It was the turn of a new century, a new decade with it came, yet coming not just as the first in the 20th century, a century to be known for its ground breaking stride in technology and the wonder of science – the beginning of things to come; it was a decade that witnessed the birth of men – tall men, men of timber, men of caliber; those that were to set in place a structure and pattern for Nigeria in a manner that the generations to follow would never remain the same again. Some made very positive impact, some not too positive, but they were to be pioneers in their chosen calling for a nation that was to be born 50 years later. So, that decade, the first, marked their birth – their entry into a world they were to redefine. And among the numbers were names like Obafemi Awolowo (1909), Nnamdi Azikiwe (1904), Ahmadu Bello (1909) et.al. Their styles and acts are without doubt, they are there, scribbled but scripted loudly on the pages of history, yet somewhere, somehow, there lies the account of another, a contemporary of theirs, a man whom political history may beam no light upon, but one whom the heavens brought to the limelight in a manner so unmistakable, in a pattern so unconventional, yet like his peers in the political terrain he scripted a story through his styles and acts in a manner that leaves some bewildered and many enchanted, and through such acts and an unassuming pact with the heavens he took his remarkable and amiable place in the history of Nigeria, raising the bar, making a point, leaving a mark so indelible, setting in place a land mark for generations to come. Nigeria never saw him coming, for he was the first of his kind; a kind generations after will jostle to replicate, yet he wasn’t a man to be “cloned”, a man whose exploits can’t be duplicated easily – men as such comes but once in a generation, they are rare!
Find him out of the crowd, and take him out from thence then you will get the shocker of a life time: “Is this really the apostle of fire I’ve heard so much about? Nay! He looks no inch like one, for he is too simple and too humble in visage to occupy such a bigger than life status.”
Those are words a first time observer will adduce to the person of Joseph Ayodele Babalola.
When history reckons with the movers and shakers of times in Nigeria, his name, just like his person comes out unassumingly, yet ringing to the high heavens. For the records are there, testifying to methods and exploits from his stable in a manner that had never come to reckoning hitherto.
It could have been coincidental, yet it could have been a sign of things that were to come. There was a violent shaking in the woods by an uncommon flurry of windstorm, and coming in its trail was lightning tracing its path through the sky, and thunder pealing with thunderous sounds that sends shiver down the spine. On a farmland called Igbo Niyun (pleasant forest), at Odo-Owa, a young lady, Martha Talabi, after spending some time working on palm oil seeds, went into labour, giving birth to her first child, a son, during that period when there seemed to be war in the firmaments above, and rumblings in the woods beyond while the wind roared and crashed into trees.
Joseph Ayodele Babalola came into our world on a Monday, April 25, 1904 in the town of his nativity, Odo-Owa in Ilofa, a small town, just about ninety kilometres from Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria. His parents, David Rotimi and Marta Talabi were Yoruba, a tribe predominantly domiciled in the southwestern belt of Nigeria. The family attended the Anglican Church, David Rotimi being a pioneering member of the C.M.S (Christian Missionary Society) in Odo-Owa. As at the time of his birth, paganism was the norm of the day, and that little baby, born three days after the birth of Oppenheimer was to set in place a shift in paradigm, a tilt to status quo. The role he was to take up in life took on a reflection, speaking silently, yet meaningfully of things to come and the man he was to be. As a child, he refused blatantly to eat the chicken his grand mum had offered to the idol. He wouldn’t even have a hold, talk less of eating the chicken, even though he had been known to have a great appetite for meat. His grand mum was stunned and challenged by such an act of resolution coming from a seven year old child that she gave up paganism for Christianity.
Babalola’s father was an elder (“Baba Ijo”) at the C.M.S. Church at Odo-Owa, while his uncle, M.O. Rotimi, was a Sunday school teacher in the C.M.S. Church at Ilofa.
Education and Vocation before the Epiphany
On January 18, 1918 Rotimi (Babalola’s uncle) took 13 years old Babalola with him to Ifo at a time in his life when he had outgrown attachment to his parents. In the year 1919 he was registered at an elementary school at Oto-Awori on Badari road. Babalola could only complete Standard 2 at Awori before his uncle, being the catechist and church planter he was was, was transferred to Ebute Meta. On starting Standard 3 at Methodist School Ijaye, Ebute Meta in 1921 Rotimi was again transferred to Ibese in Egbado province. Thus forcing Babalola out of school for about 18 months (1922-1924) because he couldn’t cope with the regular transfers that had come to interrupt his education. To give his education some stability, Moses left him in care of his friend, J.F. Adebayo. Under Adebayo’s care he resumed Standard 3 class at CMS All Saints School in Oshogbo three months before the end of the academic session. Surprisingly, he ranked 4th in academic performance, having been out of school for close to two years.
