That was even the case in Nigeria up to the late seventies. Thompson documented these practices in his book on Masonic Experience. He wrote: “It is the custom of Lodge St. David even before Akinyele became Master of the Lodge for a Master to worship in his church on the Sunday immediately after his installation on the first Sunday of March every year. On Saturday, 6th March, 1971, after his installation Brother (Augustine) Ereme informed the brethren that he would hold his thanksgiving service at the St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church, Mokola, Ibadan, and that he had the special dispensation of the church authorities for brethren to come to church in their Masonic paraphernalia. The news was a great surprise to us. The church in Nigeria used to accommodate Freemasons in their robes when they sought to worship there on anniversaries and any other occasion or occasions of thanksgiving or funeral.”
He continued: “I should mention that concessions were also granted by Anglican Church, the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church and in the case of the African Church, no caveats were attached. However, the Roman Catholics and the Baptists were adamant and uncompromising “enemies” of Freemasonry. The announcement, therefore, that Freemasons will worship in their regalia at St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church, Mokola, Ibadan, on 7th March, 1971, was regarded as perhaps, one of those cases of “First in Africa” for which Ibadan is noted, and we trooped to the church on that memorable Sunday to see for ourselves.”
The surprise. “It was true not only did we robe in procession following the choir, we were given special seats and were well-received by the congregation which assembled for that morning service beginning at 10 a.m. Our surprise was multiplied when the sermon was preached by a Reverend Father (Rev. Father Dalley) a whiteman, who showered encomiums on Freemasonry and traced the history of the order distinguishing the Freemasonry practised by the Grand Lodge of Scotland, England and Ireland, which believes in the existence of God and Grand Orient of France which does not.”
Thompson said “After that church service, it occurred to me that some of our antagonists in the church might be ‘ignoramuses’ who might have read about the Grand Orient of France and failed to appreciate the difference because of a defect of knowledge associated with indolence.”
But the question many Nigerians keep on asking is. What is the origin of Freemasonry? According to some Masonic historians, Freemasonry is shrouded in myths, legends and almost impenetrable obscurity. Since the 18th century, Masonic writers have sought to establish a link between the Knights Templars and the Freemasons.
In his publication titled: The Origin of Freemasonry, Mehmed Sabeheddin, an Eastern Masonic historian states: “Freemasonic lore and symbols have been traced to ancient Egypt and Phoenicia. Yet, despite all the books and articles exploring Freemasonry published over the last 100 years, there is one area that has not received attention. It concerns Freemasonry’s debt to Islamic mysticism and a shadowy tradition connecting the Masons with the Moors of North Africa.
Argued Sabeheddin: “What is looked upon almost entirely as Freemasonry has been practised as part and parcel of the religions of the Middle East for many years. So we find that just as Europe borrowed considerably from the learning of the Moors, European Freemasonry took its “secret wisdom from the Muslim east. The star or pentagram which the Moors called the seal of Sulaiyman and coloured green to honour Islam, also figures prominently in Masonic art and architecture. The layout of the City of Washibgton DC, which was designed by Masons, incorporates the pentagram. When Freemasons travelled in Moorish lands, they quickly recognized a common bond.” Sabeheddin concluded by quoting John Porter Brown, an American diplomat in Turkey in the mid – 1980s who wrote sympathetically of the Sufi path.
There is, however, no dispute of the fact that Freemasonry is found all over the world. It is not a monolithic organisation with a central authority figure like an international president or secretary-general. But it has a Grand Lodge which is the governing body in every country.
What is generally known about Freemasonry is that in 1717, several Masons met in London to form the first United Grand Lodge of England as a governing force over groups of stonemasons in Britain. Later in 1725, there was a Grand Lodge of Ireland. In 1735 or thereabout, there was a Royal Order of Scotland later known as the Scottish Rite. It was a merger of the precepts of Knights Templars with ancient Celtic mysteries which had flourished in parts of Europe and later in America.
Thereafter, Grand Lodges spread Freemasonry around the world. From the 1790s, Lodges were established in Europe, the West Indies and India. As the British empire expanded in the late 18th and into the 19th centuries, English Freemasons carried the Brotherhood into the Middle and Far East, Australia, Africa, and North and South America. When colonies eventually gained political independence in the second half of the 20th century, many of them formed independent local Grand Lodges while others still remained with their parent Grand Lodge resulting in some 750 Lodges overseas principally in Commonwealth countries. “But it was in Britain’s colonies in North America that Freemasonry would not only take root and thrive, but also contributed significantly to history’s first successful anti-colonialist war and the emergence of the United States of America,” Jeffers noted in his book.
