Andrew S. P. Emorhokpor and His Times
By Peter P. Ekeh
Andrew Emorhokpor and I first met at Ovu in 1948. He was living with Mr. William Okome, a teacher at Catholic School, Ovu. We were of the same age and were both in Standard Three in different elementary schools of British colonial educational system. We immediately struck a friendship that lasted for full five decades. Sadly, Andrew died on February 24, 2001 -- by modern standards, rather early. He was buried yesterday, Saturday, March 24, 2001, in his beloved hometown of Isiokoro, political and ritual headquarters of Agbon.
Mr. Andrew Emorhokpor was a typical Urhobo man. His life and his life vocations fully mirrored those of millions of good Urhobo men and women who went before him to the Great Beyond. And yet Andrew had his uniqueness that must be celebrated alongside those virtues of the Urhobo man that he shared so abundantly.
These recollections and reflections on his life and his times are from a biased source, of course. I was Andrew's life-long friend. We called each other Oko, simply. But I believe they are a truthful testimony to the life of a deeply moral and decent Urhobo man who loved and served family, friends, and townsfolk with utmost dedication. Andrew deserves to be remembered on two other scores. He loved his father's hometowns of Isiokoro and Ughelli and his mother's town of Kokori. His passion for Urhobo affairs and his wish for Urhobo progress were pristine. I am sure Andrew would insist that I add the following: He loved the Catholic Church with a commitment that he shared with his father who was the premier Catholic leader in Isiokoro. Andrew was a traditional Christian in the best sense of that term, with great attachment to the Holy Rosary, which he prayed fervently as his own father did before him.
Isiokoro, in which Andrew was born and in which he grew up, had a special gift from the British colonial administration. In the 1940s, it had the sole full-fledged Native Authority (N.A.) Elementary School in Agbon. The only other full-fledged elementary schools in Agbon in the forties , with grades up to Standard Six, were two missionary schools: Baptist Elementary School at Eku and Catholic Elementary School at Okpara Inland. So, Andrew Emorhokpor's beloved hometown of Isiokoro was lucky and it attracted many young people, like David Ejoor, from other Agbon towns to its excellent Elementary School. I once asked Andrew why he did not go to that N. A. School, instead of going to live with Mr. Okome at Ovu. It was his father's choice. He wanted his first son to be educated in a Catholic School. So, he sent Andrew to live with teachers in other towns where there were Catholic schools.
Andrew Emorhokpor moved to Okpara Inland in 1950 to continue his elementary school education in Standard Five, then a major feat. He and I became not only classmates but very close personal friends at Catholic School, Okpara Inland. But it was also a tragic year. Andrew lost his mother in that year, an event that brought him to early maturity as he struggled to help his father to make decisions about his future and those of his sisters and a very young brother, Bernard, whose name was constantly on his lips in those years.
We completed elementary school education together in 1951. In our final class of 30 pupils, three entered secondary schools the following year. Andrew was one of them. At great sacrifice, his father was determined that Andrew should proceed to a secondary school, a rare possession at the time. That was how Andrew and I moved on together to become students of St. Peter Claver's College, first at Sapele in 1952, then at Aghalokpe from 1953 onwards.
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Moving from Isiokoro and Okpara Catholic School to St. Peter Claver's College, Sapele, was no ordinary rite of passage for terrifically young people in 1952. We were not accompanied by any parents. We had to search out relatives and friends with whom to live because St. Peter Claver's College had no boarding facilities. It only had classrooms in premises owned by a Catholic Girl's Elementary School at Sapele. Andrew Emorhokpor struck one of the most faithful and valuable connections he ever made in his life in that year. Richard Arigbodi, a fellow Isiokoro man with whom he lived at Sapele that year, became a friend and confidant throughout Andrew's decent life. Richard and his young wife eased the difficulties of attending St. Peter Claver's College at Sapele for Andrew.
I know that the memories of St. Peter Claver's College and the events of 1952 are ones that my good friend would want to be shared with his fellow Urhobos. Ours was the third set at this first Catholic College in Warri Province. At its founding in 1950, St. Peter Claver's College was the fourth secondary school in Warri Province, following behind Government College, Ughelli; Urhobo College, Effurun; and Hussey College, Warri. Attending this College was a difficult experience for rural Urhobo youngsters. There were no Urhobo teachers at St. Peter Claver's College throughout our time there. Urhobos were minorities, often misunderstood. In my own and Andrew's class of 1952 there were six starting Urhobo students, clearly a small minority: Godfrey Akoro, Stephen Aruoture, Palmer Ekeh, Andrew Emorhokpor, Frederick Inisiagho, and Bright Sohwo.
The year 1952 was traumatic for Urhobos. The outstanding religious leader G. M. Urhobo, of God's Kingdom Society, died suddenly in that year. Then quickly followed the catastrophic conflict between Urhobos and Itsekiri. The name of Warri Province was changed to Delta Province in that year in difficult circumstances created by a hostile Action Group Government. For first year Urhobo students in the midst of these changes, it was not easy. Andrew Emorhokpor witnessed them all at Sapele as these painful events unfolded. Friendships among Urhobo students came to count tremendously in these circumstances as a way of understanding a rapidly changing world that was not always kind to Urhobo youngsters.
