A biblical dictum states that: “He who walks with the wise will be wise.” (Proverbs 15:22). Having relationships with other Christians is like adding salt as a seasoning to preserve meat or to improve taste. Adekunle’s Christian friends shed the light of Christ upon his heart and illuminated his worldview and mindset, transforming it from one of Sango Worship (god of thunder) and Egungun cultural practices (masquerade art) to one framed by Christianity. Adekunle was someone who maximized every opportunity he had for personal and educational development, and for social transformation.
Birth and education (1927 - 1959)
Adekunle was born in a village called Ilagbe at Ajase, near Port-Novo in Dahomey, in 1927. He was born to the family Pa Sam Sangokunle Akanbi and Mrs. Adeyoola Asakun, who were traders in Ilagbe. In 1939, by the time of the Second World War, his parents left Ilagbe for Nigeria. On their way home, they stayed at Abeokuta for three months, and later settled in Ogbomoso, their home town, in June of 1939.
Adekunle’s education began at home, when he was already a married man. His adult education began in 1944, when he began learning to read and write at home. He began to study English composition and communication (written and spoken English) with his wife by 1950. In 1954, he formally enrolled at Tede Baptist Day School. The Rev. and Mrs. L. H. Neil sponsored him when he decided to pursue formal education. He had to stop his schooling at Tede in 1955, and he left for Shaki due to threats on his life, as he was a convert from Sango worship and Egungun arts. He was taken to Elam Memorial School in Shaki, where he came under the influence of Rev. W. M. and Dr. Martha Gilliland of the Baptist Mission of Nigeria. By the end of 1956, the training he received at Elam School allowed him to participate in the Primary School Examination of that year. Thanks to Mrs. M. M. Machman, the headmistress who had admitted Adekunle for a year of training, he passed brilliantly and obtained the Primary School Leaving Certificate at that time. Adekunle took the entrance examination of the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, by the end of 1956. At the beginning of 1957, he began attending NBTS in the theology certificate program. The Gilliland and Neil families assisted him throughout his studies there, and he completed his two year seminary program by late 1959, obtaining the Certificate in Theology.
Adekunle was born into Sango worship and Egungun arts. His family name showed adoration for its god with the appellation “Sangokunle.” In 1944, Adekunle’s interest in western education acquainted him with friends in school who were all from Christian homes. Through the influence of his friends, he began to go to church programs, eventually participating in church activities. Since he was the heir apparent to the priesthood of Sango worship, his father, Pa Sam Sangokunle Akanbi, was against his attendance at church programs. He rallied opposition against his son from among the devotees of the Sango god that were under his charge, and the end result was a schism between father and son. Adekunle left his parents at Ile-Aba, Abogunde, at Baki for the safety of the seminary campus.
In 1946, during a church program at Baki Baptist Church in Ogbomoso where Pastor J. A. Adebiyi preached on “The Way to Eternal Life in Luke 16:19 - 31,” Adekunle went forward for a public confession of Jesus Christ as his savior and master. He was baptized in November of 1947 by Rev. Dr. J. C. Pool at Ora Stream in Ogbomoso. He left home to live with Rev. W. M. Gilliland and his wife, Dr. Martha Gilliland, in 1948. They helped Adekunle to grow in his Christian faith by providing him with a supply of Christian literature on Jesus Christ and on Christian spiritual growth.
Call to the ministry and married life (1950 -1957)
Adekunle lived a very committed life and was dedicated to church attendance and involvement in church programs. His activities at the First Baptist Church in Shaki, where he attended the Elam Memorial School, attracted the attention of Mrs. Machman, who recommended him to Rev. J. W. Richardson. Adekunle was assigned to Agbele preaching station, where he demonstrated his gifts for pastoral visitation and care. He noticed the pain caused by the suppression of the rights of the less privileged, and he felt compelled to pray for the voiceless. He also prayed about the need to answer the call of God. In late 1956, Adekunle responded to God’s call by taking the entrance examination to the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary. He had married the former Miss Alice Ajala Wuraola in 1950, in the manner of native customs. However, the seminary authorities requested a legalized marriage, so in 1957, he and his wife were formally united in a Christian marriage ceremony conducted by Rev. Dr. E. A. Dahunsi.
Adekunle graduated from the seminary with a Certificate in Theology by the end of 1959. While under training, he served his supervised ministry at the Baptist Church in Ile-Abu near Ogbomoso, prior to his relocation to the First Baptist Church in Ogboro, near Ago-Amodu, in the Oke-Ogun area, from 1960 to 1962. He was the chaplain of the Baptist hospital at Shaki from July 5, 1963 to 1965. He helped the First Baptist Church in Tede to maintain its’ spiritual growth between 1966 and 1975, and also pastored the Ogo-Oluwa Baptist Church in Igbonna from 1976 to 1977.
After graduation, Adekunle received a pastoral call from Ogboro Baptist Church in the Shaki area, and he spent three and a half years there. He motivated the members to build the church parsonage at that time, until it was completed. While he was a chaplain in the Baptist hospital in Shaki, some patients who came for medical treatment accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. His parents, who had opposed him when he became a Christian, also converted from idol worship to Christianity. He was ordained into full gospel ministry on November 19, 1972, at the First Baptist Church in Tede.
Adekunle was invited by the Ibadan Baptist Association to be their city mission pastor, covering the Baptist Church in Aperin, the Hosanna Baptist Church in Foko, and the Apata - Ganga Baptist Church, from1978 to 1979. Due to the need for proximity and fairness, Adekunle was later assigned to focus on the Baptist churches at Aperin and Foko from 1979 to 1980. In 1980, Aperin Baptist Church asked that Adekunle be allowed to become their full-time pastor. By 1981, he had been given a brand new Volkswagen for carrying out mission visits. He died in a motor vehicle accident on August 29, in 1982, and was buried at Baaki Baptist Church in Ogbomoso on September 10, 1982.
Abiola Ayodeji Olaniyi
Rev. Dr. Adekunle, (son of J. I. Adekunle), Interview by author, November 22, 2009.
Funeral Service booklet of Joseph A. I. Adekunle.
This article, submitted in December 2010, was written by Abiola Ayodeji Olaniyi, PhD. candidate at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, under the supervision of Dr. Deji Ayegboyin and Dr. Leke Ogunewu.