R.P.I. Okenrentie And His Contributions To The Development Of Art Music In Bendel State, Nigeria

C. O. Aluede

Abstract Childhood
Introduction Musical Education
Materials and Methods Musical Career
Family Background Compositions


    This paper examines the life and times of Raymond Primrose Itseoritse Okenrentie. It investigates the musicality of this man who is generally believed to be the hub of Art music in the then Bendel state of Nigeria. The author employed interview, library search for relevant data and interacted with some members of his family as well as his former students. In the course of this investigation, it was observed that R.P.I. Okenrentie remains undoubtedly the first music scholar in the then Bendel state and through whom the crop of music scholars we see today in that region developed. It is thought that an individual can never be studied in isolation. Thus as we talk of Okenrentie, we talk of his contributions and as such open up chapters on the musical backgrounds of those who came across him and those he came across. The paper concludes by suggesting among other issues that periodic assessment of individual contributions in the field of music should be encouraged. In doing this, compendiums of relevant data on author study in Nigerian music will evolve. 


Mr. Okenrentie at the organ

For over two decades now, this idea to do a biographical study on the above named has hunted me greatly. If it was done when it ought to, perhaps it would have read, R.P.I. Okenrentie: A portrait of an organist, teacher and conductor. We talked of auspicious times to meet but pressures from both parties retarded the meeting plans. Shortly after his demise, the idea reverberated in me and then the paper was to read Raymond Primrose Itseoritse Okenrentie (1940-2000): The man and his musical life. A bit surprising if not worrisome is the fact that a decade after his death, not much is heard or said of this enigmatic giant who laid down his life for music. It is a standard world practice to find iconic cities, towns, buildings and halls. Such cities, towns and halls are named after selected individuals who have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields and are honoured by others. In Nigeria, it is not that honorific titles are not given by dint of hard work but what we yet see are that they are primarily given to serving and retired military officers and members of the political class. Aside these categories, little or no recognition is often given to intellectuals in our society. Why must our heroes die unsung? Why should they be forgotten even as they live? And why are there no foundations in memory of them? When good works are not praised, imaginative and creative energies are bound to eclipse into the oblivion. In Nigeria it is common for scholars to die unsung. The highest a patriot gets is that at least a national flag is placed over his casket in death. This tendency surprisingly has shaded into our daily lives. One may remark: If the government fails to appreciate the contributions of a notable individual, nothing stops colleagues and his associates from doing so. It is in appreciation of these facts that this paper evolves.

      Great men are understandably ambivalent about the prospect of their posthumous biographies. Some have attempted to dissuade potential biographers or even to prevent them from obtaining data of an intimate nature, arguing that their creative achievement should be evaluated without regard to its biographical sources (Maynard, 1979: ix)   

    Okenrentie was never averse to having his biography lucidly written dealing with diverse subjects such as his boyhood, education marital and academic career. However, little or no time was ever properly found to prosecute an interview which ought to be in-depth with him. Sometimes after a beautiful performance when he relished over a drink he would exclaim “Oh if my father were to be alive now”. And on his table at Akin Deko auditorium at the University of Benin laid many books, choral pieces, letters and cards of invitation yet very jealously guarded is a set of three recorded cassettes lying on each other. Of these cassettes the uppermost had on its spine, “Rev. Okenrentie speaks”. These audio materials were kept till death. Was his incessant remembrance of his father somewhat unusual for a man of his calibre and age? Were such exclamations with melancholic bent? What did music mean to him? Who are those who could be seen as his products today? And how did he contribute to the advancement of Art music in the then Bendel State1 ? It is these images that this study dares to put in their proper perspectives.

Materials and Methods

    This study was conducted at the Delta State University Abraka and the Ambrose Alli University Ekpoma, Nigeria. The participants for this study consisted of Okenrentie’s family members, students, colleagues, friends and many others. For want of authentic and undiluted materials, the various institutions where he served were visited and interviews were held, they included but not limited to the then Bendel State University Ekpoma main campus and Abraka campus, the latter now Delta state University, Abraka and the University of Benin. To be able elicit information relating to his immediate family, contacts were established between the researcher and some of the members of Okenrentie’s family. Interviewed also in this study are people who knew R.P.I. Okenrentie personally. In this category are some of his friends, pastors and choristers. Some others were interviewed who denied close relationship but claimed to have heard of him and his musical skills during his life time. A corpus of detailed information was gathered and these were further distilled to save the reader of the task of being fed with information that may be extraneous or immediately necessary. It is this collage of ideas that have been subsumed in treatise.

