In this interview adapted by OYO INSIGHT, from Sunday Punch, 80-year-old retired Archbishop of the Methodist Church Nigeria, Ayo Ladigbolu, who was AbdulHammed which is corrupted to be Lamidi, shares the story of his life.
Where He Was Born…
I was born and bred in Oyo town and grew up in Obayorita compound within the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo. Growing up there was a lot of fun with many age mates to play with. We were not compelled to go to the regular school at the time, so, I had plenty of time to enjoy life.
Among our pastime were traditional wrestling and all forms of physical exercises, playing a game of okoto (cone shaped metal), agbaarin and other improvised toys meant to keep us busy. We also watched various performances by actors who came to play for the king in the palace. We watched dances, poetry rendition and drama. In the evening, we would roam the markets and play around.
I was sent to the Arabic and Islamic school like other children in the palace. I first attended such school at Sarumi which was close to the palace. The teachers were good and among other pupils, I was the best.
I would be the first to wash my wooden slate after memorising the lesson inscribed on it. The master would inscribe the lesson on the slate, read it to us and we followed the reading until we memorised it. Then, we would wash off the lesson while another would be inscribed on the slate. I was the fastest learner in the class of about 50 pupils of various ages.
I later moved to Elega where a mallam, who is also a carpenter, taught us. It was an interesting period. I remember a classmate in the Quranic school, Alhaji Muda Sumonu, who is still alive. That was what my growing up in the palace as a prince looked like. Life was interesting then because we had nothing to fear when playing outside or roaming the market. Life was much safer, easier and enjoyable.
Who was the Alaafin then?
The Alaafin of that era was Oba Siyanbola Ladigbolu. He was there before I was born and he passed on in 1944, six years after I was born. He was succeeded by Alaafin Adeyemi who is the father of the present Alaafin, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi.
His relationship with Alaafin Ladigbolu
He was my grandfather. I am his direct grandson.
…any special event that surrounded his birth
My parents told me that while my mother was carrying me in her womb, someone was consulted to know the kind of child I would be. The person who was consulted warned my mother to take good care of me because my name would spread beyond the locality.
At what age was he told the prophecy
My mother kept the story to herself until I converted from Islam to Christianity. After the uproar that my action generated, she visited me and said that she was beginning to understand what someone told her about me when she had me in her womb. As a missionary, I was moving throughout Nigeria and my name was heard everywhere. For her, it was a dream come true.
If I was told about it earlier, it could have raised my ego and pushed me to do things that could have been detrimental to the purpose of God. I was only obeying God’s voice and following his path.
The conversion, the consequence
I have told the story to many people. While I was young, I had an encounter with a young man of God who loved God and showed it. He did not just say it, he demonstrated it in his actions and behaviour. Having come from a different background, I was attracted by the way he carried on. I once told him that I wanted to experience whatever was propelling him.
He said it was the spirit of God and that believing in Jesus Christ was the only way to obtain it. He said that once I surrendered my life to Jesus, confessed my sins, forsook them and followed the path of Jesus, I would get the power to live well and honour God.
I wanted all these so much so and I agreed to accept Jesus Christ as my lord and saviour. Immediately, I felt something changed in me. I was taught the way of the lord and I made my lifestyle to conform with the standard laid down by God. That was the beginning of that pilgrimage.
Before then, I was acting as an assistant to a popular itinerant Muslim cleric who was always coming to Oyo. The community already knew me as a fanatical propagator of Islam. I had gained some popularity among the people. Whenever there was an argument between Christians and Muslims, I was always in the forefront, attacking Christians. My situation was a complete turnaround and it was difficult to hide. I came home one day and decided to go to church. Some people saw me entering a Methodist Church in Temgba. Out of curiosity, they wanted to know what I was doing in a church. It stirred up controversy and my parents knew about it. I was invited to the palace. When I knew that the problem was gathering pace, I ran to an uncle, S. A. Adeniya, a secretary to the late Samuel Ladoke Akintola, who was living in Ibadan. He had earlier converted to Christianity.
