The Presbyterian Church in Nigeria

The Presbyterian polity is a method of church governance typified by the rule of assemblies of presbyters, or elders. Each local church is governed by a body of elected elders usually called the session, though other terms, such as church board, may apply.

Groups of local churches are governed by a higher assembly of elders known as the Presbytery; Presbyteries can be grouped into a Synod, and Presbyteries and Synods nationwide often join together in a General Assembly. Responsibility for conduct of Church services is reserved to an ordained minister known as a teaching elder, or a minister of the word and sacrament.

The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria was founded by United Presbyterian Church of Scotland missionaries led by the Rev. Hope Masterson Waddell on the invitation of King Eyo Honesty II and King Eyamba V. The missionaries arrived in Calabar and founded the first Presbyterian church at Creek Town in 1846 . From Calabar the church begun to grow. In 1858 the Presbytery of Biafra was formed. The Synod of Biafra formed in 1921. The church developed rapidly, when the Presbyterian Church of Biafra was established, with the Synod as the highest court. The church become independent. The Presbyterian Church of Biafra became the Presbyterian Church in East Nigeria in 1952. On 16 June 1960 the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria was born. In 1987 the General Assembly was constituted with two Synods.

The Presbyterian Church in Nigeria began to establish a University in 1993, which was later named Hope Waddell University. Though the operational license has been secured, The University located in Okagwe Ohafia in Abia State is yet to take off. Its motto is “Excellence, Integrity, and Service”. The church also runs two degree awarding theological institutions, the Hugh Goldie Lay Theological Training Institution  Arochukwu in Abia State founded in 1918, and the Essien Ukpabio Presbyterian Theological College,  Itu Akwa Ibom State founded in 1994 (an affiliate of the University of Calabar). The church secretariat is in Ogbor Hill in Abia State in Southeast Nigeria. While the treasury and prelate’s office is in Hope Waddell Training Institution Calabar Cross River State in Southern Nigeria


In April 1846, at the invitation of the two kings of Calabar, a team of missionaries from the Church of Scotland Mission, led by Rev. Hope Masterton Waddell, arrived Calabar where they set up the first congregation of what is now known as The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria. From Calabar, the Church began to grow. In 1858, it was constituted as the Presbytery of Biafra. This Presbytery of Biafra metamorphosed into the The Presbyterian Synod of Biafra in 1921. The Church continued to witness remarkable growth until 1945, when the Presbyterian Church of Biafra was constituted, with the Synod as its highest court. In the same year, the white missionaries handed over the Church administration to Nigerians. The Presbyterian Church of Biafra became the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Nigeria in 1952. By 16th June, 1960, the Mission Church integration was completed and the Church changed its name to the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria. In 1985, the Syond met in Afikpo and agreed to create Regional Synods with the General Assembly as the highest decision making body. This decision materialized on the 22nd August, 1987, when the General Assembly was inaugurated at the Duke Town Presbyterian Church, Calabar. After the creation of the General Assembly, two regional Synods were created in 1988. These were the East and the South-East Synods. As at today, the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria has nine Regional Synods.

The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria is a part of the Holy Catholic or Universal Church. It is one of the results of the Protestant Reformation that was begun in 1517 AD. It worships one God Almighty in the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It rejoices in the sovereign grace of God towards humanity and creation and confesses our Lord Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God who was crucified for the salvation of humankind and who is the Head of the Universal Church. It believes in the Word of God as contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as its supreme rule of faith and life. The Church proclaims the gospel of the kingdom of God and invites all to receive the forgiveness of sins and the acceptance by God through faith in Jesus Christ and the gift of eternal life.

From its humble beginning in Calabar in 1846, the Church has been firmly established in Nigeria with congregations spread across the country. The Church has nine Regional Synods, over fifty Presbyteries and more than two thousand parishes, congregations, outreaches and mission fields spread across the entire country. It also has a Mission Presbytery covering the Republics of Benin and Togo. The Regional Synods are those of Akwa (covering Akwa Ibom State, with office in Uyo); Calabar (parts of Cross River State, with office in Calabar); East (parts of Abia State, with office in Ohafia); East Central (Enugu and Anambra States as well as parts of Ebonyi State, with office in Abakaliki); Mid East (parts of Ebonyi State with office in Afikpo); North (covering the Northern States of Nigeria, with office in Abuja); South Central (Rivers, Bayelsa and Imo States as well as parts of Abia State, with office in Aba); Upper Cross River (covering parts of Cross River State, with office in Ugep) and West (covering Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Edo and Delta States as well as the Mission Presbytery of Cotonou/Lome, with office in Yaba, Lagos).

The Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, like other Presbyterian Churches in the world, is ruled by Elders. These are classified into two – the Teaching Elders (ordained clergy) and the Ruling Elders. Both the Teaching and Ruling Elders come together to constitute the ‘courts’ of the Church through which they govern the Church. The Presbyterian Church of Nigerian has four courts – the Kirk Session, the Presbytery, the Synod and the General Assembly.

The government of the Church is Presbyterian – a system of governance in which the Elders rule, based on democratic principles. The government is exercised through a court system, as stated above.

The courts are the following:
1. Session: The Session consists of a Minister (or Ministers) and Ruling Elders who exercise rule under Jesus Christ in all matters affecting the spiritual well-being and order of the Congregation/s.

