History of Christianity in Nigeria: Chapter 8

Urhobo Historical Society
History of Christianity In Nigeria

© Samuel U. Erivwo, 1979
Reproduced in Urhobo Waado By Permission of Professor Samuel Erivwo

  This chapter is captioned as ‘Toward Maturity’. That is because full scale maturity for the Church, which is basically theological, is still a thing of the future.[1] We have used the word ‘maturity’ here to signify that at least a beginning has been made even if it is not at the most desirable or vital point. It is therefore that area where growth towards maturity was most evident, namely personnel, which will claim more of our attention in this chapter. Admittedly this is not an adequate definition of maturity or indigenisation; but it is a definition which can apply to that area, that is, personnel where any form of growth toward maturity was discernible.

When Agori Iwe returned from Oyo in 1928, he wrote an Urhobo primer containing the words: Mo re kpo, wo nyori?Wo kpo re? Yarhe.[2] This primer, called Mo re kpo, superseded an earlier one by Thomas Emedo. Whether consciously or not Agori Iwe was calling on his countrymen to rise to the situation with which they were confronted. For long they have been led by intermittent missionaries from overseas, Sierra Leone, or Yorubaland. Now the people were themselves to build up the church earlier brought to them. To this end Urhobo Districts of the C.M.S. were separated from the Yoruba Mission and joined to the Niger Mission, in the belief that this was nearer home. Similarly, converts from Uhowokori, one of the earliest Christian centres, wrote to the Warri District Church Council (D.C.C.) meeting at Ogunu and asked to be separated from Kwale District[3] since they were neither Kwale nor understood the Kwale language. This was perhaps an unconscious obedience to the call: Mo re kpo.

This need of home coming demanded an improvement on the first prayer book with thirty-three hymns, translated by Ofodidun and S. C. Phillips.[4] A new prayer book by Agori Iwe, in which the earlier prayers were radically revised and stripped of Yorubasim, soon appeared. A number of the old hymns were re-written, and new ones translated. The result was a prayer book with seventy-four hymns published in 1939. Mo re kpo, wo nyori? Wo kpo re? Yarhe. By implication, the youth were also being summoned to the Ministry, to make the church their own. Thus, if there was an attempt at consolidation of C.M.S. from 1914-1935, the period 1935-61 witnessed some growth toward maturity. It is an era characterised by a rise of an elite, a class made up of trained catechists and clergy as well as of trained school teachers. True, missionary activities still continued till the fifties. But these activities were on the decline. By 1961, (a year after Nigeria’s attainment of independence) the missionaries in the area may have refused that the Urhobo and Isoko could manage the churches themselves, but they must have been conscious that their continuing as leaders, and not simply as co-workers, could not then go any longer unchallenged. It has been shown that the definition of maturity in terms only of indigenous workers or clergy is inadequate, but that personnel was the clearest evidence of growth towards any form of maturity; that even the translations of prayers and songs and the Gospels were not very satisfactorily done, let alone composition of original prayers and songs which should have been preferred. Imported hymnody, liturgies, and theologies continued to plague the church for a long time to come, as if the Supreme and Universal God could not be praised with songs and music that are truly Urhobo, or addressed in prayers which well up from the people’s own hearts; as if to use the vehicle of idioms and proverbs which is indigenous in teaching them about God was a veritable profanation.

That the present unhappy state resulted from accident rather than design, no one denies. Those who brought Christianity were not Urhobo; they used their native idioms and expressions. And some of them like Bishop Johnson were accused of insisting that candidates for baptism must learn the Catechism in Yoruba.[5] But that the unhappy state should persist, that Oghene should continue to be viewed only through the eye of the missionary and whathe says understood only through his mind is what was deplorable. The persistence of the use of words like Creed and Onigbágbo[6] at worship in Urhobo rather than Esegbuyata, which is what the ordinary person understands, is to be decried. That this state persisted till the sixties, it seems to me, is accounted for by the kind of people who constituted the clergy class. It is thus necessary and instructive to consider here the general staffing situation in the C.M.S. from 1934 to 61, and then to examine also the selection and training of such personnel.

The Staffing Situation

By 1934 there were no more than eight trained men in Urhobo and Isoko in the C.M.S.Church, and none in the other denominations. In Urhobo, Agori Iwe was the only trained Catechist, while Ejaife and Urhiafe were trained teachers from QyQ. In Isoko, Ifode, Apena, Ockya, and Efeturi, were ally by 1934 junior catechists from Awka, while Owode was the only trained teacher from the same college. As yet thee was no single indigenous clergy. The number of trained men was, however, to rise considerably between 1935 and 1961, a vindication of Thomas’’ earlier policy. In the Urhobo section, the rise was consequent upon the change over from the Yoruba Mission to the Niger, which meant also that Awka instead of Oyo became the training centre. Of the persons trained during the period, many remained as teachers, a few as catechists, and fewer still were those later sent for ordination courses. Those sent for ordination courses include Nabofa, ordained at Abba in 1945; Emoefe, ordained in 1951; and Arawore, ordained in 1957. The others who did not go beyond the catechist stage were D. Egbebruke, I. Efedjama, and Atikpe (ordained in 1975 or 76). Whilst the Awka-trained headmasters, but far more in number, included J. Oghenekaro, D. Eferekaya, J. Adamadide, D. Ohwovoriole, R. Ogbo, and M. Forae. Of these teachers, Eferekaya and Forae also became ordained, but after 1961. One S. Egube was at this stage the only Urhobo educated at D.M.G.S., and later at the University College, Ibadan.

In Isoko those who were trained and ordained before 1961 were Apena, Efeturi, and Okerri in the C.M.S., and Ifode in the African Church. The Awka trained catechists included Ovuworie, Amayo, Amagada, and Ockya who was, much later after 1961, ordained in Ghana as a Rev. Father of the Anglican Church. The trained teachers from Awka in Isoko who were again far more than catechists, included Owode, Obukata, Okoro, and A. W. Bovi. Bovi went through D.M.G.S., and later on became the first IsokoUniversity graduate. He too was later ordained in 1968.

All these persons in some ways followed the footsteps of Agori Iwe, who, as has been shown, was trained as Catechist at QyQ from 1924-27. Kidd in his last report of 1931 expressed the desire that Agori Iwe’s ordination was not to be unduly delayed. He attended Awka for an ordination course in 1938, following which he was ordained a deacon. He served for a year in the then Eastern Nigeria, and returned in 1940[7] to Ughelli. After his priesting in 1940, he took charge of Urhobo C.M.S. Churches as Superintendent in 1942 and of C.M.S. Schools as Manager, working under Archdeacon Burne who was based at Warri.[8] He served till 1948 and went to England for further theological training in Birkinghead, Liverpool. During those eight years the Urhobo enjoyed his services as a good shepherd, and loved him in return for his love and service.[9]

After his return from England in 1950, he was posted to Enugu until 1951 December, when he came back to Urhobo. Upon Archdeacon Burne’s departure in 1953, Agori Iwe succeeded him as Archdeacon in 1954. He soon embarked on an elaborate programme to revive the churches under him. Lay Readers, members of the Women’s Guild, and other prominent Christians were required to submit their portraits for ‘filming’. Those submitted were sent by Agoir Iwe to England where they were made into stills (i.e, films in which there is no movement at all). In 1955, during the Passion Week a convention of C.M.S. Churches was held at Ovwodaware. The Christians under him assembled for activities of varied nature: competition in singing, dancing, and reading of Ovhokpokpo.[10] In addition to this, Agori Iwe gave a series of lectures on the cross and the Christian Faith.

