NIFES did not begin with us or with our immediate generation. We have a ‘Goodly Heritage.’
As a fellowship that has witnessed God’s gracious dealings over the years, it is essential for us to be aware of our roots and heritage. In the words of the Psalmist, we have a ‘goodly heritage’ Ps. 16:6. Certainly, NIFES did not begin with us or with our immediate generation. There is a history.
History: Landmark Events
Leaders of 10 National Movements from Europe, Asia, North America and South Pacific, met at Harvard University to form the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students – IFES. The IFES did not come into being through the exploit of a single God-gifted hero or a single National Movement, which others followed. Rather, it was brought into being by the shared vision, faith, and fellowship of the Student movements of ten countries. Apart from being a fellowship, a global network of friendships and a pool of resources that would help to strengthen all the individual movements, the major vision was to help create strong, self-supporting, autonomous, evangelistic student ministries in all the countries of the world where none existed.
The beginning of evangelical student witness in Africa and Nigeria in particular, was influenced by the vision, initiative and commitment of some British graduates from the Inter- Varsity Fellowship of U.K. One of the key persons to note, is Mr. Freddy Crittenden, - a former Oxford Student President who had been in Africa as a Missionary. It was Freddy’s vision as IVF Graduate Secretary both to work with African Students in Britain and to mobilize British graduates to teach in Africa.
Another key personality was Mr. Tony Wilmot, an Oxford IVF graduate who worked in Ghana and Nigeria as a businessman. Though a businessman, Mr. Wilmot had a burning vision of seeing the establishment and growth of students’ movements in English-speaking Africa. Hence, in 1955, he travelled extensively and visited every English-speaking University in Africa where no evangelical group existed. He was delighted by the student’s reception of the gospel and their desire for effective link with similar students elsewhere. He began annual camps through which a number of African Students Leaders emerged and caught a vision for starting students’ groups. Although he was never an IFES Staff, he became one of the most widely used evangelist in the African Universities, arranging his work so that he could conduct missions in both East and West Africa.
Based on the expressed desire for effective link by students with similar vision elsewhere, established during Mr. Tony Wilmot’s visit, the Pan-African Fellowship of Evangelical Students (PAFES) came into being in 1958 with an interim committee set up to oversee its activities. The first group of affiliates were the Universities of Kumasi and Legon in Ghana: Nairobi in Kenya: followed by Monrovia (Liberia), Fourah Bay (Sierra-Leone), Harare (then Salisbury) in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and Ibadan (Nigeria) PAFES came into being in 1958 with a vision to encourage National movements in all the countries involved with her.
The IFES appointed Dr. Alonzo Fairbanks, an Afro-American as its first travelling Secretary for PAFES. He was for some time, based in Ibadan but traveled across Africa. John Holmes, who had been one of the pioneering lecturers in Ghana, joined him in 1962. Mr. Tony Wilmot remained in active involvement as an ‘Associate’.
The first West African PAFES Conference took place in Winneba, Ghana, involving delegates from the University of Ibadan, College of Arts and Science at Zaria and Lagos. Prof. Adesogan, pioneer Chairman of the NIFES Governing Council, was one of the delegates from Nigeria to the conference. There were also major University Missions conducted by John Stott with the groups in Fourah Bay, Legon, Ibadan Salisbury and Nairobi.
The first elected committee took over the affairs of PAFES. Daniel Jonah a lecturer from Sierra-Leone, became the first African Chairman. Evangelical Christian Union of the University Ife (now O. A. U.), was admitted into PAFES this year.
David Gitari of Kenya was appointed first black African full-time General Secretary of PAFES. Alongside him, Gottfried Osei-Mensah was appointed PAFES Travelling Secretary for West Africa. The first PAFES conference for West Africa held in Nigeria between 8-12 September at Ijabcol Training College, Shagamu. There were delegates from Sierra-Leone, Ghana, Senegal, Chad, Congo, Kinshasa (now Zaire) and Nigeria. Nigeria was represented by delegates from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaira, University of Ife, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Lagos and University of Ibadan. During the 1966 West African PAFES Conference, the need for National Movements was mentioned. That later gave birth to GHAFES in 1966 and NIFES in 1968.
The first Nigerian PAFES Conference was held at Ilesha from 31st August – 4th September 1967. During the Conference, at a meeting of representatives of groups present, the PAFES (West African) travelling Secretary Rev. Gottfried Osei-Mensah challenged all present to consider the possibilities of forming a Nigerian National Movement since GHAFES had been formed. The representatives, on behalf of the groups present, accepted the challenge and recommended the setting up of a constitution drafting committee. The Committee was for logistic reasons, made up of Ibadan-based members with Mr. (now late Prof.) Ebong Mbipom as Chairman and Mr. (now Rev Dr.) Kunle Obadina as Secretary. At the end of the year, it produced the first version of the NIFES Constitution and also planned the first National Conference.
On 31 August 1968, members from eleven (11) evangelical groups in post-secondary institutions in Nigeria met at Bishop Smith Memorial College, Ilorin, Kwara State and decided, under God, to pass the draft Constitution and to make themselves available for God’s use in expanding His work among Nigerian post-secondary students under a national movement known as the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES). A five-man National Executive Committee was set up with Mr. (now Prof.) Adedayo Ejiwumi as Chairman, Mr. (now Ven.) Sam Igein Isemede (then IVCU General Secretary) as Secretary, Mr. (now Prof.) Sam Olofin (IVCU) as Prayer Secretary, Titi Alao (as Treasurer) and Mr. Femi Owoeye as member.
From that small beginning in 1968 till date, NIFES has been able to mobilize over 30,000 students’ membership yearly in 409 Universities and Colleges all over Nigeria through Bible Studies, Prayer Meetings, Biblical Discipleship and Leadership Training.
NB: A detailed documentation of the history of the fellowship up until early ‘90s is contained in the book titled God’s Response to Nigeria – The Story of NIFES by Mr. S. E. Ifere.