Imafidon Ohuoba. Ph.d

Author of Advent of Christianity in Benin District And The Travails of The First Indigenous Priest

Early Missionary Activities of Rev. E. E. Ohuoba (1885-1950): First Benin Indigenous Priest

Early Missionary Activities of Rev. E. E. Ohuoba (1885-1950): First Benin Indigenous Priest

We cannot completely discuss the success of the early missionary activities in Benin district if we omit the contributions of Rev. E.E Ohuoba. At the end of the Roman Catholic Missionary work in the 16th century, the Benin nation waited many decades until 1901 when the Christian Missionary society made another attempt to re-establish another mission work in Benin district. These activities began in London when James Johnson was made Assistant Bishop in 1900 and later transferred from Lagos to Bonny - the headquarter of Niger Evangelization movement. In 1902, Bishop James Johnson opened a Mission Station in Benin and other places in the Niger Delta. Some of the most reputable converts that assisted the CMS missionaries to settle down were Egiebor Ohuoba and Iyoba (queen) Arokun, wife of Oba Ovonramwen -who just came back from exile in Calabar.

Egiebor was born on Jan.1885 in Benin during the time the people were in dire need of re-awakening of the Christian Faith. The Portuguese Roman Catholic missionaries had made their mark in the area during the reign of Oba Esigie in the15th century; hence there was an urgent need to reinvigorate the faith in the district. Egiebor father was at that time the Ohuoba of Benin Kingdom - in charge of the Royal band and Ewua Guild of Ogbelaka. This tittle is hereditary and one of the oldest position created by Oba Esigie in about 1504 AD. Young Egiebor was therefore the heir apparent to this exalted position in the kingdom.

At the coming of the Christian Missionary Society to Benin, Egiebor at the age of sixteen years, pushed aside pride and his privileged position in the kingdom, and even abandoned his father’s palace and went to reside with Mr. Oyesile- the first CMS missionary agent posted to Benin at the Lagos street. At his new abode, Egiebor did the work of the bell ringer, sexton, interpreter, cleaner and house help to the early missionary agents. Though, there were different opinions amongst the people in the society on why this heir apparent to Ohuoba of Benin Chieftaincy titled decision to reduce himself to an ordinary house help and worker in the infant CMS Church. Some of them saw Egiebor’s action as mischievous and unexpected. Others believed that the boy was actually called by God to serve Him, and while others believed that the Egiebor was the influenced by his fore-father who was appointed by Oba Esigie in the 15th century to assist the Portuguese Roman Catholic Fathers at the daily ministration of Holy Sacrament and Mass at the Oba of Benin Palace at the first missionary phase.
These opinions however did not stop Egiebor from getting baptized by Bishop James Johnson with a new name- Emmanuel. Prof Oviasu in 2002 at the Centenary celebration of the St. Matthew’s Church in Benin noted that, Rev. Egiebor Emmanuel Ohuoba was "divinely inspired to commit himself to the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ"

There were numerous challenges that confronted the infant Church in Benin that almost forced the CMS mission to retreat to Lagos. One of such was from the Moslems who built their mosque also at Lagos Street- most of them were members of the NCPF- Niger Coast Protectorate Force, who were brought into the kingdom in the 1897 British insurgency, they were incensed with the daily evangelization calls for repentance from the CMS brethren. It came to a point when these people could no longer stand the evangelical fire power of the Christians, and with the help of the British Resident Commissioner, the CMS brethren were asked to leave Lagos Street. Rev. Ohuoba records further revealed that, they (Christians) were at many occasions arrested and detained at the Commissioner’s headquarters for many weeks, Bibles and Church bell seized. Rev. Egiebor was on several occasions arrested and detained by the white District Commissioner because of his frequent morning calls on the people for repentance, he often wrote to Oba Eweka II who prevailed on the District Commissioner for his release from incarceration.
At a point in time, it became very unbearable for the CMS missionaries that they decided to vacate their place of worship in Benin and to relocate to Lagos because; they were unable to find another place for fellowship and accommodation for the ministers. In order to prevent such calamity, Egiebor appealed to the missionaries not to go back to Lagos and therefore carried all the CMS agents to his father Palace for safety. At the premises of the palace, the old and the new converts gathered for fellowship and Sunday Church services. After some time, Egiebor pleaded with the father again to allow the Church make use of the front part of the extensive palace premise to erect a Church building and permanent accommodation for the ministers. The Chief yielded to his son’s request despite the fact that, he at a time fled from the same palace to reside with the Missionaries.