The Convention culminated with two related and significant displays: the film in which a panaroma of Urhobo leading Anglican Christians was shown, and a long procession on Easter Morning (about 4. A.m.)of the Christians, dressed in glistening white with burning candle sticks in their hands, while from their lips resounded songs of victory which aroused sleepers in Ughelli township from sleep. The procession meandered through the streets of the town before it returned to Ovwodaware where a service of Holy Communion brought the Convention to a final end. Since then, many of the Christians have yearned in vain for such another opportunity especially as they see the Jehovah’s Witnesses carrying out a similar practice which the Anglicans believe was copied from them. The grand and memorable convention of 1955, organised exclusively by Agori Iwe and indigenous personnel under him, was an indicator of some growth towards maturity. Since then and until his consecration in 1961, trained teachers and the few indigenous pastors there were, have acknowledged his headship, and taken over the baton from the Missionaries. But the selection and training of this personnel need to be examined.

Selection and Training of Workers

All the person trained as teachers, catechists, and priests up till 1961 were selected and occasionally sponsored by the Church. Those who went through Secondary Schools and Teacher Training Colleges had to sit and pass the set entrance examinations; but the recommendation of a candidate’s local church committee carried very heavy weight at the interview. Academic achievement was not, therefore, the sole deciding factor. The candidate’s church services, devotion to duty and obedience to local church leaders, which was capable of degenerating into eye-service, and in a number of cases did degenerate into that, determined who was selected. In this situation, it was not uncommon that only the docile and servile were selected for training, while the bright but promising persons of independent spirits were left out for obvious reasons. What was more, after the selection, many local churches did little or nothing to provide candidates chosen from their community with funds. The result was that some of those trained at Awka, especially as they learnt from their Igbo counterparts of what financial assistance was given to them, became disappointed with their own churches.

Another aspect of the training programme deserves attention. This is the academic quality of the few who were meant exclusively for the Church’s ministry. In the first case, it appeared that Aitken’s kind of education persisted even to theological colleges. It may be noted that even after the modification of Aitken’s policy with the advent of Welch, the education received in the primary schools was still of a very low standard. The majority of the schools built were what were called Third Grade Schools, where the pupils read only to standard two, while pupils in Second Grade Schools (which were fewer) read up to standard four. Having received this low education, the brightest proceeded to train as teachers, while the mediocres gravitated to the Church’s ministry. It is, for instance, alleged that at Awka, it was generally those who could not make their Teachers’ Grade Two examinations who changed courses and trained as catechists and pastors. And yet the C.M.S. was supposed to be training leaders who were to take over the running of the church after the missionaries’ departure!

This situation clearly jeopardised the future of the Anglican Church in urhoboland, since the Church’s ministry appeared to be a job to be taken up when all other avenues had failed. This might well account for the slow growth towards maturity and for the clear lack of proper and full indigenisation later. Not infrequently, nor surprisingly, there were frictions between pastors and the Awka trained headmasters who came to the field to find that they had to be under the managership of those who were academically their inferior at college, since it was the pastors who became managers of church schools. This situation also created another predicament, for headmasters after training and appointment were tempted to change their courses without really being called. Thus were created some of the problems with which the Church in Urhoboland still now has to grapple. For some of those who claimed to have been called into the ministry do not appear to justify this sacred calling later in life.

A sacred ministry made up of the people whose motives for joining are mixed, and generally other than spiritual-motives of prestige and of dominating rather than of humility and service, motives of gaining personal influence and a lofty social status rather than of demonstrating self-sacrifice and self-denial in the process of shepherding God’s flock, motives even of economic aggrandisement rather than of eagerness to be rich in the spirit-this could not contribute towards the spiritual growth of the church and the attainment of mature manhood in Christ. And yet the stories of calls generally heard give the impression that those who profess themselves to be called were sincere. The case of the call of Apena which he personally narrated to the writer may here be examined.

The Call of Apena

As a boy Apena served in the 1914-18 World War. He returned to Ilpidiama, his home town is Isoko, in 1920. At home he identified himself with own people as a fisherman. It was while in pursuit of this trade that he claimed to have received his call. He had set out from Ikpidiama for Erohwa to purchase fish which he would take to the market at Port-Harcourt. Since Patani lay on his route from Ikpidiama to Erohwa, Abraham Obaro, the headman of Ikpidiama church, entrusted the church accounts to him to render to Aitken at Patani. He did this and was about to depart when, according to him, Aitken called him and charged him to serve the mission. Apena said that he did not at once yield wholeheartedly since he feared that that might disrupt his occupation. But back to Ikpidiama, he intimated Obaro, probably in the presence of others, of what transpired between him and Aitken. Apena said he was returning from Obaro’s house at dusk when he was called again, this time by a voice which he heard from behind: “Apena, Apena.” He stopped, turned round, and saw the man calling to be one Josiah A. Akporerha, who had escaped from persecution at Irri in 1916, and settled at Ikpidiama. As reported by Apena, the conversation which ensued between the two ran thus:

Josiah:Who was Simon Peter?

Apena:He was a fisherman whom Jesus 

called and made a fisher of men.

Josiah:What was Peter’s reaction?

Apena:His response and surrender were immediate and


Josiah:If Peter responded and surrendered immediately and

unconditionally, know that the missionary who called

you was being used by Christ, and unless you respond

as Peter did, your knowledge of scriptures is of no


According to Apena, this was enough to shatter his original plan. He could no longer do what he thought: return from Port-Harcourt before responding to the call. He regarded that incident as his real call to the Ministry, that turning as his actual conversion. Later he joined the Evangelists who were being trained by Latham (a co-missionary with Aitken) at Aviara, and with them, after the completion of their training, spread the Gospel in Isoko. Apena himself later attended ordination course at Awaka and was ordained in December 1939.[11] The genuineness of Apena’s call may be indubitable, but the general question which we are called upon to raise is “Had he, or any other person in a similar situation, found a better employment opportunity, say in the Government, which from all observable evidence, would have advanced his economic status and afforded him more material satisfaction, would he have preferred the course he took?”In other words, is the genuineness or otherwise of the call not dictated and determined by a man’s state of mind, his educational cravings and circumstances which may be basically economic? Has the one called, Apena in this case, not an eye on the post of the Missionary who called him, and whose status, socially and economically, he believes is higher than that of an ordinary fisherman, and has he not the hope that he too could possibly attain to that or a similar status? Had he another avenue through which to climb the ladder of economic well-being, would he not have taken it? Here we can only ask questions and not provide answers, since the whole issue of vocation is essentially subjective. And a number of those called might well have been initially genuinely called, even if later they betrayed their sacred vocation. For, a majority of those allegedly called to the Ministry have not always, at least in the eyes of the common but discerning man, justified their sacred calling. And yet the rate of growth of Christianity towards maturity in Urhoboland has inevitably to be determined by them.

It has been suggested that the academic quality of the indigenous church personnel was an index of the type of education-primary and post primary-that was received. It will, therefore, be necessary to examine what facilities existed for acquiring pre-theological and teacher training education, and whether such facilities were improved upon and increased between 1935 and 1961 in a way to contribute to the total development and growth of Christianity towards maturity.

