Urhobo Historical Society
History of Christianity In Nigeria
THE URHOBO, THE ISOKO, AND THE ITSEKIRI
By Samuel U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
THE UNITED AFRICAN CHURCH 1916-1961
© Samuel U. Erivwo, 1979
Reproduced in Urhobo Waado By Permission of Professor
the emergence of the Baptist in Urhobo was
due to a quarrel in Sapele in 1917 over
foreign domination and misappropriation of funds, so was the appearance
of the UnitedAfricanChurch.
But there the disagreement was with St. Andrew’s, Warri.
The dissidents were led by OmofoyeEmuakpo
of Ephron, who before 1916 had played a
leading role in planting Niger Delta Pastorate churches at Oguname
(which he visited with Bishop Johnson), Oghara, Ikwewhu, Ovwodokpokpo, Ekrerhavwen, Uvwiama-all
in Agbarho. But when the teacher promised
to Ephron church, for whose sake, according
to Omofoye, the members contributed six
pence each, was never sent by St. Andrew’s, Omofoye
felt that he had no alternative but to take court action and reclaim the
£47: 8: 4d. which his members had collected. Part of this money was
in fact used to feed the converts from out stations, including Ephron
church members. In the court action Barrister Doherty, counsel for Ephron,
successfully defended his client and St. Andrew’s was made to refund the
the law suit in April 1916, Omofoye and
his clique had in 1915 decided to sever connections with St. Andrew’s and
the Niger Delta Pastorate and go over to the AfricanChurch.
undeclared factors were involved in the secession. According to Omofoye,
Bishop Johnson insisted that their learning the Catechism in Yoruba was
a precondition for being baptised, and exercise
which many of the converts were least prepared to undertake. For the Urhobo
language did not resemble the Yoruba language (or indeed Itskiri)
to the extent that both Bishops Johnson and Tugwell
though it did. The insistence therefore created discontent in the coverts
fact, preferred to be taught English straight away, since they believed
equal effort would be expended on mastering either of the two languages.
One result of the discontent was that when a minister of the UnitedAfricanChurch,
Jacob S. Williams, visited Warri in 1916,
and offered to baptise all who accepted
the Christian faith, apparently without he demand for knowing the Catechism
in a foreign language, QmQfoye and his retinue
seized the opportunity and were baptised
further attraction of the UnitedAfricanChurch
was its acceptance of polygamy as a facet of African culture not biblically
proven to be unchristian. Here it was like the early BaptistChurch.
Another, perhaps most potent, attraction was the expression AfricanChurch.
The words were sufficiently inviting to draw many away from other denominations
where the leadership had been in the hands of the white missionaries. It
drew many away too from the Niger Delta Pastorate, especially since the realisation
of Bishop Johnson’s dream of an independent indigenous church in full communion
with the Church of England was becoming more and more remote.
the split occurred at Ephron what happened
in the Baptist secession also took place. The Niger Delta Pastorate churches
established through Omofoye’s efforts were
either converted wholesale or lost a substantial part of their membership
to the AfricanChurch.
Through this method African churches sprang up at Ovu, Iwhre-Ughelli, Oba
in Okpe, Oguname
(where Ibuje was the leader), Aladja,Orhuwhorun, Obodo
in Udu, Owrode, Okpare,Ovwo, Evwreni, Ewu, Otokutu, Egbo,Urhiephron, Ekrokpe, Eruemukohwarien,
and Ekiugbo in Ughelli.
certain instances a further split occurred,
as was the case at Ovu. Here the Niger Delta
Pastorate church was, under the influence of Omatsola,
transmuted to Baptist in 1917. But a further rift occurred in 1919 when
members of Enaohowo family deserted the
Baptist and embraced the African Bethel (insert 2) Church were baptised
by D. H. Kukuiye, the first African priest
resident at Warri. There was to be yet
another split in January 1921, when J. E. E. Enaohwo
introduced Roman Catholicism and converted the AfricanChurch
at Ovu to Roman Catholicism, leaving only
a handful of the former’s members behind.
Even these few completely abandoned the AfricanChurch
at Ovu in 1923 and declared for the Baptist
Church of Omatsola who baptised
them at Arhagba (Egvekoba)
from African leadership and acceptance of polygamy, the organisation
of the AfricanBethelChurch
followed the same pattern as that of the Niger Delta Pastorate and the
C.M.S., except that instead of Dioceses they had Divisions, before Districts
and Parishes. As with the Niger Delta Pastorate and the C.M.S. the leadership
also came initially from Yorubaland where
began. J. S. Williams who was the first pastor was carried in a hammock
like Cole during his itineration of the churches. He was never resident
at Warri. Kukuiye,
the first resident pastor, was followed by Sodeinde,
then QsQba, Oluwadare, Abitola,
and Agbayawa. It was not until the forties
in Urhobo produced their own part-time church
teacher in the person of Okirhienyefa.