But they found me out and the late Baale Oyediji of Fiditi was sent to bring me to Oyo so that I could come and explain what took me to church. A large crowd gathered to hear me but God gave me the strength to speak. I told them that I had found a new life and I wanted to live it.
The assumption in the family was that I had been charmed or deranged by some people who had turned my brain. They thought that when I regained my mental strength, I would retrace my steps. But I was not bewitched by anyone. I took a decision based on the reality of what I had experienced.
After a second meeting and my insistence that I would not drop my belief, I was left on my own. The late Rev A. T. Olaolude was the Methodist Superintendent in Oyo at the time. He was part of the whole turbulence of my conversion experience.
He linked me with some Canadian and American missionaries who ran the United Missionary Theological College in Ilorin. I left with two other people from Oyo. One of them is my relative, Rev Akinlalu and Mathew Ogunsola. That was how I escaped from Oyo to Ilorin where I was trained in Bible and evangelism. After the training, the church offered me missionary appointment in Borgu, Niger State. I was on exile for three years with no contact with my family. My mother was looking for me and visiting medicine men (traditionalists) to remove what she thought was a spell that was cast on me. But God calmed that period to prepare me for the future missionary work and develop my journalism skill through a lady missionary.
Did he go back home after the training?
I did not go back. My family contacted me and said that after following my work everywhere, they were ready to take me back. Before then, I had become a brand or a household name, singing in concerts in Ibadan and many other places in Nigeria. In each of the concerts, I would tell the story of my conversion. Some newspapers published it then, unknown to me.
My family said they believed that God might have directed me to make my choice. After then, I started visiting Oyo and rejoined the family. I served for four years in Borgu, working as an evangelist. The church then transferred me to Immanuel College of Theology, Ibadan, where I was trained to become a minister.
I also practised as a journalist during and after training, writing for newspapers, Christian journals and recording Christian poetry on television and radio stations. I was the first poet to use Yoruba cultural poetry to preach the word of God. Today, it is everywhere.
Was he in line to become a king?
Being a male from one of the only two royal families in Oyo qualifies one as possible king but only one person will assume that throne. Our ruling house is Agunloye while the other is Alowolodu ruling house. Both rotate ascension to the throne.
You once linked giving facial marks to your daughter with your return to the family. What is the relationship between the two events?
It was part of the settlement of the crisis. We have a daughter who is now a professor of Mass Communication at the Washington and Lee University, Virginia, USA. Her birth coincided with the time that the family reconciled with me. It was as a mark of respect to the family that I decided to do it. She is the only one that has facial marks. Until I became a bishop, some people were still praying that I would dump my new faith and retrace my step, but I said there was no reason for me to do so.
Why he’s inseparable from the present Alaafin
Blood is thicker than water. There is something that binds us. People in the two royal families look alike. There is something in the genes of our progenitors that binds us together. The other binding factor is that the king happens to be not only a brother and a traditional father but also a friend. The Alaafin is someone who confides in me. As a Christian, you reciprocate good gestures.
Any contradiction in his role at the inauguration of Otunba Gani Adams and his religion
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.
What happened at the seclusion…
He was led into a retreat. Pastors, evangelists, kings go into a retreat where they can replenish their energy and wait on God to carry on. For someone assuming a position of the Aare Ona Kakanfo, we planned a retreat. The content of the retreat involved a Christian cleric, a Muslim cleric and a traditional religion cleric. They will talk to him from their points of faiths what leadership entails. I led the retreat because I knew that the content had nothing to do with idol worship.
There was no oath for him to take or eat at the retreat and there was nothing to tie on him. It was a quiet and serene environment where he can listen and concentrate on the admonitions of the scriptures of Christianity and Islam as well as the philosophies of the traditional religion of the Yoruba people.
