FIRST BISHOP OF BENIN DIOCESE
Sam U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
Reproduced in URHOBO WAADO by kind permission of Professor Sam U. Erivwo
Agori Iwe was the first Bishop of Benin Diocese.
The initiative to create a Benin Diocese came from Oraland. Early
in 1958, a suggestion to create a new Diocese in
As Ojehomon, C. E. pointed out in his long Essay
“Senator D. Asemota, who was very out-spoken during this period of
agitation, picked up the matter in 1958 and held a meeting with leaders
The first meeting was attended by the following
persons from Benin Archdeaconry:
E. F. Asemota
Senator D. Asmota
O. I. Ehanire
|1 J. Emeni
This ad-hoc committee met
in June 1959, at the end of which a joint memorandum was signed by
representatives of the two Archdeaconries, for the creation of a new
Diocese from Ondo/Benin Diocese, and from the Niger Diocese. On receiving
the memorandum the bishops of the two Dioceses – Ondo/Benin, and the
Rt. Rev. C.J. Paterson, Bishop on the Niger, Rt. Rev. S.M. Nkemena, Assist Bishop of the Niger Diocese; Rt. Rev. Awosika, Assist bishop of Ondo/Benin Diocese, Rt. Rev. S. Odutola, Bishop of Ondo/Benin Diocese. Ven. S. O. Akinluyi, Archdeacon of Benin Archdeaconry, Ven. Agori Iwe Arch-deacon of Warri Archdeaconry, Mr. E. Akpata, from Benin Archdeaconry, Mr. J. Ogodazi from Warri Archdeaconry.
At that meeting, the two Diocesan bishops were
satisfied that there was need to carve the Benin section from Ondo/Benin
Diocese, and excise the Warri Asaba sections from the Niger Diocese.
Having taken that decision, the committee set a machinery in motion
to produce the statistical data-for the proposed Diocese to ascertain,
just how qualified for a Diocese the area was. This fact finding committee
These questions were important, because the area
to be constituted into a Diocese, which the planning committee agreed
should be called Benin Diocese, was made up of heterogeneous ethnic
groups. In a meeting held at Benin by the members of the proposed Benin
Diocese on 17th November 1959, the component parts of the
new Diocese were given as: Asaba Aniocha, Ika, Ukwani, Aboh, Urhobo,
Isoko, Itsekiri, Edo (Bini), Etsako, Akoko Oke, Ishan, and Ora. This
area which was constituted by the Anglican Church into Benin Diocese
in January 1962, was the same area which the
Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, following a referendum,
later created as Midwest Region on
Having received answers to the questions raised,
the Diocesan Board of the Diocese of the
According to Agori when he attended one of the
preparatory meetings for the creation of the new Diocese, a question
of who should become bishop of the new Diocese was raised. Agori said
that he suggested Awosika, who was already Assistant Bishop, and resident
Awosika was the Yoruba ethnic group, while the
proposed new Diocese was to be made up of ethnic groups excluding
Yoruba. Perhaps, understandably, Agori’s colleagues opposed his proposal,
for one at least of the motivating factors for asking for a new Diocese
was to become independent of Yoruba domination in the Ondo/Benin diocese,
and of Igbo domination in the Diocese on the
Following the resolutions from the two Dioceses,
that a new Diocese be created, the mater was communicated to the Archbishop
of West Africa the most Revd J.L. Horstead, who appointed Archbishop’s
Advisory Committee under the Chairmanship of Chief Louis Mbanefo, the
then Chief Justice of Eastern Nigeria. This Committee met on
As a result of the heterogenous nature of the proposed Diocese the Archbishop’s Committee in indicating the qualities expected in the person to be appointed Bishop of the area said in its Report.
“One of the problems facing the new Diocesan would be to weld the two parts of the Diocese together, and to get the different clans to work amicably for the extension of Christ’s Kingdom”. The Advisory Committee accordingly recommended that the one to be appointed Bishop of the Diocese should be a person who:
(Extract from the Report of Archbishops Advisory Committee which met at All Saints’ Church, Asaba, 25 May, 1961). See S.U. Erivwo, “Prelates and Problems”, p. 247.