Schools and Other Institutions

OkpariSchool, where Urhiafe was posted in 1933 as headmaster on his return from QyQ, was about the only central school[12] in the interior of Urhobo. The other central school at Uwheru was built in 1931 while Uwheru was still regarded as part of, and so administered with, Isoko. These two schools were fed by Grade II schools which went up to standard four, while the latter was fed by Grade III Schools which went only up to standard Two. But even these other schools (Grades II and III) were few. The few which existed in Urhobo interior were at places like Otovwodo, Okwagbe, Ewu, Egini, etc., and were built or re-organised between 1931 and 1938 through the efforts of missionaries like Welch, Carr, and Garbut under whom Agori Iwe worked. In Isoko the growth of primary schools appeared to have been faster, as it was stepped up by the advent of Welch, who, as a pioneer educationist[13], worked for and with the clan heads, and had as many as twenty-six schools built. Of these, twenty-five were, according to Welch, [14] built by the clan heads, using clan labour. The most highly organised of these primary schools was the Isoko Central School at Oleh, where pupils from Grade II Schools generally completed their courses.

But the rate of growth of C.M.S. primary schools in Isoko and Urhobo was generally slow. This affected the Churches since schools were organs of evangelisation. But the slow rate of growth, both of Churches and Schools, is perhaps accounted for by the 1939-45 War. Not only were missionaries withdrawn from the field, but the poor economic conditions of the war time meant also that schools and churches could not be built and run. If the schools were few, it meant also that only a small percentage of the population received primary school education. And yet, of this small percentage, many who were brilliant found employment, after leaving school, with the Government or in Mercantile houses at Warri and Sapele. Some others took teaching jobs, while a majority of the drop-outs who evinced deep religious devotion became church teachers, and later catechists, while very few became pastors.

This posed a serious handicap to the Church. The Church was left for people of low and weak calibre to manage, with the result that the process of indigenisation and growth towards maturity was gravely retarded, particularly since the church still functioned as an out-reach of the Church of England, the emphasis on local personnel notwithstanding. This personnel, incapable of taking initiative, concerned itself with echoing “His Master’s Voice”, rather than indigenising the Church by imbibing and making use of what is noble and wholesome in the people’s culture, and could enrich the spiritual worship of the Church.

The menacing question of sex morality already noted in the twenties at Sapele recurred in the hinterland for a long time. Of the bright pupils from primary schools who later trained at Awka as teachers, the names of a majority were to be expunged from the list of teachers after working for a while in the field, on account of alleged immorality. Generally, those so treated usually found better paid jobs in the Government sector. The high-handedness of the authority on such persons seldom redounded to the advantage of Christianity in Urhoboland; for it weakened the numerical strength of the indigenous personnel. In view of the scarcity of schools and of the non-availability of workers, a more lenient and sympathetic treatment of alleged offenders would have been more profitable to the Church.

After the Second World War, particularly in the nineteen fifties, primary schools increased in number. When in 1955 Universally Free primary schools were introduced[15] together with secondary Modern Schools, the C.M.S. built Modern Schools at various towns in Urhobo and Isoko.[16] As primary schools, and then secondary Modern Schools increased, trained school teachers were sorely needed. Awka, though much nearer to the people than Oyo, was nonetheless still too far away to ensure adequate and constant supply of trained teachers.

Negotiations for land on which to build a Teacher Training Centre at Oleh started as early as September 1937. This cause was championed by Carr and Garbutt, the white missionaries then in the district. But in consequence of excessive red tape at the D.O.’s office in Ughelli, work could not begin as early as was hoped. The government authority from Ughelli appeared to be accusing the C.M.S. authorities, represented by Carr and Garbutt, of deceiving the Oleh people and acquiring land from them at a cheaper rate and for a longer period than was necessary or stipulated in ‘Native Land Acquisition Ordinance’ which the D.O. directed Carr to read. Furthermore, the D.O. not only appeared to have influenced the Oleh elders to repudiate an earlier ‘agreement’ with the Trustees of the Diocese on the Niger but also apparently threatened a court action.[17] Several letters, some of them scathing, were exchanged between Carr and the D.O. at Ughelli, but happily after protracted negotiations the land was acquired at the close of 1938. Work started in earnest in 1939 while the course itself opened formally the following year. It was not, however, until 1956, after the introduction of Secondary Modern Schools, that a Higher Elementary Course was added and the College, designated St. Michael’s, was up-graded. Thereafter, it became the centre for turning out C.M.S. trained teachers for the area. Only those who intended to train strictly as catechists or who were determined to be in the ordained ministry went to Awka and Umahia respectively for their training.[18]

These developments, admittedly slow, were nevertheless indicative of the growth of Christianity towards maturity in Urhoboland, since the developments were consequent upon the introduction of Christianity in the area. The general improvement witnessed in Isoko district in the late thirties and early forties as a consequence of C.M.S. activities there drew some comments from Bishop Lasbery[19] who reported that if those in Europe were to see what was happening in Isoko, a one time backward district, they would rejoice and thank God. He was thinking particularly of the Teacher Training centre, a bookshop, a school farm, and a maternity and Welfare Centre that were already built.[20]

With the introduction of the Teacher Training College, the regular and almost only occupation for a majority of the C.M.S. youth became teaching except that, as has been indicated, those dismissed from the Mission because of alleged immorality, gained other, generally better-paid, jobs with the Government in the towns. That a majority of the emerging elite started with teaching is understandable, since no Anglican Secondary Schools existed till 1957 to provide a broad academic training so that the youth could be easily employed in offices.

In 1957, owing to the tireless efforts of Marioghae, Bovi, Vese, Okoro and others, assisted by two white missionaries-Bernard and Macbay- the still resident at Oleh-a Grammar School was opened at Emevor, and aptly named after James Welch. It was initially planned by the entire Isoko Community, which was prepared to leave its management with the Anglican Mission. But as a result of rivalry and opposition from the Roman Catholics the arrangement collapsed. This was not without its blessing since another secondary school, Notre Dame College, was opened by the Roman Catholics at Ozoro.

The opening of James Welch Grammar School meant that the Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, ceased to be the centre for the production of Anglican Secondary School leavers for the Urhobo and Isoko people. In 1961, James Welch Grammar School turned out its first batch of students (30 in number) with a very good pass rate of eighty-seven percent. In 1960, an Anglican Girls’ Grammar School was also opened at Ughelli. The building of these institutions was thus another indicator of the coming of age of Christianity in Urhoboland.

Maternity Centres

A maternity home and training centre for girls, affiliated to Iyi Enu Hospital, had been opened since July 1931 at Bethel. The Welfare Training Centre was, however, moved from Bethel in 1936 and re-opened at Igbudu, Warri in 1938, a blessing those around Warri did not have while they continued under the Yoruba Mission. This Welfare and Training Centre with a nurses’ home was not named after Bishop Johnson, as might have been expected, but after Tugwell.[21] In 1934 another maternity centre was also opened, this time at Otovwodo Ughelli, through the initiative of the local Christians, as a demonstration of their preparedness to manage the Church themselves since they now received advice, encouragement, and close supervision from the Niger Diocese. When the headquarters moved to Ovwodawaren in 1947, the maternity centre was also transferred there.


C.M.S. Bookshops were opened at Oleh in 1926, at Warri in the early forties, and at Ughelli in 1954. But the Ughelli Bookshop was in the same year lamentably consumed by flames which burnt to ashes the first building on Government College compound which was used for the Bookshop. Another one was opened a year later, but not nearly as grand as the first. It folded up before 1961. Each of these amenities-Primary Schools, Teachers Training Colleges, Grammar Schools, Bookshops and Maternity Homes-was an indicator of the coming of age, if not of a thorough-going indigenisation, of Christianity in Urhoboland. At this point, however, the general effect of Maternity Homes (which was considerably wide spread) and of Bookshops and Schools on the people may briefly be noted.