I organised, coordinated and made sure the retreat was done as it should be done. But once people heard seclusion, they gave erroneous meaning to it. It was a retreat and I am proud of my involvement in it.
About Oranmiyan Festival…
We have the chairman of the festival committee but I am still the coordinator. It is a Yoruba community festival recalling our history and looking at various aspects of our culture to celebrate. Four years ago, we decided that oath and promise keeping is part of the Yoruba culture but we are already forgetting it.
We demonstrated during that year’s edition how important it is to keep a promise. These days, people are no longer worthy but we had to make people know that the origins of Yoruba were trustworthy. The focus three years ago was why we built palaces and what their values are. Some of the things we ascribe to the whites are actually our initiatives. That festival brings people in the Diaspora to Oyo and it helps the economy of the town when we celebrate. This has nothing to do with idol worship.
At the time you toured Nigeria preaching the gospel, life was safe but today, it is not the same in Nigeria. What is your view on how the Federal Government is tackling killings in different parts of the country?
It is a sorry case and unfortunately, one of the first ministers of God to be killed was a Methodist Church minister in Kaduna during a riot because he was dressed in a robe when he was taken away from his car. Life is not safe for residents, strangers and visitors in that part of the country. We thank God that Yorubaland is still hospitable and people are free to move around. They bring many people to our land and dump them here but we do not complain or chase them.
It is only government that can take care of the situation. Brigandage and violence follow joblessness. People who would originally be calm will find their nerves on edge and do things against their will when they don’t know when the next meal will come.
We should stop putting emphasis on where people come from. Nigerians should feel free to reside in any part of the country. We should learn to be tolerant.
Are you satisfied with the Federal Government’s response to the killings by herdsmen?
Not all the killers are herdsmen. Some hide under herdsmen to do the killings. It is a confused situation at the moment. I don’t know what could have led to the hostility. But some people are saying that certain parts of Nigeria regard other parts as their colonies and that they are free to move there and do whatever they do. But when the hosts resist their activities, the visitors will start killing them. I am yet to know how true this is but it is a new thought that government must look into.
How he met his wife
I met her during the period I was away from home. We met in northern Nigeria where she came to do missionary work.
She is from Ijebu.
Did you tell her what you were facing at the time?
Fortunately, she was already a Christian and she had been part of the mission field. For her, the kind of experience I was going through was not strange. It was easy for us to start life and move on together. She did not have to adjust to my lifestyle because she was already in it.
I can still recite the Quran…
It depends on the area you want. When Islamic clerics start and I joined them, they are always surprised that I know the Quran.
When did you retire as a Methodist Archbishop?
I took voluntary retirement in 2005.
Why did you say voluntary?
The Methodist Church says you can retire at 70 but I retired at 67. I felt God was telling me that I had done enough and I should go home and help my people.
At 80 and 13 years in retirement, are you not bored?
For me, life after retirement has been busy and exciting. There has not been a dull moment since 2005. Since I left home on missionary work many years ago, I have been doing some community activities. I asked God that if he kept me safe, I would come back home and help the king (Alaafin) and my people. That is what I have been doing. I made a promise and I am fulfilling it. I had a choice to live elsewhere in Nigeria but I decided to come home to Oyo.
Is any of your children following in your footsteps?
Two of them are in the ministry. One is already a presbyter which is the status of a senior minister who can become a bishop if God wants him to be. The other one is working as a Methodist minister in Ogun State.
You have been involved in events where restructuring of Nigeria was discussed. What is it that we must restructure?
It is simple. All we want is to go back to an arrangement where the states are autonomous. They will not keep their resources in their pocket but they should be able to dictate their priority and give something to the centre. The reverse is the case now. The states are suffering but the centre is getting fatter. The states go cap in hand to Abuja to beg for money. Let’s reorganise Nigeria in a manner that the federating units will be pronounced. We need state police and constitution for each state. We had these before but the present system is not working.