THE HISTORY OF CATHOLIC CHURCH AND PRIMARY SCHOOL IN OGBONA BY DEACON JOHN ODIOR ANAWEOKHAI.
The history of Primary Education in Ogbona is interwoven with that of the Catholic Church, in fact, differentiating between both of them is like separating garri from cassava.
Until 1927, there was neither church nor school in Ogbona. Nonetheless, western missionaries did come to Ogbona occasionally for evangelical and administrative purposes. The guest house between the Asekhauno and the Odogbo families housed such itinerant preachers and District Officers.
There were three men that threw everything at their disposal to ensure Ogbona had a church and a school. Eramha Esi Balogun was an itinerant trader that travelled to the major cities of Onitsha, Ibadan, Ilorin and other places for his business. He discovered to his chagrin that he was always unnecessarily delayed by the sales clerks. Often times he would be left unattended to simply because he was not educated.
Eramha Eshiemomoh Cletus Anaweokhai was working with the catholic mission in Lokoja where he could not do much because of his lack of formal education.
Eramha Robert Odogbo read up to Standard four in Fugar and was working with the Council in Auchi. Though he could barely read and write, it was not enough to get him far. The few educated ones then had to trek to Fugar. My uncle, Pa James Anaweokhai, 1904 to 1987, did his Standard Six in Fugar in 1918. Going to Fugar was not easy for him at all as he rightly told us.
There were only two government schools. The one in Auchi and that of Fugar. The problem of education became a general concern to everybody. From the various discussion held, it was clear to everyone that it would be much easier to get a school from the missionaries than the government. Getting a school from the mission means there must be a formal place of worship in Ogbona. Straightway, Eramha Cletus Anaweokhai and Eramha Robert Odogbo were sent to Agenebode and Ivhiukwe where there were Catholic Church and Catholic schools.
Until their third mission they couldn’t secure appointment with the mission. On arrival at Ogbona, the missionaries were overwhelmed by the hospitality of Ogbona. People came out amass to welcome them. Some came with tubers of yam, fowl, goats, garri. Others came with eggs etc. Instantly, the guest house which had undergone renovation was converted to church and primary school and Eramha Robert Odogbo was made the Catechist and Head Christian from 1927 to 1948. Eramha Cletus was the second Catechist from 1948 to 1976. Eramha Richard Asekomhe was another pioneer member too. They all wedded their wives in the Catholic Church in the 1930s.
CHALLENGES FACED BY THE EARLY CHURCH IN OGBONA
On the 15th of November, 1932, the first Christian marriage ever took place in Ogbona between Mr. Nicholas Apemheyie Asekomhe and Mrs. Regina Egbekhoze Asekomhe (9née Odior). It signposted the foothold of Christianity in Ogbona after teething and turbulent five years of intimidation, acrimony, ostracism and blackmail.
Among the pioneering faithful members, apart from Eramha Robert Odogbo, Cletus Eshiemhomoh Anaweokhai, Esi Martins Balogun, Richard Asekomhe and Nicholas Apemheyie Asekomhe, others were George Okomilo, David Agbiko Enamino, Thomas Eragbhe, Michael Idode Irumire, Dominic Emoabino, Bernard Ozibe Ogbualo and Matthias Ekiegbemhe Atsegwasi among others.
If the likes of Eramha Esi, Odogbo and Anaweokhai expected grand reception of Christianity and western education among Ogbona people, it was a dream taken too far. They were met with stiff resistance. The Locals saw the new religion as a knife wedged in the heart of the things that held their culture together. Scriptural teachings against heathen practices like sacrifices to idols, Okhei rites etc. soon brought the church head on collusion with the traditionalists. The school was seen as an extension of that alien culture where children were subjected to such inhuman treatment as caning and as such most parents refused to send their wards to school.
Matters were not helped by the lack of able men to steer the affairs of the new religion. Until 1929, Eramha Robert Odogbo, the pioneer head Christian and catechist was still based in Auchi. All the clergymen were based in Ivianokpodi, Agenebode. Either Eramha Nicholas Asekomhe or Eramha Cletus Anaweokhai would go to Ivianokpodi to get the previous Sunday sermon for Sunday service. The early Christians in Ogbona suffered a lot of humiliation and persecution among their kinsmen. Songs were composed to make jest of them. The most popular being the well known
ENE SI BO NE REKHA NE YUKA. Illiterate people who prided themselves as Christians.