At first it was mainly church members who attended the Maternity Centres. The women missionaries, like Jewith, who worked in them were generally very tender-hearted and motherly. Furthermore, the fees were moderate and could be afforded by the average Urhobo or Isoko. As the news of the kind treatment at these centres spread non-christian expectant mothers also attended and the same benevolence shown to church women was extended to them. The centres consequently became organs of evangelism, and also a means of preventing the killing of twins. A number of women who had previously not embraced Christianity did so.

Another by-product of this amenity (as of hospitals later) in some ways deplorable, was the neglect of traditional medicine. It has been shown that Edjo like Eloho was extirpated in places like Okwagbe, in the conviction that they were not longer necessary and helpful. But some of the traditional medicines neglected in this manner are now for ever lost to posterity; and yet in modern times the need to take traditional medicines more seriously than before, to research into herbs, refine methods of application, and use them to treat diseases, some of which are still incurable in the West, is becoming increasingly realised.

The third effect of maternity homes in the Urhobo Society is the alleged tendency to lower the sex morality of the women folk. In the typical Urhobo context, the notion is strong that no pregnant woman can deliver safely until she has confessed to her husband and his Erivwin all the offences, particularly those of adultery, which she committed. With the phenomenon of Maternity homes, some women are now said to care very little whether or not they are chaste, since once in a maternity home they would be safely delivered without the necessary humiliation of confession. Not surprisingly, therefore, there were men who debarred their wives from Maternity homes if they believed that the women had confessions to make.

Unlike maternity homes, the effect of bookshops on the community was sectional. The sections directly affected were church men, school children and teachers. For the bookshops stocked stationery, hymn books in English and Vernacular, Bibles, and the Gospels in translations, primary school books like Oxford Readers and simple story books. Had the educated few possessed enough initiative and drive, simple story books could, at this stage, have been written to preserve in English or Vernacular, Urhobo-Isoko folk lore and ballads. But only very little has happened in this direction.[22] By stocking story books (even if from other parts of Africa) and items like London GCE syllabuses, bookshops did provide some stimulus to many of the youth, particularly school teachers, to work harder and become academically better qualified.

These adjuncts of missionary and church activities were a consequence of the emphasis on education which thus gave rise to an elite class. The emergence of this class meant that churches became better and more formally organised. Students on holidays infused new life to their village churches by teaching new tunes to songs and by reading and translating Old Testament portions for first lessons at church services. In Isoko in the fifties, but also in Urhobo in the sixties, singing competition became a regular feature of the churches. Choirs of various churches trained their choristers and competed at Group, District, and Archdeaconry levels.

But the liturgy of the Church became more or less a matter of mere form. Prayers were read mechanically by the conductor, and at the end of the congregation chorused “Ise”.The meaning of the prayers consequently seldom passed through the minds of the readers or of the rest of the congregation.[23]

Furthermore, it is one of the ironies of history that some of the youth educated to support the church later repudiated the very institution they were to uphold. There were other attendant disadvantages from this class from the point of view of the older generation, who found unpalatable the exegesis of biblical passages by the educated youths and their somewhat exaggerated dependence on reason rather than on faith. Some of the educated ones themselves came to view church services more as occasions for social gatherings than for spiritual worship. The result was that professed beliefs failed to tally with actual behaviour. Truthfulness and rectitude, hall marks of early Christianity in Urhoboland, receded into the background. Professing Christians were no longer quixotic and strict with regard to morality, but rather took the line of lease resistance, whether or not it meant a repudiation of the ideals for which the early Christians stood. Men who claimed to have been educated seized the advantage of “not being superstitious”to commit criminal and sacrilegious acts such as removing unbelievers gods by the road-side, goods which in times past would have remained intact by mere imposition of them of iyori.[24]

It is perhaps as a result of this new situation that Isikpen’s mysterious and enigmatic occurred. Iskpen of Evwreni, Igben of Ekuigbo, and Ikpen of Ekrokepe, have names which sound remarkably similar. But they even have more in common than their names suggest. They were all converts of the first generation, and were headmen of their various churches, which they either introduced or with the foundation of which they were vitally connected. From the nature of things, they all should have died the same year 1951. Igven and Ikpen did die that year, but Isiplen did not.

He had been bed ridden for long, sick to the point of death, indeed believed dead. Omonigho, Isikpen’s son-in-law. When he returned, Isikpen, it was said, had recovered. According to Omonigho, Isikpen helped him to lift the coffin into the house.[25] Isikpen told his own story somewhat as follows: We were three moving on a road, and I the eldest. The other two with whom I met at crossroads, were coming from other cities. We journeyed together, and I brought up the rear, being the eldest. We came to the end of the road, and saw a raised galley or balcony-like structure, at the gate of which stood a man (Jesus). He stretched forth the right hand, raised the first in the group and received him within. And I heard a shout of joy from beyond. He did the same to the second (of the group). But when it came to my turn he called me by name. “You are Isikpen” he said, “ I am sending you back to Urhobo. You are to go, visit all Urhobo churches, and narrate what you saw. You should warn those who now treat my words with levity. I give you two and a half days to do this.” After this opened my eyes, and was well.[26] Isikpen thus toured Urhobo C.M.S. churches to narrate what he was reported packed full of eager audience. The case of Isikpen might well be a warning to the Christians particularly the youth not to treat lightly the words they had been taught from the beginning, whether they had gained book knowledge or not. In the period immediately following Isikpen’s experience the Urhobo churches held combined and revival services at which heart-searching addresses were delivered. In addition to this, the practice of open air preaching was reactivated as a means of winning converts. To this end, the District purchased a band set with modern musical instruments and consequently involved the youth in the task of spreading the Gospel. John Tebite, Isaac Isodje, and Enoch Adeda, who were choirmasters, were the leading instructors in the use of these instruments. By these had experienced, and to deliver the message, which, he said, was committed to him. During his itineration, each of the churches he visited methods-of revival services and open air preaching-C.M.S. churches in Urhobo experienced a considerable reawakening abandoned. It was later from Isoko, where Adam;s own movement of a similar nature was gaining ground, that the practice of open air preaching once more spread, after 1961, to Urhobo where one A. Asaboro had been attempting in his own way to keep it going.

As has been demonstrated, the hinterland churches witnessed a considerable reawakening and growth towards maturity in the period 1935-61, especially in terms of personnel, and the diverse institutions that were built. The one patently static factor was liturgy. The perpetual rigidity of the liturgy in the Anglican churches as in the Roman Catholic continued to baffle men of discernment, even if it proved to be something of a marvel. For despite this rigidity, church membership increased; but this must have been due to other factors like open air preaching and the converts’ own personal circumstances than tot he appeal of the liturgy which the generality of the membership probably construed as a sacred and magical ritual which was therefore not to be rashly interfered with. Thus, whether church members found it meaningful or not, whether it spoke to their situation or not, the pattern of worship was punctiliously retained. The prayers were reverently recited. Even if in a Republican Nigeria the uniformed catechist prayed fervently and heartily for “our most gracious Sovereign Lord, King George” and besought God to “grant him in health and wealth long to live”. The monstrosity of this anachronism did not bother the village church members who were completely oblivious of the meaning and implications of a Republican Nigeria, or of the fact that King George died long ago.

The church’s rigid liturgy did not, however, appeal to, or bring in, new converts, as we have observed. Conversions happened generally either through the personal circumstances of the converted, or though lively and very often indigenous music which the evangelists and their entourage normally adopted at evangelistic campaigns. The foreign hymnody would then be, by and large ignored, and indigenous music which enabled the Christians to demonstrate their true African spirit, substituted. Also, during the singing competitions, the excellence of original composition to indigenous music came to light and was eulogised, even by the hierarchy of the church. And yet this hierarchy has either never seen the need, or has been incapable of taking the initiative, to include indigenous music in the Church’s liturgy. This could have been more easily done to advantage in the hinterland churches than in the churches at Warri and Sapele which we will now examine for evidence of growth towards maturity before 1961.

