Urhobo Historical Society
THE LIFE AND WORK
OF AGORI IWE
FIRST BISHOP OF BENIN
Sam U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
Originally Published in 1998
Reproduced in URHOBO WAADO by kind permission of Professor Sam U.
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
“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
children proudly match along it.
E – Eye.
(iv) LOCAL ADMINISTATOR
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.