Emmanuel Oladele Agboola was from Isale Afon in Ogbomoso, in Oyo State, Nigeria. He was born into the family of Rev. and Mrs. John Agboola. Divine providence favored him with a Christian background through his family. Narrating his father’s story, Emmanuel stressed that his “late grandfather was an Ifa worshipper (Yoruba deity), and a juju priest who took active part in all pagan worship in Ogbomoso.” Not much is known about Agboola’s grandmother but that she was also a devout Ifa worshipper. Considering the pagan influence under which Emmanuel grew up, one wonders at God’s grace and at the lineage that he came from. The conversion of Oladele’s grandfather resulted from the Rev. T. J. Bowen’s visit to Ogbomoso, Nigeria on August 5, 1850. T. J. Bowen spent eight days in Badagry before moving to Abeokuta, where he stayed for one and a half years. After a few months of rest and consultation in the United States, he returned to Nigeria in August of 1853 and visited Ogbomoso in the company of Mr. and Mrs. William H. Clarke, whose missionary activities resulted in the conversion of the Fasanya’s family in Ogbomoso. A chat with Alice Babatunde confirmed Omotosho’s claim that Emmanuel’s grandfather was one of the sons of the first convert in Ogbomoso, Pa Fasanya of Ile Igbagbo, (meaning: a Christian compound).
His birth and education
Agboola was born on March 18, 1903. He was the third child of his parents and he had six other siblings. Their lives make it clear that Emmanuel was born into a great, responsible, and successful family who, along with their spouses, impacted the secular sector, the churches, and the Baptist families in Nigeria. Agboola attended the Baptist day schools at Saje, Ijaiye, and Ago-Owu, all in Abeokuta, the capital of the present Ogun State of Nigeria. He also attended the prestigious C.M.S. Grammar School in Lagos from 1915 to 1917, but was withdrawn from the school by Rev. S. G. Pinnock, to Ogbomoso, where he attended the Ogbomoso Baptist Academy through 1918. He had earlier taught at Osupa Baptist Day School in 1918, thanks to Prof. N. D. Oyerinde’s influence. Prof. Oyerinde had discovered his unusually high intelligence, which was comparable to that of other specially selected children from all parts of Nigeria attending King’s College in Lagos, and he knew that Agboola needed to have a sound secondary education. He therefore sent him, along with the late Solomon Olarewaju Dairo (who later became the treasurer of the Nigerian Baptist Convention), to King’s College, Lagos. Emmanuel’s academic distinction won him a scholarship from the school. However, he was not able to use the scholarship because his guardian missionary, Rev. S. G. Pinnock, felt that he had to be prepared for gospel ministry, either as a teacher or as a preacher. Rev. Pinnock feared that he would be lost to the civil service or to commercial establishments if he continued at King’s College.
Emmanuel was withdrawn from King’s College and sent to the Baptist College and Seminary, Ogbomoso as the seminary and the Baptist Academy had been merged by then. When asked if he was displeased, he replied in his humble manner, “For once, I did not argue with my guardian. I know God was working through him for the purpose of my life. If I had refused or protested, I know I would not have been as committed to the cause of Christ as God has made it possible for me to be today. God was surely behind the changes in my academic and professional preparation.” Rev. Pinnock’s decision should not be regretted because Agboola became one of the greatest indigenous pastors raised by the missionaries in Nigeria. He continued his theological training and finished his course in 1921 (the year his mother died at Lanlate).
Marriage and teaching career
Agboola married Miss Comfort Kiyesola Olagbiyan on December 25, 1924. Dr. George W. Sadler performed the wedding at the First Baptist Church, Okelerin, Ogbomoso. God blessed the marriage with seven children, four daughters and three sons. 
Agboola was offered a teaching appointment at the Baptist College and seminary in 1922. He taught mathematics at the college from 1922 to 1937. When the college was transferred to Iwo in 1938, he transferred with it and also taught mathematics there until 1942, when he had a call to the preaching ministry. In all, he taught for a period of twenty and a half years, and mentored great men who became influential within the Nigerian Baptist Convention.
