Alabi, Joseph Odetola

Nigerian Baptist Convention

Birth, Family Background and Early Childhood

The actual date of birth of Joseph Odetola Alabi is unknown because he was born at a time when dates of birth were actually not recorded in written form. However, his date of birth was given as 1917/1918. [1] His year of birth must have been in or around 1919 when the First World War ended. This conclusion is drawn from Alabi’s handwritten autobiography when he indicated inter allia that “in 1932, my father asked me to join these learners, i.e elementary school pupils, I was thirteen years old at that time.”[2] Therefore, if Alabi was thirteen years old in 1932, a remarkable year in his life, which he can recollect most vividly in an interview in 2004, then, the year of his birth was, most probably in 1919.

He was born into the family of Chief Odesola Falade Alabi of Olugbode’s Compound in Ola, near Ejigbo, in the present Osun State. From oral records which were later documented, Alabi was born during a period when Christian missionaries, the harbingers of Western Education, were just beginning to settle down to the business of evangelism, soul winning and Western civilization through education. At that time, in Ola his hometown, traditional religion was much in vogue. In his own memoirs, Alabi indicated that his parents informed him that he was born just as the global war was subsiding, and people taken to fight in the war were just returning home. [3]

From the information he personally supplied, the family of Alabi’s father was of royal ancestry. His ancestry has been traced to the famous Oba Okunlola, the sixth Olola of Ola, whose reign still lingers on in the memories of Ola indigenes. Actually, the period of that monarch marked a watershed in the history of Ola town. [4]

The enviable leadership qualities displayed by Oba Okunlola became a hereditary trait which manifested in the life of Chief Odesola Falade Alabi, a great hunter and an accomplished farmer. The birth of little Joseph Odetola into the royal family of that great Chief Odesola Alabi came after a few years of delay in child-bearing, after his marriage with Madam Esther Fatohun Alabi. The arrival of baby Odetola into the family was seen as an uncommon favor, as the parents saw in the little child a bundle of gifts and talents. By divine providence, the parents were converted into Christianity in 1920. Earlier in his days, Joseph had to accompany his father to the farm, as well as on hunting expeditions. But, it was their conversion to Christianity that enabled Joseph Alabi to have the rare privilege of being raised in a Baptist family. Also, the situation later provided the opportunity to have Odetola join the elementary school in a quest for Western education at Ola, Ejigbo and Ogbomoso.

Based on the fact that Christianity was just beginning to establish and take its roots in the indigenous communities in Nigeria, and had become associated with the new approaches in life, a childhood experience in some households, especially in Ola community, was having double moral influences - traditional moral culture and the Christian moral upbringing - on its inhabitants. Thus, little Joseph Odetola Alabi, like other children of his age, grew up within the context of two conflicting moral ideals.

His Educational Career

Joseph Odetola Alabi enrolled for his elementary education at the newly upgraded Baptist Primary Day School, Ola in 1932. Though the school was founded in 1928 by the Baptist Church Ola as a tool for missionary activities under the able leadership of the then presiding Pastor M. O Wuyi, it was in 1932 that the School enjoyed a new status. Hence, in 1934, the School became a government approved primary school for pupils up to standard three. The fact that young Joseph Odetola Alabi could be counted among the foundation pupils of Ola Baptist Primary School attests to the strong faith his parents had in God, and in the ability of the missionaries to help children become what God had ordained them to be. [5]

In 1937, an impressive episode occurred in the young Joseph’s primary education. That year, he had to leave for Ejigbo to continue his primary education. At that period, a pupil in Ola Baptist Primary School, like many other mission based primary schools, could only read to standard three. As such, all those who desired to read beyond that level had to find other schools—a situation which compelled many boys and girls to leave Ola for the nearest town or city to continue their primary school education. In the process, some children were forced to give up their education, most often based on the inability of parents to continue to finance their primary education.