Family Background

    Although his ancestral home is Obadjere village, a small riverside community in Orhionmwon local government area of Edo State, Raymond Primrose Itseoritse Okenrentie was born on April 5, 1940 in Oghareki now in Ethiope East Local government area of Delta state. He was the eighth child in a family of ten children. His father Revered Metiele Okenrentie was a pastor under the Nigerian Baptist convention and a near good organist and his mother, Mrs. Ukuyoma Okenrentie was a teacher, a seasoned soprano singer in choirs and prayer meetings. Given this background, one may not be astounded at Raymond Okenrentie’s love for music. While discussing R.P.I.Okenrentie’s musical background, Idolor and Ekewenu (2010:31) opine that: 

    The father was both a minister and an organist at the first Baptist Church Sapele while the mother was a teacher and a good soprano singer in the church. Raymond’s interest in music grew from these environmental influences that at the age of fifteen, he was not only a choirboy, but could also play hymns on the harmonium and organ.


    On the completion of his primary school education, he gained admission simultaneously into Government College Ughelli and Urhobo College Warri in 1955, following his intellectual agility, one would have no difficulties in going for a secondary school education surprisingly enough his father objected to his desire for secondary education. This was so because his first two sons and Raymond brothers had died while in secondary schools. To his father, granting Raymond’s desire automatically means sending him to an early grave. As a result of his father’s refusal to allow him go ahead with his desire, he remained at home and soon became a pupil teacher in 1955. He taught for two years and left for the Baptist teachers’ college, Benin-city where he was trained to become grade three teacher’s certificate holder in 1958. In 1962, he successfully made his Advance level Certificate (Idolor and Ekewenu, 2010).

    It was while at the Baptist teachers’ college that he came in contact with Mr. Oyesoro who was the college chapel organist who taught students including Mr. R.P.I. Okenrentie organ playing and the skill of translating musical notes into tonic solfa. Arising from his keen interest in the subject, he was made the chapel prefect in the second year of his study. This appointment gave him direct access to the school’s harmonium, which he learnt to play, and which characterized his entire life. 

Musical Education

      After one Sunday service where I played the harmonium, I went home. In the late afternoon a car pulled into my father’s residence, and the driver gave us a word that Chief Festus Okotie Eboh wanted to see me, stupefied in fear, I looked at my father’s face hoping he would object to this meeting because I felt a young boy of my age cannot see a minister. On my arrival in his house, he embraced me, sat me on his laps and said young boy, you will go to London to learn more of and perfect your organ playing2.  

    This meeting with the honorable minister of finance brought about a new course of events in his life. His Sunday service facility on the organ made the then first republic finance minister of the federal republic of Nigeria, chief Festus Okotie Eboh to send him to London to learn how to play and service organs in 1964.

    Although he returned in 1965, he did not study music any further at the university level until 1971. This development could be attributed to myriads of factors; The first of these was the execution of his benefactor and mentor, Chief Festus Okotie – Eboh in a bloody coup, then the death of his father, Revered Metiele Okenrentie and the state of events in the country – the political instability which culminated to the Nigerian civil war that rocked the country between 1967-1970. As the nation was recovering from the civil war and its associated catastrophic effects, he gained admission into the University of Nigeria to read music where he distinguished himself with an honours degree in music in 1975. Shortly after, he had federal government of Nigeria scholarship award to study music at the University of Maryland, Courage Baltimore, United States of America. This offer was religiously prosecuted and he was awarded master of Music degree (M.Mus) with conducting as his area of specialty.

