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Ayo Ladigbolu @ 84: From Topping Arabic Classes To Becoming An Archbishop— The Man Who Defied All Odds


“Like all other children of the family, the best education available was Islamic education. As the first male child from my father’s side of the family, I had the very best Islamic teachers to teach me the Quran. I became well-versed in the Quran and the tenets of the religion of Islam. I very quickly rose to become an assistant to one of the most prominent Muslim scholars and evangelists in Yorubaland.” — Ayo Ladigbolu.

Two years ago, at 82,  OYOINSIGHT.COM’s Managing Editor, Adebayo AbdulRahman, chronicles the life of the Oyo prince, who is in the race to becoming the next Alaafin at 84. Here is an excerpts.

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Born on the 27th of June, 1938, Archibishop Ayo Ladigbolu was the favorite of the people to become the next Alaafin when he was young because as the the first child from his father’s side of his family and a prince under the mentorship of an itinerant popular evangelist and preacher, Papa Ladigbolu’s deep understanding of the Islamic religion stood him out anytime he preached to the people of the town.

His popularity among the people grew, and many of them openly prayed for the day when the old king would pass away, and he would become their king and champion of the cause of Islam but this never came to pass because his inquisitive nature and yearn for answers to questions soon transformed the form of gospel he preached.

In The Beginning

His deep knowledge of the Islamic religion were not from birth, it was the result of a prince whose yearning for knowledge was boosted by his access to the ‘very best Islamic teachers’.

At the age of six in 1944, he enrolled in Arabic school and the training occupied most of his time. Despite his tight schedule for learning in Arabic school, young Ayo Ladigbolu still created time to watch cultural events and chieftaincy installations at the palace every week.

Through all these experiences, he was exposed to Yoruba cultural values, norms and practices such as Ewi (poem), folktales, folklores and idiomatic expressions.

Ayo Ladigbolu has a very good retentive memory. At the Arabic school, he was reported to be the fastest learner among his colleagues. This eventually made him to graduate from the Arabic school ahead of his mates.

A Brilliant Student Who Flew From Elementary One To Standard One

In 1951, one of Ayo Ladigbolu’s uncles, Baba Amusa Adebimpe who was a school teacher approached his father to let him see reasons why Ayo should be allowed to go to school. His father granted the request and he was enrolled in L.A primary school Isale-Oyo in January 1952 when he was fourteen (14) years old. His Arabic knowledge coupled with his age as well as his exposure to events at the palace immeasurably sharpened his brain and enlarged his intellectual horizon. He was so brilliant that the school had to promote him from elementary one to standard one.

Even though he spent only one year in Elementary school, Ayo Ladigbolu started honing his writing skills while he was in elementary class. He was so good that he served as the Editor of his school’s newsletter between 1945 and 1955.

He then proceeded to Durbar Modern Secondary School, where his writing skills was practically employed for reportorial and sport commentary purposes.

While he was in Elementary School, he worked as a freelance journalist to Daily Service and Nigeria Tribune. He was also his school’s Sport commentator

The Birth Of A Fearless Christian

He was first introduced to Christianity by a friend when he was a teacher at Akinwumi village in Oyo State. Since he had always believed he could not satisfy the demands of Allahu under the burden of sin, his friend’s confidence about life and death impelled him to be curious to know about his religion and why his friend was confident about God and he was not.

Hear him: “As I went from the Old Testament to the New Testament, I found that there were matters, statements and claims about which I needed to ask questions – particularly about Jesus the Son of Mary. These people did not give me any satisfactory answer to these questions …I became more curious about the Bible and read it over and over without fully understanding all I was reading, except the familiar Old Testament portions.”

“The beauty of my friend’s Christian life, and the certainty and assurance evident in his witnessing, convinced me that I too needed this Jesus if he could set me free from the burden of my sin and my fear of death and judgement, and further enhance my prestige by making me a prince in the royal courts of heaven.”

Against All Odds

Bearing in mind the prospects of his ascension to the exalted throne of his father and for the fact that ‘the kingmakers were all Muslims’, Ayo Ladigbolu knew that announcing his conversion to anyone was dangerous, so he kept it to himself.

