|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
AGORI IWE’S FAMILY LIFE
On Agori’s return from Oyo, he married a young lady, Ovuomorayevbie Ruth. Ovuomorayevbie had been betrothed to Agori while he was away. Agori’s family life, like the rest of his life, was punctuated with problems. The choice of Ovuomorayevbie itself created problems for Agori. This was as a result of the fact that another girl was earmarked for him.
According to Ovuomarayevbie’s own testimony, as a small girl of between five and ten years old; she used to accompany her mother and the mother of Agori from Okuama to Warri. Emedaka, Agori’s mother, on arriving at Warri, would be met by Agori, popularly known then at home as Oguori. This was when Agori, Osiobe and Ebrimoni lived in Warri, first with Mr. Okoro, and as earlier on pointed out, later on their own, because of the maltreatment of the young boys received from Okoro’s wife. Agori’s mother would cut plenty of sugarcane and give to him. Furthermore, after selling her commodity she would also hand over all the proceeds to Agori to help sustain him at Warri, and return to Okuama empty handed.
On one occasion, Ovuomarayevbie was inquisitive about this young boy who always coming to the shore to take away so much of Madam Emedaka’s sugarcane and sales. On asking she was told that the boy in question was Emedaka’s own son. Ovuomorayevbie confessed that she instinctively declared that he would be her husband. She did not appreciate the import of her declaration, for she was only a little girl; still below the age of discretion. Evidently divine providence was at work here.
Later, Ovuomorayevbie fell ill, and emaciated drastically. Since the cause of the illness which led to her drastic emaciation was unknown, epha, the oracle, was consulted. Ehpa revealed that erhi roye sa oshare, that is, her essential self, or personality-soul, had caught an husband, and this was none other than Agori. It would appear that the declaration which Ovuomorayevbie made instinctively, was a declaration by her own personality-soul. Ovuomorayevbie’s parents, upon the recommendation of the oracle, decided to send their daughter to Agori’s parents to live with, an action which resulted in her speedy and miraculous recovery. Having regained her normal weight, Ovuomorayevbie, went back to her own parents.
While Agori was in training at Oyo, several other girls from Okuama community competed for his hand in marriage. One other girl who was earmarked for him, was put in the family way by another man, while Agori was still in training, and so that other girl fell by the way side. When Agori returned from St. Andrew’s College Oyo, the Church leaders in Urhoboland, evidently influenced by Mr. Okoro himself, wanted Agori to marry one Rebecca, Okor’s step daughter, rather than Ruth Ovuomorayevbie. The argument in favour of Rebecca was that she was educated, while Ovuomorayevbie was not. Pressure was mounted on Agori by the Urhobo Church leaders who insisted that if he failed to marry the girl they selected for him, he would not be accepted by the Church as a worker.
When Agori consulted his parents, the mother assured him that Ovuomarayevbie had been the family’s choice for him. Agori resolved to obey the mothers voice. Not even a threat from Church leaders would move him to disobey the mother. He therefore informed the Church that he would rather lose his job than disobey his mother. In the long run, the Church gave in, and Agori married Ovuomarayevbie in 1929.
Shortly after the marriage, Ovuomarayevbie fell ill. This was at a time the young couple were staying in James okpanovbe Adeda’s compound, at Otovbodo Ughelli. According to Ovuomorayevbie, their opponents sent Ukweto to attack her. She was fainting in consequence of the attack, but Okpanovbe came to the rescue by massaging her with palm oil which acted as antidote to the poisonous attack of Ukweto.
The marriage of Agori and Ovuomorayevbie was blessed with many children: three boys and five girls. But Agori’s family experienced a tragedy in the protracted illness of the second child, who is the first male child: Samson. Samson was a student of Dennis Memorial Grammar School (D.M.G.S.) Onitsha. He was there when he suddenly took ill. The protracted illness of Samson was a harrowing experience for the family generally, and for Agori in particular. It should be pointed out that several person, both within and without the family circle, construed the illness as a consequence of witchcraft activities; but Agori, by the nature of his faith, did not buy the idea. For him only God could give life and only He could take it away. In his tragedy, he exhibited the faith of Job:
| The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of |
If the protracted illness and ultimate demise of his first son broke Agori’s heart, the marriage of his first daughter, Mary, to Mr. S. J. Ikpen, did no less. In a sense, the mysterious sorrow caused by the latter event was even more tragic than the breaking of his heart by his first son’s death.