Warri and Sapele 1935-1961

St. Andrew’s, Warri, and St. Luke’s, Sapele have been the mother churches for the C.M.S. congregations of Urhobo interior from the beginning. After 1935, following the change over to the Niger Diocese, one result of which was availability of resident pastors at Ughelli, the role of St. Andrew’s as a mother church diminished, while that of St. Luke’s which continued with Yoruba Mission till the end of our period completely disappeared. To be sure Warri still grew in importance; but this was not in respect of Urhobo congregations alone. From a P.C.C. it became a D.C.C. area, and finally an Archdeaconry headquarters when Warri Archdeaconry was created and Burne made its first Archdeacon. His jurisdiction extended over the Urhobo-Itsekiri congregations at Warri, the congregations in the hinterland-Urhobo, Isoko, Western Ijo, Aboh, Asaba, and Kwale, (with the exception of Obiaroku which like Sapele went with the Yoruba Mission). This accounted for its diminishing role as a mother church for the Urhobo.

As we have seen the maternity and welfare centre at Bethel in Isoko was transplanted from there in 1936 and re-opened at Warri in 1938. A Girls’ Teacher Training Centre was also to be opened there which, like the welfare centre, answered the name Bishop Tugwell. Here female teachers were produced for the schools.

In so far as institutions have been taken as indicative of growth towards maturity this was the case with Warri where the kind of indigenisation that one expected in the hinterland could scarcely have happened owing to its cosmopolitan character.[27]

Church Building

There has been an attempt, as far back as the time of Thomas, to build a larger and more magnificent church house at Warri. After many years of contributing money, the foundation stone was laid on 21st March, 1939, but it was not completed until after twenty one years. Various vicars laboured tirelessly to see it completed: D.D.A. Coker, a retired clergy man from Sierra-Leone who served at Warri in 1950-52, and C.A. Echenim who was there in 1955. Coker itinerated all churches in Warri Archdeaconry, soliciting for building funds. He was quoted as reporting in September 1950 that “The amount collected for 3rd September (during the monthly rally) was £9: 17/~. We need more than this each month or the new church will take 30 years to build”.[28] Five years later, Echenim urged his members to wake up, if the building was not to take another 25 years. He urged his congregation not only to give of their money, but also of their time to pray fervently for the completion of the work. To this end he urged the members to organise themselves into prayer groups or partners and meet once a week “for the sole purpose of praying for this church building”.[29] Although mundane scientific investigation cannot ascertain the extent to which such prayer groups expedited the project, Tennyson’s oft-quotedwords, indicate that prayers are more efficacious than men will ever understand. The building was completed in 1960 and provided a fitting venue for the consecration of Agori Iwe on 30th November 1961-an event which was an outward manifestation of the coming of age of Anglican Christianity in Urhoboland.

St. Luke’s Sapele 1935-1961

St. Luke’s, with the outstations in the outskirts of Sapele, were the only churches which turned a deaf ear to the call: Mo re kpo. Sapele continued with Yoruba Mission till 1961. This is perhaps understandable because the congregation was from its inception Yoruba influenced. Akande who succeeded Kidd there and I. T. Palmer, the President of the Church from 1908 till his death in 1952, were Yoruba. If St. Luke’s would not come with the other churches of Urhobo to the Niger Diocese, it nevertheless had to surrender many of its outstations. Thus, during the first Sapele District Church Council (D.C.C.) meeting of 1939, Akande noted that some changes occurred; some stations which previously formed part of the Sapele District were handed over to the Niger Diocese.[30] Consequently, St. Luke’s had to act in accordance with “the suggestions by the C.M.S. at the 1936 E.C., held at Lagos, to the effect that Sapele District should endeavour to open up new Mission Stations along the Creeks to connect Gbekebo and Siloko in Ondo District Mission””[31]

Accordingly Ikomi was later re-employed as Catechist with a specific duty assigned to him; he was to attempt to effect the desired link. He made Koko his base from where he itinerated the outlying stations in an effort to connect that part of Sapele District with Ondo. Through him new stations, like Aja-Oki, were opened. A canoe was later provided for him and another for Akande himself, with which they toured the stations in the Creeks. Apart from evangelising the Creeks, St. Luke’s Church also made some efforts to evangelise the hinterland villages around Amukpe and Idjerhe stations. A pastor was sent to Idjerhe in 1949, but could not stay because of alleged hostility from the indigenes.

The Sapele District was visited by Bishops Akinyele and Vining on various occasions in their time. The District seemed to have been rated so high in the Yoruba Mission that during the 1942 centenary of the introduction of Christianity to Yorubaland out of the £1,000 budgeted for the celebrations, Sapele was expected to contribute £20, while Benin, its sister District, was to pay on £5. There must have been an exaggerated notion in Lagos of the buoyancy of Sapele District, for the C.C.C. insisted that they were not prepared to pay higher than Benin.[32] But if Lagos over-estimated St. Luke’s position, there was some grounds for this; for in 1942 I.T. Palmer left in his will for the Church the sum of £500 (five hundred pounds), the same as he allocated to Trinity Methodist Church, Tinubu, his home church in Lagos.[33]

After the long tenure of office of Akande, he was succeeded in January 1947 by Rev. Canon S.A.F. Odunuga. Even before his arrival there was evidently dissatisfaction and discontent at St. Luke’s, as a result of its multi ethnic composition. The Igbo had their own section, and later on the Edo, followed by the Isoko. Two main groups were therefore left-the Yoruba and the Urhobo (with the Itsekiri). The former laid claim to the church on the ground that the church was founded by the Yoruba, chief amongst whom was Palmer, although, as has been earlier indicated, the first Christian community at Sapele was in fact organised by John Okitikpi, from whom Palmer took over when Okitikpi died in 1906. The only claim of the Yoruba group to St. Luke’s appears to be the fact that the Church had been built on their land, and, either rightly or wrongly, they had regarded it as their church from its inception. Thus, when QmatsQla and his group broke away in 1917 because of alleged domination of St. Luke’s by the Yoruba, there were other Urhobo and Itsekir who remained and together with their Yorba counterparts regarded the church as theirs. Had St. Luke’s, Sapele followed population of St. Luke’s would have found it more difficult to sustain their claim to the church. This was perhaps understood and foreseen by the authorities who refused to effect the change over.

When in the fifties Urhobo membership of St. Luke’s increased considerably the church suffered from inter-ethnic conflicts and rivalries. The Yoruba population laid claim to St. Luke’s as did the Urhobo. Petitions and counter petitions went to the Bishop of the Diocese, the Rt. Rev. S.O. Odutola. The conflicts continued unresolved until after the creation of Benin Diocese in 1961.

The chequered history of St. Luke’s, similar as it is to those of some other churches earlier considered, leaves one in doubt as to the extent to which Christianity has transformed its adherents. It illustrates the predicament of the Christian church in Urhoboland, the predicament of a church in a town made up of diverse ethnic groups, where despite the common faith professed, the people fail to hold allegiance to a given centre, where bickering and bitterness rather than harmony control the people’s-existence. This is a slur on the ability of Christianity to foster unity. But the fault is not in the stars but in “ourselves”-not in Christianity but in the Christians. It seems that the Sapele controversy indicates that the C.M.S. church there has made little progress spiritually.