Barely a year after moving to Ejigbo to continue his primary school education, young Joseph Alabi suffered a terrible loss. His father, Chief Odesola Falade Alabi, who had been sick for some months, died on May 24, 1938. Though very painful, however, Joseph did not allow the tragedy to disrupt his educational pursuits. He held himself together, and did his utmost to persevere in the struggle for academic achievement. That tragedy notwithstanding, Joseph performed brilliantly in his studies. Thus, he moved to Baptist Day School, Osupa in Ogbomoso, the nearest school allowed by the government to teach up to standard six, where he completed his primary school education in 1940. [6]

In 1940, upon completion of his primary education, Joseph went back to his hometown (Ola) to serve as a classroom teacher in his Alma Mater where he worked till 1943. Therefore, for Joseph, the end of his elementary education seemingly marked a transition from childhood to adulthood. After a year of teaching at Ola, Alabi was transferred to Baptist Primary School, Arigidi-Akoko where he also taught for two years. From 1944-45, he began to feel the burden of a call into pastoral ministry. The urge to leave secular teaching for pastoral ministry continued till 1946 when he took a decisive step to heed the call to serve in God’s vineyard. He also attended the famous Baptist Boys High School in Abeokuta between 1952 and 1955 where he was made the Senior Prefect. [7] His brilliant performance, coupled with his leadership qualities endeared Alabi to the hearts of the school Principal who recommended him for scholarship at the Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso.

Later, he went back to the Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso for the second time, and in 1958, he obtained a Bachelor of Theology (B.Th). As providence would have it, he travelled overseas for further studies, and in 1969, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Psychology from the Oklahoma Baptist University, USA. His pursuit of theological education was later crowned with the award of the degree of Master of Divinity from the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Missouri, USA. [8] While the opportunity of scholarship for overseas studies may be seen as a kind of reward for hard work and total dedication to God, Alabi himself saw it, actually, as preparation for greater challenges in the gospel work. He admitted that this heralded his “final step in preparing for the Gospel ministry.” [9]

His Ministerial Career

In 1946, Alabi gained admission into the Baptist Theological Seminary Ogbomoso, where he registered for a three-year course to obtain a Certificate in Theology. Given his brilliant performance in primary school, the natural leadership qualities he possessed, as well as his quest for knowledge, Alabi distinguished himself among his classmates. He wasted no time in mastering American pronunciation to the admiration of his classmates and the American lecturers.

During the period of his seminary training at Ogbomoso, Alabi served as student pastor at Ikoyi Baptist Church, Ikoyi via Ogbomoso in 1946. From 1947 to 1948, he also served as student pastor at Eleruwa Baptist Church. He completed his course at the Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso with a Certificate in Theology in 1948. By the beginning of the following year, Alabi began his full ministerial work at Baptist Church Pamo in the present day Kwara State.

In 1958, after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree at the Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, Alabi was invited to assume duties as pastor of First Baptist Church Minna, in the present day Niger State. Before that time, he was already a married man, full of vigor and very passionate for soul-winning and evangelistic activities. The date of his marriage was August 30, 1956. He resumed formally at the First Baptist Church Minna, on December 30, 1958, and he was inducted into the full pastorate of the church on January 4, 1959. Also, that very year, First Baptist Church Minna witnessed an epoch-making event when Alabi became the first pastor so to be ordained in the history of that church. Thus, he was ordained into full-time Gospel ministry in November 1959. During the period of his service as the church pastor, on February 13, 1965, Alabi ordained the first set of Deacons for the church. Actually, the First Baptist Church experienced lots of tremendous revolution as she was revitalized physically and spiritually. He faithfully served as pastor at First Baptist Church, Minna for eight years (1959-1967). [10]

During the years of his service in the pastorate of First Baptist Church Minna, Alabi’s influence was revolutionary in the church and outside. Apart from laying a solid foundation for the Sunday School Classes, the Women’s Missionary Union was also revitalized. The unique roles of his wife cannot be overlooked. The church played host to the annual session of the Northern Baptist Conference January 11-14, 1965. At various times, he served as Secretary or Moderator to a number of Associations, among which was the Niger Baptist Association from 1961 to 1967. He also served as member of NBC boards and committees.

