Chapter Eleven of Samuel Erivwo’s Biography of Bishop Agori Iwe

Urhobo Historical Society

Sam U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
Originally Published in 1998 
Reproduced in URHOBO WAADO by kind permission of Professor Sam U. Erivwo


Agori Iwe was the first Bishop of Benin Diocese. The initiative to create a Benin Diocese came from Oraland. Early in 1958, a suggestion to create a new Diocese in Benin was made in the Ora District Council meeting. This suggestion was brought to the Benin Archdeaconry level, late 1958, when a decision was taken that Warri Archdeaconry, which was under the Niger Diocese be included in the plan.

As Ojehomon, C. E. pointed out in his long Essay “Senator D. Asemota, who was very out-spoken during this period of agitation, picked up the matter in 1958 and held a meeting with leaders in Benin and Warri Archdeaconries” (Ojehomon, C.E. The Diocese of Benin: Past and present, a long Essay, Bensu Ekpoma, 1987, p. 17).

The first meeting was attended by the following persons from Benin Archdeaconry:

1.    E. F. Asemota2.  Senator D. Asmota3.    A. Iyamu
4.  O. I. Ehanire5.   G. Jesurobo 6.  M. Aitalegbo
7.  N. Omole8.   U. Itegbe9.  E. Ukotobera
10.    U. Jese  11.   A. Metaka12.    M. Unuigbe
13. O. Obadan14.  O. Adodo15.    O. Iyamu
16.   A. Amune,

 while the following attended from Warri Archdeaconry:

1   J. Emeni                  2     W. Tadeferua,    J. Adeda.                        

This ad-hoc committee met in June 1959, at the end of which a joint memorandum was signed by representatives of the two Archdeaconries, for the creation of a new Diocese from Ondo/Benin Diocese, and from the Niger Diocese. On receiving the memorandum the bishops of the two Dioceses – Ondo/Benin, and the Niger, summoned a meeting. The primary aim of the meeting was to ascertain whether or not the creation of the Diocese asked for was justifiable. That meeting was attended by the following:

Rt. Rev. C.J. Paterson, Bishop on the Niger, Rt. Rev. S.M. Nkemena, Assist Bishop of the Niger Diocese; Rt. Rev. Awosika, Assist bishop of Ondo/Benin Diocese, Rt. Rev. S. Odutola, Bishop of Ondo/Benin Diocese. Ven. S. O. Akinluyi, Archdeacon of Benin Archdeaconry, Ven. Agori Iwe Arch-deacon of Warri Archdeaconry, Mr. E. Akpata, from Benin Archdeaconry, Mr. J. Ogodazi from Warri Archdeaconry.

At that meeting, the two Diocesan bishops were satisfied that there was need to carve the Benin section from Ondo/Benin Diocese, and excise the Warri Asaba sections from the Niger Diocese. Having taken that decision, the committee set a machinery in motion to produce the statistical data-for the proposed Diocese to ascertain, just how qualified for a Diocese the area was. This fact finding committee met in Benin on 17th November 1959, to answer the questions put to them by the two Diocesan bishops. The questions had to do with the name of the Diocese, the boundaries, the population, the number of clergy, number of Christians in the area, the motivating reasons for asking for a Diocese, and the finance available for the proposed Diocese.

These questions were important, because the area to be constituted into a Diocese, which the planning committee agreed should be called Benin Diocese, was made up of heterogeneous ethnic groups. In a meeting held at Benin by the members of the proposed Benin Diocese on 17th November 1959, the component parts of the new Diocese were given as: Asaba Aniocha, Ika, Ukwani, Aboh, Urhobo, Isoko, Itsekiri, Edo (Bini), Etsako, Akoko Oke, Ishan, and Ora. This area which was constituted by the Anglican Church into Benin Diocese in January 1962, was the same area which the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, following a referendum, later created as Midwest Region on 9th August, 1963.

