|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
DURING AND AFTER THE CIVIL WAR
It should be pointed out, that the period 1965 to 1969 during which time the Benin Diocese witnessed a major growth in terms of personnel, and Church membership, was also the period of the Nigerian Civil War. The Civil War presented a special challenge to Agori Iwe and his Diocese, because the then Midwestern Region occupied a unique position in the Nigerian Politics of the 1060’s. The Midwest Region became what Agori Iwe described as “The Geneva of Nigeria”; for State and ecclesiastical conferences met frequently in the Midwest and? Benin Diocese invariably played the role of a good host. As pointed out elsewhere “there was not state occasion where the Bishop did not feature at Benin. Perhaps the culmination of such activities was the occasion of the visit of the Head of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, General Yakubu Gowon, to Benin City where he and Mrs. Victoria Gowon worshipped at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on 13th May 1973, and Bishop Agori Iwe preached a very brief and absolutely relevant sermon on Gal. 6:7 “Be not deceived for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap”. (S.U. Erivwo, “Prelates and Problems…” p. 248).
After the Civil War the Diocese resolved to have a Rehabilitation Scheme to meet the needs of those who suffered because of the War.
Side by side with the work of rehabilitation of the victims of the Civil War, went the task of evangelisation especially in the riverain area of the Diocese most affected by the War. Thus the work of evangelism by the Anglican Adams Preaching Society resulted in the conversion of a whole heathen town of Okparabe where a notorious traditional medicine man call Kupa, was converted, and has since then become a vibrant evangelist in the area.
In the education sector, Anglicanism flourished in Asaba, Isoko, and Urhobo Archdeaconries. When C.M.S. Schools were affected by the action of Government which sent many Grade II Teachers to the Northern Government which suffered from acute shortage of teachers at the time, some experienced but untrained C.M.S. Teachers who had been laid off, at the end of 1968, had to be re-absorbed in C.M.S. Schools.
The Diocese thus survived the Civil War, mended broken walls in Schools and Churches, and intensified efforts in reconciliatory actions by being actively involved in the R.R.D. (Reconciliation, Rehabilitation, and Development) programme organised by the Christian Council of Nigeria (C.C.N.). Buildings, plants, and machinery that were damaged during the war were for example repaired by the Church in 1972 at the rural Training Centre, Asaba. Bearing in mind the biblical injunction that we should bear one another’s burden Agori Iwe ensured that other dioceses which also suffered as a result of the Civil War were assisted by Benin Diocese. Thus, according to the witness of the Rt. Rev. B. Nwankiti, the diocese of Benin came to the aid of Owerri Diocese after the war. Says Nwankiti,
|“One of the most challenging visits was from the Diocese of Benin whose Bishop sent to us a three-man “God-Mission’ headed by Chief S.J. Mariere. The Diocese of Benin suffered at the hands of Biafran Soldiers during the last civil war, and yet, immediately after the war that same Diocese sent a gift of £250 to each of the Dioceses of Eastern Nigeria to help with the rehabilitation of the clergy and other church workers. (The man Benjamin, Diocese of Owerri Press, 1993, p.10)|
The Diocese also carried out village extension services programme and helped to implement C.C.N. Agricultural programme in Benue Plateau State, Kwara State, and South Eastern State. After the farms were established they were handed over to indigenes of those states. A School-leavers farm project was also started at Uyiku in Etasko Division of the Midwest State.
The Diocese distributed seeds to the people of the riverine areas of the State for planting. The Diocese continued with its women extension programme in the villages where Christian home classes, needle work, nutrition and Children welfare and family planning were taught to the rural dwellers and small poultries established. This was a programme that was very similar to what the first lady of the Federation in the Babangida Administration was to start all over the country late, and designate “Better life for Rural women”.
All these activities testified to the vitality of Anglican Christianity in the area, under Agori Iwe and the impact it was having on the peoples. In Warri township a new Anglican Church, St. Peter’s Anglican Church igbudu, was built and dedicated for worship by the Rt. Rev. Agori Iwe in 1975, bringing the number of Anglican Churches in Warri to two. The growth of the Anglican Church in the present Edo and Delta States during the period 1962-1977, is clearly evident from all that has been written thus far. Whereas in 1962, the Diocese was made up of only 16 Church Districts, by 1977, there were over 49 Districts and where in 1962, there were 3 Archdeaconries, by 1977 when Agori retired the number had increased to 8.