|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 WORK IN URHOBOLAND
Agori’s working life was devoted to the service of his master. Following his training at Oyo, he came to Urhoboland to be a pioneer teacher and evangelist in the young. Anglican Churches in Urhoboland. It would be recalled that he taught for a year (1923) as a pupil teacher in his own Alma mater, St. Andrew’s C.M.S. School, Warri before he was selected and sent to St. Andrew’s Oyo for training. On his return, his work was mainly in the Church. As a trained Catechist, he assisted J.C.C. Thomas in organising the Urhobo churches. This was particularly so after the Ishoshi Erhi crisis in 1929. Urhobo Church District was created in 1932 till 1935. In 1937 he went to St. Paul’s College Awka for his ordination course. At that time Catechist B.P. Apena was posted to Ughelli to take the place left vacant by Agori. As already pointed out, he came back after his ordination course, and ministered in the Urhobo District until 1949 when he was sent for further training in England. On his return from England he was sent to Enugu and was superintendent of Enugu District until 1952 when he came back to Urhoboland. He then took charge of the Urhobo District Church. Under him, Orogun C.M.S. Church which had been administered with Kwale District, opted to be with their kith and kin in Urhobo District. Before then the Urhobo of Agbon (Okpara, Eku, etc.) who were also in Kwale District, had left Kwale District for Urhobo District as early as 1936 when The Rt Rev. B. Lasbray visited the area. (see Arawore, p. 28).
From 1952 to 1954, Agori was Superintendent and Chairman of Urhobo Church District. He was visiting groups of Churches from Sunday to Sunday, riding on a bicycle to do so. The Groups of churches then included Ughelli Group, Agbarho Group, Olomu Group, Agbor Group, Ughievwen Group, Uwheru Group, Ewhu Group, and so on. The Sunday the Pastor was to visit a Group all the village churches comprising that Group held a combine service and the purpose of the visit of the Pastor which usually attracted considerable attention of the locality was to administer the Sacraments, either of Baptism or the of the Holy Communion.
After the service in the church, Agori then visited sick members, or bereaved members of the local church to pray for them and admonish them. Also, where there were cases of persecution of church members by the unbelieving members of the community, either on the ground that the Christians refused to obey some local regulation on traditional sabbaths (edowo) or they refused to cooperate with the pagans on clearing a path leading to a shrine of the local deity, and so on, the Pastor would step in and try to make peace and explain to the elders and if there was a warrant Chief in the area, to the warrant Chief why members of the church should not be involved in such traditional and religious practices and rites. In certain cases where the local people proved to be recalcitrant, the matter was taken to the District Officer (D.O.) at Ughelli, where the verdict was in favour of the Christians. Thus at Ekiugbo Ughelli, Igben Adjarho, Apollos Erivwo Okaremu and others of St. Paul’s C.M.S. church were taken to the Police station, but the local people where they were locked up, for protecting a femalemember of the church accused of witchcraft by the town people. When the case was reported to the Pastor, the Rev. Agori Iwe, he intervened, met the District Officer and had the case charge to court. In court, all those but one who accused the woman of witchcraft denied that they called her a witch. The woman who owned up but had no emperical evidence to prove her case, was imprisoned for three months, while the others including the accused were set free. (Interview with Agori Iwe, 16 April, 1971). See S.U. Erivwo, Traditional Religion And Christianity p. 160).
Cases of witchcraft were by their very nature difficult to establish for want of emperical evidence. Consequently, the missionaries and church workers like Agori, did not usually encourage their members to believe in the reality of witchcraft. In fact, Agori himself related an experience which he and the Rev. H. W. Garbutt, under whom he served between 1935 and 1937 as Catechist had. The Rev. H. W. Garbutt, a Canadian, having heard so many witchcraft stories from church members, decided to investigate the reality or otherwise the phenomenon. They were then taken to a self confessed witch in Eruemukohwarien. The woman confirmed that if she gave Garbutt and Agori something of the witchcraft to eat, they would both find themselves in the coven of the following night. Rev. Garbutt, we were told asked her to bring that substance. She brought two, one for the Rev. Garbutt, the other for the Catechist, Agori Iwe. According to Agori Iwe, he hesitated, and watched whether Garbutt would actually eat it. Garbutt did, whereupon, Agori summoned courage and also ate his own.