The first daughter, Mary, fell in love with Samuel Jegede Ikpen, who was also an old boy of D.M.G.S. But for some unknown reason, Agori refused to give his consent to Jegede’s marriage proposal, even after Mary had had two daughters for him. According to M. Adogbe, Agori had a revelation which indicated that Jegede would do him a forbidden, an abominable, thing. The fact that Mary had children for Jegede even before the marriage was consented to, further infuriated Agori.
Mary was taken away from the father’s compound, the Parsonage at Ughelli, and sent to Okuama to be with her grand parents. For the first, and only time, Agori because of the Mary affair, had serious disagreement with his beloved wife, Ovuomorayevbie, to the point where both of them refused to share the same bed and room. Family friends, as well as Church dignitaries, including the erstwhile Archbishop of West Africa, His Grace, the Most Revd. C.J. Patterson, who was at the time bishop on the Niger, appealed to Agori to reconsider his position and consent to the marriage of Mary and Jegede, but to no avail. Each time he was confronted and a reason for his stubborn opposition was demanded, Agori, we are told, would reply:
“Ikpen che ru vwe obo re agha”
he never told anyone what this Obo re agha was. This persistent refusal to the marriage according to Mr. M. Adogbo had nothing to do with the alleged rascality of Mr. S. J. Ikpen, as was popularly though by many. Although Agori eventually consented to the marriage on account of his mother’s intervention, he refused to be present in person on the day Mary and Jegede were joined together in Holy Matrimony.
Although according to the witness of Michael Adogbo, Agori’s persistent refusal to the marriage between his daughter and Jegede had nothing to do with the rascality of the latter but as a result of a revelation to Agori that Jegede would do him a forbidden thing, evidence from Agori’s correspondence on the matter, would lead to a different conclusion. In the correspondence, nothing whatsoever was said about the alleged revelation.
Rather Agori and his wife discovered in 1955 that their first daughter was put in the family way to their dismay. Agori had no intention of giving his daughter in marriage to Jegede. As a matter of fact, some other person described by Agori as:
“a respectable youngman from U.K., a senior service grade in our mission” had approached them about Mary,
“but, alas she has spoilt herself and we were ashamed to give a good reply to him”.
(Agori & Mrs. Iwe to Mr. & Mrs Oduaran, 12 Dec. 1955)
The words quoted above are contained in a letter by Agori and his wife to Mr. And Mrs. Oduaran, who were then in Abakalike, and to whom Agori’s daughter was sent for custody and in the hope that she would take her mind off Jegede and be subsequently married to a man of the parents’ choice. However, shortly, after her arrival at Abakalike to be with the Oduran’s Mary requested her guardian to permit Mr. Jegede whom she loved to be paying her visits there.
Agori wrote promptly to Oduaran, first, thanking him for reporting Mary’s safe arrival at Abakalike, and secondly stating very firmly that they had told her (Mary):
|“not to have anything whatsoever to do with Jegede; and you should not allow Jegede to come to your house while Mary is with you” (Agori to Oduaran, 12 Dec. 1955)|
According to Agori, if Mary was going to disregard them and the entire family, she should herself write to tell them so. Agori did not only write to Mr. Oduaran, he also wrote the dame day, to Mary herself:
|“We have been informed that you are proposing to write Jegede to be visiting you there. We want to know from you why you suggest this; and who advised you that you should do that. You know you have disobeyed us once, and we are just making a way for you to receive our pardon; and to begin anew. If you intend to make the matter worse by ignoring our advices [sic] and warnings; you just let us know” (Agori to Mary, 12 Dec. 1955)|
The letter which Agori wrote on the same day to Mr. And Mrs. Oduaran was signed by him and by his wife, Mary’s mother, obviously to underscore the intensity of the family’s opposition to the relationship with Jegede.
