Ockiya, Daniel Ogiriki
Daniel Ogiriki Ockiya was born in Nembe, in the present Bayelsa State of Nigeria, on May 7, 1874. His parents were King Josiah Constantine Ockiya, Mingi VII of Nembe, and Queen Trosi. At birth Ogiriki was named Reremnde-bo, a shortened form of Amanyanabo-amase-rere-mnde-bo, meaning “the king is the servant of the whole community.”
Ogiriki started primary school in 1884 at St. Luke’s School, Nembe, under the supervision of the Rev. J. Daniel Garrick. S. L. Peter (who later became a reverend) was then a catechist and schoolmaster at the school. Ogiriki graduated from school in 1888. One year earlier, Garrick, his guardian, had baptized him and given him the name Daniel-his own Christian name. Bishop Isaac Oluwole of Asaba confirmed Ogiriki in 1897.
Ogiriki followed his guardian Garrick to trading posts in Ogbeya (present-day Ogbia) and other places in the hinterland. In this way, he learned to cut palm fruits and earned money trading with them.
At first, he declined his call to be a missionary when certain Christian chiefs asked him to take up this vocation. However, God’s time came for him to accept his call when H. H. Dobinson, C.M.S. secretary of the Niger Mission, Onitsha, approached him with the same request in 1891. This time, he accepted because this gave him prospects for further education funded by the mission authorities at the Asaba Institute. In History of Christianity in Bayelsa State, Obuoforibo quotes Ogiriki explaining his decision:
Hearing of the prospect of further training, I willingly accepted the offer at once and commenced work on April 4, 1912 under Catechist Allen. This was how my missionary career commenced. I was trying to evade the missionary work but when God’s good time came, I gladly accepted … I was then only eighteen years of age, and my salary was twenty-five shillings per month.
He eventually got his theological training at the Asaba Institute in 1895 while Rev. J. A. Spencer was principal. Others in the institute with him were J. C. Obianwu, Abel Ekpunobi (who later became a pastor), Jonathan Oranya, James Perry, S. Carney, J. C. Gustavas Wright, Elkanah of Osomari in the present-day Anambra state, Bako of Lokoja (who later became a pastor) in present-day Kogi state, Nathaniel Oblou, Alphanso Onyeabo (who later became assistant bishop), and Samy and Julius Spencer. The last two were the principal’s sons.
Apart from basic theology, Ogiriki was also exposed to the art of cloth weaving and music at the Asaba Institute. In music, he was able to further the skills he had already gained in contact with Archbishop H. H. Dobinson before entering the institute. He was a very good cricket player and later introduced the sport to his home school after leaving Asaba.
He married Dora Eteteraba Aporekuma (born April 11, 1882), also of royal lineage, whose great grand father had been King Forday Kulo. Ogiriki and Dora had two sons and three daughters whose names were Ayeba-Ibirimate (born August 27, 1900), Victor Constantine Yedigimieghbofa (born August 27, 1902), Lydia Beatrice Ayebanongimate (born December 1, 1910; married Rev. J. F. O. Ockiya), Henrietta Comfort Ayebatonabara (born October 24, 1912; married T. A. Francis), Edith Hevengho-Puyafa (born March 31, 1916).
When Ogiriki returned to Nembe after his studies at Asaba, he used his gift as an organist to teach music. His students were people who had at least passed their standard six government examinations. Ogiriki stated, according to Obuoforibo, “Therefore, I would boldly say that all those who know a little bit of music in Nembe got their musical education either from me or from those whom I had taught.”
In 1900 Ogiriki successfully passed the written examinations in all the subjects set for him by Bishop James Johnson. Diocesan Bishop Herbert Tugwell eventually admitted him into the diaconate at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Bonny, on March 10, 1918. He was priested by Bishop Tugwell on November 26 that the same year along with Rev. M. Davidson Showers.
Being a lover of Christianity as well as a patriot, Ogiriki’s motto in life was Pro Dei pro patri (For God and for the fatherland). Although he was offered the kingship of Nembe twice, he rejected it both times. He was also offered the chieftaincy of his father’s house, Ockiya House, four times and each time he rejected it. Ogiriki preferred to seek greatness solely in doing the Lord’s work.
Although very patriotic, Ogiriki always put God first and, as a result, he said, “I found all things become easy for me” (Pa Teiteyai Decorse, oral interview). His love for Nembe was so widely recognized by his countrymen that he was often called “teacher.” In fact, his patriotism led him to translate the Scriptures into Nembe. Indeed, he was the first Nembe Bible translator, schoolmaster, organist, and catechist. Besides being a pioneer in many fields, Ogiriki should also be given credit as the first ordained priest in Nembe even though his elder brother, Rev. Anthony O. Ockiya (later Mingi IX), and M. A. Kemmer were ordained before him. They were regarded as strangers in Nembe because of their long absence from the town.