Musical Career

Mr. R.P.I. Okenrentie while conducting a group

    In the introductory part of this paper, Raymond Okenrentie was described as an enigmatic giant who had great influence on his younger contemporaries. He was an unsung and unseen musical hand which nursed many present day music scholars in the then Bendel State. Put differently, he could be seen as the oil bean plant whose fruit explodes and bursts open for its seeds to be dispersed far and wide. There is no gainsaying that he seeded music into the first generation of musicologists in Bendel State. The first of these is Timothy Eru3. Eru’s interest in music led him to study at the degree level at the University of Nigeria Nsukka. It was this Eru who first introduced A. A. Ogisi to the rudiments of music in 1968. Ogisi vividly recounts that he had genuine interest in music and wanted to learn the art of reading and writing music. As a result of this quest, in 1974 he was under the musical tutelage of Okenrentie where he further learnt music theory and sang in his choir. G.E. Idolor on the other hand also studied rudiments of music from Timothy Eru. It was through Idolor that I.O. Idamoyibo took his first lessons in music. All the names mentioned above turned out to be musicologists of repute thereafter. For an instance, Timothy Eru rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and became the director of music, Nigeria Army School of Music, Ojo Cantonment, Lagos, Dr. A.A.Ogisi is the current head of music department, Delta State University, Abraka, Dr. G.E. Idolor, a professor of music and former head of music department, Delta State University, Abraka and Dr. I.O. Idamoyibo, former head of music department, Delta State University, Abraka. Okenrentie’s hand is also seen in the entrenchment of art music tradition in The New Benin Baptist Church, Benin city. While directing music in this church, he trained a lot of choristers and organists. One of such choristers who benefited from his set down structures is the Baptist Reverend, Isaac Ibude who now lectures music at the University of Port Harcourt, Rivers state, Nigeria. 

R.P.I Okenrentie, Tunde Adeleke and the entire members of New Benin Baptist Choir

    Raymond Okenrentie is undoubtedly the first music scholar in the then Bendel state. Although had stints as classroom teacher at Zik’s Grammar school, Sapele from 1965-1970 and the institute of Education (ICE) Benin city where he was pioneer music teacher and head of music department from 1976-1984, he pioneered the teaching of music in the colleges of education in Bendel State during the regime of professor Ambrose Alli as the governor of the state. In 1985, he was appointed a lecturer in the music department of the Bendel state university Abraka Campus. As a lecturer and later Head of Music Department, Mr. Okenrentie introduced quite a high measure of innovation into music scholarship in the music department of Bendel State University Abraka campus which hereafter will be called “The Abraka music school”. As a seasoned conductor, his meeting with the Ghanaian pianist, Nah-Kofie Kumerdoh and Joseph Ofori Ofosu gave him the impetus to establish the Bendel State University Band, Chorus and Orchestra. 

    This Chorus, Band and Orchestra became the training grounds for Tebite Uruemuesiri now director of Tisio Band in Ughelli, Delta state, Ngozi Okafor, the great singer, Abel Akponome, now music lecturer, Federal College of Education Pankshin, Ogidiagba Queen, music teacher in Federal Government College, Port Harcourt, John Abolagba, now music lecturer college of education Ekiadalor, Anthonia Agbonifo (nee Usiholo) Music teacher in Warri, Helen Agbonavbaire, now in Britain, Akperi Yemi, now a pastor in Baptist Convention and a part-time music lecturer at the college of education Ekiadalor, Maria Aghanenu, now in Chad, Kate Nkiru Eze now in the United States, Vivian Urevbu, Music teacher in Lagos, Dora Okunbor, music lecturer at the College of Education, Agbor, Bruno Ekuwenu, music lecturer at the department of music Delta State University, Abraka and my self, Charles Aluede who is the current head of the department of Theatre and Media Arts, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo state.

    It was with some of these creams of students that he in conjunction with late Joseph Opujie of Bendel Broadcasting service gave concerts at Imaguero College Benin-city, NTA Benin, performed during convocation ceremonies and cocktail nights in Bendel state university, Ekpoma (1987 – 1990) and yearly university carols nights in Abraka campus. In 1990, he moved to the University of Benin and was in the department of theatre arts, there again he formed the University of Benin chorus, Band and orchestra. Idolor and Ekewenu (2010:32) remark that: “He transferred his services from the Bendel state University to the University of Benin where he functioned as the director of the University’s Chorus and Band, and taught music in the department of theatre Arts from 1990 till his death” Since he was not in a full fledged department of music, for two years consecutively, Ewhre Ogheneruemu, Charles Aluede, Bruno Ekewenu and Opia Emmanuel had to lend them some support during any major ceremony. Within his immediate family, about half of Okenrentie’s thirteen children are musical and this also goes for some of his wives. 