But viewed from another perspective, the controversy can be seen as consequent upon a struggle by a people desirous of growth, especially if it be argued that the Yoruba involvement at Sapele arose from the fact that they were among the introducers of Christianity there. The Urhobo could then be seen as demonstrating their readiness to carry on the church 

which was brought to them. But since the Yoruba were, since 1914, their fellow Nigerians, and not white missionaries or even Gold Coasters, they did not see their settlement at Sapele as a temporary one, even if the Urhobo felt that the Yoruba should relinquish the church to them. If the Urhobo are to be justified in their claim, it is because men like Ologodudu, Akande, and even Canon Odunuga were regarded as missionaries, who, like white missionaries, ought to go and leave the management of the church to the indigenes. Perhaps viewed from this perspective, the Urhobo claim to St. Luke’s may be construed as evidence of growth towards maturity.

The Baptists 1935-1961

Within the Baptist church there was also some evidence of growth towards maturity, but it was hardly noticeable until after 1961, and was preceded by disruption. (i)Emergence of Bethel Baptist, Sapele

The return of Aganbi from training in 1935 did not becloud the activities of Omatsola, whose character knew little patience. Instead it enhanced it for a while. It meant more hands for the work which had for long rested squarely only on his shoulders. And throughout the thirties nothing appeared to disrupt his activities.

But in 1939, a Baptist convention met, following the arrival in Nigeria from the U.S.A. of the Executive Secretary of the Baptist Mission, accompanied by one Andrew and his wife, with two other ladies, Maddry and Boatwright. In that convention a decision was taken to purge Nigerian Baptist Churches of polygamists.[34] They could no longer as before hold positions of leadership. Qmatsola who had hitherto found the Baptist convenient, was consequently confounded. In 1941 having admitted that he had been living in polygamy,[35] he desired, like Henry VIII, to divorce his wife, and marry another. The refusal by the missionaries to grant this request precipitated the 1942 crisis within the Baptist Church in Sapele.[36]

The American Missionaries withdrew fellowship from, or were ejected by, Omatsola. With them were many of Omatsola’s Baptist, who accepted the new stance. They were advised by Carson, the resident missionary, to join some Baptist Christians who were worshipping in a house in the compound of one Ayomanor, a chief in Sapele. The household church there was started by Onakpoya Oghumiowo, fro EkuBaptistChurch. After many who separated from Omatsola had joined the small group, it grew rapidly. They were regularly visited from Eku by Aganbi who conducted their services, since they had no resident pastor till 1945. In that year the Church, on the advice of Carson, invited one Awatefe to shepherd the congregation, which position he accepted, receiving “a paltry salary of two pounds and ten shillings a month”.[37] This was jointly paid by the Church and the American Baptist Mission.

As the church grew, it was properly organised and named Bethel Baptist Church in 1946.After this Awatefe left at the end of they year for the BaptistCollege, Iwo, and the Seminary at Ogbomosho. Thereafter, one Okerentie took over leadership from1947-50, when he too entered Ogbomosho Seminary. The church thus continued from 1950-51 without a resident pastor. Onakpoya and Omamogho, the elders of the church, had to conduct services until 1952, when Agbaluwa was called upon to shepherd it. Under his leadership the congregation grew so rapidly that the need for a large house soon arose. A new church building was started in 1954 and completed in 1957. So magnificent and spacious was it that it was readily chosen as a fit venue for the 48th annual session of the Nigerian Baptist Convention in 1960, an indication that the Bethel Baptist, belonging to the Nigerian Baptist Convention showed evidence of growth towards maturity before 1961, particularly because the personnel by degrees became indigenised although still under the general supervision of American missionaries.

  • First Baptist Church Sapele

After the separation from Omatsola of what became the Bethel Baptist, Omatsola named his church the FirstBaptistChurch, and affiliated with the Baptists at Benin, answering the name United Baptist Mission, (U.B.M.) but his union was short-lived. After five years Omatsola broke away and started to seek re-union with the American Baptists. It was during the years of conflict with the American Baptists that Eku hospital was built, since the missionaries preferred to invest their money and human resources in an area whose members were constantly loyal to them. It was not until 1963 that reconciliation with the American Baptists was actually effected, and Omatsola “rehabilitated”.[38]

Omatsola’s Baptist Church was incapable of independent existence; the few Baptist churches, like that at Okwagbe, which continued with him in the years of separation from the NBC, suffered from lack of funds and hence also from unavailability of personnel and improper organisation. An impoverished and improperly organised church has little chance of surviving, let alone of growing in any direction.

  • Okwagbe Baptist Church

When there was the internal disruption within the Baptist Mission, a number of the churches earlier founded through Omatsola’s efforts followed him and abandoned the American Baptist Mission, to their detriment. This was the case with Okwagbe (waterside and inland) which had, under the American Baptist Mission, built a school in 1937.[39] This school had no teachers after the 1942 crisis. Before then, they had been under Eku Association, and had been constantly visited by Aganbi, Brantley ( white missionary), and occasionally by Omatsola. As a consequence of the break, no missionaries or trained workers visited the church and school at Okwagbe which therefore suffered. Only after a long period of twelve years did Okwagbe Baptist realise what she had lost educationally, spiritually, and socially, by deciding to follow Omatsola, especially as she saw the progress of sister churches which continued with the American Baptist. In 1954, Okwagbe left Omatsola and rejoined the American Baptist, a reconciliation of which resulted in a re-awakening of the work at Okwagbe. Church teachers and pastors were despatched there to revive the work, but, by 1961 Okwagbe was still finding her feet and learning heavily on more established N.B.C. churches. The growth or otherwise of these other churches is indicated in Aganbi’s report on them.

  • Aganbi’s itineration of Baptist Churches (1947)

After the return of Aganbi from training in 1935, he itinerated Baptist churches in Eku and environs, and opened new ones. This activity continued with renewed vigour after his ordination in 1940. His itineration which after 1942 was limited to those churches that conformed with American Baptist principles, was aimed at encouraging them and assessing their relative strength. His short reports on some of them visited in 1947 reveal their strength, and indicated that they were still in infancy. But they give a clear picture of the Baptist churches, their organisation, self-understanding and estimation vis-à-vis some other Christians. The report also indicated a measure of growth of the Baptist churches during the period. Perhaps what emerges most clearly from the report is Baptist self-understanding. Aganbi emphasised self-identity and self-awareness as well as the need to consolidate Baptist churches in Urhoboland. This need sometimes involved antagonism toward some other christian groups.

The towns he visited included Ajagololo Adagbrasa, Oviri, Orere-Okpe, Imode, Oginibo, Ohwahwa, and Okwama. In some of them with primary schools, the teachers were severely attacked. For instance those at Imode who were described as having “no interest in church work” were considered to be responsible for the retrogression of the work there. Aganbi described what Baptist organisations existed at Imode as “dead and ready for burial”-a situation which might have been different had the teachers been committed to the Baptist cause.

Aganbi considered that before the Baptist church could thrive and flourish her members in any one community must be conscious of their traditions and evince a competitive spirit with other christian groups. At Oviri, for instance, he called on the members to stand their ground against Roman Catholics, and appealed for financial help from the headquarters by means of which a Baptist trained teacher could be provided for the young Baptist school at Oviri, particularly since the Oviri “are fed up with quack schools who are corrupting the education of their children”. Aganbi who confessed his previous opposition to “the idea of establishing and nourishing schools” now frantically urged the Baptist authorities to support schools, which are a means of evangelisation. He argued that the activities of Jesus included teaching, preaching and healing, a “trinity”, Aganbi says, that must be preached by Baptists to check what he called “Roman Catholic aggression”.