Significantly, when Mary wrote to her father about ten months later, on 1st October 1956, it was to demonstrate the intensity and power of love. Says Mary,
|“I am on my knees sending you this letter. After all said and done, you are my father and I am your daughter. I am quite aware that woefully wronged you at the outset of this conflict, but the trouble is, I love the man and I feel he loves me too. I fell that I could not leave the party who was responsible to [Sic] the conception, and marry another person…I haven’t got much to say other than that you should remember the story of the prodigal son. I have made up my mind to come I hope you will receive me home during the xmas holidays…with open hands when I come…(Mary to her father, Agori, 1st Oct. 1956)|
This letter demonstrates in an unmistakable way the power of love. The Romans, perhaps, more than anyone else appreciated this in an adage amor omnia vincit love overcomes all difficulties.
Mary’s letter is as moving, as it is firm. It portrays her resolve to marry Jegede, but she is pleading with all her mind with the father to recognise that she is still his daughter.
No matter how much a child may offend a parent, the cannot really and truly disown the child, unless it was not a true child. For blood is thinker than water, as Charles Dickens reminded us.
Her plea was that she was to be accepted as the prodigal son was accepted by his father, but there was a flaw in her argument, which she may not have discerned. The prodigal son left the situation he was in, and returned to his father, before the father embraced him, and forgave him totally. Mary was not prepared to leave Jegede which was what the father expected her to do.
She could not leave him because the power of love transcends all difficulties. As a matter of fact, the letter which Mary wrote to her father dated 1st October 1956, had as the address of the writer,
|C/o J. Ikpen|
In other words, she used the address of the very man, the father did not want her to associate with. In the letter by Agori and his wife to Mr. And Mrs. Oduaran, Mary was said to have:
“allowed herself to be spoilt by a person who has no character and economic means”.
If indeed, this description was true of Jegede, Mary did not see these faults and weaknesses, for as the common adage has it.
“Love is blind”,
blind, that is, to the flaws in the one loved.
On the strength of the evidence from the correspondence then, we cannot conclude that Agori’s strong opposition to the marriage between his daughter and Jegede, was as a result of revelation that Jegede would do him a forbidden thing:
“Jegede che ru vwe o bo re agha”,
which some of the members of the Agori family, later interpreted in respect of the burial of Agori at Ughelli, rather than in his hometown Okuama. Rather, Agori’s opposition to the marriage is accounted for by his estimation of Jegedeas:
“ a person who has no character and economic means”.
As he stated in that same letter, a few months, before writing the letter
“a respectable youngman from U.K., a senior service grade in our mission
interviewed us to marry her”.
But meanwhile, Mary had made her choice, even if in the eyes of her father, that meant spoiling herself. Her action is a supreme, example of the power of love. Perhaps Agori’s Victorian age posture is understandable, considering his position in the Church and his understanding of Christian morality. Even so, love is no love which is motivated by materialism. Mary loved Jegede, and finally married him, because amor omnia vincit.
AGORI AS PASTOR AND FATHER
THE Rev. R. Kidd who worked in Urhoboland between 1925 and 1931, had recommended in his last report written in 1931, that Agori’s ordination was not to be unduly delayed. Agori was accordingly sent to St. Paul’s College Awka for his ordination course in 1937, since the Urhobo churches had by 1932 been removed from the Yorba mission and administered with the Niger mission.
Before proceeding to Awka, Agori had written an Urhobo Primer, which contained the words
“Mo re kpo,, wo nyori
Wo kpo re? Yarhe”
“Come, let us go home, do you hear (me)?
Will you not go yet? Come”
The general growth in the Urhobo churches in the years following his training at Oyo, the separation of the churches from the Yoruba mission and their being grouped like their Isoko brethren, with the Niger mission, may be construed as a response to the call “Mo re kpo” (A History of Christianity, p, 104). After a two year course at Awka Agori was ordained in 1938, the first clergyman of the Anglican Church in Urhoboland. He served as Pastor in 1939, in Nnobi, Nnewi in Igboland. It was during that time in Nnobi, that Agori’s second daughter, Helen was born. She was born when the father was receiving treatment in Iyi-Enu hospital where he was hospitalised for three months. As a young man, he jumped from a moving vehicle, and dislocated his leg which led to his being hospitalized. After recovering, Agori continued to work as a Pastor in Nnobi until 1940 when he was transferred to Urhoboland. As a pastor, Agori took particular interest in his parishioners, whom he visited regularly and comforted when in distress.