That the episcopal synod of the
The actual announcement of the creation of the
Diocese came from the Archbishop in an Episcopal synod held at
As recorded elsewhere,
“the news [of the appointment] came to Agori as a surprise. According to him, from the way
the message was first communicated from Bishop C.J. Paterson, it came in the form of
instruction from a boss which he could
not but obey.
to catch you before you left
you read it and then send me an Urgent wire with the one word’ Yes” on it. Thank you”
Paterson to Agori Iwe,
obviously, in that kind of instruction from a boss, only one action was possible: comply. Significantly, having accepted the offer and sent the wire, Agori never disclosed the news of his appointment as bishop to anyone, not even to his wife, until it was announced from the B.B.C one early morning.
HIS CONSECRATION AND RECEPTION
The consecration of Agori Iwe as first Bishop
of Benin Diocese, was significantly fixed on St. Andrew’s Day, and
took place in St. Andrew’s Church Warri. It is significant because Agori
attended St. Andrew’s
Needless to say that the
consecration ceremony was itself very colourful. Messages of
congratulation were received from far and wide. Ven S.O. Akinluyi sent
first a telegramme of congratulation on hearing the announcement from
the BBC. Thereafter he and Mrs. Akinluyi wrote a letter in which they
stated “We are very grateful to God for the appointment of our Brother
as Bishop of Benin Diocese” (Akinluyi to Agori Iwe, 31st
July 1961). Messages were also sent from two of Agori’s Alma
Mater, St. Andrew’s College Oyo and St. Aiden’s College Birkenhead,
England. The message from St. Andrew’s College Oyao, dated
After his consecration on
On assuming duty after his consecration and enthronement as Bishop, Agori, as we observed elsewhere.
“Set out to administer his Diocese and did so with a high degree of administrative competence and impartiality. One of his first assignments was the creation of Asaba Archdeaconry as an answer to a request made by Asaba District even before the Diocese was created. Rev. C. A. Echenim was appointed Archdeacon of Asaba while Rev. G.P. Barnard, a white man, was appointed Archdeacon of Warri Arch-deaconry in succession to Agori Iwe. Ven S.O. Akinluyi continued as Archdeacon of Benin”. (see S.U. Erivwo, “Prelates & Problems…” pp. 247f
In the course of his maiden episcopal visits to a number of the Districts constituting the Diocese encomiums were poured on Agori by church members.
The welcome address presented to him by Sapele District and bound in a book form, is perhaps worth quoting here in extension, especially because, Sapele District was the District which refused to be administered with the rest of the Urhobo churches when the latter opted to move from the Yoruba mission to the Niger mission in 1932. The Sapele D.C.C. wrote.
“Our Father in God,
We the undersigned representing Sapele District church Council on behalf of ourselves and the entire District Church members assemble here this day to accord you our hearty welcome to our midst at this your maiden episcopal visit…Sapele township…is a cosmopolitan place with its different tribes, languages, and customs, but the church is one and the same, and in the midst of odds it continues to grow from strength to strength”.
This point is significant especially because just before the creation of Benin Diocese and the appointment and consecration of Agori Iwe as its Bishop, there had been wranglings and agitations in the Sapele District Church, of ethnic nature – the Urhobo elements in that church, finding that they were not being fairly treated, had agitated for ownership of St. Luke’s. As we stated elsewhere.
When in the fifties Urhobo membership of St. Luke’s increased considerably the church suffered from inter-ethnic conflicts and rivalries. The Yoruba population laid claim to St. Luke’s as did the Urhobo. Petitions and counter petitions went to the Bishop of the Diocese, the Rt. Rev. S.O. Odutola. The conflicts continued unresolved until after the creation of Benin Diocese in 1961 and appointment of Agori Iwe as its Bishop. (See S. U. Erivwo, A History of Christianity p. 126)
It is against this background that the words of the Sapele D.C.C. welcome address to the first Bishop of Benin Diocese Agori Iwe, are to be understood.
On the appointment of Agori Iwe as Bishop, the Sapele D.C.C. welcome address stated:
“We cannot say your elevation to the diocesan chair is overdue as this diocese has just been created. We therefore say that your appointment at this time is unique, the right man in the right place and at the right time” (Sapele D.C.C. Welcome address to Agori Iwe on the occasion of his maiden episcopal visit to Sapele. The address is not dated)