THE URHOBO, THE ISOKO, AND THE ITSEKIRI
By Samuel U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
Reproduced in Urhobo Waado By Permission of Professor Samuel Erivwo
When Agori Iwe returned from Oyo in 1928, he wrote an Urhobo primer containing the words:
Mo re kpo, wo nyori?Wo kpo re? Yarhe.
This need of home coming demanded an improvement on the first prayer book with thirty-three hymns, translated by Ofodidun and S. C. Phillips. A new prayer book by Agori Iwe, in which the earlier prayers were radically revised and stripped of Yorubasim, soon appeared. A number of the old hymns were re-written, and new ones translated. The result was a prayer book with seventy-four hymns published in 1939.
Mo re kpo, wo nyori?Wo kpo re? Yarhe.
That the present unhappy state resulted from accident rather than design, no one denies. Those who brought Christianity were not Urhobo; they used their native idioms and expressions. And some of them like Bishop Johnson were accused of insisting that candidates for baptism must learn the Catechism in Yoruba. But that the unhappy state should persist, that Oghene should continue to be viewed only through the eye of the missionary and whathe says understood only through his mind is what was deplorable. The persistence of the use of words like Creed and Onigbágbo at worship in Urhobo rather than Esegbuyata, which is what the ordinary person understands, is to be decried. That this state persisted till the sixties, it seems to me, is accounted for by the kind of people who constituted the clergy class. It is thus necessary and instructive to consider here the general staffing situation in the C.M.S. from 1934 to 61, and then to examine also the selection and training of such personnel.
Isoko those who were trained and ordained before 1961 were Apena, Efeturi,
and Okerri in the C.M.S., and Ifode in the
these persons in some ways followed the footsteps of Agori Iwe, who, as
has been shown, was trained as Catechist at QyQ from 1924-27. Kidd in his
last report of 1931 expressed the desire that Agori Iwe’s ordination was
not to be unduly delayed. He attended Awka for an ordination course in
1938, following which he was ordained a deacon. He served for a year in
the then Eastern
his return from
The Convention culminated with two related and significant displays: the film in which a panaroma of Urhobo leading Anglican Christians was shown, and a long procession on Easter Morning (about 4. A.m.)of the Christians, dressed in glistening white with burning candle sticks in their hands, while from their lips resounded songs of victory which aroused sleepers in Ughelli township from sleep. The procession meandered through the streets of the town before it returned to Ovwodaware where a service of Holy Communion brought the Convention to a final end. Since then, many of the Christians have yearned in vain for such another opportunity especially as they see the Jehovah’s Witnesses carrying out a similar practice which the Anglicans believe was copied from them. The grand and memorable convention of 1955, organised exclusively by Agori Iwe and indigenous personnel under him, was an indicator of some growth towards maturity. Since then and until his consecration in 1961, trained teachers and the few indigenous pastors there were, have acknowledged his headship, and taken over the baton from the Missionaries. But the selection and training of this personnel need to be examined.
Another aspect of the training programme deserves attention. This is the academic quality of the few who were meant exclusively for the Church’s ministry. In the first case, it appeared that Aitken’s kind of education persisted even to theological colleges. It may be noted that even after the modification of Aitken’s policy with the advent of Welch, the education received in the primary schools was still of a very low standard. The majority of the schools built were what were called Third Grade Schools, where the pupils read only to standard two, while pupils in Second Grade Schools (which were fewer) read up to standard four. Having received this low education, the brightest proceeded to train as teachers, while the mediocres gravitated to the Church’s ministry. It is, for instance, alleged that at Awka, it was generally those who could not make their Teachers’ Grade Two examinations who changed courses and trained as catechists and pastors. And yet the C.M.S. was supposed to be training leaders who were to take over the running of the church after the missionaries’ departure!
This situation clearly jeopardised the future of the Anglican Church in Zurhoboland, since the Church’s ministry appeared to be a job to be taken up when all other avenues had failed. This might well account for the slow growth towards maturity and for the clear lack of proper and full indigenisation later. Not infrequently, nor surprisingly, there were frictions between pastors and the Awka trained headmasters who came to the field to find that they had to be under the managership of those who were academically their inferior at college, since it was the pastors who became managers of church schools. This situation also created another predicament, for headmasters after training and appointment were tempted to change their courses without really being called. Thus were created some of the problems with which the Church in Urhoboland still now has to grapple. For some of those who claimed to have been called into the ministry do not appear to justify this sacred calling later in life.