Moving St. Peter Claver's College from Sapele to Aghalokpe helped to ease the pain quite a bit. But the conditions at the College were very elementary. Most of the Urhobo students were day students. We lived in clusters, with two of them being the most memorable. There were the Natufe quarters, managed by the late Samson Natufe and his younger brother, Victor Natufe. Then there were the Okotete quarters where Andrew lived with Isaac Ogodogu, Frederick Inisiagho, Palmer Ekeh, Jackson Emefeke, and a number of others. Andrew Emorhokpor's life-long friends were made in these circumstances. The circle of friendship widened as we matured at Aghalokpe. But it was an experience that Andrew talked about a great deal throughout his life. Apart from being a personal experience, it was a tremendous Urhobo story.
Andrew Emrhokpor completed his secondary school education at Aghalokpe in 1957. Thereafter he began his long career of working to support an ailing father, battling with the difficult illness of his elder sister, training a beloved younger brother, helping friends like myself in various circumstances, and then raising a solid family that any Urhobo man would be proud to count as his own. In his work in the old Midwest Civil Service at Benin City, Ughelli, etc., and in his subsequent move to the treasury division of Delta Steel at Aladja, Andrew Emorhokpor never forgot family and friend. He was always at their service, at their call. It was a befitting tribute to this man of peace and decency that his last work experience, after retirement from working for Aladja Delta Steel, was as a Customary Court Judge in his hometown of Isiokoro.
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So, for what shall we remember Andrew Emorhokpor in his eventful life? He always reminded me that we have come far, from a long distance. Perhaps, we should rephrase this question and ask: What would Mr. Andrew Patrick Emorhokpor like to be remembered for having accomplished in his six decades on our earth?
Andrew Emorhokpor's life was an Urhobo story because his life work resonated those attributes that are dear to the Urhobo character: service to family, binding friendship, faith to one's chosen religion, and hard work. He will remain Dele's and their children's hero because he loved them and worked for them with all his might and love. His memories will remain dear to his Aghalokpe comrades and friends and to the numerous other friends he was so faithful to all his life. Andrew was such a typical Urhobo man because he dared difficult circumstances. And always, as he would quietly remind this old friend of his, never leave our Mother Church out of this accounting. Andrew would want to be remembered as one who remained faithful to the Church, his father's Church. Let me pay my final tributes to this virtuous man on each of these accounts.
Andrew was surrounded by family love in his childhood and youth. I often wondered whether his father was more friend than father to him. They were dearly close. But Andrew gave back to the family in full measure. His sisters received full support from him. Bernard, his younger brother, was his pride. I last met Andrew at Ughelli on August 24, 2000, during my most recent visit home to Nigeria. Towards the end of our conversation, I congratulated Andrew for having raised such a great family -- nine wonderful children, most of whom have completed their University education. Never one to claim all credit for himself, he told me: "Oko, the praise goes to Dele. She has been a wonderful wife." He added, "The children are now taking care of me." What more can an Urhobo man ask for? Dele, this hometown Isiokoro girl, became for Andrew not just a dear wife, but a good friend and a fellow worker in the great Urhobo art of raising and sacrificing for children.
Friendship is an Urhobo virtue that is in danger of vanishing. One hopes Andrew Emorhokpor is not among the last breed to treasure this wonderful Urhobo virtue. Friendship for Andrew Emorhokpor was a total commitment, not a fair weather relationship. It was not simply a bilateral relationship between two people. It involved their families and their children. My own father became a great friend of Andrew's father because of their children's friendship. Andrew became the greatest confidant for my sister who virtually replaced his counsel with that of an elder brother who is far away in America. But friendship for Andrew was also a life-time commitment. During our Ughelli meeting in August last year, I was in awe of Andrew's recollection and contact with Aghalokpe friends and comrades dating back to the early fifties. They were not just old fellow Urhobo pioneers like Isaac Ogodogu, Frederick Inisiagho, Thompson Idiegbe, Francis Tagbarha, Bright Joseph Sohwo. They extended to old and dear Aghalokpe classmates and friends from all parts of Southern Nigeria whose whereabouts I did not know: Ignatius Adigwe, Nelson Demi, Clement Oshogwe, Thaddeus Obadoni, John Erewa, Godwin Egwu, Christian Ogbu, etc., etc. Andrew could tell me something about these Aghalokpe pioneers, most of whom continued to maintain relationships with him. What a faithful friend!
And he was faithful to the Church. My warmest memory of Andrew in Church matters was his role as a Mass Server. In the fifties, when he was a Mass Server at Okpara Inland, the Catholic Mass was celebrated in Latin. Serving the Mass required a major commitment. Andrew had that commitment which he carried through his life, in easy and in difficult times. The news of Andrew's death came to me first through his daughter. But it was followed by a phone call from Monseigneur Anthony Erhueh in Bishop's House, Warri. Yes, that was right, because he treasured his relationships with the Church. That is how Andrew would want it.
I have my personal reasons for mourning Andrew Patrick Emorhokpor's passing away. But I believe his life deserves to be celebrated because it enriched humanity in its own subtle ways. In remembering Andrew, we celebrate Urhobo culture because he was a quintessential Urhobo man. But he was more than that. Andrew was a decent human being, a faithful friend, and a beloved family man. We all -- family, friends, Aghalokpe pioneers and comrades, and many more -- will miss this fine man of virtue and peace.
MAY HIS SOUL REST IN
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Peter Palmer Ekeh
Buffalo, New York
U. S. A.
March 24, 2001.