|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 IN EASTERN NIGERIA
As already indicated, after his ordination as deacon in 1938, Agori Iwe served his curacy in Eastern Nigeria, in 1939 and was transferred to Urhoboland where he administered the Urhobo Churches from 1940 to 1948 before he was sent for further studies at Aiden’s College Birkenhead, Liverpool. When he returned from England in 1949 he was posted to Enugu as Superintendent of Enugu District from 1949 to 1952. The Enugu District in his time covered a large area. A document he prepared regarding the Organisation of Women’s work n his District gave and idea of the extent of that District. According to that document, the Wormen’s work which comprised Women’s guild and the mothers’ Union was organised under the leadership of the wife of the Superintendent, Mrs. Ruth Ovuomorayevbie, Agori Iwe, and had the following branches.
- St. Peter’s Branch which included Iwa Valley and Akagve;
- St. Barth’s Branch, which included Ogui, and Abekapa;
- St Mary’s (Ngwo) Branch, which included Nsude, Okwoje, Obioma, Abia, Umulumgbe, Okpatu, and Amankwo, and
- All Saints’ (Markudi South) Branch which included Markudi North, and Oboko.
Enugu District, under Agori Iwe, in 1950, was a very large area. Just as he toured the large area of the Urhobo District from 1940-49, on a push bicycle, and in canoe, when visiting the riveraine area of the District, so he did the Enugu District under him.
This is why, his friend, Archdeacon Burne offered to sell his own car to Agori at a cheap rate of £250. Agori wrote to his friend Rev. J. Townsend, in Yorkshire, England, asking him to help him pray and source for fund to be able to purchase the vehicle. Says Agori in that letter, “I wrote you a letter sometime ago about my work and the difficulty of moving quickly
and regularly from one station church to another due to transport difficulty in this part“”
(Agori Iwe to J. Townsend, 26 Sept. 1950).
As was the case in those years before Government takeover of schools, the clergyman was also the supervisor of the Mission schools in his District. Accordingly, Agori Iwe was the Manager of the C.M.S. schools in his District. On one occasion, he received a letter from the General Manager of C.M.S., schools in the Diocese, asking him to “call the meeting of Enugu Township School Committee” for the General Manager, (the Bishop) had an important matter to bring before the committee to discuss a matter which he had discussed with the Onitsha Township School Committee, and of great importance to the schools. According to Agori, he had to reply that there was nothing like “Township School Committee in Enugu”.
In the course of time it devolved on Agori Iwe, as Manager of schools in his District, to constitute that type of Committee for the C.M.S. schools in Enugu metropolis. In his maiden address to the Committee, he pointed out the necessity for such a committee. The committee was not constituted simply because such committees existed in other Townships like Onitsha and PortHarcourt, but because there was real need for its existence, in addition to the other committees which the separate schools had. The duties of such a committee, according to Agori, would consist of the general welfare of C.M.S. schools in Enugu in respect of:
- Buildings, compounds, sanitation and so on, and
- General development of the schools. In addition, the committee would also carry out any other duties assigned to it by the Authority or Proprietor of the C.M.S. schools in the Diocese.
For the period Agori was in charge of the Enugu District, as Superintendent, he carried out his duties with meticulous attention and unalloyed dedication to his Master. Agori Iwe, as Catechist, had translated the Gospel of John, and had it published by 1935. Later, he also ensured that the whole of the New Testament was also translated into Urhobo and published.
From the records, it is clear that Agori Iwe either forewarded the manuscripts of the Urhobo New Testament (ovho Okpokpo), to the British and Foreign Bible Society in London by post, or took them along when he went to Britain in 1949 for further studies. The New Testament in Urhobo was the consequence of his initiative. It was he who in 1945 commissioned Mr. J.A. Emoefe, Mr. Enajero Arawore, and Mr. Isaac Efedjama, all of them trained Catechists to translate the whole New Testament into Urhobo (see E. Arawore, History of the Church in Urhoboland p. 51). But the entire work was under his general supervision and direction. This was why when later an Urhobo Translation Committee was set up to translate the entire Bible into Urhobo, Agori Iwe was unquestionably recognised as the patron of the Committee. (Arawore, p. 53). Those whom he commissioned to do the translation, after completing the work passed on the manuscripts to him for action. Shortly after Agori’s return from England, in December 1949 he received a letter from Mr. A.T.A. Roberts, the General Manager of C.M.S. Niger Bookshops regarding the Manuscripts of the Urhobo New Testament. Quoting from that letter, gives some insight into the kind of role Agori played in getting the New Testament in Urhobo out. Roberts who wrote from Port Harcourt stated Inter alis
“you will be interested to know that I have just returned from my furlough which I spent in SUSSEX and I have just found a copy of Miss Ashford’s letter to you dated 1st of September.
I am wring to tell you that some of your manuscripts are still with me. Do you need these documents for reference?
I called at the British and Foreign Bible Society and I am sorry that I was not aware of these queries at the time. Of course I would not have known the answers, but I know now that most of the copy manuscripts are here in Port Harcourt with me.
I hope that you have settled down to your parochial duties after your exciting travels.” (Roberts to Agori, at Enugu, 12 Dec. 1949)
On 28th December Mr. Roberts forewarded the manuscripts of the Urhobo New Testament, that he found in his possession at PortHarcourt, on his return from furlough to Agori Iwe in Enugu and on the following day, 29th December, he forewarded a copy of a letter of Miss Ashford on the same subject, to Agori.