During his days as a teacher, Agboola would rise before everybody else and take a morning walk or run along the roads on the college campus. He also sometimes worked on his farm between the hours of six and seven in the morning. This early morning exercise was one of the secrets of his strength and youthful appearance. His diligence and industry won him the honor of being one of the very first Nigerian Baptist teachers to be awarded the Third Class Teachers’ Certificate, in June of 1921. He later studied privately and obtained the Second Class Teacher’s Certificate in January 1923, and the First Class Certificate in January of 1930.
Many testified to his life of commitment, humility, contentment, boldness, and hard work. Surprisingly, Agboola was on a salary of one hundred and twenty pounds (£ 120) per annum when he left the classroom for the gospel ministry, which offered him eighty-four pounds (£84) per annum, but he accepted this lower salary because of his zeal for the salvation of souls. He was not monetarily or materially inclined, but was interested in the number of souls he would be able to win for the Lord.
As it might be expected, Agboola had some difficulty changing from the classroom to the pulpit. He was loved by all his students because of his hard work, kindness, and humility, and many of them wondered if he had not taken the wrong direction, as his talent for mathematics would surely be wasted. However, Agboola proved that his decision was not wrong, and he found that mathematics was indispensable, even in the pulpit.
His first pastoral assignment was in Jos. He arrived there on August 9, 1942, and his first task was to establish a primary school for the church. He hired new teachers, worked on securing their salaries, and equipped the school, combining management with pastoral work. The secret of his success as a pastor could be traced to his tireless visitation, which was an uncommon trait he had inherited from his mother. He had a roster for weekly visits to the homes of church members and non-members, and they knew the day of the week and the time at which to expect their pastor. He also made time for non-members, pastors of other denominations, Muslim friends, and pagans. At one point, the church members felt that he was exerting too much energy in visitation alone, as his preaching stations were hundreds of miles apart. They thought he needed a car and offered to buy him one, but he rejected the offer, believing that the church was not financially strong enough to purchase and maintain a car. He would not approve of the church buying one, but a car was bought in 1952 while he was away in America on a study leave. He eventually approved the use of the car for evangelization purposes when he returned in 1953.
The Jos Baptist Church kept a record of the work that was accomplished while Agboola was their pastor. It was in that church that he was ordained into full gospel ministry on September 3, 1954. On the day of his ordination, Agboola baptized a group of forty-seven converts in the Kusa River, in Jos. He built two mission houses, one for the pastor and one for the primary school teachers. A multi-story building was also built for the children’s ministry, for Sunday school classes, and for worship. Through his untiring efforts, the gospel of Christ was taken to Hausa enclaves within the area for the first time. Places such as Sanke, Udei, and Guafon got to hear the gospel during his tenure. The church also had about eighteen visiting stations which later grew into organized churches, forming what was then called the “Plateau Association.”
Agboola left Jos for Ijaye in January of 1957. When he arrived, he discovered that the majority of the members of his congregation were students from the Baptist Women’s College and the Baptist Girls Modern School at Idi-Aba; other members were clerks and independent workers, most of whom were non-natives. Ijaye Baptist Church could have discouraged a weak pastor, as it was quite small when students were on holidays, but Agboola’s talent in visitation was a great asset which stabilized the church. He laid a solid foundation and subsequent ministers emulated him. The Ijaye Baptist Church remains one of the more prominent churches within the Nigerian Baptist Convention and it is one of its active financial supporters.
His selfless service was evident at Abeokuta. Every Sunday he was very active during Sunday school: he was fond of leading stray age groups to their respective classes, and visitors to classes that he thought they could benefit from. He was also a Baptist church training member and he took part in group discussion in his own union. He demonstrated great humility in church committee and council meetings. Whenever controversial points were discussed, he would suggest a line of thought and withdraw from discussion until the members arrived at a decision of their own, sometimes intervening when he felt they were going astray.