On July 29, 1970, Alabi was called to the service of First Baptist Church Fiditi, in the present day Afijio Local Government Area of Oyo State. That was the third phase of his ministerial career, and the beginning of a new era upon obtaining the degree of Master of Divinity the U.S.A. Hence, he arrived at Fiditi with spiritual determination, discipline, and dedication for which he has ever been known. Before his arrival at this church, the level of development was very low because she was neck-deep in fierce divisive quarrels. Besides, the church was also spiritually “cold.” However, with Alabi just coming in fresh from America to Nigeria with a degree in sociology and psychology – veritable tools of human relations and management – added to his cap of theological expertise and spiritual zeal, his answer to the “Macedonian Call” from the First Baptist Church, Fiditi, [11] was a step in the right direction.

The spiritual and physical growth that the church experienced at Fiditi highlighted the dire need to have more hands to complement the efforts of the pastor. Thus, the machinery was set in motion to have more deacons to assist in the church work. At Fiditi, he was able to carry out some noteworthy projects. He built a new pastorium which was dedicated in December 1971. Also, the church land was surveyed in 1972 while the churchyard was fenced. He initiated the construction of an educational building for the convenience of school pupils. He also laid the foundation of Adegoke Memorial Baptist Church Fiditi as an outreach center for the First Baptist Church Fiditi. Through his uncompromising stand for the truth, he successfully achieved his mission of restoring the Church to its pride of place among Baptist churches, and “made the church respectable.” [12]

Alabi held many leadership positions such as Moderator of Bowen Baptist Association from 1973 to 1975, and Chairman, Western Nigerian Baptist Conference in 1972. The new position enabled him to automatically become a Member of the Executive Committee of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. The areas of coverage are Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, and Ekiti States. At the end of a successful and fulfilled pastorate at the First Baptist Church Fiditi, Alabi left Fiditi to assume pastorate of First Baptist Church Ilorin, in the present day Kwara State. That incident happened on December 31, 1974.

As was the case of First Baptist Church Fiditi, when Alabi was invited to assume the pastorate at First Baptist Church, Ilorin, it was another “Macedonian Call.” The invitation came to Alabi when the church was in dire need of an energetic, articulate, and dynamic God-fearing minister who could give spiritual and physical leadership to the people. Three years earlier, Revd L. A. Akinpelu had relocated from the church to Ekosin in 1971, and the leadership was shouldered by the deacons and a retired ordained minister, Revd Ayo Bello who served as the acting pastor for the church. [13]

Soon after Alabi felt the conviction to accept the invitation to the pastorate of FBC, Ilorin, he heeded the call and prepared for the challenges ahead. Thus, he assumed his duties in January 1975, and the church soon began to experience the needed rejuvenation. Prior to his arrival in Ilorin, church membership was just about 950 out of which 625 were regular in Sunday worship services. With the arrival of Alabi to the pastorate of FBC Ilorin, coupled with his unrelenting work, membership steadily rose up to 1500, with a strong and reliable 950 regular attendees in weekly services. The multiplying effect of the spiritual growth was indeed great as it led to rejuvenation in all facets of the church life. A realistic dimension was the raising up of “Men of Issachar Vision.” These are nine men and women who were ordained as deacon and deaconesses to help the pastor in his ministerial assignments. [14]

Having successfully ordained this set of deacons and deaconesses in 1975, the work began to grow in leaps and bounds. Thus, the FBC Ilorin swung into action and was able to establish five (5) preaching stations in quick succession. The preaching stations later metamorphosed into organized churches in Ilorin and its environs. The churches are Calvary, Ebenezer, Zion, Alafia-Oluwa and Ore-Ofe Baptist Churches. [15]

As can be expected, the numerical growth of Ilorin Baptist church automatically led to its financial growth. The situation led the church to embark on series of capital projects such as the renovation of the church pulpit, the construction of a new church pastorium, the construction of new educational building, and the purchase of twenty-five-seater (25) coaster bus to convey church members to evangelistic meetings, denominational conferences, and preaching stations in and outside Ilorin. Thus, in 1980, the purchase of the abovementioned vehicle tremendously increased the mission outlook of the church as it made possible the effective supervision of the newly founded preaching stations, such as those at Malete, Sharae, 2nd Lanwa, Kulende, and Sawmill areas of Ilorin. His tenure as church pastor also witnessed the purchase of an additional mini-bus for the Men’s Missionary Union (MMU) for evangelism, etc. [16]

