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ONCE A BISHOP, ALWAYS A BISHOP SAYS BISHOP ONEKPE

The outgoing Bishop of Ika Diocese, Anglican Communion, Rt. Revd. Dr. Peter Onekpe from Irekpar in Etsako, Edo State, had in an interview at the Bishop’s Court Agbor, on 19th November 2018, shared his 17years experience at the diocese and hinted on what his retirement would look like.

Bishop Onekpe who began by informing the press that he was the pioneer bishop of the diocese, said, “I am the pioneer bishop of this diocese which was carved out from Asaba diocese. I started with the late Barr. Ohen, Emmanuel Osiade, Sir Ofili and the governor’s father Chief Pa Arthur Okowa The church wanted someone with experience to be the pioneer bishop of the diocese, hence I was called upon and assumed office on the 14th of September, 2001. So I have been here for 17th years”.

The Etsako born Bishop who has well acclimatized to the Ika environment and got used to the Ika people like one of theirs, revealed that though voluntary retirement as a bishop begins at the age of 65 in the Anglican, he chose to stay till 70years for the compulsory retirement. His words “In Anglican, you retire compulsorily at the age of 70. By the grace of God, I have attained that age. I will be 70 on the month of February 2018. One can also voluntarily retire from the age of 65 to 70. But 70 years retirement is compulsory.

“Well, my retirement does not in any way make me not to be useful to the diocese and the church anymore. Once a Bishop, always a Bishop. I retire to my people in Etsako, as my presence will be highly felt there”.

“I am supposed to stay back here and the Ika people known for their hospitality will take wonderful care of me till I die. But, there is much to be done at home, in Etsako. Here, we have by Gods grace done the Ika Bible and the full bible comprising both Old and New Testament is out, to be launched in December before I go. It won’t be bad if we have something like that at Etsako too. If you don’t stay with your people, you find it difficult to contribute meaningfully to them. I therefore have to go. The whole thing is like a top civil servant who retires and returns to his people to be of use to them. Moreso, a new Bishop is already consecrated to take over from me and he is a native of Agbor, from Oki”.

Asked whether his absence won’t be felt by the in-coming bishop who will need his advise on how he has successfully managed the Diocese so far, Bishop Onekpe said “I am still his chief adviser even if I go home. No doubt, he will need my counsel, even though he is an Ika Son. There are many things he still may not know about his people. So, even when I am away, I will still be of help and it will be a lot much easier now that there is mobile phone and the internet. He can always contact me anytime he needs my assistance. It is my sole responsibility to advise him based on my 17 years experience here”.

Talking about his experience, the Bishop went further to enumerate some of the issues the church in the diocese has been battling over the years to which the new bishop will come to face to include; ill-treatment of widows and ‘home burial’. His words;

“One of the things which he may come to battle with here, which I have over time been trying to change, is the awkward and inhuman treatment of widows. In some areas, the people go as far as not allowing the widows to change their cloths all through the period of mourning. This is unchristian and barbaric. The wicked treatment and ostracizing of widows can in no way be justified. Come to think of it; when a man dies, his bereaved wife is accused of being responsible for his death, but when a woman dies no-body blames her husband. Whereas, should we come to terms with reality, men have higher cases of killing their wives for money rituals.

“Our fight for the liberation of widows has not been an easy one though, yet we have gained some success so far in some areas. For instance, we have been able to change the clothes the widows are asked to put on from black, which signifies gloom and evil to white, and have also asked the widows to donate the clothes to the church after their period of mourning, to be given to the less privileged  and those in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps. I can tell you that the widows have gladly accepted this, and presently, we have a large heap of such clothes to be dispatched. In as much as we have gained success in some areas, there are still those who have closed the door at us, strictly adhering to their culture.

“Another aspect we are still fighting is the idea of burying the dead at home. Apart from it’s horrific sight, it also provides the bereaved who are not too strong in faith, an avenue to perform rituals at the deceased’s graveside, without the knowledge of the church. We have admonished that the dead should be buried at the cemetery, preferably, a Christian cemetery if the people of that community have one, just like they have in the west.