In the said letter dated First Sept., 1949, and headed “Urhobo New Testament”, Miss Ashford wrote:
“We have just been looking over your MSS, of the New Testament before passing them on to the printer, and we find that, while two or three of the books have had accents marked in ink, the majority have none. Does this mean that the accents are not really necessary and can be ignored throughout? Or will you like to have the manuscript back again in order to insert these? It will be much easier to set up the manuscript without the accented letters.
Then again I notice that some of have ‘e’ and ‘o’ and some ‘e’ and ‘o’. But I have looked at the printed John and I find that only the ‘e’ and ‘o’ have been employed.
I am very sorry indeed that we did not notice these discrepancies before you left England. If you want the manuscript back will you ask Mr. Roberts to send us a cable saying ‘RETURN MSS’
Earlier on, the translations Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society in a letter dated 28th Sept. 1949, had written to Agori at Eugu, to supply the title, the equivalent in Urhobo of “The New Testament of our Lord And Saviour Jesus Christ”. To this Agori replied in his letter of 20th October 1949, from Enugu, to say that the equivalent was Ovho okokpo R’ Orovbavbar, V’ Orovbavbar, V’ Orosivbavbari Jesus Christ?. To have asked for the Manuscripts to be returned would have meant a further delay in the production of the entire New Testament in the Urhobo language. Consequently, Agori did not ask that they be returned. The Ovho Okpokpo was therefore printed without the ‘e’ and ‘o’ which were in the Gospels of Mark and John, published earlier on. Although when it came out newly, in 1951, some readers complained that it was difficult to read, church people soon got used to it, since the context dictated whether an o was to be pronounced as o and an e should be pronounced as e.
Thus, even while Agori was working in Eastern Nigeria his heart was still very much with his own people, the Urhobo of the Niger Delta. It will be recalled that while he was in training at St. Andrew’s Oyo 1924-27, and his fellow students rioted on account of bad food, he refused to join them, arguing that his people did not send him all the way from Urhoboland to Oyo to eat food, but to be trained as a church leader for his own people who had no church leader. Not only did he produce the Fourth Gospel in Urhobo, after he had been trained as a Catechist, but now as Igbo heartland, he ensured that the New Testament was made available in his mother tongue for the Urhobo churches.
We do not know how much of the Igbo language, he was able to learn while he worked in Eastern Nigeria, but there are indications that the language barrier presented some difficulties to Agori in Eastern Nigeria. Thus in a letter from his friend, Frank Beein, the latter noted that he was glad to receive Agori’s letter and to learn about his new work in Igboland, observing that “it must indeed be difficult having to convey things through an interpreter, but I expect you will have begun by now to learn the language and will soon make strides in it” (Frank B. Beein, St. Aiden’s College England to Agori Iwe at Enugu, 16 Nov. 1949).
While Agori was in the east he was still very concerned about the growth of the church in Urhoboland, and the church workers in Urhoboland, looked up to him for advice and help in times of difficulties. One of the church workers at the time who had difficulties with his immediate boss and looked up to Agori Iwe for advice and help, even while Agori was still in Enugu, was Catechist Enajero Arawore.
In a moving letter to Agori in Sept. 1950, Arawore intimated the former with his plight. The letter marked Confidential, was actually addressed to Archdeacon Burne and copied to Agori Iwe at Enugu, and to Rev. Nwosu at Aba. After reading a copy of the letter, Agori wrote to Arawore, saying among other things:
“Thank you for keeping me informed of what your pastor and the Archdeacon are trying to do
against your progress. I am writing to the Archdeacon, but I should not mention anything about
your letter. I will put your case to him in a different way…While I was with him during our
week of Evangelism, we only touched faintly the subject of our men for training; and there was
no time to have strong, and heart to heart talk about it.
When I read your letter, I wept. Your letter has just reached me this morning, and the whole day
has been sad for me. And I tried to comfort myself with the word of God. St. Paul’s words…
came to me. “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” I believe strongly that church work is God’s work. It is Christ’s Special Department in the World.
He is above all, over-ruling the evils of men in it; and making all things turn to good for them that
put their faith in Him” (Agori Iwe, at C.M.S. Office Enugu, to E. Arawore, 25 Sept. 1950).
Agori went further to encourage Arawore to take comfort in God’s words, already quoted, while promising that he would do the little he could to right the wrong. Agori commended Arawore highly in the manner he wrote to the Archdeacon.
“Your letter to the Archdeacon is very very good. I commend your wisdom in it, I believe that
the Holy Spirit has guided you. Please preserve a copy for history, which shall be written for
Urhobo church” (Agori to Arawore, 25 Sept. 1950).
The plight of Arawore about which he wrote, while he was at St. Barnabas’ Church Arhavbarie, had to do with the manner, his immediate boss disrecommended him to the Archdeacon, over a matter which the boss had claimed to have forgiven Arawore. The issue was not actually to do with Arawore directly, but with his wife who sold certain articles in the school premises, after the pastor had said that articles were not to be sold in the school premises. Arawore and his wife apologised and were said to have been forgiven. Yet when the time to select Catechists for training came, the pastor disrecommended him on that score to the Archdeacon, who believed everything the pastor said hook, line, and sinker.
Agori laboured faithfully in Eastern Nigeria, as Superintendent of Enugu District, until 1952 when he was posted back to Urhoboland, to be in charge of the Urhobo churches, where his heart really was, again.