They both went home. The following morning, Garbutt went and met Agori to ask if he, Agori found himself in a coven . Agori said that he did not go anywhere but slept soundly. Garbutt also said, he went no where but also slept soundly. They then concluded that the woman had cheated them they therefore went back to her to question her why she deceived them. Her reply was: they were not the type of people who could get to the coven. (The Rt. Rev. Agori Iwe narrated this story at St. Michael’s College Oleh, in 1969, while trying to reconcile two factions of the AAOS, and a question was posed to him whether or not he believed that there is witchcraft).
This experience is a demonstration of the powerlessness of demonic forces – witchcraft and demonic spirits – when confronted by the children of God. Throughout his ministry, Agori Iwe treated diabolical forces like the forces of witches or of demons (edjo) as impotent before the children of God and therefore not to be feared.
There was the case of Ugo of Ubogo. (see Erivwo, Traditional Religion and Christianity p. 54, and E. Arawore, pp. 12 & 14). The cult of Ugo was popular at the advent of Christianity to Urhoboland. So much so that the one time British Commissioner, Douglas, was said to be a member of the cult. Ugo members used to sing.
Ishoshi Ovie r’ugo
Oghwa na o ben.
Church is a slave to Ugo
The load will be heavy on the church.
But even the power of Ugo was also to fade away in the face of the spread of the Gospel in Urhoboland. Ardent Ugo worshippers often clashed with members of the church in many Urhobo towns and villages and such cases were usually reported to the consul, and later to the District Officers for redress (Arawore, p. 12).
Ugo was believed by its adherents to be so potent that it would overpower the church. But even Ugo faded away; because as the Urhobo christians later came to believe the fame of any one edjo (divinity or god) seldom lasts for more than three years.
The village of Ubogo, which was dominated by Ugo cult for many years, was, in 1954, to be converted to christianity. According to the witness of Arawore a man of Ubogo call Oghoro and some others in the village decided to accept Christ and become Christians in 1954. The matter was reported by the church Agent (Pa Abi Oghenekaro) in charge of that whole area to Ven. Agori Iwe, the Superintendent of Urhobo churches. Agori directed that the person be then prepared for baptism. Following the preparation, the converts were baptised. As Arawore reported the incident:
|In 1955 at a colourful baptism service in the open air at the centre of Obogo, Oghoro and his friends plus many people from other churches in the district were baptised in the same spot where many years before Ugo adherents washed away their iniquities…(Arawore, p. 14)|
Significantly, some of the children and grand children of Otirikpe (Otikpan) the original owner of Ugo cult, were also baptised that day, and the eldest son of late Otirikpe played host to Ven. Agori Iwe. The new converts and all the church members rejoiced and danced round Ubogo proclaiming the victory of Jesus Christ over demonic forces. Indeed, the reason the Son of man appeared was to destroy the work of the devil. (1 Jn. 3:8). When the stronger than the strong man appears, the latter must give way. (see Luke 11:21f). by 1954, when Agori Iwe was made an Archdeacon of Warri archdeaconry much of Urhoboland had been evanglised, to Agori’s credit, since the evangelisation of that whole area since 1940, was under his general leadership.
Indeed, the story of the growth of the CMS., Later, designated Anglican church, in Urhoboland, is the story of the life of Agori Iwe. His biography cannot be separated from the story of the CMS. Church, in Urhoboland, and beyond.