A sacred ministry made up of the people whose motives for joining are mixed, and generally other than spiritual-motives of prestige and of dominating rather than of humility and service, motives of gaining personal influence and a lofty social status rather than of demonstrating self-sacrifice and self-denial in the process of shepherding God’s flock, motives even of economic aggrandisement rather than of eagerness to be rich in the spirit-this could not contribute towards the spiritual growth of the church and the attainment of mature manhood in Christ. And yet the stories of calls generally heard give the impression that those who profess themselves to be called were sincere. The case of the call of Apena which he personally narrated to the writer may here be examined.
Josiah:Who was Simon Peter?
Apena:He was a fisherman whom Jesus
called and made a fisher of men.
Josiah:What was Peter’s reaction?
Apena:His response and surrender were immediate and
Josiah:If Peter responded and surrendered immediately and
unconditionally, know that the missionary who called
you was being used by Christ, and unless you respond
as Peter did, your knowledge of scriptures is of no
It has been suggested that the academic quality of the indigenous church personnel was an index of the type of education-primary and post primary-that was received. It will, therefore, be necessary to examine what facilities existed for acquiring pre-theological and teacher training education, and whether such facilities were improved upon and increased between 1935 and 1961 in a way to contribute to the total development and growth of Christianity towards maturity.
But the rate of growth of C.M.S. primary schools in Isoko and Urhobo was generally slow. This affected the Churches since schools were organs of evangelisation. But the slow rate of growth, both of Churches and Schools, is perhaps accounted for by the 1939-45 War. Not only were missionaries withdrawn from the field, but the poor economic conditions of the war time meant also that schools and churches could not be built and run. If the schools were few, it meant also that only a small percentage of the population received primary school education. And yet, of this small percentage, many who were brilliant found employment, after leaving school, with the Government or in Mercantile houses at Warri and Sapele. Some others took teaching jobs, while a majority of the drop-outs who evinced deep religious devotion became church teachers, and later catechists, while very few became pastors.
This posed a serious handicap to the Church. The Church was left for people of low and weak calibre to manage, with the result that the process of indigenisation and growth towards maturity was gravely retarded, particularly since the church still functioned as an out-reach of the Church of England, the emphasis on local personnel notwithstanding. This personnel, incapable of taking initiative, concerned itself with echoing “His Master’s Voice”, rather than indigenising the Church by imbibing and making use of what is noble and wholesome in the people’s culture, and could enrich the spiritual worship of the Church.
The menacing question of sex morality already noted in the twenties at Sapele recurred in the hinterland for a long time. Of the bright pupils from primary schools who later trained at Awka as teachers, the names of a majority were to be expunged from the list of teachers after working for a while in the field, on account of alleged immorality. Generally, those so treated usually found better paid jobs in the Government sector. The high-handedness of the authority on such persons seldom redounded to the advantage of Christianity in Urhoboland; for it weakened the numerical strength of the indigenous personnel. In view of the scarcity of schools and of the non-availability of workers, a more lenient and sympathetic treatment of alleged offenders would have been more profitable to the Church.
After the Second World War, particularly in the nineteen fifties, primary schools increased in number. When in 1955 Universally Free primary schools were introduced together with secondary Modern Schools, the C.M.S. built Modern Schools at various towns in Urhobo and Isoko. As primary schools, and then secondary Modern Schools increased, trained school teachers were sorely needed. Awka, though much nearer to the people than Oyo, was nonetheless still too far away to ensure adequate and constant supply of trained teachers.