He was a fearless preacher whose voice rang out loud and clear in his powerful sermons. He denounced the evils occasioned by hypocrisy, by the lack of commitment in church activities, by worldliness, by a desire for wealth, by corruption, and by other unwholesome practices. His sermons often culminated in the salvation of sinners who were later made into sound disciples. His ministry remains an example for contemporary ministers to emulate.
Apart from his pastoral ministry, Agboola also served in other capacities within the Nigerian Baptist Convention. He was the chairman of the board of governors of the Baptist Boys High School in Abeokuta from 1958 to1971; adviser to the Abeokuta Baptist Association for five years; convention recording secretary in 1933, and vice president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention in 1951, 1955 and 1956; and member of the convention executive and convention ministerial board, for many years. He was unanimously elected president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention at its 56th annual session, which was held in Ogbomoso from April 26 to May 2, 1969.
Other aspects of his ministry
Agboola believed in the power of prayer, and he was able to recite Bible passages from memory. His memory was so vast and accurate that some people referred to him as the human Bible. He was also good at being on time, at respecting agreements, and at fulfilling all the promises he made. He was fond of saying “With my hat and umbrella handy, I can go any length on foot.” The words of Chief Akano Rufus Olayiwola also confirmed that Agboola was a shepherd who cared for his flock and would do anything to ensure their safety. Visitation was absolutely central to his pastoral work.
He abhorred and discouraged extravagant living and was one of the great religious and moral teachers of our time. His greatness rests primarily on his moral character, which was best exemplified in his religious teachings and practices. His positive influence on the lives of those around him cannot be quantified, and his life and teachings made a deep impression on people. He forged unity among the various Christian denominations at Jos and continued this in Abeokuta, becoming a close friend of the bishop of the Egba-Egbado Anglican diocese, the late Rt. Rev. J. S. Adeniyi, as well as of the late bishop Awosanya (African Church), and the late Rev. A. O. Orekoya (Methodist).
He believed in friendly association with all people, irrespective of their religious stance. That accounted in no small way for his success in converting an aged Oya worshipper in the Ijaye area of Abeokuta. The Oya worshipper was in his late years and was the leader and head of other worshippers. Agboola made frantic and untiring efforts to convert him, and he succeeded in doing so despite threats coming from fellow worshippers and the man’s family. The elderly man’s first day at the church was colorful and memorable, and one of his children, known as Baba Ojo, followed suit.
Agboola engaged in the propagation of Christianity not only at the state level, but also at the national and international levels. While living in Ibadan he took the gospel to Obada, Olodo, and Tapa Adawo, and a preaching station was built in each of those places. He also preached the gospel in Ghana, Togo, East Africa, Kenya, Poland, and America. Based on his brilliant performance in Poland in 1965 he was invited to return there in 1966, but he was unable to go because he and Rev. Latunde were involved in an accident while they were returning from one of the association meetings in Pala. In 1963, a city-wide evangelistic campaign in Saki was organized by all the various denominations. It was held from November 17 to 23, and a sermon he preached there touched the heart of his listeners spiritually, leading many to accept Christ as their savior. He was the sole interpreter for the 1960 Billy Graham evangelistic campaigns in Ibadan and Lagos that were organized by the Christian Council of Nigeria. Dr. Billy Graham remarked that Rev. E. O. Agboola was the best interpreter he had ever had.
In recognition of his meritorious services to the church, he received many commendations. In remembrance, numerous churches and schools named a school, a house, or a hall after him, and these included Nassarawa Baptist Church, Jos, and the Baptist Girls Secondary Modern School, Idi-Aba, in Abeokuta. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Baptist High School in Jos in 1961. A house was named after him at Ahmadu Bahago College, and in December of 1986, a church library named Agboola Library was opened at the First Baptist Church in Abeokuta.