As Freemasonry spread throughout the globe, it also garnered along with it formidable enemies. One of such enemies was the Vatican. Pope Clement XII started the war against Freemasonry in 1738 when he proscribed it ostensibly on grounds of its naturalism, demand for oaths of secrecy, religious indifference and a possible threat to the church and the state. Other Popes who reaffirmed the ban were Benedict XIV in 1751, Pius VII in 1821, and Leo XII in 1825. The Church under Pope John Paul II still condemned Freemasonry. By the Church Law, no Catholic is permitted to join a Masonic Lodge or an affiliated organisation without incurring ex-communication. Any Mason who wanted to enter the Catholic Church was required to sever all ties with Freemasonry.
Before the papal Bull of 1738, several Roman Catholics served as Grand Masters in Freemasonry. That, perhaps, explains why the names of prominent Catholics still feature in Freemasonic records. For example, the Catholic Duke of Norfolk became a Grand Master in 1730. Robert Edward, Viscount Montagu and the 9th Lord Petre, the then head of the Catholic Community in England, was installed a Grand Master in 1772. He held the office for five years.
Freemasonry had been practised in Ireland since 1725. Its Grand Lodge is reputed to be the second oldest in the world. Some Christian elements of worship such as the Lord’s prayer, are preserved in its ritual. Even though the papal Bull had proscribed Freemasonry since 1738, the order did not come into effect in the country until later in the century. Before then, Catholic laymen and priests participated in Irish Lodges. Daniel O’Connell, an Irish patriot who was initiated a Mason in 1799, served as master of Lodge No. 189 in Dublin. He later renounced his Masonic ties when the position of the church on Freemasonry was made known to him. Unlike in the past, Irish Lodges are today patronized by a Protestant minority.
The papal Bull was not binding on Protestant churches. That is why, up till today, protestant clergymen are still counted among high degree Masons in Europe and America. In Nigeria, records show that L.G Vinning, Adolphus Williamson Howells and Adelakun Williamson Howells, all Anglican archbishops of Lagos and West Africa respectively, held the position of Grand Master of their Lodges at various times. Many other clergymen also participated in Freemasonry thereafter.
When did Freemasonry come to Nigeria? The English Constitution, EC, was first established in Lagos. Its first Lodge known as Lagos Lodge No. 1171 EC, was warranted in 1878 and constituted in 1879. Thereafter, other EC Lodges were established in various parts of the country. Currently, Olorogun Moses Taiga, chairman, Execon Group of Companies and a retired managing director, Philips Oil, is the District Grand Master for Nigeria. His installation was performed in Lagos last October 31.
Before then, the Irish Constitution, IC, had arrived in Nigeria to set up its Lodge in Calabar. Known as MacDonald Lodge No. 197 IC, it got its warrant in 1897 and was constituted on May 2, 1897. Its current Provincial Grand Master is Alabo T. O. Graham-Douglas, a traditional ruler and former minister of aviation, who was installed since 2000.
The Scottish Constitution better known as Lodge Scotia No. 1166 SC, was a late comer. It came to Nigeria in 1918. Its first Lodge in Nigeria was Lodge Academic No. 1150 SC, Lagos. The charter of the lodge was signed by Sir Robert Gordon Gordon-Gilmore, a brigadier-general and British Knight, on November 30, 1918, the feast day of St. Andrew, the patron Saint of Scotland. The pioneer Worshipful Grand Mason of the Lodge was Robert Wolrige Gordon of Esslemont, then a captain. Currently, Adonye Anye Ibiama, Fine-country VI, of Grand Bonny, holds the position of District Grand Master. He took over from Ishola Musawir, an orthopaedic surgeon and the first Moslem to hold that position, in February this year.
How does Freemasonry recruit its members? Answered Ifejika: “From time immemorial, Freemasonry does not solicit for membership. Exemplary lives of Masons outside attract other people to want to belong to the Craft. People see Masons outside; they see the way they behave, react to issues and they want also to belong. They begin to ask: What doest it take to belong to this society that makes all of you behave like this? Those of you we have seen are well-behaved and well-positioned in society. There must be a god in your society that gives you wealth.” Ifejika said every application for membership is thoroughly screened by a standing committee to ensure that any applicant who wants to join Freemasonry does not do so for the wrong motives of seeking power or wealth.