The front part of the Chief Ohuoba of Benin palace premise was excised and transferred to Christian Missionary society authority. This arrangement was facilitated by Bishop James Johnson, and the first Church structure was also dedicated by the same Bishop on November 2nd 1902 as rightly documented by Rev. E.E Ohuoba.

Eson Aihkunle Ohuoba

Interestingly, Chief Ighile Ohuoba did not hinder any member of his family and the Palace community from worshipping the living God. This led to the situation where Eson Aihkunle – the mother of Egiebor to become one of the three first Benin prominent women to be baptized on the 15th July 1906. The baptism was conducted by Bishop James Johnson himself. Her baptismal added more fire to evangelism in Benin district. Benin women came out in large number to embrace the Christian faith. She did everything to break some of the traditional customs that use to prevent people from worshiping the true living God Almighty.
Aihokunle did one remarkable thing in her evangelical mission that will be difficult to erase from the history of evolution of Christianity in Benin district. In time past, it was taboo in Benin nation to refuse to participate in the ancestral worship of the land. Eson Aihokunle breached a particular taboo by boldly violating the curfew imposed by the Chief priest of Okhuaihe deity at the Ikhuen district during the annual Okhuaihe festival of Ikpoleki. The ukwurhe (staff) of Okhuaihe deity was placed across the road on two fork sticks to prevent people from passing the road. This was done by the traditionalist to create the myth that the ceremony was sacred and to restrict movements during the ceremony, unless the initiates. On that faithful day, everyone in the community remained indoor to avoid sanctions from the ancestors. Aihokunle boldly came out of her house, walked towards the road to everyone amazement, looked towards the sky and prayed to the Almighty God, removed the Ukhurhe (Staff) that was placed across the road, seized it and threw it to the bush and went on her Journey. In the Benin traditional society, this action was expected to earn her serious sanctions from the gods, but nothing happened to her. This brave action from this woman of God encouraged many people in the community to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ.
Early Missionary Activities of Rev. E. E. Ohuoba (1885-1950): First Benin Indigenous Priest
St. Matthew’s Anglican Church Cathedral. Located at the front part of Chief Ohuoba of Benin Palace

Rev. E. E. Ohuoba Ministry And Challenges

Due to his commitments, dedication, ministerial qualifications and achievements of Egiebor, he was put in Charge of St. Mathew’s Anglican Church on December 1924 and thus became the first Benin indigene to head the Home Church. It is good to note that, Bishop James Johnson commissioned Rev. E.E Ohuoba in 1910 to translate the St. Matthew’s Gospel and prayer book to the native Benin dialect. He was also the First Benin indigene to Wed in the Church on February 1917.

Rev. Egiebor Emmanuel Ohuoba went through turbulent times in his ministry, though one may not be able to recount all of them here, but still held on to Jesus Christ because he felt that there was no going back. It got to time when the Reverend lost his Father- the Ohuoba of Benin Kingdom; the Oba of Benin invited him to come over to step into his father’s prestigious throne since it is a hereditary position. The man of God bluntly refused this offer and maintained that he cannot serve two masters at the same time. Members of the infant CMS Church in Benin were troubled over this matter because of its implications on what may happen to the young Church. They therefore sent delegates, including some elders from Benin nation to the Christian Missionary society headquarters in Lagos, requesting the CMS leaders to come over to plea with Oba Eweka II for the release of Reverend from his traditional commitments. However, the Oba yielded to the request of the emissary from Lagos and promised to allow the clergy man to continue his ministry in Benin district.
Despite the numerous efforts and achievements of the Reverend in the CMS mission, he finally decided to leave the Christian missionary society (CMS) and to establish the Ebenezer United Native African Mission in 1929. This was due to the ill treatments and double standard from the CMS headquarters against the African priests. Indigenous clergies were rated lower than white clergies, promotions and other social welfare benefits were more in favour of the white priests- even when they are of the same ministerial level.

