ADVENT OF CHRISTIANITY IN AMAWBIA
Like in most towns in this part of the country, Christianity
came to Amawbia, along with the imposition or establishment of the British Colonial administration’s presence, dating back to 1903. St. Peter’s Anglican Church Amawbia, can therefore be said to have come a very long way, with a rich history, to this day. What is today a one-church parish in the Anglican Diocese of Awka, belongs to the first set of churches, East of the Niger, founded by the Church Missionary Society (CMS).
As earlier stated, the relationship between the church and colonial government also found expression in the role Chief Agbata Ikele (Alukaekwe, Apakata Asura) a warrant chief and son of Ikele Nwine played in the coming of Christianity to Amawbia. A team of missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) arrived Awka for the spread of the Gospel in 1903, having failed in their earlier mission in 1901. The team comprised an English priest, Revd S.R. Smith, and three West Indian presits, Revds, Stuart, N.C. Lewellyn and Brown. They were received by Chiefs Nweze and Onwurah Usoku (alias Egbinijeogu), both of Awka, who showed them an evil forest, part of which they cleared and dwelt on. The site was later developed into the renowned Awka College or St. Paul’s College, Awka (now St. Paul’s University College, Awla). The site was at the time called ‘Be Uzu’ (the home of Smith) taking after Revd Smith.
Having thus settled at Awka, the missionaries were then in a position to carry the Gospel to nearby communities, with the kind assistance of their hosts. One of the first communities they visited was Amawbia, as both Chief Nweze and Chief Onwura close associate of Chief Agabata Ikele, through their dealings with Major H.C. Moorhouse.
Led by Chief Onwura Usoku, Revds Lewellyn, Brown and Stuart, paid a visit to the household of Chief Ikele Nwine, the Chief Priest of Ngene –Eme shrine and father of Chief Agbata Ikele, in 1903, and were warmly received, as Onwura was not new to the household. Subsequent, the visits brought Chief Ikele Nwine closer to the missionaries,whom he allowed free access to preach the Word of God in his compound. Although he did not join the missionaries, nor did he encourage members of his household, Ikele Nwine allowed outsiders who were attracted to be free and join. The first convert was one Okoye Anwu Katchi (later baptized James Katchi) of Umuoneli kindred, Ngene Village, Amawbia. Mr. Katchi at this juncture, became the liaison between the missionaries and Amawbia Community.
There was intensification of evangelistic activities at Ikele Nwines’ compound, involving regular worships and catechism classes, leading to the baptism of James Okoye Anwu katchi and his wife, Eunice as well as their subsequent wedding. Another spectacular event was the conversion of Ikele Nwine’s daughter-in-law, and first wife of Agbata Ikele Nwine, Mrs. Dorcas Ikele, as Nwine’s household could no longer escape the radiation of the Gospel from within their premises. She did this against the wishes of both her father in-law and her husband.
Upon Agbata Ikele taking the Ozo title, Dorcas refused to put on her ankles with the traditional Ozo cord, nor did she accept other rights and privilege appertaining thereto as Agbata’s first wife. As a punishment for her deviance, Dorcas was deposed from the position of first wife to that of last wife. This only strengthened her resolve to turn her back to idolatry and to surrender her life entirely to the service of God. All her children were brought up in the best Christian tradition, and it is no wonder, that her grand son, Isaac, who was he special pet, eventually joined the Holy Orders.
EARLY GROWTH OF THE CHURCH
As the seed planted in Ikele Nwine’s compound germinated, one Mr. James Nrabalu from Ogidi was appointed later in 1904, to take charge of the growing flock. In collaboration with Mr. James Katchi, Mr. Nrabalu succeeded in converting more souls, whereas the support of Mrs. Dorcas Ikele provided the required tonic for greater spread of the Gospel. The small shelter in Ikele Nwine’s premises could therefore no longer serve the growing congregation.
The congregation now moved to the Ngene village square, Ebe Akpu, where people from the six villages of Amawbia rallied and most of them responded to the Gospel. Defying threat by non-adherents of repercussions from the guardian idols, the growing congregation which settled at Ebe Akpu, erected a reasonable large-sized thatched house, with mud pews, pulpits etc, and settled for serious religious activities.
