Oteh, Robinson Azenne
Robinson Azenne Oteh, the founding father of Etche Home Mission of the Global Mission Board, Nigerian Baptist Convention, played a significant role in the growth of Baptist work and in the educational sector in the eastern part of Nigeria.
He was born in Rumuakunde Emohua, Nigeria, into the family of Chief Etenwanyi (Oteh) Omenihu and Madam Serah Oriji Oteh (née Elekwa, of Mgbuitanwo, Emohua) in the present Rivers State of Nigeria, on October 28, 1929.
Oteh received his primary education in the Baptist Day School, Emohua, from 1934 to 1942. Unlike some of his friends, who were immersed in idolatry because of the influence of their idol-worshipping parents, Oteh had the privilege of being brought up in a Christian home by his mother Serah, who was a devoted Christian and a founding member of Rumuakunde Baptist Church.
In 1942, at the age of thirteen, Oteh professed faith in the lordship of Christ and was baptized in December of the same year by Rev. W. A. Amakiri, who was then superintendent of the Niger Delta Baptist Mission. After serving as a lay preacher and teacher at Rumuakunde Baptist Church in Emohua in 1943, Oteh received the call of God to the ministry. He yielded to the call by attending the Baptist Bible College in Port Harcourt, which was then directed by Dr. and Mrs. W. H. Carson, from 1944 to 1946. In 1947, Oteh gained admission to the Baptist College in Iwo, in the present Osun State of Nigeria, and obtained the Senior Cambridge Certificate in 1951.
In 1952, Oteh married Miss Jessie Chisa Iwe. The marriage was blessed with nine children, with seven surviving him. His first son, Binkley Uchechukwu, who died before his father, was a prominent official of the Rivers State Government. Another son, Robinson Chiyonu was brutally assassinated by unidentified persons. The rest of the children include: Grace Chinyere, Ellen Eberechi Onyike, Queen Ahiachi, Eleonor Chiaka, Gamaliel Oguchi, Cynthialyn Ugochi, and Olive Onuchukwu. Oteh was an ideal loving husband and father who made practical demonstrations of his love and care not only to his immediate family, but also to his family’s associates.
In 1952, Oteh was admitted to the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary (NBTS), Ogbomoso, and graduated from there in 1955, with a B.A. in theology. The Rev. Dr. S. T. Ola Akande, a former general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, and one of Oteh’s classmates at NBTS, described him as a humble and brilliant scholar and advisor. Some of his other classmates at the seminary included Dr. W. R. Ojo, Rev. H. C. Igwe, Professor Imasogie, and Dr. Ebomelien. These men, just like Oteh, faithfully served God at the convention level and made significant contributions morally, intellectually, financially, and spiritually to the growth of God’s work in the Baptist denomination and to Christianity in Nigeria as a whole.
Oteh began his full-time pastoral ministry at Obinze Baptist Church in 1956 and was there until 1962. In December of 1957, he was ordained into the full-time gospel ministry. During his years of service at Obinze, Oteh planted many preaching stations within the area, and most of these have developed into full-fledged churches. These would include the First Baptist Churches at Owerri, Amuru-Mbeiri, Uratta, Umuekpu Agwa, Obema, Umunkpu, Okuku, Avu, and Oforola, and Umuguma Baptist Church.
In pursuit of academic excellence, Oteh travelled to the United States under the sponsorship of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, and received a B.A. in history from Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, in 1964. He graduated with honors and was on the Dean’s honor roll for excellence in academics. He also obtained the M. Div. degree from Southeastern Baptist Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina, in 1966. His belief in academic excellence was demonstrated in his achievements, and he was the first person in Emoha (his home town) to obtain the Senior Cambridge Certificate and a university degree. He was also named in the “Who’s Who” of American Universities and Colleges (1963 to 1964). While in America, Oteh served as a guest preacher in some Baptist churches.
On his return from America, Oteh went back to Obinze Baptist Church from 1966 to 1967, and was there when the Nigerian civil war started. During that time, he was responsible for the completion of the present church auditorium and the renovation of the parsonage. While still at Obinze, he was appointed chairman of the Eastern Baptist Conference in 1966. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the name of Oteh is virtually synonymous with the Obinze Baptist Church. When he died, the authorities and members of the church requested that his remains be buried at Obinze, as a demonstration of their love for him, even though he was not from there. However, this request was not granted because he was buried in his home town of Rumuakunde-Emohua.
During the civil war, Oteh relinquished his service at Obinze to become the general supervisor of the Baptist mission in Rivers State, and was later appointed secretary of Rivers Baptist Conference in 1967. By virtue of this post, Oteh became an executive member of the Nigeria Baptist Convention and served faithfully in various sub-committees of the convention. He continued with the supervision of the Baptist work in Rivers State even after the end of the war. However, at a certain point, the Baptist mission stopped the payment of his salary because of the civil war. Consequently, he applied for a teaching appointment with the Rivers State government, and started teaching at the Holy Rosary Secondary School, Port Harcourt, in 1968. Thereafter, he taught at County Grammar School, Ikwerre/Etche, and subsequently rose to the position of principal. He also served in the Girls Secondary Schools at Ogbia, Okechi, and Omerelu, and at the Mater Dei High School. Because he had no certificate as a trained teacher, Oteh applied to the University of Nsukka, Nigeria, where obtained a post-graduate diploma in education, in 1976. In 1982, he was transferred to serve on the Rivers State School Board as a supervisor of schools. After two years of hard work and positive results evidenced in the schools he supervised, he was promoted to chief inspector of education for the Ahoada Local Government Area, a position he held until his voluntary retirement in 1984. The sacrificial services for which he was rewarded by promotions were a result of his deep religious background and his rich Baptist heritage, which he inherited from his parents, his mother in particular.