However, on the first Sunday in January 1963, he mustered the courage and went to the Methodist Church, tengba, Apaara, as a new convertee. Even though he thought no one saw him on his way go church upon getting his father confronted him.

Narrating his ordeal that day, he said, ‘the first thing my father said was, “Welcome back from CHURCH. What in the whole world took you into a church?” At that moment, I was sweating profusely all over my body. I felt as if my tongue were tied with a rope at first. I did not know what to say in reply. All of a sudden I found myself speaking, but the words I spoke were not coming from me. I just lost all consciousness of where I was, and I was speaking. After what seemed like a long time, my eyes opened and I saw that everyone sat or stood quietly gazing at me. No one was talking.

‘All the elders of the family were there. My mother too was present. They all just stared at me. Then my mother suddenly burst into tears. A lot of them began wailing. I later learned that they thought I had been possessed by an evil spirit or that I was showing signs of a mental problem. In the midst of their wailing, I was able to say to them, “A young man told me about Jesus Christ, and I found what he told me to be true. I needed to escape from the anger of God, and Jesus had rescued me. When I asked Jesus to come into my heart, I felt him come! Jesus is real to me. He is a living Savior. I will follow him the rest of my life.”

My mother came forward, laid prostrate in front of me and pleaded, “Ayo, you are throwing away everything I have lived for. You are putting my life in danger. You are putting your youthful life at risk.” She continued, “Don’t you see the future ahead of you, and all possibilities? Don’t you consider what will happen to me?” She just went on and on, and I could not control my tears because she was sobbing as she pleaded with me to reconsider my decision. But the die had been cast and there was no going back. I had tasted the Lord Jesus Christ and found him sweeter than honey.’

From Oyo To Texas

After weathering against the storm against all odds he went to the Emmanuel Seminary College.

After spending three years at Emmanuel Seminary College, he was supposed to serve under a superior official as a probationary minister for three years before ordination. But his case was different. In his final year, he won a scholarship admission to study theology at Southern university in Texas. He spent less than two years for three years programme. He resumed in 1973 and graduated in 1975 with Master of Art (M.A).

The Return Of A Religious Leader Who Understands The Place Of Culture

Ayo Ladigbolu returned to Nigeria in 1977 and reported to Methodist headquarters Lagos from where he was posted to Shagamu as Principal, Methodist Theological Institute, Shagamu. He was ordained in 1977 after he became a priest (Minister).

While serving as Principal, Methodist Theological Institute, Shagamu, he was also managing Methodist Communication Department. He was also in-charge of decons’ examinations. As a Principal, he pioneered the training of women ministers and deaconess. He remained the Principal of Methodist theological institute, Shagamu, until 1984.

Ayo Ladigbolu was elected as Bishop in 1984 at Otupo in Benue state. He left Shagamu after he was elected Bishop and relocated to Ifako-Ekiti formally under Ondo state and now under Ekiti state as a Bishop to head the diocese of Ifako which covered all the present Akoko, Akure, Owo and entire Ekiti land.

Ayo Ladigbolu’s adherence to culture was not limited to promotion of culture and celebration of festivals, he has been a major reference point when it comes to socio-cultural and political development of Yoruba land.

His understanding of culture is as strong as his ancestral ties to the royal family.

Speaking on culture during an interview PUNCH after the inauguration of Otunba Gani Adams as the Aare Ona Kakanfo where he played a major role, he said “Nobody has given me any good reason why I should withdraw from cultural matters. What is culture? My culture is me, the totality of my existence. The clothes I wear, the food I drink, the song I sing, the drum I dance to, my language and other forms of communication with my people and so on, are my culture and identity.

“A lot of people mix culture with religion. Every culture has its own religion. The European culture has its own religion, part of which was brought into our own environment and culture. Culture and idol worship are not the same thing. Idol worship is part of some peoples’ religion.

“Anyone involved in culture is not necessarily expected to be an idol worshipper. There is nothing relating to idol worshipping in the inauguration of Aare Ona Kakanfo.”

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