The Seventh-Day Adventist Church came to Nigeria in 1914, relatively late when compared to the mission work of other mainline churches. They first entered the southwestern region of Nigeria and largely remained under the guidance of white missionaries appointed to Nigeria by the General Conference. This changed, however, when Joseph Adeyemo Adeogun became the first Nigerian national to be elected president of a section of Seventh-day Adventist mission in 1961.
Adeogun was born in Inisa, located in southwestern Nigeria. He did not have the benefit of early education, but engaged in farm work like the other youth of his time. In 1930, he enrolled at the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Primary School in Oke-Bola, Ibadan. He married Miss Comfort Wuraola Oyeyemi Bamidele in 1932. Comfort Bamidele was one of the daughters of Pastor James Abiola Ojo, who was an early convert of Adventist pioneer, D. C. Babcock. As his newly-wedded wife, Comfort complemented Adeogun’s work as a pastor. They had the first of their six children, Caleb, in 1932.
By 1933, Adeogun had been posted in Omu-Aran, in what is now present day Kwara State. Much of his work was “farm evangelism,” as the majority of the community were farmers. Working long, tiring hours, the farmers often could not come to town to worship. Adeogun went to them and ministered on the farms where they resided. He was transferred to Ijero-Ekiti and later Omuo, spending nine years at the latter station. He is said to have raised the standard of education around his sphere of influence while his wife was actively engaged in the activities of the women’s ministries of the church. He moved after his time in Omuo to Aiyetoro-Ekiti and later Ipoti.
Adeogun was nominated to attend ministerial training at the Adventist Training School, Ihie, eastern Nigeria, from May 1948 to February 1949. The training enhanced his effectiveness as a minister in subsequent mission stations where he worked. Some of these places included Osogbo, Abeokuta, Aiyetoro (not the same as Aiyetoro-Ekiti). After church authorities observed his leadership qualities, he was nominated for a two-year advanced training in Bekwai, Ghana, in 1955.
By 1959, Adeogun was appointed Home Missionary Secretary for the SDA church, thus becoming the first indigenous person to be so appointed. This was a departmental appointment in which he excelled. Pastor G. M. Ellstrom, the mission president in southwestern Nigeria, recommended that Adeogun be made his deputy. He served under the Ellstrom’s tutelage until he was elected mission president in 1961. Pastor Ellstrom thus became the last expatriate in that part of Nigeria and Adeogun became the first indigenous minister to assume the mantle of leadership.
Christian education was foremost in the mind of the new president. He was instrumental in the founding of the first SDA tertiary institution in Nigeria, the Adventist College of West Africa at Ilisan-Remo (1959), and a secondary school, the Adventist Grammar School, Ede (1960). The Adventist College has grown to become Babcock University, one of the first three private universities to be licensed by the government of Nigeria.
In 1968, Adeogun formally retired from denominational service and died on March 25, 1971. His wife Comfort was a pillar of support for her husband and continued to be active in women’s ministries programs even long after her husband’s death.
Abiodun Ayodeji Adesegun
Agboola, D.T. The Seventh-day Adventists in Yorubaland 1914-1964. Ibadan: Daystar Press, 1987.
Babalola, D.O. Sweet Memories of Our Pioneers. Lagos: Emaphine Reprographics Ltd., 2001.
This article, received in 2007, was researched and written by Abiodun Ayodeji Adesegun, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, under the supervision of Rev. Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.