    Through out his life time, Okenrentie was a high class musician who found a high place in the society and was highly respected. His knowledge of musicianship and conducting was unsurpassed. This quality gave him wide latitude of patronage as organist and music director, Okotie – Eboh memorial Baptist church, New Benin Baptist church, Okada Baptist church, Eku Baptist church and high-class weddings and burials. His repertory tilted greatly towards the works of western composers in order of preference such as Handel, Bach, Schubert and a few American contemporary composers. In a similar vein, Idolor and Ekewenu (2010:33) succinctly remark that:


    Raymond Okenrentie was principally a performer of art music with special preference for the vocal works of George Fredrick Handel. In this regard, he recorded many programmes with the Nigerian television authority (NTA); the Bendel broadcasting service (television) both in Benin city and Delta television, Asaba. He widely organized concerts in state government houses, university campuses, churches and gave voice recitals in social gatherings. Based on these contributions, the Delta state government gave him an award as a distinguished musicologist in 1998.



    Not much is known of Okenrentie’s compositions and this is contingent on many factors. In the first case, throughout the course of his life, directing, performing and teaching music took greater proportion of his time. As an ardent lover of the works of Handel, Bach, and lately Schubert, he savoured in their works, teaching, performing and conducting them. Beyond these, his background as a church organist also shaped, if not restricted him to a large extent to sacred music. Although today, very few of his works are known which are: Ene dokpe (in Itsekiri language) Oton ro waren (in Itsekiri language) Do ne ne (in Itsekiri language), Ara Olorire (Itsekiri item), my mother, Edo college Anthem and the university of Benin Anthem, like Mozart whose compositions were savaged by Kochel, Okenrentie’s did not immediately find one. In Okenrentie’s early days, he composed both sacred and secular music. Some were just taught directly in his choirs and others were barely documented. It is most of his songs that are today arranged, rearranged and performed by some popular musicians in Delta State (Ogisi, 2010).

Concluding Remarks

    Biographical studies, without doubt, are a bit cumbersome and studying the dead is certainly more tedious. In this presentation, a frantic attempt has been made to discuss the musical activities of Okenrentie and his impact on younger contemporaries. In the course of this investigation, it was observed that consciously or unconsciously, he has breathed his musical energies on quite a number of individuals within and outside a normal classroom situation, the church and other areas. It is the thinking of this author that if this subject is subjected to further investigation, several other strands of his contributions to art music development may be unveiled.


  1. Bendel State was for administrative convenience divided into Edo and Delta States on August 27, 1991.

  2. Personal Interviews and interaction with Okenrentie in Abraka

  3. Mr. R.P.I.Okenrentie married Timothy Eru’s elder sister. This led to the establishment of some form of relationship with Eru. It was through this that Eru learnt the rudiments of music and singing.




  • Ewhre,O.(2010) Interviews held between 7-8 Dec.2010 in Delta State University Abraka.
  • Idolor, E.G. and Ekewenu, D.B. (In press) “Nigerian Musicologists and Composers” Perspectives on Nigerian Music and Musicians. Idolor, E.G (ed)
  • Idolor, E.G.(2010) Interviews held between 7-8 Dec.2010 in Delta State University Abraka. 
  • Maynard, S. (1979) Beethoven, New York: Schirmer Books
  • Ogisi, A.A. (2010) Interviews held between 7-8 Dec.2010 in Delta State University Abraka.
  • Okenrentie,C. (2009) Interviews conducted through telephone and the Internet.
  • Okenrentie, R.P.I. (1990) A Personal Interview with Okenrentie, Abraka 
  • Okenrentie,W. (2010) Interviews conducted through telephone.
  • University of Benin (1991) The Point of the Stick II: A Concert of Classical Music and Art Songs, Benin city: University of Benin Press.
  • University of Benin (2000) Commendation Funeral Services and Testimonial Classical Music for the Late R.P.I. Okenrentie. Benin City: University of Benin Press.