for land on which to build a Teacher Training Centre at Oleh started as
early as September 1937. This cause was championed by Carr and Garbutt,
the white missionaries then in the district. But in consequence of excessive
red tape at the D.O.’s office in Ughelli, work could not begin as early
as was hoped. The government authority from Ughelli appeared to be accusing
the C.M.S. authorities, represented by Carr and Garbutt, of deceiving the
Oleh people and acquiring land from them at a cheaper rate and for a longer
period than was necessary or stipulated in ‘Native Land Acquisition Ordinance’
which the D.O. directed Carr to read. Furthermore, the D.O. not only appeared
to have influenced the Oleh elders to repudiate an earlier ‘agreement’
with the Trustees of the Diocese on the
These developments, admittedly slow, were nevertheless indicative of the growth of Christianity towards maturity in Urhoboland, since the developments were consequent upon the introduction of Christianity in the area. The general improvement witnessed in Isoko district in the late thirties and early forties as a consequence of C.M.S. activities there drew some comments from Bishop Lasbery who reported that if those in Europe were to see what was happening in Isoko, a one time backward district, they would rejoice and thank God. He was thinking particularly of the Teacher Training centre, a bookshop, a school farm, and a maternity and Welfare Centre that were already built.
the introduction of the
1957, owing to the tireless efforts of Marioghae, Bovi, Vese, Okoro and
others, assisted by two white missionaries-Bernard and Macbay- the still
resident at Oleh-a Grammar School was opened at Emevor, and aptly named
after James Welch. It was initially planned by the entire Isoko Community,
which was prepared to leave its management with the Anglican Mission. But
as a result of rivalry and opposition from the Roman Catholics the arrangement
collapsed. This was not without its blessing since another secondary school,
At first it was mainly church members who attended the Maternity Centres. The women missionaries, like Jewith, who worked in them were generally very tender-hearted and motherly. Furthermore, the fees were moderate and could be afforded by the average Urhobo or Isoko. As the news of the kind treatment at these centres spread non-christian expectant mothers also attended and the same benevolence shown to church women was extended to them. The centres consequently became organs of evangelism, and also a means of preventing the killing of twins. A number of women who had previously not embraced Christianity did so.
Another by-product of this amenity (as of hospitals later) in some ways deplorable, was the neglect of traditional medicine. It has been shown that Edjo like Eloho was extirpated in places like Okwagbe, in the conviction that they were not longer necessary and helpful. But some of the traditional medicines neglected in this manner are now for ever lost to posterity; and yet in modern times the need to take traditional medicines more seriously than before, to research into herbs, refine methods of application, and use them to treat diseases, some of which are still incurable in the West, is becoming increasingly realised.
The third effect of maternity homes in the Urhobo Society is the alleged tendency to lower the sex morality of the women folk. In the typical Urhobo context, the notion is strong that no pregnant woman can deliver safely until she has confessed to her husband and his Erivwin all the offences, particularly those of adultery, which she committed. With the phenomenon of Maternity homes, some women are now said to care very little whether or not they are chaste, since once in a maternity home they would be safely delivered without the necessary humiliation of confession. Not surprisingly, therefore, there were men who debarred their wives from Maternity homes if they believed that the women had confessions to make.
Unlike maternity homes, the effect of bookshops on the community was sectional. The sections directly affected were church men, school children and teachers. For the bookshops stocked stationery, hymn books in English and Vernacular, Bibles, and the Gospels in translations, primary school books like Oxford Readers and simple story books. Had the educated few possessed enough initiative and drive, simple story books could, at this stage, have been written to preserve in English or Vernacular, Urhobo-Isoko folk lore and ballads. But only very little has happened in this direction. By stocking story books (even if from other parts of Africa) and items like London GCE syllabuses, bookshops did provide some stimulus to many of the youth, particularly school teachers, to work harder and become academically better qualified.
These adjuncts of missionary and church activities were a consequence of the emphasis on education which thus gave rise to an elite class. The emergence of this class meant that churches became better and more formally organised. Students on holidays infused new life to their village churches by teaching new tunes to songs and by reading and translating Old Testament portions for first lessons at church services. In Isoko in the fifties, but also in Urhobo in the sixties, singing competition became a regular feature of the churches. Choirs of various churches trained their choristers and competed at Group, District, and Archdeaconry levels.
But the liturgy of the Church became more or less a matter of mere form. Prayers were read mechanically by the conductor, and at the end of the congregation chorused “Ise”.The meaning of the prayers consequently seldom passed through the minds of the readers or of the rest of the congregation.
