FIRST BISHOP OF BENIN DIOCESE
Sam U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
Reproduced in URHOBO WAADO by kind permission of Professor Sam U. Erivwo
After the failure of Portuguese Christianity introduced to the Western Delta of Nigeria, the new religion did not begin to penetrate the area until the end of the nineteenth century, and especially at the beginning of the twentieth century. This time, Protestant missionaries especially of the Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) led the way.
Samuel Ajayi Crowther
had accompanied the 1841, 1854 and 1857
Later attempts made
by C.M.S. missionaries, for instance by Bishop H. Tugwell, to have Christianity
reintroduced into the Warri area did not also immediately yield the desired
result. Tugwell’s argument in 1898 that if the C.M.S. did no open a station
in the Warri area then that the backbone of the Oba of Benin had been broken
in 1897, the people of the Western Delta might revert to a worse form of
idolatry did not move C.M.S. authority. It was not until James Johnson who
was consecrated on
Omotsola, an Itsekiri who was educated at the Hope Waddell Institute Calabar,
and was later appointed by Bishop Johnson to be in charge of the Sapele congregation,
was labouring indefatigably to open branches of the Christian Church in
the environs of Sapele and in the Urhobo hinterland. According to a report
written by Bishop Herbert Tugwell from the C.M.S. House at Patani on 4th
Han., 1915, to C.M.S. Headquarters in
Tugwell made this discovery
and observation after his itineration of the Urhobo and Isoko country from
After making the purpose of his visit known to the representatives of the Urhobo villages in the neighbourhood of Warri and to the church committee of St. Andrew’s Church Warri, Bishop Tugwell held a meeting with them.
From the meeting he discovered that there were about _____ congregations in the Urhobo country affiliated to St. Andrew’s Church Warri. Furthermore, Mr. Omatsola, the Pastor in charge of Sapele, who was invited to the meeting, pointed out that there were also as many as fifteen congregations affiliated to the Church at Sapele.
After the meeting, Tugwell continued his episcopal tour of Urhoboland, and went to the company of Omatsola to Uhworkori (Kokori). Consequent upon Tugwell’s tour, there was a growing concern on the part of C.M.S. authority as to how best to cater for the congregations which were springing up by leaps and bounds in Urhobo and Isoko lands. From the reports in C.M.S. archieves, it was clear that the new religion was spreading like harmattan fire and enveloping the whole of the Western Delta.
The penetration of the area from the Warri and Sapele ends was spearheaded by Bishop James Johnson and his agents of the Niger Delta Pastorate. Meanwhile, the Niger Mission of the C.M.S. had stationed the Revd. Henry Proctor at Patani at the turn of the century, and had also with reluctance granted him permission to pay occasional visits to Warri. In short, by the time Bishop Tugwell undertook his tour of 1914, the christian presence in Urhobo and Isoko lands was very much in evidence. Significantly, however, the propagators of the faith at this stage were essentially not white missionaries. Rather, they were for the most part, ex-slaves or Urhobo and Isoko who were sojourneying in Yorubaland but who returned home to establish christian congregations amongst their own people. Some of these agents were also Isekiri, as was the case with Omatsola already mentioned, and Tedon, a court clerk who introduced Christianity to Uzere in 1910.
From July of 1913, Aitken decided to settle amongst the Urhobo in the belief that he was leaving Isoko or the western half of it to Bishop Johnson’s men who were also working in the area. Aitken reported that he registered nearly 2,000 people who “have thrown away their idols to serve God”. But while he was away on the work had to be abandoned since there was no other C.M.S. missionary working with him at the time in the Urhobo country.
In one town alone, Aitken claimed that he had 600 converts and that the chief of a section of the town ordered all the women to join “us that they may learn to love their neighbours instead of poisoning them”. In consequence of that order, we are told that about 150 women with their children joined the church although Aitken could not have them registered before he went on fourlough. The chief ordered the women to join the church because of the belief that women were generally witches who bewitched or poisoned their neighbours. This aspect of the people’s belief will be discussed later in the course of this work.
Aitken was quite nervous
about the possibility of Roman Catholic missionaries coming to invade the
area and snatch the converts from the C.M.S. in Isoko and Urhoboland. Bu
this time, the Roman Catholics were beginning to resuscitate Roman Catholicism
at Warri. He was equally disturbed about the prospects of
After that visit, the great concern of the Bishop was how to get the appropriate C.M.S. missionaries and agents to work in the Urhobo and Isoko country. He would prefer European missionaries, if these were available, but if not, West Indians would be acceptable. The prospects of funding such missionaries were however not bright particularly because of the first World War that had just begun.
It is significant that
while C.M.S. authority were anxious about the right kind of leadership for
the area, while they were searching for agents and ministers of the church
to work and give effective leadership among the Urhobo and Isoko peoples,
a young Urhobo boy, destined to be a pillar of the Church later among his
own people, had just been born through divine providence, and was being
shaped and prepared for that very task. That young man is none other than
Agori Iwe whose life story and achievements we here present to the general
reader as well as to the students of Church History.