Another reason behind the establishment of the Ebenezer First African Church was the Reverend’s desire to bring the Gospel closer to his native people. In this instance, the Benin native dialect, songs attires and some other customary ways of doing things were allowed in the new Church. Large congregation of CMS members moved with this man of God to the Ebenezer First African Church. They were able to overcome the initial problems of place for fellowship and accommodation for ministers. This new Church mission again commenced at his father’s palace premise. Some of the prominent members that left the CMS mission with Rev. E.E Ohuoba were;
  • Omokaro Ehigiator

  • Omorere Erhumwunse

  • Edosnwan N.O

  • Akenbo, C.G

  • Ekunwe Osunde

  • Ogiebuase Aigbe

  • Agheyisi J.A

  • Emovon, G.A

  • Ovaiwe, D.O

  • Princess Omono Ovonramwen

  • Agbonkpolo Aigbe (mrs)

  • Chengban Obano Omorere (Mrs)

  • Aisueni Oshodi (Mrs)

  • Iyoha Arakpogun (Mrs)

  • Aihokunle Osunde (Mrs)\Omorogie Ogiamwuse (Mrs)

  • Ibizugbe

  • Ode Aigbe

  • Atoe Obano

  • Ariho Ovbiuwa (Mrs)

  • Agho Irhuebor

  • Amayo, G.O

  • Aighobamiem Osaigbovo

  • Idahor Eguekun (Mrs)

  • Osayewe Obaseki

  • Sarah Ugiere Ohuoba (Mrs)

  • Uwaguosa Ohuoba (Mrs)

  • Okoro, S. B.

  • Osazuwa, M. O.

Early Missionary Activities of Rev. E. E. Ohuoba (1885-1950): First Benin Indigenous Priest
Ebenezer First African Church Benin City

Pragmatic Religious Philosophy

Despite the difficult challenges to Rev. E.E Ohuoba’s ministry, he was still able to achieve remarkable success in his quest to contribute towards the institutionalization of Christianity in Benin district. Vetting from his diary revealed that his religious philosophy was his adoption of a more radical and practical approach in his evangelical mission. He did not trouble himself with the teaching of Creeds which he regarded as an alien method and unpractical especially in view of the high illiteracy rate in the area of writing and spoken English. His method was therefore on the organization of crusades not only on the people, but also against their fetishes, idols and charms. He believed that, until the people loose faith in the powers of these objects they would not find peace in Christianity. A good example of such crusade was the one he organized at the Iyase of Benin kingdom’s Palace. Chief Agho Obaseki, the then Iyase of Benin became a convert after the open air crusade. The high Chief afterward gave permission to the Reverend to pack out all the idolatry objects from his premises and burnt them in presence of large spectators. Records also revealed that Oba Eweka II was delighted and even gave out one of his daughters to Chief Obaseki Agho for marriage.

The Reverend demands from his hearers were simply that, they should destroy their fetishes, confess their sins and to put absolute faith in the sufficiency Jesus Christ. He prescribed for the converts strenuous religious exercises which will help them cultivate Christian discipline. This includes the emphasis on prayers, fasting, and praising God in local and English languages.

Education And Priesthood Training

After the British insurgency in 1897, the government decided to open a school in Benin just to compensate the people. The meritorious service of young Egiebor both at the Church and at the house keeping assignment with the CMS agents, made Mr. Oyesile to send him to the new government school in April 1901- exactly the month the School was established. He was among the first fifteen pioneer pupils of the school. The school fees were paid by the missionary agents until Egiebor Passed the Standard V1 in 1907.