Furthermore, it is one of the ironies of history that some of the youth educated to support the church later repudiated the very institution they were to uphold. There were other attendant disadvantages from this class from the point of view of the older generation, who found unpalatable the exegesis of biblical passages by the educated youths and their somewhat exaggerated dependence on reason rather than on faith. Some of the educated ones themselves came to view church services more as occasions for social gatherings than for spiritual worship. The result was that professed beliefs failed to tally with actual behaviour. Truthfulness and rectitude, hall marks of early Christianity in Urhoboland, receded into the background. Professing Christians were no longer quixotic and strict with regard to morality, but rather took the line of lease resistance, whether or not it meant a repudiation of the ideals for which the early Christians stood. Men who claimed to have been educated seized the advantage of “not being superstitious”to commit criminal and sacrilegious acts such as removing unbelievers gods by the road-side, goods which in times past would have remained intact by mere imposition of them of iyori.
It is perhaps as a result of this new situation that Isikpen’s mysterious and enigmatic occurred. Iskpen of Evwreni, Igben of Ekuigbo, and Ikpen of Ekrokepe, have names which sound remarkably similar. But they even have more in common than their names suggest. They were all converts of the first generation, and were headmen of their various churches, which they either introduced or with the foundation of which they were vitally connected. From the nature of things, they all should have died the same year 1951. Igven and Ikpen did die that year, but Isiplen did not.
He had been bed ridden for long, sick to the point of death, indeed believed dead. Omonigho, Isikpen’s son-in-law. When he returned, Isikpen, it was said, had recovered. According to Omonigho, Isikpen helped him to lift the coffin into the house. Isikpen told his own story somewhat as follows:
We were three moving on a road, and I the eldest. The other two with whom I met at crossroads, were coming from other cities. We journeyed together, and I brought up the rear, being the eldest. We came to the end of the road, and saw a raised galley or balcony-like structure, at the gate of which stood a man (Jesus). He stretched forth the right hand, raised the first in the group and received him within. And I heard a shout of joy from beyond. He did the same to the second (of the group). But when it came to my turn he called me by name.
“You are Isikpen” he said, “ I am sending you back to Urhobo. You are to go, visit all Urhobo churches, and narrate what you saw. You should warn those who now treat my words with levity. I give you two and a half days to do this.” After this opened my eyes, and was well.
As has been demonstrated, the hinterland churches witnessed a considerable reawakening and growth towards maturity in the period 1935-61, especially in terms of personnel, and the diverse institutions that were built. The one patently static factor was liturgy. The perpetual rigidity of the liturgy in the Anglican churches as in the Roman Catholic continued to baffle men of discernment, even if it proved to be something of a marvel. For despite this rigidity, church membership increased; but this must have been due to other factors like open air preaching and the converts’ own personal circumstances than tot he appeal of the liturgy which the generality of the membership probably construed as a sacred and magical ritual which was therefore not to be rashly interfered with. Thus, whether church members found it meaningful or not, whether it spoke to their situation or not, the pattern of worship was punctiliously retained. The prayers were reverently recited. Even if in a Republican Nigeria the uniformed catechist prayed fervently and heartily for “our most gracious Sovereign Lord, King George” and besought God to “grant him in health and wealth long to live”. The monstrosity of this anachronism did not bother the village church members who were completely oblivious of the meaning and implications of a Republican Nigeria, or of the fact that King George died long ago.
The church’s rigid liturgy did not, however, appeal to, or bring in, new converts, as we have observed. Conversions happened generally either through the personal circumstances of the converted, or though lively and very often indigenous music which the evangelists and their entourage normally adopted at evangelistic campaigns. The foreign hymnody would then be, by and large ignored, and indigenous music which enabled the Christians to demonstrate their true African spirit, substituted. Also, during the singing competitions, the excellence of original composition to indigenous music came to light and was eulogised, even by the hierarchy of the church. And yet this hierarchy has either never seen the need, or has been incapable of taking the initiative, to include indigenous music in the Church’s liturgy. This could have been more easily done to advantage in the hinterland churches than in the churches at Warri and Sapele which we will now examine for evidence of growth towards maturity before 1961.
we have seen the maternity and welfare centre at
In so far as institutions have been taken as indicative of growth towards maturity this was the case with Warri where the kind of indigenisation that one expected in the hinterland could scarcely have happened owing to its cosmopolitan character.