Having received answers to the questions raised, the Diocesan Board of the Diocese of the Niger and that of the Ondo/Benin Diocese passed a resolution approving the creation of the new Diocese. Agori Iwe and his colleague, S.O. Akinluyi, the Archdeacon of Warri archdeaconry and of Benin Archdeaconry respectively played a major role in the process of preparing for the creation of the proposed Diocese.

According to Agori when he attended one of the preparatory meetings for the creation of the new Diocese, a question of who should become bishop of the new Diocese was raised. Agori said that he suggested Awosika, who was already Assistant Bishop, and resident at Benin. (Interview with Agori Iwe, Bishop of Benin, 3 August, 1973).

Awosika was the Yoruba ethnic group, while the proposed new Diocese was to be made up of ethnic groups excluding Yoruba. Perhaps, understandably, Agori’s colleagues opposed his proposal, for one at least of the motivating factors for asking for a new Diocese was to become independent of Yoruba domination in the Ondo/Benin diocese, and of Igbo domination in the Diocese on the Niger. But that Agori made the suggestion at all, speaks for his humility, and unassuming character. It would have been natural for him to assume that either he, or his colleague, Akinluyi, should be considered for the post. But as it actually turned out, they were among those considered by the appropriate committee charged with that responsibility when it met.

Following the resolutions from the two Dioceses, that a new Diocese be created, the mater was communicated to the Archbishop of West Africa the most Revd J.L. Horstead, who appointed Archbishop’s Advisory Committee under the Chairmanship of Chief Louis Mbanefo, the then Chief Justice of Eastern Nigeria. This Committee met on 25th May 1961.

As a result of the heterogenous nature of the proposed Diocese the Archbishop’s Committee in indicating the qualities expected in the person to be appointed Bishop of the area said in its Report.

“One of the problems facing the new Diocesan would be to weld the two parts of the Diocese together, and to get the different clans to work amicably for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom”. The Advisory Committee accordingly recommended that the one to be appointed Bishop of the Diocese should be a person who:

  • does not have political leanings, but one who is neutral in non-doctrinal intra-diocesan church matters;
  • possesses organising ability and a man of good reputation, whose life would be a shining example to members of his flock.

(Extract from the Report of Archbishops Advisory Committee which met at All Saints’ Church, Asaba, 25 May, 1961). See S.U. Erivwo, “Prelates and Problems”, p. 247.

That the episcopal  synod of the Province of West Africa decided to nominate Agori Iwe and recommend him to the Archbishop of Canterbury for appointment as Bishop of the new diocese of Benin implies that the episcopal synod was satisfied that Agori Iwe met the conditions stipulated by the archbishop’s Advisory Committee.

The actual announcement of the creation of the Diocese came from the Archbishop in an Episcopal synod held at Onitsha in June 1961. It was there that the episcopal synod decided on Agori Iwe and recommended him to the Archbishop of Canterbury for appointment.

As recorded elsewhere,

                “the news [of the appointment] came to Agori as a surprise. According to him, from the way

                the message was first communicated from Bishop C.J. Paterson, it came in the form of

                instruction from a boss which he could not but obey. Paterson wrote ‘The Archbishop hoped

                to catch you before you left Onitsha but it wasn’t possible. Here is a letter from him. Will

you read it and then send me an Urgent wire with the one word’ Yes” on it. Thank you”

(C.J. Paterson to Agori Iwe, 13 June 1961. See also S. U. Erivwo, “Prelates & Problems…”

p. 244)

obviously, in that kind of instruction from a boss, only one action was possible: comply. Significantly, having accepted the offer and sent the wire, Agori never disclosed the news of his appointment as bishop to anyone, not even to his wife, until it was announced from the B.B.C one early morning.