of Ekrerhavwe, joined the AfricanChurch
as a child when he attended their primary school in 1923, a course he completed
at the WarriAfricanChurchSchool
in 1930. He taught only from 1931-32 at Orhokpo
before he resigned and became a tailor. From 1942 onwards he functioned
also as a part-time, untrained and unpaid catechist (or church teacher),
visiting African Church stations: Egbo,Ekakpamre, Urhiephron, Owhorode, Eruemukohwaien, Ekiugvo, Ododegho, Ovwo, Okpare, Otokutu,Orhuwhorun
etc. from 1948 he became a salaried catechist but was still untrained until
1951 when he was trained at Agege, Lagos,
as a pastor.
the completion of the course he was ordained a deacon on January
31, 1954 at BethelAfricanChurch, Lagos,
by one Lakeru, the African Church Primate.
He was priested on 16th
December 1956 at Warri
by J. P. Jiboku, then Bishop of Ondo-Delta
Division. During most of his deaconhoodOkirhienyefa
served in Isoko. Form Okpe,
his station in Isoko, he visited Aviara, Ofagve, Owdokpokpo, Igbide
he was in Isoko, the AfricanChurch
in Urhobo was experiencing a crisis resulting
from a conflict between one M.E. Okorefe
and G. L. KqlaQleKqlawQle
is generally regarded as the first AfricanChurch
pastor to reside in the interior of Urhobo.
He was posted to Ekakpamre in 1950.
While he was there, Okorefe was said to
have gone to training without the knowledge and consent of the local church
and pastor. Thus on the recommendation of the local church, it was said KqlawQle
wrote to the Bishop in Lagos
to withdraw Okorefe.
he came, though unordained, he attempted
to make himself a pastor of Urhobo African
churches, which he called Christ Urhobo
Church and so to become the manager of AfricanChurch
schools. In an attempt to counteract Okorefe’s
claim of the African churches and schools, Kolawole
wrote to the District Officer at Ughelli,
to complain of the treatment which was given to him at the meeting of the
local Council at Agbarho. It appeared that
the Local Council was delegated by the District Officer to settle the palaver
between Okorefe and KqlawQle.
The Council summoned the AfricanChurch
to Eruemukohwoarien as his witness. He maintained
that Okerefe had no right to usury AfricanChurch
property and members. If he chose to secede from the African Church and
start a new church which he called Christ Urhobo
Church, he was welcome to do so, but he must leave Africa Church property
intact and ensure that the sum of £34: IOS, which the members owed
him was paid back. Because of the people’s intransigence KqlawQle
appealed for the District Officer’s intervention.
before a reply could be given to his letter, KqlawQle
wrote another letter indicating that he would resume duties in the AfricanChurchSchool
at Oguname and that at Orhokpokpo.
He also registered his protest against anyone who attempted to open a new
school in either of the above stations “as it is contrary to Education
to him “there was a letter which he (Okorefe)
used to show that he got authority to be pastor from the D.O.”. On receipt
of this letter the District Officer aptly remarked “ the D.O. does not
This tussle for supremacy adversely affected AfricanChurch
schools in Oguname and OrhokpokpoAgabdu-the
hot bed of the conflict.
is patent that the struggle to become pastor is here motivated by the material
gain accruing therefrom, especially by reason
of the managerial control of church primary schools. These schools were
plainly erected not so much for the benefit of the populace as for the
benefit of the pastor. They were generally in a disgraceful condition.
Indeed one of them (that at Ododegho) was
described as “merely a roof on sticks”.
of the results of the conflict between Kolawole
and Okorefe was the transfer of the former
from Urhobo back to Yorubaland,
and the ejection or secession Okorefe from
Thereafter Okirhienyefa was sent from Isoko
to Ekakpamre from where he took charge of Urhobo
and Isoko churches. Okorefe
who broke away to form his own church-UrhoboChirst
Church-later on saw the futility of this action, and upon recanting, was
re-admitted into the African Church, and ordained in 1965. Up till then Okirhienyefa
was the only Urhobo ordained AfricanChurchmember,
assisted by such Church agents as Mrabure
of Eruemukohwarien, and D. E. Ovadje
of Okpe in Isoko.
by 1961, was still a poorly organised institution.
Its leadership, though African, was seldom Urhobo.
In spite of its main appeal of polygamy, it did not, and still does not,
command as much respect and membership as did the C.M.S., or the R.C.M.
or even the Baptist. By 1961 there was as yet only one Urhobo
ordained to its priesthood. It had primary schools but they were in a ludicrous
condition. It had no other thing to impress the indigenous population and
hold them spellbound.