While at the Government School, Egiebor was very serious with his studies. His excellent performance in school attracted the British District Commissioner who invited him to his office and offered him a prestigious position of a clerk in his office. This young boy out rightly rejected this job and politely told the Commissioner that he had decided to serve the living God.

In one of Bishop James Johnson Episcopal tours to Benin, he demanded for volunteers to be trained for missionary work. Only three boys including Egiebor willingly accepted this divine calling, but to the boys’ dismay, the Bishop did not meet up their expectations on time after many weeks. Fortunately for the boys, it was rumoured that the Bishop was on visitation to Sapele, they therefore quickly took the opportunity to walk down from Benin to Sapele to meet him. The Bishop was highly impressed and filled with passion just because of the courage and determination exhibited by the boys Records. The Reverend’s dairy revealed that, the Bishop immediately recommended them for admission into the St. Andrew’s College Oyo for Priesthood training.

Equipped with the recommendation letters, the boys trekked down again from Benin to Siluko where they boarded the boat that took them to Lagos and eventually to Oyo. It is necessary to note here that, it was only Egiebor who made it to Oyo Priesthood College. His records revealed that they were all offered lucrative jobs in Lagos with very attractive packages, but only Egiebor declined again this offer because of his determination to serve God, and proceeded to Oyo for his Priesthood training.

On getting to St Andrew’s College Oyo, Bishop F.M, Jones the Principal of the College welcomed Egiebor and praised his determination to serve God. He immediately offered Egiebor admission into the College in the year 1908 and equally asked him to stay with him in his house.
Egiebor thus became the number 104 student admitted in the College –starting from the year 1896 when the College was founded (Pp. 131, St Andrew’s College Oyo Premier Institution in Nigeria)

Rev. E. E. Ohuoba was also the first indigene to be confirmed President of St. Andrew’s Old Boys Association (SACOBA) Benin Branch.

At the completion of his four years training in 1912, Egiebor returned back to Benin to meet J.C Barbar another CMS agent in St Matthew’s Church. In the same year, the Egiebor read and passed the First Class Catechist examination in Warri under the supervision of Rev.Kidd - a British expatriate. Egiebor did not stop his studies at this level, but still went for further training at the Divinity Hall Osogbo. He was later ordained Deacon by Bishop .T. Oluwole at an ordination service at Osogbo.

After this ordination service at Osogbo, Egiebor was then put in Charge of St. Matthew’s Church in Benin making him the first indigenous Priest to take Charge of the Home Church. It was called the Home Church because; it was from here other Churches in Benin district sprang up.

Egiebor still went for Priesthood training again at Osogbo in 1926 under Archdeacon Mckay. After this training, he was ordained full Priest at St Peter’s Church Ake, Abeokuta. The Reverend diary revealed that, this ordination ceremony was quiet unique to him because, it was a blessing to the entire Benin nation. The Omonoba nedo Uku Akpolokpolo – Oba Akenzua II when he was Prince, travelled with his entourage from Benin to Abeokuta to witness the ordination ceremony of Egiebor as the first Benin Priest. The Oba even accompanied him to his residence before going back to Benin.
Early Missionary Activities of Rev. E. E. Ohuoba (1885-1950): First Benin Indigenous Priest
Rev. Emmanuel Egiebor Ohuoba At the Ordination Ceremony in December 1924

Missionary Work Activities

  • Served as the Church bell ringer, interpreter, Sexton between 1901-1907.

  • Served as house help to the missionary agents: 1901-1907.

  • Attended St Andrew’s College Oyo for Priesthood training between 1908-1912.

  • Commissioned to translate the St. Matthew’s Gospel and prayer book from English to Benin dialect by Bishop James Johnson in 1910.

  • Served as house help to Bishop F.M. Jones in 1908-1912.