Accordingly Ikomi was later re-employed as Catechist with a specific duty assigned to him; he was to attempt to effect the desired link. He made Koko his base from where he itinerated the outlying stations in an effort to connect that part of Sapele District with Ondo. Through him new stations, like Aja-Oki, were opened. A canoe was later provided for him and another for Akande himself, with which they toured the stations in the Creeks. Apart from evangelising the Creeks, St. Luke’s Church also made some efforts to evangelise the hinterland villages around Amukpe and Idjerhe stations. A pastor was sent to Idjerhe in 1949, but could not stay because of alleged hostility from the indigenes.
Sapele District was visited by Bishops Akinyele and Vining on various occasions
in their time. The District seemed to have been rated so high in the Yoruba
Mission that during the 1942 centenary of the introduction of Christianity
to Yorubaland out of the £1,000 budgeted for the celebrations, Sapele
was expected to contribute £20, while Benin, its sister District,
was to pay on £5. There must have been an exaggerated notion in
the long tenure of office of Akande, he was succeeded in January 1947 by
Rev. Canon S.A.F. Odunuga. Even before his arrival there was evidently
dissatisfaction and discontent at St. Luke’s, as a result of its multiethnic
composition. The Igbo had their own section, and later on the
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.
The chequered history of St. Luke’s, similar as it is to those of some other churches earlier considered, leaves one in doubt as to the extent to which Christianity has transformed its adherents. It illustrates the predicament of the Christian church in Urhoboland, the predicament of a church in a town made up of diverse ethnic groups, where despite the common faith professed, the people fail to hold allegiance to a given centre, where bickering and bitterness rather than harmony control the people’s-existence. This is a slur on the ability of Christianity to foster unity. But the fault is not in the stars but in “ourselves”-not in Christianity but in the Christians. It seems that the Sapele controversy indicates that the C.M.S. church there has made little progress spiritually.
viewed from another perspective, the controversy can be seen as consequent
upon a struggle by a people desirous of growth, especially if it be argued
that the Yoruba involvement at Sapele arose from the fact that they were
among the introducers of Christianity there. The Urhobo could then be seen
as demonstrating their readiness to carry on the church
which was brought to them. But since the Yoruba were, since 1914, their fellow Nigerians, and not white missionaries or even Gold Coasters, they did not see their settlement at Sapele as a temporary one, even if the Urhobo felt that the Yoruba should relinquish the church to them. If the Urhobo are to be justified in their claim, it is because men like Ologodudu, Akande, and even Canon Odunuga were regarded as missionaries, who, like white missionaries, ought to go and leave the management of the church to the indigenes. Perhaps viewed from this perspective, the Urhobo claim to St. Luke’s may be construed as evidence of growth towards maturity.
The return of Aganbi from training in 1935 did not becloud the activities of Omatsola, whose character knew little patience. Instead it enhanced it for a while. It meant more hands for the work which had for long rested squarely only on his shoulders. And throughout the thirties nothing appeared to disrupt his activities.
in 1939, a Baptist convention met, following the arrival in
American Missionaries withdrew fellowship from, or were ejected by, Omatsola.
With them were many of Omatsola’s Baptist,
who accepted the new stance. They were advised by Carson, the resident
missionary, to join some Baptist Christians who were worshipping in a house
in the compound of one Ayomanor, a chief in Sapele. The household church
there was started by Onakpoya Oghumiowo, fro
the church grew, it was properly organised and named Bethel Baptist
Church in 1946.After
this Awatefe left at the end of they year for the
the separation from Omatsola of what became the Bethel Baptist, Omatsola
named his church the
Omatsola’s Baptist Church was incapable of independent existence; the few Baptist churches, like that at Okwagbe, which continued with him in the years of separation from the NBC, suffered from lack of funds and hence also from unavailability of personnel and improper organisation. An impoverished and improperly organised church has little chance of surviving, let alone of growing in any direction.