While in the services of the state government, Oteh never abandoned his denominational and ecumenical commitment. In 1973, he was appointed as secretary of the Bible Society of Nigeria. Along with the government job, he served as a missionary advisor to the Ikwerre Baptist Association from 1967 to 1992. He was of tremendous assistance to virtually all the Baptist churches within the area. There are very few churches in which he did not preach sermons, conduct baptisms, and administer the Lord’s Supper, even though this involved much travel. The reason for this is that at that time, Oteh and Rev. C. T. T. George were the only Nigerians Baptist ministers who were qualified to conduct these sacraments and services in what was then the eastern region of Nigeria.
Oteh was the founding father of the Etche Home Mission field. He regularly traveled to this area where there was no Baptist church, and reported to what was then the Home and Foreign Mission Board (now known as the Global Mission Board) of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. He led his conference to apply for the opening of the field where he felt the harvest would be plenteous, but it was not opened until after his death. At present, the seed of missions that he sowed in the Etche Mission Field has started to yield fruitful results, to the glory of God. He was also instrumental in the peaceful splitting of the Buguma-Port Harcourt Conference and the birth of the Ikwerre Baptist Association. As the Rivers Baptist Conference secretary, Oteh coordinated the arrangement for the hosting of the Nigeria Baptist Convention in Port Harcourt in 1987.
After his voluntary retirement from civil service in 1984, he was appointed as the first African acting principal of the Baptist Bible College, Owerri. During his tenure at the college, the school was relocated to its permanent site at Obinze, in the Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State, in 1990. He devoted his later years to the training of young and dynamic leaders for the church in southeastern Nigeria. He was known by his students as a philosopher and a man of wisdom. Oteh, like Nathan the prophet, could talk to a student who had erred in such a manner that the student would not only see the gravity of his offense, but would readily confess his sins, just like David. Rev Onesimus Ehiem (one of Oteh’s former students), said that Oteh was recognized by all who knew him in theological education as a man of integrity, a disciplinarian, and a seasoned theologian. He was a friendly, sincere, frank but diplomatic, hard working, devoted, dependable, reliable, respected, and responsible leader. He listened, acted promptly, considered the point of view of others, and was logical in discussions. While serving as the principal of the college, Oteh was practically involved in evangelism and church planting both within and outside Obinze town. He also served as the interim pastor of Obinze Baptist Church during his tenure at the college.
Oteh was a talented administrator, a philosopher, and a statesman who spent a considerable part of his life in the service of God and man, dedicated to the moulding and building of lives for God and his kingdom. Like a candle, he burned continually for the benefit of others. He gave of his best to his master Jesus, serving with the strength of his youth and the wisdom of his old age, and leading an exemplary life. Little wonder that the executive secretary of the Baptist Mission at that time, Rev. Z. Don Reece, urged all those present at his funeral to emulate the good example he had set.
In December of 1991, in preparation for his journey back to his creator and redeemer, he assembled, admonished, and blessed his family. In his admonition he said: “Finally, I say to you all, God loves me and I love God, though not enough. I urge each of you to love God openly by expressing faith in Jesus and in Christian services to God. Do not be engaged with the world to the neglect of God.” He died on January 4, 1992, after a brief illness. As a result of the love of his people for him, he was buried in front of his home church, the Baptist Church at Rumuakunde-Emohua. The general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention at that time, Rev. Dr. S. Ola Fadeji, commended Oteh’s untiring efforts and described him as “a brother, a theologian, an administrator, and a teacher.” Even now, Oteh is revered in his town of Rumuakunde.
Rumuakunde was engulfed in a crisis a few years ago, and the houses in the Oteh compound were razed to the ground. However, the people carefully avoided causing any damage to the former house of Robinson Oteh.
John Chukwuneme Nnoje
S. T. Ola Akande, funeral oration (sent by Akande and read at Oteh’s burial on February 22, 1992, Rumuakunde, Emohua).
Onesimus Ehiem, interview by author, September 30, 2009, Obinze, Owerri.
F. O. R. Ekiye, “Rev. Robinson Oteh Laid to Rest,” The Nigerian Baptist Vol. 70, no. 4, (April 1992).
Paulinus Ezeonye, interview by author, September 23, 2009, Rumuakunde, Emuoha. (Pastor of First Baptist Church, Rumuakunde, from 1991 to present).
S. Ola Fadeji, funeral oration on behalf of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, February 22, 1992, Rumuakunde, Emohua.
C. T. T. George, interview by author, September 22, 2009, Port Harcourt.
Don Z. Reece, funeral sermon delivered at the burial service of Oteh, February 22, 1992, Rumuakunde, Emohua.
Gameliel Oguchnalu Robinson-Oteh (son), excerpt from biography of Robinson Azenna Oteh, [unpublished].
Jeremiah, J. Ugoh, interviewed by author, September 15, 2009, Obinze- Owerri.
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.