Ogiriki’s most impressive legacy is the translation of the Bible into Nembe. Elsewhere, under Bishop Samuel Crowther’s leadership, Rev. Carew and Rev. Taylor reduced the Ibani and Akassa languages into writing. Ogiriki also took up this challenge and translated the Scriptures into Nembe. Thus, before his demise, when manuscripts of the Bible in Ibani and Akassa were just being sent in for review, the Nembe Bible had already been published and was for sale. Ogiriki even began translation work into Ijo. Rev. M. Proctor, G. E. Sagbo, and D. C. Spiff contributed immensely to the work of translation. Ogiriki’s translation work was a source of pride for the Nembe community and the Anglican church because, at the time, Nembe was the fifth Nigerian language into which the Bible had been translated after Yoruba, Efik, Ogoni, and Igbo.
On March 11, 1936 Ogiriki lost his wife Dora in automobile accident in Aba while he was doing pastoral work at Umueme (now renamed Rumueme District) in Port Harcourt. Rev. James Claudius Ikalama led the funeral service at St. Luke’s Church, Nembe but Dora’s remains were removed to Basambiri for interment. At an all-day memorial service held at Nembe on July 12, 1936, Rev. G. I. Amangala preached on a text taken from Ezekiel 24:11-18 in the morning and Rev. D. C. Spiff spoke on 1 Sam 20:8 in the afternoon.
Ogiriki sometimes left the city of Brass either for his studies or for leisure. He traveled to the northern provinces in 1934 and to Lagos in 1939 and was warmly received everywhere. He also traveled indefatigably for the propagation of the gospel. For instance, his pastoral mission took him from Nembe to Twan Brass in 1924, to Bonny in 1928, to Akwete in 1919, and to Umueme-Diobu in 1934. He left a rich legacy of his diligent work in all these places.
After Dora’s tragic death, Ogiriki decided to remarry in 1939. His wife, Felicia Nnenna Omunake, was from Rumueprikom, Port Harcourt, in the present Rivers State. As she had not had any education, Ogiriki sent her to study at St. Agatha’s Women’s House at Umuahia, the capital of present-day Abia State. The marriage was solemnized at Umuechiam on Tuesday, April 7, 1940, with Rev. M. H. D. Abaye, superintendent of Umuahia parish, performing the ceremony. The couple was blessed with four boys and three girls.
At this time, apparently, Ogiriki’s relationship with church authorities was strained and a misunderstanding among the local people surrounding his second mariage cast a bad light on his ministry, though it was unwarranted. Obuoforibo quotes Ogiriki as he describes the incident:
Because the people of her town failed to see her [Ogiriki’s second wife] as usual in the town during this period, they took for granted that I had already married her in accordance with their native law and custom, and had sent her to my people at Nembe. Consequently, they wrote an anonymous letter to His Lordship, Bishop L. G. Vinning at Port Harcourt to report that I had married a girl from their town in accordance with their native law and custom. This, the authorities themselves took as a Gospel truth without first hearing from me. This occurred after I had tendered my resignation and the diocesan bishop, Bishop B. Lasbery, had duly accepted it.
Not only was Ogiriki’s resignation a direct result of his meager salary but it was also a reaction to the fact that Bishop Gelsthorpe had given orders not to pay the arrears of his salary (amounting to f313: 10p). Furthermore, in spite of his extraordinary track record, Ogiriki had never been offered the position of superintendent in the church and, having no prospects for future promotion in other areas, this was a source of deep frustration for him. His letter of resignation dated October 30, 1939, was duly received and acknowledged on November 10 by Bishop Bertram Lasbery-Bishop Vinning’s successor-who approved it on December 4, 1939. Ogiriki later expressed his gratitude to Lasbery in a letter dated May 23, 1940.
In retirement, Ogiriki continued the Lord’s work at his home church. He was a source of inspiration to all until his death on August 29, 1954. He was buried in Saint Luke’s Church compound, Nembe. His family has since erected a statue on his grave. Requiescat in pace (May he rest in peace).
Kemdirim O. Protus
B. A. Obuoforibo, History of Christianity in Bayelsa State (Port Harcourt, Nigeria: C.S.S. Press, 1998).
Pa Teiteyai Decorse, 89 years old, one of Ogiriki’s uncles, interviewed by O. Anne Alagoa, a research assistant at the University of Port Harcourt in 2004.
This article, received in 2005, was researched and written by Dr. Kemdirim O. Protus, a senior lecturer in the Department of Religious and Cultural Studies at the University of Port Harcourt, a DACB Participating Institution. Dr. Kemdirim Protus is also the DACB Regional Coordinator for Nigeria.