2. Presbytery: The Presbytery is made up of the Ministers and the representative Elders of the Sessions that constitute the Court as determined by the Synod. It exercises oversight and rule over the Ministers (including those on probation) and Students for the ministry as well as the Sessions and Congregations within its bound.

3. Synod: This Court consists of all the members of Presbyteries together with such representatives of local interests of the Church as may be authorized by the General Assembly. The Synod acts as an Appeal Court over the Presbyteries within its bounds and also considers matters of local concern to the Church.

4. General Assembly: The General Assembly is the Supreme Court of the Church. In all matters that concern the Church, its decisions are final. It exercises oversight and rule over the Sessions, Presbyteries, and Synods as well as the Church as a whole.

CHURCH ACTIVITIES: Since its advent in Nigeria, the Presbyterian Church has been vigorously involved in evangelism and social action in fulfillment of its divine obligations.

a. Evangelism: From its humble beginning in Calabar in 1846, the Church has been firmly established in Nigeria with parishes spread across the country. Congregations and parishes have been established in all parts of the country and a Mission Presbytery set up even as far as Cotonou and Lome covering the Republics of Benin and Togo respectively.

b. Education: Over the years, the Church has been involved in the education sub-sector through the numerous primary and post-primary schools established and run by Parishes, Presbyteries and Synods. It is interesting to note that in 1895, the Church founded one of the foremost educational institutions in Nigeria – the Hope Waddell Training Institution, Calabar. The institution has since been in the fore-front of producing the educated elites of this country, the number of which includes such names as the first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the first Governor of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. Akanu Ibiam. In furtherance of its commitment to the education sub-sector, the Church has established a degree-awarding institution – the Presbyterian Health Institute, Uburu, Ebonyi State. The Institute, which is affiliated to the Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, in the award of degrees in Nursing and related disciplines, is an arm of the Pres byterian Joint Hospital (PJH), Uburu. In addition to the Institute, the Church runs two degree-awarding Theological Institutions – Hugh Goldie Lay Theological Training Institution, Arochukwu, Abia State (founded in 1918) and the Essien Ukpabio Presbyterian Theological College, Itu, Akwa Ibom State (1994).

c. Health/Agriculture: Health programmes are veritable tools inthe hand of the Church for salvation. The Church, under a deliberate policy to care for the body as well as the soul, has over the years established and run hospitals and health centres in parts of the country. These include

  • Mary Slessor Joint Hospital (MSJH), Itu, Akwa Ibom State,
  • Eja Memorial Joint Hospital (EMJH), Itigidi, Cross River State.
  • Presbyterian Tuberculosis and Leprosy Hospital (PTBLHM), Mbembe, Obubra, Cross River State.
  • Urban Health Services (UHS), Aba, Abia State.
  • Presbyterian Mission Hospital (PMH), Ivenger, Benue State.
  • Rural Improvement Mission (RIM), Ikwo, Ebonyi State.
  • The Presbyterian Joint Hospital (PJH), Uburu, Ebonyi State.
  • Ekoli Presbyterian Joint Hospital (EPJH), Ekoli-Edda, Ebonyi State.

The involvement of the Church in the agricultural sub-sector is also worthy of note. Of particular mention in this area are the Itu and Yakurr Farms.

d. Social Action (PCS & D): The Church believes that the vehicle through which it reaches the people with the gospel of Jesus Christ includes social action – a programme of assisting the needy in the larger society anchored on the philosophy that physical and material well -being prepares the ground for spiritual development. It has therefore set up the Presbyterian Community Services and Development Department (PCS & D), for the purpose of assisting the needy in the larger society. The PCS & D was established to articulate the social-action policy and programmes of the Church in the areas of HIV-AIDS prevention and care, emergency relief, women empowerment, justice and peace, destitute rehabilitation, agriculture and adult literacy. It is a fully established Faith-Based Organisation, funded by the PCN, overseas Partner-Churches and international donor agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The work of the department is carried out under seven distinct sub-departments namely:

i) PRESBY AIDS: As the name implies, PRESBY AIDS was set up to educate Church members as well as the public on HIV-AIDS prevention and care and other related services.

ii) Emergency Relief: To cater to the immediate needs of those who have been displaced by any form of disaster by assisting them with food, clothing, shelter and cash as the case may be.

iii) Women Empowerment: To empower women to participate fully in politics, economic and other human activities at all levels through education and mass mobilisation.

iv) Justice & Peace: To engage in Conflict Resolution and facilitative mediation among warring communities or individuals in conflict, and, to fight human rights abuses. eg obnoxious customs and practices against widows.

v) Destitute Rehabilitation: To rehabilitate destitutes through training in various skills and providing micro-credit to establish cottage industries of their own, and, to facilitate scholarship for children of destitutes who are able to go to school.

vi) Hunger And Food: To train people in modern agricultural techniques and provide farming input such as crops, fertiliser and improved seed and animal varieties.

vii) Adult Literacy: Adults who have no formal education are provided with access to acquiring knowledge and formal education.

The Presbyterian Church is a first generation Church with a wide circle of ecumenical relations. It is a member of the World Council of Churches, Reformed Ecumenical Council, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Christian Council of Nigeria, Reformed Ecumenical Council of Nigeria and the Christian Association of Nigeria, among others.

The Church encourages its members and indeed Christians to be engaged in partisan politics but it does preach the practice of “politics of righteousness.” It is only when Christians practise politics according to the teachings of Jesus Christ that we can establish a godly society.