He had his final lap in education at Osogbo where he went as far as standard five at CMS All Saints’ School. He quit school in June 1925 to take up apprenticeship as a drug dispenser at the African Hospital, Osogbo. While he completed his apprenticeship, he couldn’t follow it up by making a career out of it because the love for another art was beckoning – he developed an infatuation for machines and the mechanism that powers them. Thus he took up an apprenticeship program to become a motor mechanic as well as a blacksmith. It wouldn’t be long anyway, when as the youth he was, the exuberance that accompanies swings in decision making and the thirst to explore as seen in young folks soon pushed him off the romance with his first love – automobiles. However, he wouldn’t be far away anyway, he was still within orbit when he later opted to make a living as a steam roller driver. He was absorbed into the work force by the Public Works Department (PWD). That vocation offered him the privilege to be among the road workers who constructed the road from Igbara-Oke to Ilesa.
On April 1, 1928, not far away from his 24th birthday, he was made a foreman and allocated a caterpillar to work with. His first port of call was the Osogbo – Ilesa road. His salary then was 4 British pounds a month, the same salary a Grade 2 teacher takes home. Eighty six (86) labourers were also assigned to work under him. On June 14, 1928, Babalola was transferred to work on the Ilesa-Akure road.
On September 25th of same year, Babalola roved on behind the wheels of his steam roller. As if doing the bidding of an extraterrestrial force, the steam roller ground to a halt suddenly and abruptly. There was no mechanical fault whatsoever to have commanded such. Moments later, Babalola was still trying to come to grasp with that when things took another twist – It was a voice calling after him, he believed, with an attendant baritone pitch, like the sound of many waters. The calling voice is said to have instructed him to “go into the world and preach the gospel.” It was only a matter of time before he tendered his resignation letter to answer the call. Even Mr. Fergusson, the head of his unit, after trying to make him stay by raising his pay couldn’t change the mind of the 24 years old. The conviction was so strong, the consequence was no issue – he believed the voice he heard, and curiously sure God will provide while he quit his job and the dough it so readily provide.
That same voice, Babalola believed, came a second time asking him to fast for seven days. It was during the period church tradition said he had a vision, and through that, his mission statement cut out for him, and a preview of the taste of things to come, which of course includes persecution and the victories that would follow. Babalola was a man given to much prayer, he could spend several weeks in prayer, and that brought with it a lifestyle punctuated by circumspect living. The water he prayed on was believed to have served therapeutic purpose. And he did attracted trouble. The district colonial rulers observed people flocking to hear him speak, and the sick deserting hospitals for the spiritual healing Babalola promises. The colonial district officers queried him for the fact that patients were leaving their hospital beds, but in response he said he had forced no one to come to him, it’s rather about the people believing in his work. It was a new wave spreading across the land and everyone seemed to be catching in on it.
Ayo Babalola joined the Church, Faith Tabernacle in Lagos, a church affiliated to an American Church which believes in divine healing. Soon, the elders could identify and respect the gift that was operational in him, and with time his influence was to bring about major transformation in that church, one that had not been felt hitherto. Elders of the church sought Babalola’s prayerful input in ascribing another name to the church. Thus, through him the church’s name was changed from the Faith Tabernacle to African Apostolic Church.
Through the influence of the spirit filled Babalola, people started flocking the church. Soon, established orthodox churches around started losing members to the African Apostolic Church, the church wherein Babalola was now a huge force to reckon with; indeed, they flocked it in droves. Perhaps Babalola and his fellows saw it coming, but the cloud of trouble was silently and stealthily brewing, stalking them, gathering and getting set to let loose the torrents, thefumes of furry in the waiting, and Babalola was to bear the brunt of its full weight. Thus it wasn’t long before the law enforcement officers arrested and detained him. When released, Babalola resumed from where he had stopped with greater fervor and commitment. Ever before this time, at Erin Ijesa, he did predict the immediate return of a prince that ran away for 15 years, and of course people were shocked at his precision. At Omu, a woman pregnant for four years was brought to him, and he offered her of the portion of water the voice that communes with him instructed he give. Also, some notable events preceded the prophet’s admission into the Faith Tabernacle. Bizarre were the words that could describe the scene, funny were the apparent rendition that attended it, yet truth and sobriety were the message it permeated.