As a father, he spared no efforts at the disciplining and training of his children. Any other man would have hesitated to send his second son to an Institution to which he sent his first son who fell ill while there, and later died. But not Agori. He was a man of stupendous faith. The tragedy that befell the family in the death of Samson did not deter Agori from sending his second son, Cornelius, to D.M.G.S.
Cornelius was born after Helen, and is now the first surviving son, and head of the Agori family. While for health reason, his late brother could not complete his School Certificate Course at D.M.G.S., Cornelius not only completed the Course, he also did Cambridge Higher School Certificate course there, before proceeding to the United State of America to study medicine. Having specialised there as a gynecologist, he practised for a number of years at the Montefiore Hospital in New York City. He later returned to Nigeria, where after working at the Mariere (Government) Hospital, Ughelli, for a number of years, he started his own hospital in memory of his father who spared no efforts at the training of his children.
AGORI AND HIS CLOSE RELATIONS
Agori’s life style, as demonstrated in his relationship to his wife, children, and immediate blood relations is inspiring. Agori had, in all, ten children, out of whom, seven survived him. His sister, Edafiaghware, also had ten children of whom six survived as at the time of Agori’s transition.
Agori stayed not only with his own children, but also with those of his sister, and indeed with as many children from Okuama community in particular, and from Ewu-Urhie community in general, who desired to be part of the Agori household.
His wife, Ovuomorayevbie Ruth, was a real mother in Israel. She brought up all those who stayed with her, as her own children, without discrimination. The maltreatment which Agori as a boy suffered at the hands of wives of relations with whom he stayed did not repeat itself in his family, thanks to the industry and amiable nature of Ruth Ovuomorayevbie.
On Agori’s part, there was no discrimination in the upbringing of the children who stayed with him. Those who disobeyed instructions were disciplined in accordance with the biblical principle: “spare the rod and spoil the child”, or “Train up a child the way he is to go, when he grows up he will not depart from it” (Prov. 13:24; 22:6).
Throughout the long stay at Ughelli, all the relations of Agori who were willing to be educated were accommodated in the household: the parsonage. Those who stayed with Agori, for this purpose included G.M. Esegba, Mrs. Alice Adamadide (nee Alice Adogbo), Samuel Adogbo, Noah Oseveta, Aaron Oseveta, Silvanus Maruaya, Simeon, Michael P. Adogbo, Grace Eserophe Okoro, Madam Idiode, Mary Martha, Omamoyuvwi Emasheni, and many others. The Agori household was thus a beehive, as each member of the household was compelled by the logic of the situation to contribute his or her quota to the health and total well-being of the household by going to work in the farm, and participating in the household chores. For, in accordance with a wise saying of our elders,
“A je phiho ukodoo, o je aria a”
“If you do not contribute to the pot of food, you cannot enjoy eating from it”.
Grace Eserophe Okor, who stayed with Agori for many years, was the only child of Okoro, Agori’s mentor, without whose encouragement, Agori might not have been educated. Since at least one good turn deserves another, Agori laboured to see that Grace was not particularly bright academically. She dropped out from the Secondary Modern School to which she was sent.
Discovering that Grace could not be helped further educationally, Agori helped her to settle down. Agori ordered that a hose be built for Grace when the latter met him to complain of trouble she was having in her maternal home. On receipt of Grace’s complaint, Agori wrote to his relations, Chief Edjede, Moses Osevota, Madam Edafiawhare Adogbo, Francis Adogbo, and Godson Omoho Esegba, instructing them to build a dwelling house for Grace in his own compound along the line where Agori was to build his kitchen. His own blocks already moulded and sand already put on the compound were to be used. New corrugated Iron sheets were to be purchased at Agori’s expense, and the house completed at the shortest possible time. (Agori to Chief Edadje et al, 31 Dec. 1973).