During the period of his sojourn at Ilorin, Alabi related cordially with ministers of sister Baptist churches and other denominations. That spirit of Christian cooperation and unity lingered on throughout his ministry in that Islamic stronghold. For example, through the Ilorin Joint Baptist Mission which he chaired, he bought much land where he opened preaching stations that later metamorphosed into full-fledged Baptist churches. Among churches that benefitted from such laudable arrangement are Calvary Baptist Church, Alafia-Oluwa Baptist Church, Emmanuel Baptist Church, etc. [17] He also mobilized his church to participate fully in the activities of the Ilorin Union of Christian Churches, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and the Bible Society of Nigeria, Kwara State branch. [18] Thus, in recognition of his leadership qualities and wealth of experience, he was elected Chairman of Kwara Baptist Conference from 1978 to 1984; an Advisor to the same body from 1985 to 1986; Chairman of the Nigerian Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference from 1977 to 1979; and Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Kwara State Branch from 1978 to 1986. He was also a member of the Prisoners’ Welfare Association, Ilorin between 1978 and 1982. In all those positions, Alabi served with integrity of heart and purpose. It was while serving in the pastorate of FBC, Ilorin that he accepted a higher responsibility, namely to become the Assistant General Secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention in 1986, a position he held till December 1989 when he retired from active service after 48years of highly rewarding work in the service of God and humanity. [19]

His Career as the First Assistant General Secretary (AGS) of the NBC

The search for, and appointment of, an Assistant General Secretary (AGS), for the Nigerian Baptist Convention has a history of its own. From the record, the search had been on since the time of Rev. Dr. J. T. Ayorinde when the NBC felt the need for that Office. The committee headed by American missionary Dr. Paul Miller had strongly recommended the appointment of an AGS. It had become clear that as the chief executive of the Baptist church in the country the General Secretary needed somebody to assist him in the day-to-day administration. [20]

When Dr. S. T. Ola Akande became the General Secretary of the NBC, following the sudden demise of Dr. Emmanuel Dahunsi in a motor accident on January 30, 1979, the idea of selecting an AGS was, certainly, not his priority. Furthermore, the Executive Committee of NBC did not recognize the necessity of setting up a search committee to select one. Instead, the Executive Committee, more or less, merely gave him blanket authority to select whosoever he wanted. Meanwhile, Alabi’s appointment was by sheer providence, as he never sought the job, but God had prepared it for him. The story behind Alabi’s appointment was a long one, but it was presented to him thus: “The Lord sent me to invite you to be my Assistant General Secretary.” [21]

He was contacted in 1985, but he had to delay for many months before accepting the offer. After praying together with his wife and receiving conviction on the matter in September 1986, Alabi assumed office as the first AGS of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. The duties of the AGS, who is, normally an ordained minister, and who is directly responsible to the GS, are clearly spelled out in the Constitution and By-Laws of the NBC. They are as follows:

  1. To keep and furnish a register of Baptist workers according to their qualifications and salaries;
  2. To notify the churches, prior to each Convention, of the number of messengers to which they are entitled;
  3. To be a member of the Program Planning Committee;
  4. To represent the GS on any other Boards or Committees of the Convention as he may be directed by the General Secretary;
  5. To coordinate the activities of the clerical staff in the General Secretary’s office;
  6. To perform any other duties as the General Secretary may from time to time direct. [22]

In the history of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, Alabi is fondly remembered as one of the key players in the efforts at sustaining peace and progress. Thus, by his gift of intelligence and wealth of experience, Alabi was able to contribute immensely to the development and growth of the NBC during one of the critical phases in the Convention’s history. He acted well his part in calming down the prevailing tension and promoted peace in the Baptist body. [23]

His Marriage and Family Life

Alabi married Mrs. Adedoyin Alabi (nee Ejiwale) in December 1951. However, the marriage was short-lived as his wife died the following year. Naturally, it was a very painful experience in his life, the pain which lingered on for many years. After some years of mourning and gloom, Alabi summoned courage and accepted what had happened to him as being the will of God in his life. Later, he married Mrs. Lydia Adebisi Alabi on August 30, 1956. [24]

Mrs. Lydia Alabi soon proved to be a dutiful wife and mother. She won the admiration of everyone by her grace and good manners, accommodating nature, loving and kind spirit, and she was an industrious and loving companion. The marriage was fruitful and blessed with five children and twelve grandchildren, who all survived him by the grace of God. [25]


Sweet is the memory of the righteous. On Thursday, August 30, 2007, Joseph Odetola Alabi bade farewell to this world of sin, and joined the saints triumphant. His remains were committed to mother earth after a befitting burial service conducted at the First Baptist Church, Ola on Saturday, October 20, 2007.

