BISHOP COCKIN: THE JOURNEY
About 1946, it was realized that the Diocese on the Niger with headquarters at Onitsha was too vast for the control of one Bishop – Bishop C.J Patterson. An area at the Southernmost part of the Eastern Region was carved out as the Niger Delta Diocese with headquarters in Port Harcourt. The head of the new Niger Delta Diocese was to be an Assistant Bishop to the Bishop on the Niger. Ven.D.B. Hall was consecrated bishop and he became the Assistant Bishop on the Niger with authority to look after the newly carved out area which included the then Owerri Archdeaconry with headquarters at Egbu.
A number of parishioners felt that development of the then Owerri Archdeaconry was slow or was grinding to a halt. Respectable parishioners within the Archdeaconry led by Timothy Onyewuchi from Umuodu Village, Owerri were not happy with what they saw as discrimination against the people of Owerri area, especially in the area of the training of personnel for the priesthood. They held a meeting in Enugu with Mr. Onyewuchi as the chairman, Mr. Ben Ajoku from Mpama village in Egbu, Mr. Agunwa and Mr. Bennett Anyasodo from Mbieri and a few others were in attendance.
This meeting gave birth to a baby called the Owerri Diocesan Christian Society. This body became the mouth and eye of the people of Owerri Archdeaconry. In 1955, at the Synod of the Diocese on the Niger which was held in Enugu, the work of this body paid off when proposals were drafted on the prerequisites for the creation of the Diocese of Owerri and in 1959, the authorities at Onitsha finally agreed that Owerri Archdeaconry should be made a Diocese out of the Niger Delta Diocese. It was also believed that Owerri Diocesan Christian Society changed the attitude of the authorities at Onitsha and men from the Archdeaconry were selected for training and ordained as priests. J. Ude-Anyiwo and S. N. Iheagwam (father of Rt. Rev Emmanuel Iheagwam, present bishop of the Diocese of Egbu) were amongst the first selected and sent for training. They were ordained in 1945. Others were to follow- S. N. Okoli and F. U. Nworie in 1948; Benjamin Nwankiti and G. N. Maduakolam in 1956. Benjamin Nwankiti later became the first indigenous bishop of Owerri Diocese.
THE CREATION OF OWERRI DIOCESE
Owerri Diocesan Christian Society and all parishioners were determined to see that Owerri Archdeaconry obtained a Diocesan status. With this in mind the prerequisites for the creation of Owerri Diocese were met and confirmation of this fact was made at that Synod of 1955 when the Archdeacon of Owerri, Ven Nkemena reported that the foundation fund money had been subscribed, and that construction of the Bishop house had commenced. With this encouraging news the President of the Synod, Bishop D. B. Hall proposed formally that the Diocese on the Niger, under whose care Owerri Archdeaconry was ready to be made a diocese, moved that a prayer be sent to the Archbishop of the Province of West Africa to institute a Diocese of Owerri, and to request the Episcopal Synod to elect a Bishop. This proposal received unanimous approval.
It was clear that the new diocese could not be inaugurated in 1958, just three years after the agreement. As number of facilities needed to be provided, especially since the new Bishop would undoubtedly be a British because at the time of this Synod in 1955, Nigeria was still under the colonial tutelage. So there were just about the readiness of a Nigerian citizen to be made a Diocesan Bishop. Reverend George E. I. Cockin, an Irishman, was elected and confirmed Bishop of the new Diocese of Owerri. He was consecrated by the Most Reverend J.L.C. Horstead, Archbishop of West Africa and, at the time, Lord Bishop of the Diocese of Sierra Leone. This event happened on January 27, 1959, on which day the Diocese of Owerri was inaugurated and All Saints Church Egbu became his cathedral Church.
Because of the Nigeria civil war, Bishop Cockin’s work was affected. It became necessary, therefore to look for a suitable indigenous candidate to replace him as bishop. Early in 1968, the Reverend Benjamin Nwankiti, a native of Atta, but serving in the Diocese on the Niger and stationed at Enugu, where he worked in the Religious Department of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, was elected bishop. On 25th April 1968, he was consecrated bishop at All Saints Cathedral Church Egbu. With this consecration, Bishop Nwankiti was able to attend the Lambeth Conference in London that year. Bishop Cockin left for Britain at the end of that year and on January 1, 1969, Bishop Nwankiti succeeded him as bishop of Owerri Diocese. Bishop Nwankiti occupied the seat as bishop for 29 years until the Rt. Rev. Cyril Okorocha was consecrated bishop on 13th December 1998 and enthroned as the 3rd Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Owerri on 20th December 1998.