When there was the internal disruption within the Baptist Mission, a number of the churches earlier founded through Omatsola’s efforts followed him and abandoned the American Baptist Mission, to their detriment. This was the case with Okwagbe (waterside and inland) which had, under the American Baptist Mission, built a school in 1937. This school had no teachers after the 1942 crisis. Before then, they had been under Eku Association, and had been constantly visited by Aganbi, Brantley ( white missionary), and occasionally by Omatsola. As a consequence of the break, no missionaries or trained workers visited the church and school at Okwagbe which therefore suffered. Only after a long period of twelve years did Okwagbe Baptist realise what she had lost educationally, spiritually, and socially, by deciding to follow Omatsola, especially as she saw the progress of sister churches which continued with the American Baptist. In 1954, Okwagbe left Omatsola and rejoined the American Baptist, a reconciliation of which resulted in a re-awakening of the work at Okwagbe. Church teachers and pastors were despatched there to revive the work, but, by 1961 Okwagbe was still finding her feet and learning heavily on more established N.B.C. churches. The growth or otherwise of these other churches is indicated in Aganbi’s report on them.
(iv)Aganbi’s itineration of Baptist Churches (1947)
After the return of Aganbi from training in 1935, he itinerated Baptist churches in Eku and environs, and opened new ones. This activity continued with renewed vigour after his ordination in 1940. His itineration which after 1942 was limited to those churches that conformed with American Baptist principles, was aimed at encouraging them and assessing their relative strength. His short reports on some of them visited in 1947 reveal their strength, and indicated that they were still in infancy. But they give a clear picture of the Baptist churches, their organisation, self-understanding and estimation vis-à-vis some other Christians. The report also indicated a measure of growth of the Baptist churches during the period. Perhaps what emerges most clearly from the report is Baptist self-understanding. Aganbi emphasised self-identity and self-awareness as well as the need to consolidate Baptist churches in Urhoboland. This need sometimes involved antagonism toward some other christian groups.
The towns he visited included Ajagololo Adagbrasa, Oviri, Orere-Okpe, Imode, Oginibo, Ohwahwa, and Okwama. In some of them with primary schools, the teachers were severely attacked. For instance those at Imode who were described as having “no interest in church work” were considered to be responsible for the retrogression of the work there. Aganbi described what Baptist organisations existed at Imode as “dead and ready for burial”-a situation which might have been different had the teachers been committed to the Baptist cause.
Aganbi considered that before the Baptist church could thrive and flourish her members in any one community must be conscious of their traditions and evince a competitive spirit with other christian groups. At Oviri, for instance, he called on the members to stand their ground against Roman Catholics, and appealed for financial help from the headquarters by means of which a Baptist trained teacher could be provided for the young Baptist school at Oviri, particularly since the Oviri “are fed up with quack schools who are corrupting the education of their children”. Aganbi who confessed his previous opposition to “the idea of establishing and nourishing schools” now frantically urged the Baptist authorities to support schools, which are a means of evangelisation. He argued that the activities of Jesus included teaching, preaching and healing, a “trinity”, Aganbi says, that must be preached by Baptists to check what he called “Roman Catholic aggression”.
Proper teaching and instruction could be given not only through the schools, but through the churches, and by means of open air campaigns. This was what Aganbi did at Orere-Okpe, which he described as the seat of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was through instructions and rallies that he said he was able to save Baptists at Orer-Okpe from their seducers, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In some of the other churches like Oginibo where proper and regular teaching and instruction had been carried out, all Baptist organisations thrived and flourished. As has been indicated weaker churches like Okwagbe Baptist had to lean heavily on Oginibo which was more established and was growing considerably.
To foster the task of instructing these churches which Aganbi itinerated frequently, he not only wrote an Urhobo primer but translated the Fourth Gospel into Urhobo in 1947/8 despite an earlier one translated as early as 1929 by Agori Iwe of the Anglican Church. This is, of course, another example of the self-consciousness and separate existence of the different denominations. Aganbi also translated hymns into the vernacular for use in Baptist churches, an attempt intended to help growth towards maturity of the churches under his supervision.
