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James Adeoti Adenike was born into the Adenike family of Alahoro quarters in Koso, Iseyin, a few years before the British finally colonized what is today known as Nigeria. Iseyin is an ancient town, the headquarters of the Iseyin Local Government Area, in the present Oyo State of Nigeria. His younger brother, Samuel Akano Adeleke, the late Bada of Koso area of Iseyin, reported that Adeoti Adenike was born circa June 1884, and that his father was a cloth weaver and a farmer. His progenitors migrated from the Isale Oyo area of the ancient town of Oyo, in what is known as Oyo State of Nigeria today. Isale Oyo was reputed for worshipping Egungun, an ancestral deity mythologically believed to have come down from heaven. Hence, the Egungun is usually referred to as “ara orun,” that is, a “visitor from heaven.”
Egungun is the worship of spirits or the souls of departed ancestors. According to Samuel Johnson, a traditional Yoruba historian, the departed ancestors are represented as “human beings of the exact height and figure of the deceased, covered from head to foot with clothes similar to those in which the said deceased was known to have been buried, completely masked and speaking with an unnatural voice.” Speaking further, he states that the Egungun worship has become a national religious institution, and its anniversaries are celebrated with grand festivities. The mysteries connected with it are held sacred and inviolable, and although little boys of five or six years of age are often initiated, no woman may know these mysteries on pain of death. It is considered a crime to touch Egungun regalia in public, and disrespectful to pass him by with the head uncovered. Even a boy Egungun is considered worthy of being honored by his (supposed) surviving parents, he salutes them as elderly people would do, and promises the bestowal of gifts on the family.
This information suggests that Adeoti Adenike’s parents were devotees of Egungun, the ancestral deity. His parents had many Egungun outfits, which they revered. Two of his younger brothers bore names reflecting Egungun worship. These are Abioje (a child born into the Egungun worship), and Egungundiran (Egungun worship that has become generational). Adeoti Adenike was living in this Egungun religious context when Christianity was introduced to the Iseyin community in 1898 by the Church Missionary Society (Anglican), the Methodist Mission 1908, and the Baptist Mission in 1918.
The Iseyin/Okeho tax riot of 1916/1917 was highly instrumental to the conversion and establishment of Christianity in Iseyin. In Okeho (another town in the Oke-Ogun area of Oyo State), the people reacted to the imposition of taxes by the British Colonial administration through violent protests. In an attempt to lend a brotherly assistance, the people of Iseyin joined the anti-tax protests. The British authority responded decisively and killed some of the citizens of the two communities. In Iseyin, it even led to the death of a traditional monarch, Aseyin Lawoyin. Life then became unbearable to many citizens of Iseyin, including Adeoti Adenike, who fled the town to seek security elsewhere, at least, for some time to allow the dust to settle and normalcy to return to the ancient community. Some of them who fled to Lagos, Badagry and Abeokuta later came back as Christians, having been converted during their exile. One of these exiles was Adenike. He and his brother, the late Chief Samuel Akano Adeleke, took keen interest in Christianity, in order to have access to western education, even if it would only afford them the advantage of reading and writing. For that same purpose, the duo led others to become Christians.
Incidentally, Adenike was favorably disposed to being a Baptist. The Baptist mission thus owes its history in Iseyin to Adenike. Samuel Adeleke, his younger brother, recounted how Adenike, with his like-minded friends John Ayoola (a.k.a. “Ayo-Alagba,”) Paa Siyanbola, Benjamin Egbediji, and Oluokun, an elder brother of Adenike, were determined to have a Christian denomination different from the CMS (Anglican). These individuals agreed, and sent Adenike to Aawe, (a town very near Oyo town) where the Baptist variety of the Christian faith had already been established. His mission to Aawe was to go and look for a pioneer Baptist pastor to lay the foundation of the Baptist denomination in Iseyin.
