Ayodele John Bello, popularly known and called Reverend Ayo Bello, was born in Minna-now known as Niger State–in Nigeria on February 26, 1919. His father was a Muslim and a hard working native authority policeman from Ilorin. His mother was an Egbira from Okaito in Kogi State, Nigeria.
Ayo Bello was exposed to western education through the missionaries who came to Ilorin. These missionaries influenced his life and won his interest in western education. Every member of the family opposed his going to school except his father who had traveled as a police officer and knew the value of education. Ayo Bello started his primary school education at St. Barnabas Primary School, Ilorin.
Through the influence of the Christian missionaries in the primary school, he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and, consequently, was baptized against his parents’ wishes. At the beginning things were difficult for him in his newfound religion due to persecution from his parents, siblings, and the community. Nevertheless his determination and love for his newfound faith compelled him to endure and he decided not to complain at any situation–a trait which turned out to be a great virtue later in life.
He finished his primary education and went on to do a certificate course at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, which he completed in 1944. His quest for knowledge then sent him to the famous Baptist Boys High School (BBHS), Abeokuta, where he graduated with the Cambridge School Certificate in 1947. He was granted exemption from London Matriculation in 1950. He obtained his bachelor degree in theology from the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, in 1950. This was a great help to his ministry down the road.
Ayo Bello was never a very ambitious man and he was content in whatever position he found himself. This quality helped him to practice his Christian faith in the midst of staunch Muslims where he was greatly oppressed. He gladly welcomed responsibilities and challenges and he was quietly effective in confronting them.
He married Miss Deborah Ayodele Akanni on December 28, 1950 and the marriage was blessed with many children, six of whom survived: Ayodeji, Foluke, Toyin, Ike, Kemi, and Funke. After training as a pastor, Ayo Bello worked in Ogbomoso, Ijero, Saki, Kafanchan, Kaduna and many other places.
Ayo Bello later decided to take another vocation alongside his ministry because he believed that his burdens and responsibilities should not be shouldered by the church alone. Consequently, because someone with a degree was needed in what was formerly called Northern Region of Nigeria he joined the civil service there because he had bachelor degree in theology. He worked in several parts of Nigeria including Lagos, Kafanchan, Kaduna, Jos, and Igbajo as a social worker.
He was a member of First Baptist Church, Kaduna, taking active part in evangelism. This qualified him as a church planter. Some of the churches he planted are: Alafia Oluwa Baptist Church Alafia-Oluwa Tudun-Wada Kaduna and Sabon-Rai Baptist Church Tudun-Wada Kaduna.
He passed through many difficult periods but he believed in quietly carrying his cross and trusting his God for solutions to his problems. It is said that he did not like inconveniencing people and that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for him to get angry, even if provoked. For example, Sir Ahmadu Bello wanted to make him a cabinet minister but the people of Ilorin opposed this because they did not want a Christian to represent them. This did not bother or anger Ayo Bello. He was later moved to the ministry of Social Welfare, which afforded him an opportunity to do post graduate studies at the University College Swansea in the United Kingdom where he was awarded a diploma in Social Welfare in 1963. With his theological background, the diploma in Social Welfare put him in good standing for a life of service to humanity, an opportunity he did not waste.
Influence on People
Ayo Bello hardly disciplined his children but left this responsibility to his wife, a disciplinarian, and a hardworking and resourceful person who filled this gap in the family. Even though he was not rich, his house was always bustling and everyone was welcome. His children scarcely believed it when they eventually found out that some of their “elder brothers and sisters” were not their father’s biological children.
As a social worker, he was very accommodating, loved a clean environment, and was very punctual. His children still believe that their father served his extended family to a fault because he sometimes denied his immediate family things just so he could help the needy, no matter who they were. He would go the extra mile to satisfy various religious and social groups.
Having learned the Hausa language, he was able to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the farthest reaches of the northern region. Despite the hostility of the people of Ilorin towards him because he was a Christian, he maintained close ties with his roots in Ilorin. His belief in fairness and his generosity endeared him to all. Consequently, on October 31, 1961 he was chosen as the first indigenous regional commissioner of the Boys Scouts’ Association for the Northern Region of Nigeria–a position he held until he was transferred to Ilorin in 1967 to become state commissioner at the creation of Kwara State.
In Kwara State, due to his prowess as an evangelist and a social worker, he held positions as chairman of the Family Planning Council, chairman of the Prisoner’s Welfare Association, and chairman of the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.). He was a member of the Nigerian Red Cross, Man O’ War Bay of Nigeria, and the Northern Nigeria Road Safety Council. All these offices he judiciously used to spread the Gospel. He won many converts because his life of giving and simplicity challenged people before he even shared the gospel with them. All his virtues bore fruit in evangelism.
After Ayo Bello retired from Kwara State Civil Services as the chief social welfare officer, since he was not tired, he continued to serve as a volunteer in several state organizations so that he could influence the life of others positively. He was in charge of First Baptist Church, Ilorin for several years and did not collect any pay for his services. Ayo Bello was a front line Christian in Ilorin and in recognition of his role, a church in Ilorin was named after him. The church goes by the name AyoBello Memorial Baptist Church Ilorin. He was the first indigene of Ilorin to become a Christian and a Baptist pastor. Everybody knew him or had heard of his contributions in Christian and social work circles in Ilorin and its environs.
His Last Days
In 1976 he had a stroke that forced him to cut back his activities. Despite this, he requested to be carried to church gatherings and social workers’ meetings. He later partially recovered and continued his work in the church and the community. Throughout this period of tribulation after the stroke, he never complained to God. However, he had a second stroke that affected his speech.
In 1978, after Ayo Bello’s eldest son’s marriage, a tragedy befell the family when his younger brother Deacon Musa Bello (a product of his Christian leadership), an “uncle” named Gordon Pool, and three children died in a car accident while returning from Ilorin to Kaduna. Ayo Bello’s eldest son, a new groom, had to bring five corpses home and break the news to his father. Children and siblings alike thought that this would cause Ayo Bello’s death and, in fact, an elderly pastor and some elders in the church had been called upon to be around him for this reason. Surprisingly though, in his usual calmness, he told them that what had happened was God’s will and that they should continue thanking God. He insisted that the new couple go on their already planned honeymoon. Two years later (1980) when the couple returned to Nigeria from America, they were surprised to find him alive though still suffering from the effects of his stroke. At that time he could no longer speak and he was suffering from the strain of it. The pressure of caring for him rested principally on his wife and children. He died on March 19, 1981, after the third attack at the age of 62.
The day he was buried, on March 28, 1981, many people testified to Ayo Bello’s life as a life well spent. Ilorin First Baptist Church’s big auditorium could not contain all the people who came. Many praised God, saying they would not have become anything in life if God had not created Rev. “Baba” (father) Ayo Bello. They recounted how he had influenced their lives, assisted them financially, counseled, and encouraged them at various times. Today, some of these people are lawyers, doctors, and engineers. Ayo Bello was buried in the church yard as a sign of respect and honor and in recognition of his contributions to Christianity and the church. Furthermore, the church contributed greatly to his burial both financially and morally. Even today his life is still a challenge to many people in Ilorin, including his children.
Olufemi Adubi Afuye
History collected from an interview by the author with Dr. Ayodeji Ayo Bello, November 2006.
“Profile of Late Rev. Ayo Bello” at the 25th Anniversary of “Baba” Rev. Ayo Bello’s Transition.
Dn T. F. Fakorede, interview by the author, November 2006.
This article, received in 2007, was researched and written by Rev. Olufemi Adubi Afuye while a student at Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, P.M.B 4008, Ogbomoso, under the supervision of Rev. Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.