  • Read and Passed his First Catechist Exams in 1912.

  • Further his Priesthood training and Ordained in 1924 at the Divinity Hall Osogbo.

  • Egiebor was Put in Charge of the St Matthew's Church Dec. 24th, 1924 as the First Indigenous Priest.

  • Went for further Priesthood training at Osogbo, and was made full Priest at the St. Peter's Church Ake, Abeokuta Dec 24,th 1926.

  • Appointed School Master for twelve years.

  • Rev. E.E. Ohuoba established the Ebenezer First Africa (UNA) in 1929.

  • He got approval from J.f Field in Lagos to establish (UNA) schools in Benin district.

  • Reverend Ohuoba was Pastor in Charge of Ebutta- metta UNA Church in 1944.

  • Reverend Emmanuel Ohuoba was the first Benin indigene to Wed in the Church in 1917 at the St. Luke Church Sapele, the Church in Benin was then not licensed to conduct of Church wedding at that time.

Soul Winning and Educational Mission Service

Rev. E. E. Ohuoba ensured that his converts also got themselves ready to embrace formal education which he believed will make them more conversant with the teaching of Holy Spirit in the Bible, and also to make them relevant to the demands of the modern society. He applied and got approval from the Church authorities and the relevant Government agencies to establish schools alongside the Churches he established.

The Reverend’s evangelical missions were made on foot and later with bicycle presented to him by Revd. Kidd. He knew very well that the harvest were indeed many and had to select crops of dedicated brethrens for priesthood training to assist him in the soul winning crusade for Jesus Christ. Some of these prominent individuals he sent for Priesthood training were,
  • Most Rev. M. E. Okunbowa (JP) Arch. Bishop FAC mission Inc. (Former).

  • Right Rev. S. A. Osaghaede - Bishop in Charge of FAC Mission, Okitpupa Diocese Ondo State (Former).

  • Very Rev. K. C. Edokpolo (JP). Provost of St Matthew Anglican Church Benin city (former)

  • Ven. Arch Deacon A. O. Obarisiagbon. Cathedral Arch & Vicar in Charge of Ebenezer (FAC) Mission Benin (Former).

  • Rev. J. O. Idada- Ebenezer (FAC) Church Benin City.

  • Rev. G. Ojo-Ebenezer FAC Mission Benin City. (Former)

  • Rev. N. O. Davies

  • Rev. J. C. Nwonye

  • Rev. J. D. Ifode

  • Rev. A. I. Emovon

  • Catechist J.O Akioya-Church of God Mission Benin city

  • Rev. I. I. Akioya-renown Organist at the Benin Baptist Church (former)

  • Rev. A. J. Osazenaya-Anglican Church Mission Benin city (former)

  • Mr. V. I. Akioya-Organist, St Matthew’s Anglican Church Benin.

  • Pastor Osakwe Akioya-Worldwide Evangelist and so forth.

Apart from being among the pioneer founders of the Christian Missionary Society (St. Matthew’s Anglican Church) and founder of the Ebenezer First African Churches all in Benin, Rev. E.E Ohuoba also planted Churches and some schools at the following locations;
  • Benin City

  • Eyean

  • Idumwungha

  • Urhokuasa

  • Eho

  • Ekue

  • Evbiokoi

  • Ugbogui

  • Safaragbo

  • Lakaloko

  • Gbeleba

  • Sokoro

  • Urohnigbe

  • Umokpe

  • Oza

  • Ugo Niyekeogba

  • Uguomo

  • Evabohuan

  • Idibo

  • Ohogbobi

  • Usen

  • Unuomen

  • Ejido

  • Okogbo

  • Ugbokonumaigbe

  • Urhehue

  • Ogbeson.

(Source Rev. E. E. Ohuoba Diary. 1938).

Article is an extract from:
Advent of Christianity in Benin District And The Travails of The First Indigenous Priest
Author: Imafidon Ohuoba. Ph.d
(ISBN 9782579332)

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