At this point in time, most of the convert were from Ngene village, but the Gospel spread like wild fire, attracting people from other villages. But for more strategic positioning of the congregation, while their need for a more central location, hence the search for an alternative place. Meanwhile, a popular means of new converts demonstrating their new faith and emphasizing the omnipotence of God, was the collection and burning of all symbols of idolatry = god heads, shrine, Ikenga, Ofo, Ogu, Okpensi, etc as well as entering and clearing bushes belonging to guardian idols. They also cleared ‘Ajo Ofia’ (Evil Forests) where dead lepers, small pox victims, twins, etc were dumped. One of such acts of gallantry was the burning of the ‘Ugwu Udo’ shrine, by Mr. Gideon Maduka Obi, who, on being threatened about the likely consequences of his action, retorted, Alusi kwolu onwe ya’ (let the idol speak for or defend itself), a cryptic remark that stuck as his pet name.
MOVEMENT TO ODODOKWE SITE (1911-12)
Above was the setting, when unanimous alternative site was located at the Evil Forest at Obodokwe, in Umukabia village, the present site of St. Peter’s Church. It was a bitter struggle, with pagan parents doing the all in their power to dissuade their children from joining in what seemed like a suicidal bravado. There were reports of some of the fanatical convert, like Richard Okeke of Umueze, fighting their fathers for daring to stand in their way. As was expected, God showed that He is Lord, and gave the church a resounding victory. A new church was eventually built at Obodokwe, another thatched house with mud walls and furniture. A dwelling place was also built close to the church for the church teacher.
The relocation to Obodokwe in 1911, saw the early converts and the missionaries engage in more activities including open air preaching and singing on Eke market days at Eke Amawbia market and village squares. The growth at this stage was still not without hitches, especially from heathen parents of adherents as well as the established, but conflicting customs of the people. Mention will be made of some of these obstacles, such as the heathen fathers stopping their sons from participating in building the thatched church.
One of the reports said people like Okeke Mgbokwu Edi Nwile, Nwokoye Onukwube and Newobuano, who were the bona-fide owners of Obodokwe, fought against the church’s acquisition of the land. Okeke Mgbokwu on his part, jumped into the foundation being dug for the church building, to stop the workers, only for the son, Richard, to drag him out.
It was also reported that in spite of threats and cajolery from the traditionalist, one Ulu Ogo from Adabebe village was the first woman to put on clothes to the church service. Though this was regarded as an abomination, other women converts joined her, including the traditionalists.
The death of one Nganga Okoye in 1911 further threatened the faith of adherents, as his son, James Okoye, refused to dance to the tune of Abia and Ufiejioku traditional music. At a meeting of the indigenes to deliberate on this ‘slight’, the Christians who rallied around James Okoye maintained their ground that they would no longer participate in traditional burial rites. As a result, some elders decided that all first sons should not be converted to Christianity, so they could honour their fathers at death. This decision even affected first sons who had already started schooling, as some of them, such as Paul Eke were withdrawn, while the mature ones resisted the order.
It is pertinent to note that despite these obstacles on their way, the early Christians never relented in their faith, rather devised other means of winning souls for Christ. Besides preaching at public squares, preaching done at burials worked some magic, just as the life-style of Christians. The converts also engaged in farm work for the weak and aged as well as visiting the sick to pray for them, without discrimination.
With the church now on a more central and permanent location, the growing congregation was made up of mainly the early converts, among whom were: James and Eunice Katchi, Dorcas Ikele, Gideon Maduka Obi, Christopher Okeke, Wilfred Obi, John and Esther Ugoji, Gabriel and Sarah Ajulu, Jeremiah Nwosu, Alfred Okeke, J. Ndigwe Nwosu, Eugene Ogbonna, Herbert E. Nwalusi, Ekeukwu Nwalusi, Samuel Nwalusi, Esther Okafor Nwonu, Bertha Obi, Godwin Mogbo, Sampson Ugoji, Nwonu James, Onuigbo Obasa, Ngenegbo Nwaokfor Agwo, Bertram E. Oguejiofo, Ofoma Oneli, Josiah Nonyelu, Daniel Nwankwo, Robert C. Oji, Hezekiah Igweonu, and Samuel Mmuo.
Others were: Michael Dike, Aaron Okonji, Godfrey Okonkwo, John Molokwu, James O. Okoye, Simeon and Agnes Okoye, Robert Okoye, Richard Okeke, Francis Okeke, Seth Nnake, Edward Nwankwo, Simon Ojiyi, Nathan J.O. Nwankwo, Samuel Nnake, Isaiah Ojiyi, Simon Ume, Stephen Ume, Mary Ume, Ben Nwokolo, Benson Nwolise, Hannah nwokolo, Rebecca Nwankwo and Mathias Nwafulume. Yet others were: Lazarous Odumodu, Jeremiah Odumodu, Jonathan Odumodu, Emmanuel Nwanza, Sgt. Godfrey Obi, Nathaniel Nwokoye Ogu, Lawrence Dijie, Daniel Okongwu, Jonah Onyeogu, Isaac Okolo, Chigbo Aghanya, Geoffrey Okolo, Andrew N. Nwoye, Jeremiah (Mgbaku) Nwankwo, Ebenezer Ibekwe, and many others, too numerous to mention.