The consecration of Agori Iwe as first Bishop of Benin Diocese, was significantly fixed on St. Andrew’s Day, and took place in St. Andrew’s Church Warri. It is significant because Agori attended St. Andrew’s C.M.S. School Warri and St. Andrew’s College Oyo, for his training as Headmaster and Catechist. By the time he was consecrated, his boss, the Rt. Rev. C. J. Paterson, the Bishop on the Niger, had become His Grace, the Most Revd. C.J. Paterson Archbishop of the Province of West Africa.

Needless to say that the consecration ceremony was itself very colourful. Messages of congratulation were received from far and wide. Ven S.O. Akinluyi sent first a telegramme of congratulation on hearing the announcement from the BBC. Thereafter he and Mrs. Akinluyi wrote a letter in which they stated “We are very grateful to God for the appointment of our Brother as Bishop of Benin Diocese” (Akinluyi to Agori Iwe, 31st July 1961). Messages were also sent from two of Agori’s Alma Mater, St. Andrew’s College Oyo and St. Aiden’s College Birkenhead, England. The message from St. Andrew’s College Oyao, dated 16th August, 1961, was written by the principal of the College, the Rev. S.O. Kale, who also later became Bishop of Lagos. The letter from Birkenhead, was also written by the principal of the College, M.M. Hennell. In it Mr. Hennell among other things wrote “ I feel I must write and congratulate you on your important appointment to be the first Bishop of Benin. May God bless your episcopate and your work for him…you are third St. Aiden’s man to be appointed Bishop this year” (M.M. Hennell to Agori Iwe, 10 October, 1961).

After his consecration on 30th November 1961, Agori Iwe remained at Ughelli until the end of the year before he moved to Benin, when the Diocese was inaugurated on 3rd January 1962.

On assuming duty after his consecration and enthronement as Bishop, Agori, as we observed elsewhere.

“Set out to administer his Diocese and did so with a high degree of administrative competence and impartiality. One of his first assignments was the creation of Asaba Archdeaconry as an answer to a request made by Asaba District even before the Diocese was created. Rev. C. A. Echenim was appointed Archdeacon of Asaba while Rev. G.P. Barnard, a white man, was appointed Archdeacon of Warri Arch-deaconry in succession to Agori Iwe. Ven S.O. Akinluyi continued as Archdeacon of Benin”. (see S.U. Erivwo, “Prelates & Problems…”  pp. 247f

In the course of his maiden episcopal visits to a number of the Districts constituting the Diocese encomiums were poured on Agori by church members.

The welcome address presented to him by Sapele District and bound in a book form, is perhaps worth quoting here in extension, especially because, Sapele District was the District which refused to be administered with the rest of the Urhobo churches when the latter opted to move from the Yoruba mission to the Niger mission in 1932. The Sapele D.C.C. wrote.

“Our Father in God,

We the undersigned representing Sapele District church Council on behalf of ourselves and the entire District Church members assemble here this day to accord you our hearty welcome to our midst at this your maiden episcopal visit…Sapele township…is a cosmopolitan place with its different tribes, languages, and customs, but the church is one and the same, and in the midst of odds it continues to grow from strength to strength”.

This point is significant especially because just before the creation of Benin Diocese and the appointment and consecration of Agori Iwe as its Bishop, there had been wranglings and agitations in the Sapele District Church, of ethnic nature – the Urhobo elements in that church, finding that they were not being fairly treated, had agitated for ownership of St. Luke’s. As we stated elsewhere.

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 and appointment of Agori Iwe as its Bishop. (See S. U. Erivwo, A History of Christianity p. 126)

It is against this background that the words of the Sapele D.C.C. welcome address to the first Bishop of Benin Diocese Agori Iwe, are to be understood.

On the appointment of Agori Iwe as Bishop, the Sapele D.C.C. welcome address stated:

“We cannot say your elevation to the diocesan chair is overdue as this diocese has just been created. We therefore say that your appointment at this time is unique, the right man in the right place and at the right time” (Sapele D.C.C. Welcome address to Agori Iwe on the occasion of his maiden episcopal visit to Sapele. The address is not dated)

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