As the young man he was, not quite long after leaving his job in obedience to the voice that called him out, Babalola was directed by the same voice to go first to Odo-Owa, his hometown to start preaching. However, the manner Babalola went about the work was remarkable indeed, and his audience never saw that coming.
It was October, 1928, and it was a market day, a period in the day when the market was bustling with activities. Then out of nowhere came a man with face painted with charcoal and body covered with palm fronds. They thought he was mad, but his composure and manner of speech spoke better of his sanity. It was Babalola! It was his own way of attracting attention and passing across a message burning in his heart, laying it bare for whosoever has the ear to hear. Warning the people of impending danger should they fail to set their paths straight and come to terms with their maker. However, it wasn’t long, the law enforcement agents stepped into the scene, thus he was arrested and taken to the district officer at Ilorin for allegedly disturbing the peace. They later released him since not much evidence could concur with their allegation.
However, few days latter, small pox came swooping down upon the populace, an infection they had little answer to at the time, as if lending credence to the prophecy of Babalola. Thus, in the place he was persecuted and apprehended, he became the most sought after. People already knew of his reported gift of healing, so they sought for him. Thus his name and fame spread like wildfire far and near even beyond his clime, and there came the climax of it in the year 1930, the year in which he raised a dead 10 year old boy back to life. It was something strange, something of such had never been seen before, save for those accounts rendered on the pages of the scripture.
“This Babalola is a spirit, it can’t be said he is human, no it can’t be!” Tones and tons of words as such echoed in the thoughts and words of his contemporaries, especially people who couldn’t comprehend the passion driving him.
Babalola’s father, David Rotimi Babalola, wasn’t just a member, but was actually instrumental in establishing a branch of the C.M.S church in their hometown, Odo Owa. His son however was to bring a new twist to things, adding flavours the church saw as being foreign to norms. Young Babalola’s passion and vision saw him organizing regular prayer meetings in the Church. Those meetings witnessed miracles, of course the reason why many attended. With time, some members started claiming to have seen visions while some spoke in tongues and prayed vigorously, patterns that were to be seen by top shots in the church as strange. The Bishop of Ilorin diocese, Bishop Smith wouldn’t have any of such. Thus, acting on information brought to his desk, he sent Joseph Babalola packing. This would bring about his joining the Faith Tabernacle Congregation, and subsequently, the birth of the Christ Apostolic Church.
Birth of the Christ Apostolic Faith Church
In 1930, Daniel Ajibola, an elder of the Faith Tabernacle Congregation, resident in Ibadan introduced Babalola to Pastor D. O. Odubanjo, one of the leaders of the Faith Tabemacle in Lagos. Pastor Odubanjo in turn introduced the young prophet to the President of the Faith Tabernacle at the time, Senior Pastor Esinsinade, who took his time to listen to the account of the calling and mission of the ministry of the young prophet. He and the elders were impressed, thus welcoming him into their midst. He was later baptized by Pastor Esinsinade in the lagoon at the back of the Faith Tabernacle Church building at 51, Moloney Bridge Street, Lagos.
Though originally affiliated to an American church, in the year 1931, in the bid to avoid colonial persecution, the Faith Tabernacle of Nigeria switched affiliation to the British Apostolic Church. However, the fact that British Apostolic Church combines orthodox medicine with prayer didn’t go down well with them, as they saw it posing a compromising stance to their belief in divine healing, thus they parted ways with them in 1939. Afterwards, the church’s name was changed to Nigeria Apostolic Church. However, little did they know that the Ghanaian branch of the church wouldn’t have any of that. Thus they had to change it to reflect UNITED APOSTOLIC CHURCH (UAC). It was only a matter of time however before they would realize that the name doesn’t belong. And that panned out when mails meant for the United African Church (UAC) started finding their way into their Church. Thus they decided the name need be changed again, and this time, the name was to stand, earning the church her current name and place; Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) was that name chosen, and it stepped so well into that void created by the demand for a change, and that was the name the church took up, the name by which it’s now known. It was registered in 1943 with registration number 147. And it did happen that the church came into recognition through Babalola.
