Woriboko George Animiyomu Amakiri was the first indigenous, Baptist-trained pastor in eastern Nigeria. He was instrumental in the establishment and development of many Baptist churches in that area.
Amakiri was born in Buguma about 1887. At this time children who were loved by their parents never attended schools, but always stayed at home and learned from their parents, especially their fathers. However, Amakiri’s father, Sokari George was different. Although he had never received a formal education, his years of experience serving as an interpreter taught him the importance and value of education, so he sent his children to school. Amakiri attended the Baptist School in Buguma for a year and was taken to Lagos by Dr. Mojola Agbebi the following year.  While residing with Agbebi’s first daughter, Amakiri attended St. Peter’s School, Faji from 1903 to 1907. In 1907, Amakiri passed standard five, an academic qualification that would have enabled him to serve as a clerk in some government departments at that time. He returned to Buguma the same year however, in accordance with his father’s wishes.
Being a true son of the soil and a seasoned African who respected African cultural values, he obeyed his father and served his family with the skills and knowledge he had acquired in Lagos, returning there in 1909 for further academic development. He enrolled in the C.M.S grammar school, and by the end of 1910, he graduated in standard seven, having particularly distinguished himself in religious studies. Before Amakiri returned home, he spent six months taking additional courses in school management and organization.
When he returned to Buguma in 1911, Amakiri took up a teaching appointment with the Buguma Baptist School for a month. He later joined the civil service, where he was offered the post of district clerk in Degema. His action of leaving the services of the church to join the civil service appeared to have had an adverse effect on the Baptist denomination and work in Buguma. His absence from the work and expansion of the Baptist church in the Niger Delta created a very big vacuum which could not be easily filled. After much persuasion from his predecessor and mentor in the ministry, the Rev. Moses Agbebi, and from Amakiri’s father and Charles Batubo, Amakiri resigned from the civil service and returned to the service of the church. By this time it became obvious to him that God had destined him for the work of the ministry. He was then sent to Amalem Abua in Rivers State as a pastor-teacher. From 1916 on, Amakiri was not only stationed at Amalem, but also appointed as itinerant pastor for all the Baptist churches and schools in the Buguma, Engenni, Abua, and Ikwerre areas, which are all in the present Rivers State of Nigeria. This is where he pursued his divine vocation with diligence and determination.
At the demise of the Mojola Agbebi, the only trained Baptist leader supervising the work in Niger Delta in 1917, the need for a trained leader for the supervision of the Baptist work in the area arose. Amakiri and Kenneth Johnbull were chosen for theological training towards the end of that year. At the completion of the one year training at the Nigeria Baptist Theological Seminary, which was then located at Shaki, Oyo State, Kenneth Johnbull was sent to Buguma, but he died not long after taking office. Consequently, Amakiri was ordained into the full-time gospel ministry and appointed as the supervising pastor and manager of all the Baptist work and schools in the Niger Delta area. He was to assist and advise the churches, administer the schools, and act as liaison officer between Baptist schools and government departments, and he generally promoted the improvement of both churches and schools during this time. With this appointment, Amakiri stepped into the shoes of his predecessor Mojola Agbebi, and worked wholeheartedly, like the biblical Elijah and his successor Elisha.
Amakiri married a woman named Mary (née Isaac George), a woman of real understanding. She took care of the family responsibilities when he was away on missionary assignments, and their marriage was blessed with six children. He traveled extensively to all parts of eastern Nigeria. With Buguma as his base, he typically left early in the year, returning in June for a month, and going out again to return in December, at Christmas time. Like the apostle Paul, Amakiri planted new churches and strengthened the existing ones, and he was dearly loved and respected by all his parishioners. He was reverently addressed as Papa which is translated “Father,” a term of respect used to address responsible men of integrity and honor who have distinguished themselves. Amakiri worked alone as a general supervisor, and it was said of him that he was a strict disciplinarian who was feared by all. During his administration he maintained order in the churches, unlike some modern churches that lack orderliness and discipline. The discipline of church members was left in his hands, to the extent that that he almost became a judge to the Baptist Christians. Though this kind of administration was very successful in his time, today it tends to cripple the church in matters of discipline. In subsequent years, it became difficult for the church to settle internal disputes, and they were usually referred to missionaries.
Many of the early and vibrant Baptist churches in Igboland (southeastern Nigeria) were planted and supervised to some extent by Amakiri. Even the Baptist Church in Ihiagwa, which was planted by Joseph T. Princewill in 1917, was no exception because Amakiri was instrumental to its growth and organization in 1918. Other churches founded by Amakiri in this part of the country are: Umuanunu Baptist Church (1919), now known as First Baptist Church Obinze, Eziobodo Baptist Church (1920), and Immerienwe Baptist Church (1913), now known as First Baptist Church Immerienwe, all in the Imo State of Nigeria. Although the Immerienwe church initially experienced difficulty and almost closed, it was later revived through his effort. To the glory of God, this church is one of the largest Baptist churches in eastern Nigeria today and has produced the highest number of indigenous pastors. It is important to note that these churches were planted along with the founding of their associated schools.
Having being informed of the presence of Yoruba Baptist traders in Port Harcourt, Amakiri went there to meet them, and encouraged them to begin a preaching station. On November 25, 1929, in partnership with some members of the First Baptist Church of Lagos, as well as D. W. Duval and J. R. Miller, he planted the First Baptist Church of Port Harcourt. Many other Baptist churches were founded before Amakiri retired from active service in 1949. There is no doubt that the task he was saddled with was a very difficult one, yet he accepted the job cheerfully and was dedicated to it until his retirement. Even when more laborers were added to the vast field of harvest in 1936, in the persons of Dr. and Mrs. Carson, American missionaries to Nigeria, Amakiri worked together with them zealously and in the spirit of love until his retirement. Soon after he retired, Amakiri lost his sight–a challenge he struggled with until his death.
He died on January 29, 1965. The untiring effort of this man of God will never be forgotten in the history of Baptist work in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. His life, dedication to duty, and faithfulness to God pose a great challenge to the present and future generations. In recognition of his meritorious services to the Baptist Convention, a Baptist association in Rivers Baptist Conference has chosen his name as their designation. In like manner, the Baptist College of Theology at Obinze-Owerri has instituted an annual church planting award, given to a graduating student who has planted a church during the student’s course of training within the Nigeria Baptist Convention.
John Chukwuneme Nnoje
- Agbebi was the first African supervisor for the Niger Delta Baptist churches, and was succeeded by Amakiri.
Ade, Mark R. “Baptist Work in Eastern Nigeria 1850-1980” [unpublished].
Ugoh, Jeremiah, J., interview by author, September 15, 2009, Obinze-Owerri.
George, C. T. T. “Baptist Work in the Niger Delta from the Beginning to 1950,” unpublished thesis, Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, 1968.
George, C. T. T., interview by author, September 22, 2009, Port Harcourt.
Nnamani, Paul, interview by author, September 16, 2009, Eziobodo, Owerri.
Ngiangia, Suku Bisi. (pastor of Eziobodo Baptist Church), interview by author, October 21, 2009, Eziobodo, Owerri.
Roberson, Cecil. “The History of Buguma Baptists,” [unpublished], 1979.
This story, submitted in 2010, was written by Mr. John Chukwuneme Nnoje, a Ph.D. candidate at Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso under the supervision of Dr. M. L. Ogunewu and submitted by Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.