Samuel Olugbenga Akintola


[1] S. A Ademola Ajayi &Paul K. Ugboajah, From Acorn to Oak: A Biography of Revd Joseph Odetola Alabi (Ibadan: Loud Book Publishers, 2005), 1.
[2] Ibid, 2.
[3] Ibid, 3.
[4] Samuel Olugbenga Akintola & Joel Olatunji Olatidoye, History of First Baptist Church, Ola-Ejigbo: 1910-2010 (Ibadan: D. Crown Ventures, 2010), 6.
[5] Ajayi & Ugboajah, From Acorn to Oak: A Biography of Revd Joseph Odetola Alabi, 18.
[6] Ibid, 20.
[7] Order of Service for the Glorious Exit of Rev, Joseph Odetola Alabi (1918-2007) Held at the First Baptist Church, Ola-Ejingbo, Osun State on October 20, 2007, 8.
[8] J. O. Alabi, “From Olla to Oklahoma (From Pit to Pinnacle): A Short Autobiography” (Unpublished), 4.
[9] Ajayi & Ugboajah, From Acorn to Oak: A Biography of Revd Joseph Odetola Alabi, 18. Ajayi & Ugboajah, From Acorn to Oak: A Biography of Revd Joseph Odetola Alabi, 46.
[10] Nine Decades of Glorious March FBC Minna: 1911-2001, 17.
[11] Ajayi &Ugboajah, From Acorn to Oak: A Biography of Revd Joseph Odetola Alabi, 58.
[12] First Baptist Church, Fiditi is 75 in 85 (1910-1985): A Diamond Jubilee Anniversary Brochure, 16.
[13] A Short History of First Baptist Church, Surulere, Ilorin: A 55th Anniversary Booklet, 10.
[14] “A Farewell Address to the Revd and Mrs. J.O. Alabi – First Baptist Church, Ilorin” on August 2, 1986, 2.
[15] Ajayi & Ugboajah, From Acorn to Oak: A Biography of Revd Joseph Odetola Alabi, 73.
[16] A 55th Anniversary Booklet, 12.
[17] Ibid, 2.
[18] Ajayi & Ugboajah, 75-76.
[19] Ibid, 76-77.
[20] Ibid, 78.
[21] Dr. J. T Ayorinde was the first Nigerian General Secretary of the NBC from 1963-1975. As submitted by Ajayi and Ugboajah (in From Acorn to Oak, 81), before becoming the GS, Ayorinde had initially served as Assistant General Secretary from 1962 to 1963, and he had in that capacity, understudied the incumbent GS, and subsequently, took over from him.
[22] This information is credited to Revd Dr. S. T. Ola Akande, the then Convention General Secretary, in his message at the retirement /appreciation service for Revd & Mrs. J.O Alabi at First Baptist Church, Idikan, Ibadan on Saturday, December 23, 1989. It was also captioned “News here and there: Appreciation/ Retirement service for first AGS” in The Nigerian Baptist, Vol. 68 No.3 (March 1990), 16.
[23] See the Constitution and By-Laws of the Nigerian Baptist Convention (Ibadan: Baptist Press, 1987), 11.
[24] Ajayi & Ugboajah, 90.
[25] Ibid, 94-95.
[26] “Biography of Rev. Joseph Odetola Alabi (1917-2007)” in Order of Service for the Glorious Exit of Rev. Joseph Odetola Alabi (1918-2007), 8.

This article, received in 2020, was written by Samuel Olugbenga Akintola, PhD, Lecturer and Head of Department of Biblical Studies, Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary. Michael A. Ogunewu, PhD, was project supervisor.