Joseph Abiodun Ilori was an outstanding Baptist minister, considered by many to be one of the most dynamic and versatile theological educators that the Nigerian Baptist Convention (NBC) has ever produced.
Early Life and Education
Joseph Abiodun Ilori was born on Friday, January 10, 1930 at Iwoye, Ede, in the present Osun state of Nigeria. From a young age, he was determined to make it through education. He recalled an instance in his life when one day his father took him to the farm and showed him a large parcel of land where he would be faming. Promptly, however, he rebuffed the offer, telling his father he preferred education to farming. With this unquenching appetite for education burning in him, he became an uninvited laborer to the Oyinbo (white missionary) at Camp Young, Ede. The Oyinbo noticed this uninvited laborer he did not employ working hard on the premises. There and then, the Oyinbo identified and recognized him by showing him the ladder to academic heights.
Illori’s quest for education took him through many institutions, both in Nigeria and overseas, including the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso (1954-1956 and 1965-1967), Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, and North Texas State University, Denton, Texas (1967-1970). He held several bachelor’s degrees, several masters, and a Ph.D in history and philosophy of education/religion (1975). 
Career and Experience
Abiodun Ilori served as pastor of several local Baptist churches and as a lecturer at Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary (NBTS). He was the dean of academic affairs from 1999 to 2003 and the president of the seminary from 2003 to 2008.  His tenure as the president was eventful. He labored intensely for re-accreditation of the NBTS diploma and degree programs as well as development and accreditation of all postgraduate programs—masters and doctorates. He maintained the affiliation of the BA program with University of Ibadan and initiated affiliation of postgraduate programs with the University of Jos. He led NBTS to become a member of international bodies, such as the International Council for Higher Education and Overseas Council International. He implemented the faculty development initiative of the Nigerian Baptist Convention for affiliation with Liverpool Hope University and the Baptist General Convention of Texas in the United States of America. Several faculty members benefited from post-doctoral development visits. 
Ilori worked as a consultant to the International Institute for Christian Studies (IICS), a USA-based organization, in affiliation with the University of Jos, on their Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) projects in Africa. He also worked regularly with ministries of education at state and federal levels in conducting seminars for teachers of CRK in both primary and secondary schools. He was once the president of the National Association of Bible Knowledge Teachers of Nigeria (NABKTN).
Within the secular realm, he served in many educational institutions both at home and abroad.  His achievement at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria is worthy of note. In 1984, the university approached the executive committee of the NBC about its intention to open a department of Christian religious studies, stipulating that the convention should provide a teacher to head the department and pay a salary for two years. This request was historic as there has never been such project in Christian religious education in the northern part of Nigeria, considering the predominantly Islamic nature of the environment. The then-general secretary of the NBC, Rev. (Dr.) Samuel Titilola Akande worked assiduously to fill this position. The teacher appointed to the university in 1985 to pioneer the department was Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori. Ilori launched into this pioneering work and achieved tremendous success. By the time he left the university in 1998, a period of thirteen years, the university was already offering a bachelor’s degree, a masters degree, and a doctor of philosophy in Christian education. His impact was not only felt in academia, but also in the spiritual and ecumenical domain. During his tenure, seventeen theological institutions across various church denominations became affiliated to the Department of Religious Studies of Ahmadu Bello University. These included institutions of the Baptist, Anglican, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Cherubim and Seraphim Churches.
For a considerable length of time, Africans have depended largely on western literature for theological training. However, Ilori made significant contributions to the production of theological education literature in West Africa in general and Nigeria in particular. He was the co-chairman of the International Council for Higher Education (ICHE); the chairman of ICHE West Africa and one of the initiators of the African Christian Textbooks (ACTs). Both ICHE and ACTs are projects initiated for the promotion of the writing of theological studies materials by Africans from the African perspective. Today many theologians and scholars in the field of theological studies, including teachers in theological institutions across Africa, are involved in the ICHE and ACTs book writing projects. These have assisted tremendously in making theological studies textbooks and materials available for use in theological seminaries and universities across Africa. For example, ICHE has produced some textbooks and is presently working on fifteen others, which were under the supervision of Ilori, before his demise. In the same vein, ACTs has produced many books in the field of theological and allied studies, which have facilitated the study and understanding of the various disciplines from the African perspective.
