|Urhobo Historical Society|
|THE LIFE AND WORK OF AGORI IWE|
FIRST BISHOP OF BENIN DIOCESE
Sam U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
|Originally Published in 1998 |
Reproduced in URHOBO WAADO by kind permission of Professor Sam U. Erivwo
BISHOP AGORI IWE IN THE SECULAR WORLD
The aspect of Agori’s life that must now be considered before we conclude his biography is the man in the secular world. It must, however, be pointed out here that the concept of secular and sacred spheres of life is a Western concept. To the African mind, all life is religious, thee being no dichotomy between the secular and the sacred. Every activity of man, from the cradle to the grave is imbued and transfused with religious ideas and practices.
Nevertheless, as a person, Agori Iwe did carry out certain activities which were strictly not within the church sphere, or even was still not strictly a religius activity per se. It is such areas of his life that we now consider.
After obtaining the celebrated standard six certificate in 1922 Agori Iwe in consequence of his excellent performance was appointed a pupil teacher in his alma mater, St. Andew’s Primary School (now called Mowoe Primary School_ in 1923, becoming a co-teacher with Mr. Ejovi Aganbi of Eku, who had been his teacher in the same school. Having taught at St. Andrew’s Primary School, Warri for a year, Agori Iwe was in 1924 selected and admitted to the famous St. Andrew’s College, Oyo. His training at Oyo included a two year normal course for school teachers. When he returned in 1928, he was a pioneer teacher in the Urhobo District.
We have seen how Agori as a pastor, also functioned as a community leader: When his own local community, the Okuama people, had land dispute with their neighbours, the Oviri people, Agori played a leading role in the pursuit and subsequent determination of the case in a way that his people were not disadvantaged.
It was in consequence of the recognition and acceptance of Agori Iwe as a community leader, that the Okuama Women who at a time took over the rulership of Okuama, took the matter to Agori, when he gave his famous verdict that a hen does not crow in the town (Ohoho aye bo vwe orere-e).
It was as a community leader, that Agori saved the Okuama community from the wrath of the government when some of the local people overpowered policemen who went there to harass people selling “illicit” gin.
His role in the secular world, perhaps came to its peak when he was in 1944 appointed a private member of the Urhobo and Isoko Divisional Council. In 1955, he was appointed a private member councillor in the then Central Urhobo District Council (which at that time included Isoko). At that time Agori’s uprightness and sense of justice, made other members of the Council who wanted gratification from citizens, rather uncomfortable.
In 1958 Agori also became a member of the Western Advisory Council to represent educational interest in Urhobo and Isoko. It was in recognition of Agori’s service in the secular world, and his contribution to peace and harmony in society, that Queen Elizabeth II bestowed on him the title of MBE (Member of the British Empire) in 1957. In 1965, the Federal Government awarded him the title of C.F.R (Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria).
Agori Iwe was a prominent Urhobo leader. He was a stabilizing influence in the Urhobo Progress Union (U.P.U); often playing a mediating role between members of the society who had differences and misunderstanding with each other.
The achievements of Agori Iwe in Church and State so impressed the Military Governor, Commodore Hussani Abdulahi, in 1977, when Agori retired, that the Governor poured encomiums upon him, saying :
“There is no doubt that the Anglican Church in the Diocese witnessed a remarkable period
of peace progress and unimpeded growth in all its ramifications during your tenure of office…”
In his life, both secular and sacred, Agori proved his mettle. He was an upright and a strict father, a disciplinarian who recognised that the purpose of discipling is the wellbeing of the disciplined. He was an amiable husband to his wife Ovuomorayevbie Ruth, with whom she carried out his life work. With her help and encouragement Agori achieved greatness, thus vindicating the adage, “behind every successful man is a woman”.
Agori was an astute administrator and a strict disciplinarian. People who worked with him in the office as typist or secretaries, later rose to occupy important positions in life. One of such persons, E.E.Ezewu, is now a Professor of Education and Dean of the Faculty of Education, University of Port-Harcourt. Agori influenced very many lives in the course of his ministry. Thus in a lecture entitled “Early Missionary Activities in Education and Health” to make the celebration in Warri Diocese of the 150th Anniversary of the Replanting of Christianity in Nigeria, Professor Fred I. A. Omu writes.
“I am a proud product of missionary education and living testimony to the enterprise and vision of the early missionaries. I Oozier and Abrade, and my secondary education at the Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Antic. Went to the then University College, Ibadan with sponsorship approved by the C.M.S. Niger Mission under Regulation 17 which provided a type of scholarship and a bond. At the end of my undergraduate work at Ibadan in1962, I was posted to the Ika Grammar School, Agbor. I served as Agbor for three months and returned to the University of Ibadan for postgraduate work. There was much difficulty in securing my release to enable me undertake the doctoral programme; many obstacles were placed in my wan even though notable precedents has been established in similar cases. When all hope seemed lost, the matter was brought to the attention of the then Bishop of Benin Diocese, the Late Rt. Rev. Agori Iwe who was on tour to Sabongida Ora. Aroused from sleep at 1.00 a.m. by a delegation of in-laws led by late J.C. Okujeni and J.M.O. Erero, the Bishop ordered as follows: ‘Release Omu at once and let him pursue his Ph.D with God’s Blessings’. It is therefore a thing of joy for me to speak here today on ‘Early Missionary Activities in Education and Health’. And because I owe what I am today to the event at midnight at Sabongida Ora in 1962 I have decided to dedicate this lecture to our most distinguished and most benevolent former spiritual leader, the late Bishop Agori Iwe” (F.I.A. Omu in S.U. Erivwo, (ed) 150th Anniversary of the Replanting of Christianity in Nigeria (Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy, Ekpoma, 1993 p. 51)