Emmanuel Fadeji Ajayi was born in February 1909 at Fiditi via Oyo to Mr. Ajayi of Ile Ewere, Fiditi, and his second wife. He was given the name Fadeji because both of his parents were priests. A few months after his birth, Ajayi’s father died. Emman, as he was called, started training as a bata drummer (a traditional drummer) at the age of eight; at the age of ten he started training as an Ifa priest. At twelve Emman was already an accomplished drummer and a good student in his training for the priesthood.
Ajayi went to Lagos on three different occasions to see the world. He worked there as a houseboy hawking wares for eight months in 1921, then again for a time in 1923. In 1926 he worked as a laborer and houseboy for a couple of years in Lagos. During this time he was able to take some time to learn how to read and write. He later enrolled to train as a sanitary inspector, and graduated in 1930. His mother sent word for him to return home two months after he qualified as a sanitary inspector.
In 1928, while he was in Lagos, Ajayi converted to Christianity and was baptized in Ebenezer Baptist Church, Lagos, by Rev. D. L. Duvall; Pastor Bada was the church’s pastor.
On returning to Fiditi in 1930, Ajayi started learning carpentry since he could not secure an inter-provincial transfer to continue his job as a sanitary inspector. His carpentry training lasted for three and half years in Fiditi and one year in Ibadan. In late 1934 Ajayi returned to Fiditi.
Ajayi soon became a popular and prosperous carpenter, and so was able to finance his own wedding early in 1937. Ajayi married Miss Wuraola Ige of Ile Pepe Fiditi. He led his betrothed to Christ a year before their wedding and taught her how to read and write in Yoruba. Their marriage was blessed with two children, Esther Tinuola (Mrs. S. A. Oyeleru) and Samuel Olaniran. Wuraola was an inspiration and encouragement to her husband; she helped the family finances with petty trading, and later assisted the church ministry in her leadership of women.
Ajayi became interested in Sunday school training and teaching while in Lagos. Upon returning to Fiditi his interest in church activities increased and he was able to make more time for studying. He successfully finished his Standard Six in the evening school of the First Baptist Church, Fiditi. Ajayi held many offices and served on several committees at the church. From 1934 to 1937 Ajayi was the group captain and Bible readers’ leader in the Baptist Young People’s Union (BYPU), and from 1935 to 1937 he was assistant choirmaster under Mr. S. A. Lawoyin, who was then the day school headmaster, church organist, and choirmaster. From1937 to 1946 Ajayi served as the director of the BYPU (later changed to BTU); in 1973 Miss Isabella Moore awarded him Church Training Diploma from the BTU. While there, Ajayi developed the BTU from four to eight groups. Ajayi also served as choirmaster and lay preacher for the church between 1937 and 1946, and from 1934 to 1946 he served as a Sunday school teacher.
Ajayi received a call to the preaching ministry in 1943 through the counsel of Rev. J. C. Powell. This missionary gave him encouragement and training, supplying him with literature and giving him preaching assignments outside his own church. Rev. Tade Okediji, Rev. S. A. Ladipo, and Rev. J. F. Osoniyi also had great influence on Ajayi and encouraged him after his call to the ministry.
Ajayi suffered some set backs in his ministry due to lack of finances. He gained admission to the seminary in Ogbomoso both in 1945 and 1946 but could not go for lack of financial sponsorship. In March 1946 Ajayi finally left Fiditi for his first full time pastorate at Alagbon Baptist Church, twenty-one and half miles away from Kiyeseni.
While he was pastor, Ajayi oversaw many improvements to the church building, including: the plastering of the church building at Kiyeseni Baptist Church Physical Plant, 1959 to 1960; construction of a platform, 1962; the building of pews; the first painting, 1969; the re-plastering and second painting of the building, 1973; building a podium, 1965; building the ceiling of the church building, 1971; and the third painting, 1982. He led in the establishment of Kiyeseni Baptist School in 1985, and he tapped available resources to raise the school to primary level six and led the parent-teachers association to build more classrooms, pit latrines, and a dining shed.
Ajayi loved worship and prayed fervently; he always kept the doors of the church building open on Sundays and Wednesdays. Many times when the church members had gone home to Aawe for a ceremony, he, his wife, and two or three school children would be the only worshippers on a Sunday night or Wednesday. Ajayi was a caring pastor; he regularly visited all the villages where his church members lived.
In all of Ajayi’s twenty-four years in Kiyeseni, not a single year passed without people coming to the Lord. The beautiful tradition of a baptismal service on Thanksgiving Sunday was established and cherished by the church. He performed pastoral duties for the whole region, regularly visiting and offering help to the preaching stations throughout all villages around Kiyeseni. In 1960 Ajayi invited the nearby churches to an Easter Monday picnic, which became a yearly tradition, and was always concluded with an evangelistic service.
Ajayi was a man of integrity, highly respected and loved as a father by all pastors he worked with through the years. He worked as a full-time pastor for a total of thirty-six years and three months. Although he was poorly paid Ajayi never complained, even taking out loans with interest in order to send his children to school. In all of these experiences Ajayi was well-known for his heart full of gratitude for God. His favorite song in the Yoruba Baptist hymnal was “Nihin Mo j’alejo, orun ni le” (Here, I am a Stranger, Heaven is My Home), and his favorite Bible verse was the refrain of Psalm 107, “O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, for his wonderful works to the sons of men!”
Onifade Testimony O. O.
Rev. Dr. S. Ola Fadeji, former general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention and son of Rev. Emmanuel Ajayi, interviews by author.
Kiyeseni Baptist Church diary and minutes.
This article, received in 2008, was researched and written by Rev. Onifade Testimony O. O., student at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, Oyo State, Nigeria, under the supervision of Rev. Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.