|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 OF OKUAMA
In 1936, Agori caused a Primary School to be opened at Okuama. The first teacher of this school was Johnson Agbati Emoefe of Ohwaron-Afiesere, Ughelli. The school however folded up a few years after it started. This was as a result of an erroneous impression which the Okuama community had, namely that C.M.S. schools were not as good as others because it was thought that the English language was not being effectively taught in C.M.S. schools. After jettisoning the C.M.S. school, which had to fold up, one Ifaka of Evwreni was called upon to bring his own school to Okuama. If a C.M.S. school started in the community could not survive, there was no way a school owned by an individual, could. The Ifaka school, thus also folded up after a short time.
“Once or twice though you may fail, try, try, try again”.
Agori a man of determination, was not daunted by the rejection of the primary school he introduced in his community in 1936. In the 1940’s he caused another C.M.S. School to be opened in Okuama. The first teacher in the second school introduced by Agori, was Peter Ode of Uduere. This primary school survived till modern times, as did others in the rest of Ewwu, started through Agori’s influence.
The determination of Agori Iwe to get a primary school started in his own community of Okuama was borne out of the conviction that without education his people would continue to grope in darkness. But with the introduction of a primary school, many of the young generation would acquire the skill to read and write, and so be exposed to the scriptures which were given as a lamp to our feet and a light for out path in our life’s journey (Ps. 119:105). Later, in the mid 1950’s when modern schools were introduced in the old Western Region, to which region Urhoboland belonged, Agori also caused a Modern School to be opened at Ewu.
(ii) LAND DISPUTES
Okuama town is located between two Ijo communities; Akugbene and Okoloba. As often happened in such communities that are contiguous, there were frequent land disputes between Okuama and either Akugbene or Okoloba.
Through the advice and counsel of Agori Iwe, the Okuama community won a decisive victory in the land disputes with the Ijo communities in the then West African Court of Appeal at Warri, in 1946. According to the testimony of Michael Adogbo, Okuama is the only Ewu community which has a well defined boundary recognized by law, with their neighbouring Ijo community. The boundaries which other Urhobo communities, like Gbaregolo, Frukama, Omosuoma, Alagbabri and so on have with their Ijo neigbours are not so well defined with the result that there are frequent border clashes between the Urhobo and Ijo communities living in those areas.
Agori is also reported to have played a significant role in another land dispute which the Okuama people had, this time with a neighbouring Urhobo community, of Oviri-Olomu. Through the wise counsel of Agori, the Okuama people cooperated with the neighbouring Ijo communities in the case.
As a result of the cooperation with the Ijo communities which Agori fostered in prosecuting the case, all the communities sharing a common border with the land (uto-Awhuri) in dispute – Okuama, the Ijo communities and the Oviri Olomu – were allowed by law to share in the land.
(iii) A POLICE CASE
There was a time three police men from Ughelli went to Okuama, in an exploit. They went hunting for those dealing in “illicit” gin, popularly know as Akeptechi, agbakara, Ogogoro or Udi Ogagan. The three policemen who though they could intimidate the dealers and elicit gratifications from them, got more than they bargained for, when the anticipated “settlement” did not happen. The Okuama people teamed up and had the three policemen thoroughly beaten, claiming that they came to harass their community unauthorised.
When the news of the disgrace suffered by the Police Force reached Ughelli, the government of the day decided to send a punitive force to Okuama, to sack and raze Okuama community to dust. When it became obvious that Okuama was to be burnt down by a detachment of a Polce constabulary force, Agori intervened. He met the District Officer (D.O.) in charge of the Ughelli Area known then as Eastern Urhobo District, and sued for peace. In consequence of Agori’s intervention, the planned punitive action against Okuama was stopped.
Agori on his part undertook to bring all the able bodied men of Okuama to Ughelli for identification parade. In this way those who actually beat up the policemen were identified, and the case was settled after Okuama people were made to pay the sum of twenty pounds (£20) for the uniforms of the police and for the batons which cold not be found. For this meritorious service – this act of salvation – for his people, Agori had a song composed in his praise by the community:
Agori jevwe, Agori jevwe
Agori Okpurhe rode
Emo re Okuama vwa golo wan- Iye Iye
I admire Agori, I admire Agori
Agori is a mighty tree
A mighty tree has fallen along the river
Okuama children proudly match along it.
E – Eye.
(iv) LOCAL ADMINISTRATOR
At a point in time it appeared that the Okuama men lost administrative control of the town to the women. When Agori visited Okuama the male members of the community summoned the women folk to Agori’s compound for a discussion. The question had to do with who should administer justice in the community. In other words, upon whose shoulders should the government of the town be place, the men or the women? At first sight such a question may to be a non-issue. But the women made a very strong case against the men who neglected their responsibility of governance. According to the women the gross laxity of the men fold led to a situation where law and order virtually broke down in Okuama. And it was to save the situation that the women stepped in and assumed responsibility for the proper governance of Okuama. They cited instances where the women intervened to restore normalcy, after the men had failed to do so.
Agori commended the good efforts of the women in ensuring that law and order did not break down irretrievably in the community. To the on lookers who listened to the well deserved commendation which Agori gave to the Okuama women, it appeared that he would rule in their favour and ask them to continue the good work they had begun. But ironically Agori concluded his commendation of the women with a historic statement still found in the lips of Okuama people today:
“Oho re aye bo vwe orere-e”
A hen does not crow in town.
To the Okuama people Agori was a rare gem; throughout his adult life, they looked up to him for counsel, leadership, and inspiration. And he was not found wanting in any area. He not only build a primary school for the community he also built a church which was christened St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Okuama.
Contrary to the biblical Logion that a prophet is not without honour except among his own people, Agori was highly honoured by his own people. They cherished his leadership. This might, perhaps at least in part, account for the protracted controversy over the place of his burial. As one loved, and who meant so much to them, the Okuama community and many of Agoir’s close relations, insisted that he should be buried in Okuama. But he was not just of Okuama. He was also a Bishop of the Anglican Communion.