According to the witness of Arawore, Agori lived in “a simple thatched building given out” by James Okpanovwe Adeda. The church house which was also used as a school, was a mud house with thatch roof. Writes Arawore,
|“He [Agori] was Headmaster/Catechist and had, not just the oversight of the churches which were many but also their teaching, the preaching and the Bible classes in the whole of what was then Eastern Urhobo”. (Arawore, p. 25).|
The area was linked with a net work of bush paths, intercepted by streams and rivers. Agori had just a push bicycle for his means of transport, and more often than not trekked to the villages bringing the gospel to the people in their homes. There were times, he had to use canoe to go to places he could not reach by land.
Agori did all this because of the conviction he had about his call. The Master’s task is one that must be done. While he laboured assiduously to reach the people, the salary he was paid, was so meagre that had he depended on it, he and his family could not have survived. His wife, Ruth, lwas a very resourceful woman, who with the children and all those of the household, farmed to supplement the meagre salary of her husband.
Poor as the salary was, Agori’s boss the Rev. O.N. Garrad, still denied him his annual increment of £2:10s, when he was due. The increment was withheld for two whole years on the ground that what was being raised by the parishioners of Agori, could not meet the increment. The fixed church dues (also called class fees then) was first 4d, and then 6d.
Significantly, although Agori knew that he was denied his increment, he did not complain to anyone, for he also knew that of a truth, his church members could not pay the amount involved. But there was interposition of providence.
The Bishop on the Niger the Rt. Rev. B. Lasbrey, on his usual annual episcopal visit, came to Oleh, and on examining the records, discovered, that Agori’s increment had not been paid for two years. When Rev. Garrad was queried, he replied that what was being raised from Urhobo churches under Agori, could not meet the increment. The Bishop was not happy that Garrad had to discriminate against Agori working amongst those churches that were poor. After all, the new Testament pattern was that rich churches should come to the aid of the poor ones. On returning to Onitsha, the Bishop sent a total sum of Sixty pounds (£60), which Agori should have been paid for two years, to him through Rev. Garrad.
Agori thanked God that that money came, at the time it did and the way it did, for he was then able to use it to build his first house in his home town Okuama, with glass windows.
While Agori Iwe was Superintendent of Urhobo District (1940-49, 1952-54) he had only the following workers to assist him: Messrs David Egbebruke, Johnson Emoefe, Samede, Ikimi Waghoregho, Towuru Idia, Abi Oghenekaro, and Ighofimoni. As was earlier pointed out, Mr. Massima Ebosa led a group away from the church in 1929, to form Ishoishi Erhi. But after his death in Sept 1947, at Ughoto, his home town, many of his original supporters and followers, came back to the church. Among such persons were Abi Oghenekaro of Owhrode, Ojo of Owhrode, Gbeterhe of Erhuwanre in Ughievwe, Kila of Oginibo, Isiah Akpigun Ikpen of Ekrokpe, and Towuru Idia of Olomu.
Agori’s task of supervising the Urhobo C.M.S. Churches, was clearly Herculean, and the fact that there were not many qualified hands available to assist him, made his job doubly difficult. He was until 1951, the only Urhobo ordained minister working in Urhoboland, the second Urhobo indigene, G.D. Nabofa, ordained in 1946 worked in Isoko. The Revd (later Venerable Benjamin P. Apena, the first Isoko to be ordained also worked in Urhoboland. As pointed out earlier on, Apena served in Ughelli 1937 to 1939, when Agori went to Awka for training and worked in the East for a year before he was posted to ~Ughelli. Also when Agori was sent to England for further studies 1949 – 50, and on his return was posted first to Enugu where he worked until 1952, the Rev. B.P. Apena, was sent to Ughelli to be in charge of the Urhobo churches. Between 1950 and 1961, when Agori was consecrated Bishop, only the following person had been ordained and assisted him in ministering to the Urhobo churches which were growing by leaps and bounds: Johnson Emoefe, 1851, J. O. Dafiewhare 1958, E. Arawore 1958, and P.O. Unurhieri 1958. Unurhieri was actually working in Sapele, an area which was not administered with the Urhobo churches until after consecration of Agori Iwe.