Adenike made three unsuccessful trips to Aawe. His failures to secure a Baptist pastor from Aawe led some of his friends to reconsider their choice and throw in their lot with the Methodist Mission which came in 1908. Nevertheless, Adenike and his group members were undaunted, resolute, and hopeful that the Baptist in Aawe would send them a Baptist pastor. Their hope hinged on the fact that the Aawe Baptists had sent a visibility survey team to Iseyin, to inspect the location for the new church. Their dream became a reality in 1918, when Pastor Robert Ogunbileje was sent from Aawe to start a Baptist church in Iseyin. They broke ground and the new church was named First Baptist Church, Koso, Iseyin.
Adenike housed Robert Ogunbileje, the pioneer pastor of the church at Abala compound from where the pastor carried out his pastoral assignments. The first church building was built on a low-hill called “Laseinsin,” and from there it metamorphosed into a church to reckon with in the Nigerian Baptist Convention. Adenike led the church to secure a large expanse of land from the Atoogun family, where the present First Baptist Church was built. In 1942, a primary school was built alongside the church and in 1956 a Secondary Modern School was also founded on the same expanse of land. The Modern School was upgraded into a full Secondary Grammar School in 1980. Adenike adopted the Hebrew/Galilean name “James” and many of his admirers changed their Egungun names as well.
In 1921 Adenike married Madam Olawumi. Olawumi was the daughter of the priest of the Oro cult, from the Aaba Compound, in Itan quarters of Iseyin. The aboriginal inhabitants of Iseyin worshipped Oro, another traditional deity in Yorubaland. The town’s cognomen or appellation was Iseyin Oro, that is Iseyin that is reputed for worshipping Oro. It is forbidden for women to see Oro, and death was the penalty for even peeping to spy on Oro. Samuel Johnson affirms that among the Oyo people of South-Western Nigeria, the people of Iseyin and Jabata are the principal worshippers of Oro. The marriage was blessed with four children - two boys and two girls. Adenike had two other wives who bore him four other children.
Adenike was very influential in the community. One of his nephews, Abioje Benjamin Osuolale reiterated that his uncle drew many of his friends and relatives to Christianity by being philanthropic and accommodating. Osuolale added that it was his hobby to see people out of financial problems, so much, so that he was given the praise-name: Ab’owo gbogboro, tii y’mo re l’ofin, meaning, “the one who has very long hands to pull out his children from troubles.” Osuolale also recounted how older people from the church used to come on daily basis to seek for advice and other assistance. He said that during the annual harvest thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and the New Year, Adenike’s house was usually besieged by visitors, Christians and non-Christians alike. He was greatly revered in the community. His life history is more or less synonymous with the founding and growth of First Baptist Church, Koso, Iseyin. He had the singular honour of being the treasurer of the church for forty-nine years, from 1918 to 1967, when he died.
James Adeoti Adenike was a great man and a patriarch. On May 8, 1967, he was going on a business trip to Lagos, as a seller of popular hand-woven clothes (“Aso Oke”). He begged the driver of the vehicle to allow him to go back home and take some personal effects. When he got home, however, he slept to wake no more. Truly, “Sweet is the death of the saints.” To honour him, he was buried in the church yard, and a church society called Imo-Oluwa Adenike (The Knowledge of the Lord Society) was named after him.
Jeremiah Akintola Adeoti
Notes1. Bada is a traditional title, a post next in rank to the traditional head of Koso area.
2. Samuel Johnson, The History of the Yorubas (Oyo, Nigeria: C.S.S. Bookshops, 1897), 29.
3. Ibid, 29-30.
4. Ibid, 32.
BibliographyBenjamin Osuolale Abioje, James Adeoti Adenike’s nephew, interview by the author, August 24, 2011.
Johnson, Samuel. The History of the Yorubas. Oyo, Nigeria: C.S.S. Bookshops, 1897.
Samuel Akano Adeleke, interview by the author, Iseyin, Nigeria.
This article, received in 2014, was researched and written by Jeremiah Akintola Adeoti, a student at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary (NBTS), Ogbomoso, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Leke Ogunewu, a visiting lecturer in Church History at NBTS, and Rev. Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.
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