Matters came to head in 1931 when Eramha Agbiko Enamino had an issue with one of the unbelievers. The battle line was drawn between the Christians and the traditionalists. Eramha Enamino was served a writ of summon by the customary court bailiff from Fugar. The Christian faithful decided to break with tradition, perhaps, guided by their Christian faith against bribery and corruption by denying the bailiff his usual entitlements of four pence, a fowl and tubers of yam. When the bailiff insisted with overt threats on getting his entitlement, he was manhandled. This was a sacrilegious act which the Auchi based British District Officer did not find funny. He personally came to Fugar to preside over the Case. All the seven culprits including, Eramha David Agbiko Enamino, George Okomilo, Robert Odogbo, Cletus Anaweokhai, Nicholas Asekomhe Martins Esi and Richard Asekomhe were found culpable and were summarily given fourteen strokes of cane each with two month of imprisonment which were served at Auchi prison.
POWER PLAY, INTRIGUES, MIRACLE & BACKSLIDE IN THE EARLY CHURCH
The arrest, trial and imprisonment of the pioneer parishioners of the young catholic in Ogbona was the height of the British colonialist iron fist rule in Ogbona and Nigeria in general. At the dawn of the 20th century, British stronghold on Nigeria was palpable in all spheres of life. The great Benin Massacre at the turn of the 19th century was the icy on the cake. Other smaller kingdoms suffered lesser or greater fate too. Chief Anya of Ivhiorevhor was deposed by the British Colonialist on trumped up charges. Ukpi was suspended and the strange warrant chiefdom practice was introduced. In fact, Ukpi was suspended from 1914 to 1931, without any cogent reason other than that legitimate rulers were not ready to negotiate their loyalty to the German colonialists. The German, one learnt were more humane and liberal compare to the obnoxious divide and rule system of the British colonialist.
Manhandling a court bailiff was considered the worst act of crass resistance and self-assertion against the British rule. Consequently everything possible had to be done to reassert British dominance in the political sphere, hence the summary trial and imprisonment of the early parishioners.
There was no church in Auchi where they were imprisoned .The closest church to Auchi was the Catholic Church in Afashio. As a matter of fact, up till 1961 when Chief Vital Anaweokhai wedded his wife in Ogbona, all catholic marriages took place in Afashio. How Afashio became the Catholic headquarters in Etsako is another interesting story all together.
Initially, the catholic mission was headquartered at Ivhianokpodi in Agenebode, hence it remains the central cemetery where priests’ remains are interned till today. At Ivhianokpodi, the priests were often raided by men of the underworld. Matters came to a head when one of the big church bells mysteriously disappeared. Out of frustration and anger words filtered out that the mission was at the verge of relocating its headquarter from Ivhianokpodi and that the first parish to get hold of the remaining bell would automatically become the headquarter. Out of gross laxity on the part of Ogbona Parish, Afashio beat them to it and the rest is history.
One strange occurrence that gave the young Ogbona church the needed boost cum divine advertisement was the discovery of a strange bell by Eramha Nicholas Apemheyie Asekomhe while serving the two months jail term along other six parishioners at Auchi prison. A day before the completion of their jail term, as usual after praying the rosary, they all went to sleep but early in the morning Eramha Nicholas Asekomhe woke up to see a strange bell very close to where he laid his head. As they all pointed out, nobody entered their room that night. At the end, they concluded it could be nothing but the miraculous work of God to buoy their commitment to the great commission of evangelism. The bell remains with Eramha Vincent Asekomhe till date.
It is sad however that in spite of his pioneering effort in the young church and zeal to serve the Lord, Eramha Nicholas was among the first parishioners to be heavily sanctioned by the Church. After his wedding in November 1932, a strange woman called Uwomha Sefia from Jattu came into his life and against the church doctrine, he tied the nuptial knot with her. This led to his subtle excommunication as he was being denied the Holy Communion and he left the church unceremoniously.