Proper teaching and instruction could be given not only through the schools, but through the churches, and by means of open air campaigns. This was what Aganbi did at Orere-Okpe, which he described as the seat of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was through instructions and rallies that he said he was able to save Baptists at Orer-Okpe from their seducers, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In some of the other churches like Oginibo where proper and regular teaching and instruction had been carried out, all Baptist organisations thrived and flourished. As has been indicated weaker churches like Okwagbe Baptist had to lean heavily on Oginibo which was more established and was growing considerably.

To foster the task of instructing these churches which Aganbi itinerated frequently, he not only wrote an Urhobo primer but translated the Fourth Gospel into Urhobo in 1947/8 despite an earlier one translated as early as 1929 by Agori Iwe of the Anglican Church. This is, of course, another example of the self-consciousness and separate existence of the different denominations.[40] Aganbi also translated hymns into the vernacular for use in Baptist churches, an attempt intended to help growth towards maturity of the churches under his supervision.

At Eku, Aganbi’s own seat, a dispensary started in 1947 was later converted to a hospital formally opened on 27 July 1950. Aganbi noted in his report that the dispensary, as it was then, was a potent organ for evangelism, its effect reaching all Urhobo and Isoko people. From its inception a practice started of preaching and praying for the patients each morning before they are treated. Many converts have been made into the Baptist fold, not only from the unbelievers but even from other Christian groups. The total effect of the hospital on the Urhobo-Isoko society is similar to what has been noted in connection with the introduction of maternity homes by the C.M.S. For the sick Urhobo, Eku hospital is now the pool of Bethsaida or of Siloam.

Aganbi’s report showed much evidence of narrow mindedness, a rather hostile attitude towards other groups like Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and little of growth towards maturity except only in terms of translations. It underlined Aganbi’s fanaticism and the tenacity with which he held the Baptist brand of the Christian faith. Since he was the chief Baptist voice in Urhoboland, his attitude, which may indeed be different in degree but not in kind from that of other denominations, must be seen as normative of Baptist attitude in that area. He gave a continued and effective leadership to Baptist churches in Urhobo and spread it to the Isoko speakers in 1956, a year before he died.

By 1961 these churches were growing considerably. There were as many as Four Associations[41] of Baptist churches which have survived to the present day: the Eku Association comprising Agbor, Abraka, Agvarha and Isoko; Oginibo, comprising Ughelli, Olomu, Ughievwe and Udu Baptist churches; Sapele Association made up of Sapele, Okpe, Warri, and Oghara; and finally Idjerhe Association embracing churches in Idjerhe clan. Each of the churches in the Association is supposed to run certain organisations-Women’s Missionary Union (W.M.U.), Lydia, Girls Auxiliary (G.A.), and Sunbeam (for children not older than nine).

Although the Baptists grew numerically in the fifties, the measure of maturity and selfhood attained before 1961 is disappointing; and that because of indiscriminate attachment to the American Baptists who invariably dictated the tune. But later, with the emphasis on the Nigerian Baptist Convention, the American gradually handed over to indigenous personnel. But it was not until after 1961 that this became noticeable. The translation of the Fourth Gospel and of a number of songs by Aganbi from English into Urhobo, though not always accurate or very successful, are nevertheless indicative of growth towards maturity.

Pentecostalist Churches

Here it will be difficult to talk of growth towards maturity, since they did not feature in Urhoboland till about the close of the period. Apart from a few Christ Apostolic Churches in Isoko in 1948, and another at Odion, Warri, in the mid 30’s (which in 1941 acquired a school formerly belonging to one Edema Arayuwa and still then known as OgishiMemorialSchool, Okeri), Pentecostalist churches did not come into Urhobo till 1954. In that year, American World Christian Crusade came to Sapele under the leadership of R. Cock with a declared purpose: to evangelise and win souls (both churchmen and traditionalists) for Christ. Their ministry included one of faithhealing, which happened during revival services, and it naturally drew crowds to them. Elton, a pastor at Ilesha, was instrumental to their coming. When they arrived, the Crusaders used Sapele (as earlier Missionaries had done) as a base. From there they evangelised Oghara, Idherhe, and Okpe areas, and moved to Warri, Ughelli, and other towns in Urhobo. While at Sapele they associated with the first Baptist Church of QmatsQla, in whose church-house they started a BibleTraining School in 1955. Here evangelists were trained and equipped for their work farther afield. As their members increased they acquired land from one Umukoro Mude, of Okpe, through the help of Festus S. Eda, later known as Chief Okotie-Eboh. On this land at Macpherson Road Sapele, they first established a station and held their revival services. One J. W. O. Aki was the interpreter for the Urhobo section.

The thousands of converts made were not initially constituted into a separate church, but were asked to join denominations of their choice. Apostle J. A. BabalQla from Efon-Alaiye, who followed this movement to Sapele, seized this opportunity to establish his own churches (ChristApostolicChurch) all over Urhoboland, using the myriads of converts made by the crusaders. For, following the mass evangelisation at Sapele which drew so many (especially those who wanted healing) from the interior, the converts left for their various towns to organise independent churches. They were visited by the crusaders as overseers, when invited to do so. But the American crusaders never laid claim to these churches. Thus, on coming to any of such congregations, BabalQla explained what the Christ Apostolic Church (C.A.C.) stood for and if the congregation accepted his leadership, they became his members. In this way BabalQla’s C.A.C spread throughout Urhobo and became particularly strong in Okpe area where the C.M.S.Church had been weakened by M. Ebossa’s Erhi Movement of 1929. C.A.C. churches also grew up in Ephron, Agbarho, and Ughelli areas.

Other congregations which preferred to be unattached continued their independent existence answering such names as “Gospel Mission”, “The Apostolic Church”, etc., while some of them later died out through mixing the Christian faith with Urhobo traditional religion. One of the congregations which was not permanently merged with the C.A.C., until after 1961 was that which sprang from the original spot where the crusaders worked at Sapele, that is, those who remained and acquired land from Mukoro Mude. This was the congregation tended by Aki and for which he was ordained a pentecostalist pastor in 1958.

This particular church, like St. Luke’s, Sapele, was made up of different ethnic groups with similar frictions and rivalries (to what happened in St. Luke’s), and in this instance even resulting in court cases. Evidence of growth towards maturity is here patently lacking. Aki, the pastor of the congregation, had in fact to desert it. He joined the Anglican Church, to which he formerly belonged, in 1963. The American crusaders themselves who had been visiting the church and other Protestant churches when invited, moved in 1959 from Sapele to settle at Abraka where they now are.

In Isoko there were also a number of Faith Tabernacle churches from 1938 onwards; but they were converted to Christ Apostolic by an IjQ revivalist in 1948, and acquired by Apostle BabalQla in 1955 during his itineration of that area.[42] All the pentocostalist churches operate very much like the Faith Tabernacle at Agbarho and forbid the use of curative medicines. It was, however, not until after 1961 that their growth became marked, and their claim as authentic christian organisation recognised by other denominations.