Agboola retired from full time pastoral ministry in the late 1970s after a successful pastoral ministry at the First Baptist Church, Ijaye, in Abeokuta. His native town, Ogbomoso, was where he chose to spend the rest of his life. While there, he had time to fulfill his pastoral passion for visitation, a ministry he continued until he died on March 2, 1988.
Olufemi Oladeji Akano
The first child, Mrs. Dorcas Towomola Ladanu, was born on September 7, 1897. Her husband (now deceased), was the pastor of First Baptist Church, Ejigbo for several years. The second born, who was his brother, died later. The third child, Agboola, inherited all the physical and spiritual qualities of his father. His immediate younger sister, the fourth child of the family, was Mrs. Grace Olanihun Dairo, who was born on April 18, 1905. Her husband, the late Mr. Olanrewaju Dairo, was for many years the treasurer of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. The fifth child, Mrs. Joanah Mobola Ayorinde was born September 4, 1907. She was the president of the Women’s Missionary Union of the Nigerian Baptist Convention from 1948 to 1954. She was also the president of the Baptist WMU for Africa, from 1956 to 1967, and was in one of the first group of graduates to come from Idi-Aba Girls High School, Abeokuta, in December of 1925. She was married to Rev. Dr. J.T. Ayorinde, a prominent Baptist minister who functioned in various capacities within the Nigerian Baptist Convention and who was later to become the general secretary of the Convention. Mrs. Modupe Lafinhan, the sixth child and wife of the late Mr. E.O. Lafihan, was a former Baptist education administrative assistant for the Ogbomoso area. She was born on September 23, 1913. The last child, Mrs.Titilola Gbenro, was born on September 30, 1916. Her husband was a former Local Government education officer at Ikire via Ibadan, and a teacher at Ejigbo.
Miss Olatoun Agboola, who was born on September 28, 1925, is now Mrs. E.O. Ishola. Her husband was a railway official in Iddo, Lagos. On January 28, 1928, Olayinka, who became Mrs. O. Akintunde, was born. Miss Moji Agboola, who later became Mrs. F. M. Akinkunmi, was born January 15, 1931. Prof. Akinlawon Agboola, a formal medical doctor at the Island Maternity Hospital in Lagos, was born on May 12, 1934. Mosun Agboola, now Mrs. Winful, was born March 9, 1937. A son who died in infancy, Oladiran Agboola, was born May 23, 1945. Their youngest son, Mr. Olusola Agboola, a teacher at the Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta, was born October 19, 1949. In 2010, Olatunbosun gave information about the death of Mrs. Mojisola Akinkunmi. Also, Mr. Olusola Agboola died four months ago.
E. O. Agboola, “Rev. John Agboola” Jos, the Baptist church, undated.
R. O. A. Akano, interview by author, Oct. 2009, Ogbomoso.
Alice Babatunde, interview by author, Oct. 2009, Ogbomoso.
S. O. Omotoso, The Exemplary Pastor (Ibadan: Baptist Press, 1969).
G. B. Onalaja, Biography of Rev. Emmanuel Oladele Agboola (Abeokuta: Christ and Stars Society, 1988).
J. O. Opakunle, “Brother Agboola Takes the Gavel,” The Nigerian Baptist, Vol. 47.
N. D. Oyerinde, “Letter” [Ogbomoso: Round about Area], February 25, 1949.
——–, “Brother Agboola,” The Nigerian Baptist, Vol. XX, 1942.
I. N. Patterson, “Biography of Rev. John Agboola,” Ogbomoso, The Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, undated.
The Nigerian Women’s Missionary Union YearBook, Ibadan, 1948.
This article, received in 2010, was written by Olufemi Oladeji Akano, PhD candidate at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Leke Ogunewu, and the rev. Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.
Agboola, Emmanuel Oladele, Nigeria, Nigerian Baptist Convention