Eku, Aganbi’s own seat, a dispensary started in 1947 was later converted
to a hospital formally opened on
Aganbi’s report showed much evidence of narrow mindedness, a rather hostile attitude towards other groups like Roman Catholics and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and little of growth towards maturity except only in terms of translations. It underlined Aganbi’s fanaticism and the tenacity with which he held the Baptist brand of the Christian faith. Since he was the chief Baptist voice in Urhoboland, his attitude, which may indeed be different in degree but not in kind from that of other denominations, must be seen as normative of Baptist attitude in that area. He gave a continued and effective leadership to Baptist churches in Urhobo and spread it to the Isoko speakers in 1956, a year before he died.
1961 these churches were growing considerably. There were as many as Four
of Baptist churches which have survived to the present day: the Eku Association
comprising Agbor, Abraka, Agvarha and Isoko; Oginibo, comprising Ughelli,
Olomu, Ughievwe and Udu Baptist churches; Sapele Association made up of
Sapele, Okpe, Warri, and Oghara; and finally Idjerhe Association embracing
churches in Idjerhe clan. Each of the churches in the Association is supposed
to run certain organisations-Women’s Missionary Union (W.M.U.),
Although the Baptists grew numerically in the fifties, the measure of maturity and selfhood attained before 1961 is disappointing; and that because of indiscriminate attachment to the American Baptists who invariably dictated the tune. But later, with the emphasis on the Nigerian Baptist Convention, the American gradually handed over to indigenous personnel. But it was not until after 1961 that this became noticeable. The translation of the Fourth Gospel and of a number of songs by Aganbi from English into Urhobo, though not always accurate or very successful, are nevertheless indicative of growth towards maturity.
thousands of converts made were not initially constituted into a separate
church, but were asked to join denominations of their choice. Apostle J.
A. BabalQla from Efon-Alaiye, who followed this movement to Sapele, seized
this opportunity to establish his own churches (
Other congregations which preferred to be unattached continued their independent existence answering such names as “Gospel Mission”, “The Apostolic Church”, etc., while some of them later died out through mixing the Christian faith with Urhobo traditional religion. One of the congregations which was not permanently merged with the C.A.C., until after 1961 was that which sprang from the original spot where the crusaders worked at Sapele, that is, those who remained and acquired land from Mukoro Mude. This was the congregation tended by Aki and for which he was ordained a pentecostalist pastor in 1958.
This particular church, like St. Luke’s, Sapele, was made up of different ethnic groups with similar frictions and rivalries (to what happened in St. Luke’s), and in this instance even resulting in court cases. Evidence of growth towards maturity is here patently lacking. Aki, the pastor of the congregation, had in fact to desert it. He joined the Anglican Church, to which he formerly belonged, in 1963. The American crusaders themselves who had been visiting the church and other Protestant churches when invited, moved in 1959 from Sapele to settle at Abraka where they now are.
In Isoko there were also a number of Faith Tabernacle churches from 1938 onwards; but they were converted to Christ Apostolic by an IjQ revivalist in 1948, and acquired by Apostle BabalQla in 1955 during his itineration of that area. All the pentocostalist churches operate very much like the Faith Tabernacle at Agbarho and forbid the use of curative medicines. It was, however, not until after 1961 that their growth became marked, and their claim as authentic christian organisation recognised by other denominations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of God’s Kingdom Society, have from the beginning
been manned solely by Urhobo and Isoko. While the former receives directives
Conversely, the God’s Kingdom Society is so locally managed by virtue of its origin that to talk of growth to maturity, in terms of indigenisation, would be equally meaningless. The question does not arise. For, from birth, it has been self-supporting and self-propagating. They are peculiar in including almost everything in Urhobo-Isoko culture which cannot be justly styled “devilish” in their worship. They employ indigenous music, use opiri and udje songs at services. Evidently this largely accounts for the great appeal their organisation has for the Urhobo-Isoko people. The only area where they have not been indigenous is with respect to the Bible. Although they started since 1934, they have not made any attempt to translate any part of the Bible into Urhobo as the C.M.S. and the Baptists have done.