CHRONOLOGY OF EARLY CHURCH WORKERS
THERE is no doubt that the growth of the church was made possible, not only owing to the acquiescence of the converts and their activities, but also due to the committed stewardship of the early shuch workers. Before the relocation of the church to its present site at Obodokwe in 1911, the pioneer church teacher, Mr. James Nrabalu had been succeeded by Mr. Isaac Izegbu from Ogbunike in 1909. Below are the chronology of the early church workers and their towns of origin before the elevation of the church to the status of a district in 1966, with records of some of the date missing, owing to the civil war.
1. Mr. James Nrabalu– Church Teacher- 1904-1909 Ogidi
2. Mr. Isaac Izegbu – 1909-1913 -Ogbunike
3. Mr. Emerokwam – 1913-1917 -Delta
4. Mr. Ogbo – 1917-1921 -Ogwashi-Uku
5. Mr. Jeremiah Ikejiani – Catechist – 1921-1925 -Nri (Later Revd. Canon)
6. Mr. M.B.O. Machie- Onitsha
7. Mr. Umeweni- Igboukwu
8. Mr. Ogbo – 1925-1941 -Asaba
9. Mr. Tagbo – Ukwulu
10. Mr. Nzeako – Abagana
11. Mr. Ezeukwu – 1942-1943 -Ozubulu
12. Mr. Igboeli – 1944-1946 -Abagana
13. Mr. Ezenwa – 1947-1948 -Abagana
14. Mr. S. Ezegbe – 1949-1950 -Nri
15. Mr. C.U. Ikpala -1951-1952 -Ogbunka (later Venrable)
16. Mr. Onwujekwe – 1953-1958 – En. /Ukwu (later Revd)
17. Mr. Araka – 1959-1960 -Ogidi
18. Mr. Chidebelu – Catechist -1960-61 -Abagana
19. Mr. Aduaka – 1962-63 -Abagana
20. Mr. Chief – 1964-66 – Nawfia
Post-War Church Workers
Since St. Peter’s acquired then status of a church district in 1966 and the Nigerian Civil War that saw the citizenry vacating the town in 1968, the following were the church workers posted after hostilities till date, to assist the priests. It will also be noted that soon after the war, this set of church workers did not immediately join the priests, perhaps owing to the paucity of personnel or conveniences on the part of the district, fresh from war. The list is as follows:
Names – Designation – Period – Home Town
1. Mr. Emma Egbuonu – Church Teacher- 1978-1980 -Umuchu (now Archdeacon)
2. Mr. J.M. Iyoo – 1981-1982 – En/Ukwu
3. Mr. Akonam Okongwu – 1983-1984 – Amawbia
4. Mr. E.E.C. Onyeagolu – 1986-1987 – Mbaukwu
5. Mr. Ifeandu Okafor – 1988-1991- Nise
6. Mr. John N.C. Dilinyelu – 1992-1993 – Amawbia
7. Mr. Herbbert S.C. Meludu – 1994 – Abagana
8. Mr. Afam Ezenagu – 1995 – Adazi-Enu
9. Mr. Josiah Uwakwe – 1997 – Ow. / Ezukala
10. Mr. Ztopher Nwoye – 1998 – Isiagu
11. Mr. Ikenna Unegbu – 2001 till date – Isuofia
- It will also be noted that there were years church teachers were not posted, for one reason or the other, leaving only the priest to function.
List of priests
Names – Period – Home Town
1. Revd Abel C. Igboanugo – 1966-68 – Oba
2. Rtd. Revd. Ebenezer Nwabufo – 1970 – Awkuzu
3. Archdeacon. Revd. Godfrey Ubaka – 1970-73 – Akwaeze
4. Revd. Jonas O. Nebo – 1973-79 – Aguleri
5. Revd. Canon B.C. Unoka – 1980-85 – Azia
6. Revd. Timothy N. Nzelu – 1985-89 – Ojoto
7. Revd. S.I. Ibeanuka – 1989-95 – Nanka
8. Revd. Godfrey I. Nkanyimo – 1995-2001 – Nanka
9. Revd. Canon Emmanuel Nwangwu – 2001 – 2006 – Ajalli
10. Rev Canon Uche Umeh 2007 – 2012