Samuel Onyuku Elenwo, the first son of Chief Edward Onyuke Elenwo and Madam Omekele Elenwo of Okporowo-Ogbakiri in Rivers State, Nigeria, was born on December 7, 1933. His father, Chief Edward, was one of the founding fathers of Christianity in his hometown and a leader in his church, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Okporowo-Ogbakiri. Samuel, who lost his mother at a very tender age, was brought up by his grandmother, Madam Nwereoma Onyuku Elenwo.
Young Samuel grew up like his mates, working and playing with them as brothers at home and in school. He loved to play table tennis, dress well and dance vivaciously to indigenous music. His parents introduced him to their trading occupation because they lived and worked with Kalabari neighbors. It was through this exposure that Samuel learned the Kalabari language which he spoke fluently.
Samuel began his educational career at Okporowo-Ogbakiri Central School. From there he went on to Kalabari National College, and then to New Bethel College, Onitsha where he passed his O and A levels. After a brief spell as a teacher, he got a position as a clerk with the Electric Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) in Lagos. Before leaving his home for Lagos, the young Samuel had been an active member of his home church, St. Paul’s Church, Okporowo-Ogbakiri, identifying with his mates in such youthful programs as Anglican Youth Fellowship. Growing up in his clan, Samuel Elenwo was best remembered as a peacemaker. Even when working at ECN, he regularly attended church services, Bible studies, and youth fellowship meetings at Christ Church, Marina, Lagos.
After observing Elenwo in these many church functions, the bishop of Lagos State, Rt. Revd L. D. Vinning identified him as potential material for the priesthood. Encouraged by Bishop Vinning, Elenwo listened to the call to the ministry and sought pastoral theological training. Elenwo himself confessed on how he felt an irresistible urge to serve the Lord until he eventually gave into it. He resigned from his job and thereafter was sponsored by the Lagos Diocese of the Anglican Church to attend Immanuel College of Theology, Ibadan for pastoral training leading to a diploma in theology and his ordination in 1957. He was subsequently posted to Bishop Tugwell Memorial Church, Lagos, as the vicar in charge.
He served for several years as a pastor in the Lagos Diocese under Bishop L. D. Vinning, Bishop A. W. Howells, Bishop S. I. Kale, and Bishop Festus Segun who, at one time, appointed him assistant priest in the famous Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina. He pursued further education at the University of Ibadan and University of Nsukka where he obtained a B.A in religion.
In 1974, while still serving as a priest in Lagos, Elenwo was appointed to the Rivers State Government as a commissioner in the Rivers State Teaching Service Commission by Commander Alfred Diete-Spiff’s administration. When that commission was dissolved, the Elenwo joined the Rivers State Broadcasting Corporation as the radio pastor in charge of the religious programs of the corporation. He was attached at the same time to St. Cyprian’s Anglican Church, Port Harcourt as the assistant pastor, and also as chaplain to Our Savior’s Chapel of the University of Port Harcourt and other secondary schools in the state. In 1978 he was elevated to the position of honorary canon of St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church, Bonny, and then was installed as canon by Rt. Rev Yibo Alalibo Fubara in the same year.
During his time with the Radio Rivers he was pronounced bishop elect to succeed Bishop Fubara who was retiring. He was consecrated as the fourth bishop of the Niger Delta Diocese on Sunday March 1, 1981 by the first archbishop of the province, His Grace Most Rev. Timothy Olufosoye at the Cathedral Church of St. James Oke-Bola, Ibadan. He was enthroned at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Bonny on Sunday, March 8, 1981. He became the first bishop of the newly created Niger Delta North Diocese on May 16, 1996.
Altogether he spent forty-two years of his life serving God as a priest and bishop and as the radio pastor in Rivers State, Nigeria. As bishop of the Niger Delta, which had forty-three districts and parishes at the beginning of his tenure, Elenwo established 147 districts and parishes. From two archdeaconries in Bonny and Port Harcourt, fourteen more were created. He was instrumental in creating three dioceses around Calabar. Initially the diocese had sixty-three clergy; Elenwo ordained 243 clergy. He recruited well informed and well trained clergy by encouraging many young graduates to join the Sacred Order.
He undertook aggressive evangelism both in urban and rural areas. As a result, many became committed, born again Christians in the Niger Delta Diocese. He established the Bishop Crowther Memorial Secondary School in Port Harcourt.
Elenwo made regular pastoral visits throughout the vast Niger Delta Diocese, in spite of the difficult terrain and the rough seas and rivers. During such visits, he confirmed thousands of people, inaugurated parishes, created new archdeaconries, laid the foundation stones of new churches and dedicated completed ones.
The bishopric of Samuel Elenwo invigorated the Great Anglican Revival team, producing dynamic evangelistic Bible teachers and rigorous revival programs which led to church planting in many districts. They held evangelistic awareness conferences and seminars placing the emphasis on the importance of the Word of God as the true foundation for the Christian church. He encouraged every church in his diocese to be evangelistic.
Elenwo devised fundraising strategies for the diocese which included joint ventures with the CSS Bookshop, belonging to the Anglican Church, introduced the payment of tithes by church members, ruled that burial dates of dead relatives should be no more than fourteen days after death (to reduce the expense of holding corpses in the mortuary for long periods and the very elaborate burial parties afterwards), and other noble ideas.
Elenwo maintained that the Anglican Church was orthodox and evangelical in doctrine and Pentecostal in practice, an idea he demonstrated in his ever growing diocese. He brought the Mothers’ Union and the Women’s Guild into prominence by recognizing them as the lifelines of the dioceses; encouraging their roles in catering services, regular women conferences, charity work, project developments, nursery and primary school projects and the like. Elenwo encouraged the laity to be involved in church affairs. He also encouraged many aging church workers by ordaining and re-training them for the ordained ministry.
Despite an attack by armed robbers in 1996 and a debilitating illness in 1998, Elenwo recovered from these afflictions to continue his tenure as bishop until his retirement on December 31, 1999.
He was a man of remarkable ingenuity and foresight who utilized the human and material resources at his disposal. He was a strong leader but also gave everyone a sense of belonging in the affairs of the diocese. He explored all these ideas tirelessly in his pioneering role of nurturing the newly created diocese of Niger Delta North from its inauguration to the time of his retirement. Among his many qualities were his humility, his devotion and concern for people, his fatherly and forgiving heart and, above all, his friendly disposition towards all who crossed his path.
Adapted from W. O.Wotogbe-Weneka, The Bishopric of Sam O. Elenwo (1981-1999) (Port Harcourt, Nigeria: Link Advertising Ltd., 2000) by Mrs. Olabisi Chukwudile, DACB Project Luke affiliate 2008-2009 and Director of the Women Who Care program of Children Evangelism Ministry International, headquartered in Ilorin, Nigeria.