“In a bid to curb this ‘home burial,’ the bishop does not follow the bereaved to the house to bury their corpse, difficult as it seems. The best we do, is to ask the catechist to go with them”

Another issue the bishop pointed out is the idea of the people celebrating death more than any other events of their lives. To address this, he said “we took the lead by celebrating anniversaries and birthdays. The people to an extent have followed soothe and today, we have many coming up to celebrate their birthdays and anniversaries. So, one is now celebrated more when alive and could partake than when dead. Expensive burials have therefore in a way reduced, as people now have cause to enjoy some of these things while alive”.

Also among the bishop’s experience are sweet memories which he related to the press.  Talking about them, he said, “Howbeit, there are still some laudable achievements and lovely experiences.  For instance, the building of the new cathedral sited at Ika Grammar School, Boji Boji Owa named Cathedral Church of Ascension, Boji Boji Owa, championed by the governor of Delta State, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa. This came as a result of the Cathedral Church of St. John at Agbor being choked up. It is not easy to build a Cathedral within two years, and I will have the privilege to dedicate it in December alongside the church at Owa Alero, before I leave.

“Aside the Cathedral, the church has also erected branches at various  places. When I came, I found out that the Anglican at Agbor was weak. The only church I met was the one in Agbor-Obi. I therefore set out to work and we were able to build more churches in different places in Agbor.  We have the one at Whyte street, one at Alifekede, and also at Ewuru. I also discovered that in Ekuku Agbor axis, we had only one church; the All Saints Church and it was not doing fine. So, we went on evangelism. It was through the  doggedness of Late Ohen that a branch  was planted in his father’s name at Agbor-Alidinma Obi Agbor church is to start up St Thomas Church, so that we can all cooperate with them to finish it, the way we did at Alifekede, in order to increase the number of Anglican church  at Agbor to balance up what we have at Owa,  because  the church cannot fly on one  wing. These are the things I tried to do in my time, and I will relate all to the new bishop when he comes”.

“The church also has by God’s grace opened an orphanage and we already have six orphans. However, there are some challenges running the orphanage. For example, if you find an abandoned baby, you will in line with due process and legal procedures first hand the baby over to social welfare who will after some procedures, hand the baby officially to you. This is no way an easy process. Even, sometimes, when you apply for a child at social welfare, you are denied the request. All of these are because they are worried as they say, about the present ugly trend of the selling of children for rituals.

“Also, there is the case of a relative of one of the orphans coming around to ask after the child so, some of the children cannot fully be called orphans to be kept in the orphanage strictly going by the definition and purpose.

It is just like we are helping the relatives of the child to take care of their child”.

Stating how his wife has been of a tremendous support to him in all his achievements, the bishop extolled her as a woman of virtue who has the fear of God and stands as an example to others. He said, “here in Ika diocese, the women respect my wife. They call her ‘Mama Ika.’ This has also added to the way they see me. I ensured I build her confidence when we came in. I know that being a bishop’s wife, she had to carry authority, and I was always there to back her. She has therefore been able to saddle her responsibility as the bishop’s wife in meekness and humanity. She is now a good example to the woman and a role model to our daughters. If she had been a troublesome and disobedient wife, it would have been a big cross for  me to carry  coupled with the church affairs which need my utmost attention, I therefore thank God for her.”

Bishop Onekpe who will be joining his people at Etsako anytime soon, expressed gratitude to Ika people for their hospitality. “Ika people, I must say in my 17 years here, are very hospitable and good to me. I must thank them for that,” he said I will miss their food. I will also miss the women’s August meeting, which  I hope  to introduce in Etsako. It is also worthy of note that one of my daughters is married to a son of Owa. So, here has now partly become my home,” he said.

Bishop Peter Onekpe finally stated that if every Agbor son or daughter who is an Anglican will identify with the church, like those from Owa do, the church will go further than where it is today.

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