Urhobo Historical Society
History of Christianity In Nigeria

By Samuel U. Erivwo, Ph.D.

© Samuel U. Erivwo, 1979
Reproduced in Urhobo Waado By Permission of Professor Samuel Erivwo

 This book is essentially the second part of my thesis-Christianity in Urhoboland 1901-1961 – written and presented to the University of Ibadan as part fulfillment of the requirement for the award of the degree of doctor of philosophy of that University.

The whole thesis dealt with Christianity in Urhoboland throughout the period before Independence.  The dates 1901 and 1961 are significant for the history of Christianity in the area.  In 1901, Bishop James Johnson, a major architect of Christianity in Urhoboland, first visited Warri, Sapele, and Benin, and helped organise the nascent Christian congregations he met in these places. He watered the mustard seeds of the faith planted by Saros from Freetown, Sierra Leone, Gold Coasters, Yoruba merchants and ex-slaves in Warri, Sapele, Urhuovie, Abraka and environs.

In 1961, a year after Nigeria’s attainment of Independence, and two years before the creation of Mid-Western Nigeria (now know as Bendel State), Agori Iwe, one of those who responded positively to Christianity and education introduced to the Itsekiri, Urhobo, and Isoko country as a result of the hard work of Bishop James, Johnson, was consecration on that day and in that place is of particular historical interest when it is realized that his primary school education, and his initial training for the full-time ministry of the Church happened in St. Andrew’s Primary School Warri, and in St. Andrew’s College Oyo, respectively.  Enough for the significance of 1901 and 1961.

The expression Urhoboland, as used in the original thesis covered the country of the Urhobo and Isoko sparkers because throughout the period covered by the thesis that was the understanding of that particular geographical expression.  Although at that time the expression did not also embrace the Itsekiri people, yet because they are contiguous to the Urhobo and because many of the earliest propagators of Christianity in Urhoboland were Itsekiri, the history of Christianity in Urhoboland could not leave out Christianity among the Itsekiri.  That this was actually the case is brought out by the present title of this book, A history of Christianity in Nigeria – the Urhobo, Isoko, and Itsekiri.

The first part of the thesis dealt essentially with the traditional religion as a necessary background knowledge before the advent of Christianity, then the advent and spread of Christianity, the encounter between the traditional religion and Christianity, and concluded with a chapter – “Profit and Loss” – which is an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of Christianity in the Urhobo milieu.

Let me end this brief introduction by registering my appreciation and gratitude to all those who were responsible for my education-my parents who showed me in childhood the way to tread; my teachers in the Secondary School especially Canon Bovi, Mr. M.A.Marioghae, Mr. And Mrs. J. Q. S. Phillips and my lecturers in the University of Ibadan particularly Rev. S.S. Smalley and Professor E. B. Idowu.  I am grateful to Dr. P. Mackenzie who started the supervision of my work and first drew my attention to the field of Church history, particularly of my people, which is now my great delight.  To Professor O. Ikime, who gave effective and thorough supervision to my thesis I am more grateful than words can express.  I am indebted to all the elders in Urhoboland and in Isoko, and also to John Okitikpi of the Itsekiri, who furnished me with ample information for my thesis.  Without their assistance this work might not have been possible.

Until the time of my research it was uncommon to obtain a Government Scholarship to pursue a study of religion.  It is therefore fitting that I put on record my sincere gratitude to the Federal Government of Nigeria which awarded me a scholarship to carry out my research.  I thank all the Staff of the National Archives and of the University of Ibadan library who unreservedly helped me to locate necessary documents for the research.  I wish to thank also Chief J. O. Agadaigho and the Sincere Members bookshops Ltd., for their financial assistance in the publication of this book.

Finally, I am much indebted to my wife, Victoria, with whom I have been facing the vicissitudes of life, and who, despite various problems, has remained faithful and proved a helper meet for me.

S. U. Erivwo

Costa Rica
25th July 1976