Babalola didn’t stay in Lagos after his baptism. He was an evangelist by calling, thus from there, he filled the land with his acts and the message he had been given the mandate to spread. People thronged to his meetings to have a feel of his words and the miracles of healing that attends it. At Efon-Alaaye, in Ekitiland, he was given a warm reception by the king who of course have heard of his exploits. Indeed, the king out of great respect for his person did set aside a whole building for the comfort of the prophet and his company. The whole land of the town was cheerfully given by the king, that Babalola might make a choice when it comes to selecting a site for his meetings. Remarkably so, Babalola chose a dreaded area at the outskirts of the town called the evil forest for his prayer ground. The land has rightly earned the name “evil forest” because of the misfortunes that comes on people that ventured therein. It was believed to be inhabited by evil spirits. Thus the king did his best to dissuade him from the suicidal act. Babalola wit his men set to work, clearing the “evil forest” that had remained undisturbed for ages and generations, and consecrated it as a prayer ground.
The effect of Babalola’s evangelical work at Efon-Alaaye was so intense that it beckoned to ministers and pastors far and near, those outside the fold Babalola knows. White pastors from Baptist Seminary in Ogbomoso came down to see the great things heavens were accomplishing through the hands of Babalola. Seeing things themselves, not that they were being told as before, they were so much convinced and impressed that they sent for more hands from St. Andrew’s College, Oyo and Baptist Seminary, Ogbomoso to come and assist in the job. Archdeacon Henry Dallimore, a CMS minister who was also the CMS Education Superintendent stationed in Ado-Ekiti at the time was among the white pastors that came visiting to see things for themselves.
The evangelical works of Babalola reached the courts of a few other kings; Oba (king) of Efon and the Oba of Aramoko accepted the new Faith. Babalola also touched places like Owo, Ikare and Oka, towns in the present day Ondo State as well as Usi in Ekitiland where many works of healing attended his outreaches. In one of his outreaches he will once again encounter trouble all the way from Otuo in present Edo State. While he was having a retreat in his hometown, Odo-Owa, an arrest warrant issued from Ilorin found its way to his place. The result, he bagged 6 months jail sentence in Benin City in March 1932. Not long after that however, a passionate plea came from the creek of Calabar, specifically from a place called Creek Town. It was a “Macedonia call,” and the courier was a man by the name, Cyprian E. Ufon, a native of that side of the country. Babalola’s fame had spread to that side of the country at a moment in time when the public media had not been as much developed as it is of today. Babalola headed for the town, and as expected, it was an explosive experience that came down on the people and those in the adjoining towns which includes the place called Duke town. In 1936, in the company of Evangelist Timothy Bababusuyi, he went to Accra, Ghana to minister with much effect and result attending his work.
Last days and hours
It was the Lord’s day, Sunday, July 26, 1959. Everything went on as it would – normally. At the age of 55 years he wasn’t too old, neither was any sickness haunting him – he was just normal. However, part of the event of that day were pointers to the possibility that the preacher knew the end is nigh. In the other part of the world that same year, on January 8, Charles De Gaulle had just been inaugurated as the first president of the French Fifth Republic, while Fidel Castro became Premier of Cuba, on February 16. In Nigeria, the steam was on, the the tempo was high. No effort was being spared to ensure the dream of independence sees the light of the day, but July came with its own surprise. A colossus was taking his leave, a final bow, yet no one gave thought to it – it came as a big rude shock; and that was what it panned out to be.
On Saturday July, 25, 1959, Babalola conducted the morning prayer for ministers and members living in the vicarage of C.A.C. Olugbode, Ibadan. That same day, Apostle Babalola sent two of his followers to one of his ministers, Samson Oladiji Akande (Baba Abiye) at Ede that he should prepare a place for him to sleep. He arrived Ede around 6:30 p.m. that Saturday into the warm embrace of his people. He went to bed, but woke up at 4 a.m. on Sunday 26th, took his bath, took some tea and had his morning meditation.
While some of his ministers came to see him, he narrated to them afresh how he started his ministry. He prayed a long prayer for the church and the ministers. After the special Sunday service in that July morning, with humor and smiles he sent off those who came to greet him, and they left for their various destinations cheered. Later in the evening he went to bed. After having a nap he called Akande, and then returned the corvering-cloth he had given him to use. Of course Akande was surprised, thus he asked, “Baba, why are you doing this?” he replied, “a man should sleep with his own clothes.” He told Akande to take his leave while he sleep. By this time, every other person had gone to church for the evening service. Moments later, his breath became ladened and he died after recounting repeatedly : “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”