbishop of Lagos, Dr. Anthony Olubunmi Okogie who succeeded Archbishop John Aggey in office. The new archbishop sent a priest from Holy Cross Cathedral who came with material and labour. The priest ensured that the church was fenced round and two gates facing the main road were erected. This singular act saved the then church member forever from the intrigues of Mr. Alfred Williams who sometimes bring out his double barrel gun to scare church members as he was our next door neighbour.
Another incidence that resulted in disagreement between the Mr. Alfred Williams and the Church members was as a result of the heavy rain and heavy thunderstorm that destroyed the former’s house. The entire roof of his house was blown away, flew over the church land and ended up in the village behind the present the present Rev. Father’s house. With the usual heavy rain, all the rooms on the first floor were drenched and water as a result of the rain flooded the ground floor. Delegates from African Church Mission (to which Mr. Williams belonged) as well as some notable community leaders came looking for the leaders of the Catholic Church community and accused them of burning special candles to punish Mr. Williams. Taking advantage of the situation, leaders of the Catholic Community told him (Mr. Alfred Williams) it was a divine intervention and warned him to desist from troubling the church, else greater calamities shall befall him. Mr. Alfred Williams kept his cool till he passed away and did not contest the land with the Church.
Unfortunately, Mr. Alfred Williams did not completely desist from making trouble with the church. Years later, he brought in Hausa Mattress Makers and gave them the setback in front of the church as their workshop and market. He also gave permission to the Local Government Council to place a large dust bin by the road in front of the church. The bin was filled and was overflowed. On a Sunday, when a priest came to celebrate mass, he refused to inter the compound on account of the refuse by the road side and the Hausa Mattress Markers Market. Having made the necessary enquiry, the priest then mandated members of the church to take do something about the situation. The Hausa Mattress Markers were asked to leave and the dust bin was rolled into the Gudugba valley towards Ishaga spilling the contents as it was rolled along. The priest was happy and mass was celebrated that very day. Much to the surprise of everyone at mass, the tyres of the priest’s caravan had been deflated by an unknown assailant. Some members of the church had to get a vulcanizer and his equipment from Agege to repair the tyres, since there were none in Iju.
Before the priest who fenced the church left, he gave out 2 instructions. First and foremost, the church should not earmark any space for cemetery because of the large number of church members, the land was certainly too small for that. Secondly, anyone coming to the church compound must follow the main road. There shall not be any other path leading into the church compound. On the contrary, leaders of the church had to bend the first rule to favour members who did not have a personal house. Members of the village were buried around the present Reverend Father’s House on the condition that the corpse would be allowed to decompose but no single brick would be laid to mark the grave. Two other church members were buried in the church compound, in the area of the present Okogie Centre. The first was one Mr. Okorie, a demented retiree of the Lagos State Water Cooperation. He was living alone in a rented apartment at Tabon Tabon, Agege. Every Sunday morning, he used to be the first to come to church even before those that live in Iju. He also goes round to motivate members living close to the church to come early for mass. However, he had died in his room and for several days no one knew. The stench attracted his neighbours who in turn notified members of the church. Being a communicant, Mr. Okorie was given a proper Catholic burial. The other person buried happens to be the wife of Pa Samuel Jago. Graves were not allowed for either.
The only Catholic Church in Agege region was the small St. John Catholic Church, Isale Oja Agege. It was at this church that members of St. Leo Catholic Church, Iju had their weddings or any other major function that requires the attention of the priest.
With the arrival of the SMA fathers to the Archdiocese of Lagos and the posting of Rev. Fr. John Hannon (SMA) to Agege region, Catholic life got the much needed boost. Rev. Fr. Hannon resided at St. Peter Catholic Church, Ota from where he was coming to celebrate mass daily at St. John’s Catholic Church, Isale Oja Agege and weekly masses at St. Leo Catholic Church, Iju. Sooner than later, a Western Nigerian Marketing Board Estate (WEMABORD) at Ikeja to the right of the present day overhead bridge linking Oba Akran Road with Kodesho Street became the first Agege mission house. Night marauders forced him and the church to look for a permanent place in Agege region; where a church and mission house was built.
As a result, St. Leo’s Iju crystallized into an Outstation of St. Theresa’s Catholic Parish, Ifako, even though the latter was founded only in the 1970’s more than ten years after St. Leo’s. This was so because the first Parish House in this area, with a church, was built there at Ifako, Agege. It was named St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. St. Leo’s, being nearby, automatically had to come under the control of the Parish Priest of the new St. Theresa’s Parish.