The R.C.M

The Roman Catholics have already been considered. It is difficult to classify growth within that communion in Urhoboland as “towards maturity”. It certainly grew numerically particularly among the Urhobo speakers. But virtually only their school teachers and catechist were indigenes. The priesthood remained practically till the end of the period, an expatriate concern. Before 1961, there were only three Urhobo ordained Roman Catholic Reverend Fathers, and even up till the time of writing no Isoko Roman Catholic has been ordained. At that same time, there were four Urhobo Anglican priests, Agori Iwe, Nabofa, Emoefe, and Arawore, while in Isoko there had been ordained Apena, Efeturi, and Okerri. The African Church, though “African” from the beginning, did not show enough evidence of maturity before the end of the period. By 1961 there was only one Urhobo African Church priest, Rev. Okirhienyefa, and one from Isoko, Ifode. Their organization, through patterned after the Anglican, seems to have suffered considerably from lack of sense of direction and proper control. The Pentecostalist and the Faith Tabernacle churches were similar to the African Church in this respect, i.e. of apparent lack of proper organisation. But the Pentocostalist (excluding the Faith Tabernacle) came late to Urhoboland, with the result that no evidence of their growth towards selfhood is recognisable before 1961. The Faith Tabernacle itself has almost died out.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of God’s Kingdom Society, have from the beginning been manned solely by Urhobo and Isoko. While the former receives directives from the U.S.A., the latter is purely indigenous. The kind of growth (apart from numerical) noticeable in both defies a clear-cut analysis. This is particularly so with Jehovah’s Witnesses. For though making use of local personnel, they received directives from overseas and hawk imported ideas in their official magazine, The Watch Tower. Perhaps they would never think, much less talk, in terms of growth towards maturity and selfhood, since they consider that their society, being universal, should do its thinking and organisation universally.

Conversely, the God’s Kingdom Society is so locally managed by virtue of its origin that to talk of growth to maturity, in terms of indigenisation, would be equally meaningless. The question does not arise. For, from birth, it has been self-supporting and self-propagating. They are peculiar in including almost everything in Urhobo-Isoko culture which cannot be justly styled “devilish” in their worship. They employ indigenous music, use opiri and udje[43] songs at services. Evidently this largely accounts for the great appeal their organisation has for the Urhobo-Isoko people. The only area where they have not been indigenous is with respect to the Bible. Although they started since 1934, they have not made any attempt to translate any part of the Bible into Urhobo as the C.M.S. and the Baptists have done.


As was indicated at the beginning of this chapter, the kind of growth towards maturity that occurred in the churches involved little or no indigenisation of the liturgy and theology. The hymnody continued to be foreign, the prayers used at worship only those translated. Only the workers increasingly became indigenised. Since very little of the culture was borrowed and baptised into the life of the church, those Christians who took their faith seriously tended to be cut off from their kith and kin, and from their traditional ethos. Nevertheless a majority of others, despite the theory of absolute detachment from the native culture and religion enunciated by the authorities, in practice became involved in things like festivals and funeral ceremonies.

[1] In some of the denominations, like the R.C.M. and the AfricanChurch what growth towards maturity was evinced had already been discussed in the previous chapter. The present one there fore concentrates on the C.M.S. and the Baptist, while some reference will also be made to a few pentecostalist churches. [2] Let us go home. Do you ‘hear’? / Won’t you go yet? Come. [3] Warri D.C.C. Minutes, 25 March 1937. [4] See Appendix IV (back cover) for this prayer book. [5] But this was not always the case. When Rev. J.S. Williams of the AfricanChurch, also a Yoruba, came, it was said that he offered baptism to people without their learning Yoruba. This is one of the factors which is said to be responsible for a break in the Niger Delta Pastorate. This is one of the factors which is said to be responsible for a break in the Niger Delta Pastorate at Warri, and for the formation of the AfricanChurch there. Interview with Omofoye s.d. [6]Yoruba for “Christian(s) or “Believer(s)”. [7] Meanwhile, the Urhobo prayer book and hymnal of 74 hymns was published in 1939. [8] Rev. W. Burne, a white missionary had been till then the Superintendent. [9] See Welcome Address to Agoir iwe, on his consecration, 30 November 1961. [10]Ovhokpokpo =New Testament (New Covenant). [11]Interview with Ven. J. B. P. Apena, at Oleh. Same date. [12] By central school is meant only those which read up to standard six. [13] Welch was sent to Isoko country in October 1929, specifically for educational work. See his theis, op.cit, forward p.i. [14] Op.cit. p. vf. A. W. Bovi, who accompanied him as an interpreter in 1931 testified that Welch’s friendliness made him succeed with the Isoko elders, who freely gave of their land and labour-Interview with Bovi, 31 August 1971. [15] This was when the Mid-West was part of the Western Region of Nigeria. [16] In Urhobo there were C.M.S. Modern Schools at Ewu, Orer Okpe, Gbaregolo, Orhokpo, Ughelli, Okpari, and Egini from 1955-61. While in Isoko Modern Schools were built at Oleh, Umoru, and Uro. [17] See Igje;. Dost/ 1/634. Carr to D.O., Sobo Division, Warri, 30 March 1938. [18] Initially both Catechists and Pastors trained at St. Paul’s Awka. Only later did ordination courses move to Umuahia. [19] He was the Bishop of the Diocese on the Niger then. [20] See Annual Report of the C.M.S. for Africa and the East 1943-44, p. 9. [21] See International Review of Mission, Vol. 29 (1938) p. 57. [22] Only A.W. Bovi wrote down a few Isoko tales in English while Egbebruke wrote a few Urhobo ballads in the Verncular. [23] This was the case with nearly all the denominations-the C.M.S., the R.C.M., and the AfricanChurch. Only the Baptists, and the recent ChristApostolicChurches, are excepted. [24] Iyori, an emblem symbolishing any dijo, or supernatural power which is believed to scare away thieves, or harm those who removed the property in spite of it. [25]Interview with Omonigho, Isikpen’s son-in-law, at Uduere 29 August 1971. [26] The storry narrated by Isikpen at the C.M.S.Church Ekiugbo, 1951 at an evening service. It is, of course, possible for sceptics to doubt the genuineness of any religious experiences and to provide explanations they find satisfactory. But if there is any basis whatsoever for the religious area of life, and this basis is not only morality but has some transcendental reference, there will be a point where the secular and sacred historians may have to part company. Both are allegedly committed to the cause of truth, the former to the cause of truth about which, once convinced, he raises no questions. Isikpen’s experiences recorded above are not only generally attested to in Urhoboland, but were also directly narated to the wirter’s hearing during Isikpen’s itineration of Urhobo churches. [27] But see God’s Kingdom Society. [28] St. Andrew’s Warri: File No. 6: (Montly Sheet) p. 19 Vicar Circular letter for July 1955. [29] St. Andrew’s Warri: File No. 6: (Montly Sheet) p. 19 Vicar Circular letter for July 1955. [30] Inaugural Meeting, Sapele D.C.C., 30 January 1939. [31]Ibid. [32]sapele District Church Council, Minutes 30 June 1942. [33]Ibid., Minutes, 17 November 1942; and 2 March 1945. [34] See Howell, op. cit., p. 33. [35]Ibid., p. 117. [36] Interview with Joseph Okitikpi, 16 April 1971. [37] J. U. Ayamonor,The Short History of BethelBaptistChurch, (Good News Printers, Sapele, 1971), p. 4. [38] Interview with Okitkpi, 16 April 1971. [39] See Djedje S. O., “NigerianBaptishChurch Okwagbe”, Unpublished Typescript, 1968. [40] Happily, by the time of writing, there is only one translation Committee, comprising all the Protestant groups. This Committee has completed the translation of the Bible toUrhobo. [41]Interview with M. K. Whonana, minister at Eku, aged 40, 3 August 1970. [42]Interview with M.O.A. Ogonowobo, C.A. Pastor at Ughelli, aged 36, 8 September 1971. [43]Udhe in Isoko.  

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