Before the arrival of Rev. Fr. John Hannon (SMA), it was Rev. Fr. Olufemi Burke (SMA) who used to visit Agege region and celebrate mass. Whenever he came calling, which could be quarterly at times, such occasions could be at anytime between 12 noon and 5pm, leaving only a few people who are available to attend mass.
Mr. John Babatunde Olawore (a papal medallist) was appointed catechist after the departure of Pa Faneye. He held sway until people like Michael Ikpenu, Michael Obi, Taiye and a few others either assisted as voluntary catechist or were groomed to perform those duties. Every Sunday, year in year out services were conducted and offerings were collected. The offerings we remitted to the priest in charge by the catechist. Meanwhile, the protestant community criticised the growing church for giving offerings to ‘Oyinbo.’ It was their belief that members of the Catholic Church are being enslaved by the so called ‘Oyinbos.’ This did not deter the faith of majority of Catholic Church members in Iju.
Along with conurbation, naturally came a corresponding increase in the human population of Iju community at large. St. Kizito’s population grew at an even faster pace, occasioned by urban-rural drift of people, who were displaced from Maroko, near Lagos, etc.
In 1979, the government of Lagos State made frantic efforts to seize the land of St. Leo’s (now St. Kizito’s) Church, lju and locate a grammar school (Fagba) there. This was rebuffed by the then Church Council. This may have served as an additional impetus to the Soldiers of Christ at that time to take the bull by the horns. They went to great lengths to plan and to mobilize the requisite resources. Their efforts paid off.
The government’s threat of seizure of the St. Kizito’s Church land may have caused His Grace (now His Eminence), Archbishop A. O. Okogie of Lagos, with assistance of Rev. Father John Hannon, SMA, to formally launch a new church building fund on 2nd May, 1980, and the foundation (of the Contemporary or Middle -Age Church) was laid on 6th May, 1982. Annually, Men and women were levied 10 naira and 5 naira respectively. The Archbishop Okogie also gave loans of N10,000 to support the church building on 2 different occasions. The second loan was used to purchase corrugated roofing sheets. Many of the church members also worked as labourer. By the time Rev. Fr. Hannon left, Rev. Fr. Eammon Finnegan’s contributions made the church building a reality.
The late 1980’s therefore saw the birth of a brand new church building, with about five times the sitting capacity of the First one. The planners had the vision to provide a lot more space to cater for possible continuing increase in the number of worshippers.
In 1989, Rev. Fr. Albert Yankey introduced the Basic Christina Community system of administration. With this, the whole church catchment areas where divided into 5 communities (i.e. Community A, B, C, D, and E). Each community met once a week sharing the bible as well as problems and aspirations. While sporting competitions were held among the 5 communities, the first Mass outside the church was celebrated in the house of late Mr. Remigius Abaekere.
In 1990, the Church Council, with the full support of late Rev. Fr. Jim Foley, SMA, sought for, and obtained, permission to change the name of the Church from St. Leo’s to St. Kizito’s, because:-
- St. Leo’s (now St. Kizito’s), Iju, was almost always being mistaken for St. Leo’s, Ikeja by invitees.
- The Church Council looked forward to taking over control of the St. Kizito’s primary school and similarity of name would only ease matters.
- Since the St. Kizito’s Primary School was under the patronage of St. Leo’s (now re-named St Kizito’s) church it was the church council’s opinion that its authority over the school of the same name would be really felt.
In 1991, permission was also sought from His Grace to expand the second or Contemporary-Age Church as a result of the influx of people from Lagos. However, permission was only granted then to build a Parish (or Mission) House, with a proviso to send a Resident Priest when the Parish House was completed. Rev. Fr. Anthony Obanla turned the sod of the Parish House in 1993 but Rev. Fr., now Monsignor F. O. Ogunsakin commenced the actual building in 1994.
The first of Baba Ijo of Catholic Community in Iju was Late Pa Oguntokesi. When Pa Oguntokesi passed away, the lot fell on Pa Ambrose Fatoyimbo. When Pa Fatoyimbo died and in accordance with the directives of the Rev. Father, a man with one wife and married in the church was to succeed him. This decision pushed aside the obvious favourite – Pa Samuel Oyedele Jago, a devoted church member who had four wives. And Pa Paul Agbebi, a widower rejected the office on personal grounds. Mr. Charles Olatokun was eventually elected Baba Ijo by the church elders. Mr. Charles Olatokun is still the Baba Ijo up till today.
The office of the church council chairman was taken care of by the Baba Ijo. But when the number of parishioners increased, Mr. Ediale was elected first church council chairman. Mr. F.M. Olisa later succeeded Mr. Ediale.