Ilori is also on the board of many organizations set up for the promotion of theological studies across Africa. He was a member of the board of directors of the International Association for the Promotion of Christian Higher Education (IAPCHE), and the Overseas Council International (OCI). The IAPCHE is an organization committed to pursuing higher education that is intentionally Christian, while the OCI is committed to providing support services for theological educational institutions around the world. He was also the chairman of the board of trustees of Sacred Earth Ministry, an organization committed to research, writing and dissemination of information on the preservation of the earth’s environment and its protection against degradation.
Similarly, Ilori contributed to the progress of education in Nigeria in African context. While he was the chief examiner for the national examination council (NECO), Nigerian educational standards were improved. Also, he used his position as the president of the National Association of Christian Educators to bring improvement and progress to education not only in Nigeria, but also in Africa. In the same vein, his positions as director of the Christian Religious Education Project of the International Institute for Christian Studies for the African continent and president of the Advisory Council of Overseas Council International boosted Christian higher education in African context.
A Scholar of Christian Education
Ilori was able to produce many publications despite his rigorous academic and pastoral schedule.  His books included the two volumes of Manual for Teachers of Christian Religious Knowledge in Junior Secondary Schools and Manual for Christian Religious Knowledge in Senior Secondary Schools for which he was the general editor. The two volumes, which cover a combined total of 844 pages, provide resource materials for CRK teachers for the understanding and teaching of lessons which are interesting, informative and reformative. Another book, Philosophy of Christian Education: An African Perspective, is quite popular among students of Christian education, especially in Nigeria.
Ilori’s emphasis on Christian religious education runs through his many publications. He declared categorically that “Christian education that is distinctively Christian must be Bible-based, Christ-centered, and life-applied.” In his view, Christian education should be differentiated from secular education in the sense that a Christian philosophy of education is based on the premises of “the creation of all things by a sovereign God, the fall of man and his world into sin and the regeneration of man and his world by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.” From this premise, he concludes that “the mark of any Christian institution of learning is not whether teachers are Christian, whether the Bible is read or taught, or chapel is held, but whether each subject in the curriculum is presented from the Creator’s perspective.
The importance of Ilori here is that while secular education is intended to provide the learner with knowledge of and insights into the secular world, Christian education attempts to link the learner with his creator. Consequently, Ilori recommended that governments should make the teaching, learning and application of the contents of religious education compulsory at all levels of our education institutions, recognizing that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. He said that Christian colleges and universities are expected to be barometers of the intellectual and spiritual climate of the church.
Ango, in his assessment of Ilori’s emphasis on Christian religious education, states: “He is unapologetically committed to an education that is integrated, both in terms of faith and knowledge, and in terms of interconnectivity of various disciplines. He is also outspoken in his championing of education that is contextualized to the African environment, though always having in mind the need for such education to be globally authentic.”
Serving his Hometown
His contributions to Iwoye, his hometown in Osun State, Nigeria, were enormous. In the words of Oluwole Oyebamiji, “Ilori without election or selection patiently became the Community leader of Iwoye. His acceptability to that effect was awesome. He so much loved Iwoye that even when he was in the United States of America, the plight of Iwoye in developmental terms occupied his psyche.” He almost singlehandedly rebuilt Iwoye Baptist Church, contributing more than 75% of the total funds expended on the renovation of the Church. He also held offices in many community associations. 
Joseph Abiodun Ilori died on October 3, 2014.
Tributes and Personal Qualities
In glowing tributes, many extolled the virtues of this great scholar and apostle of Christian education. Emiola Nihinlola, the incumbent president of NBTS and one who holds Ilori in high esteem as one of his mentors in his own tribute to the amiable professor has this to say:-
Reverend Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori touched many lives during his sojourn on earth. (…) …His ministry extended to the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Foursquare Gospel Church, Assemblies of God Church, Christ Apostolic Church and many more. He served God and humanity with every atom of energy in him. He raised, trained, equipped and involved other teachers and leaders.
Speaking further on the impact which Ilori made on his life Nihinlola says: “Dns B. A. McQueen made me an administrator, Professor Y. A. Obaje made me a systematic theologian, but Professor Ilori made me an educator.”.
Simon Kolawole, the rector of Baptist College of Theology in Oyo-Nigeria and chairman of the Pastors’ Fellowship of the Nigerian Baptist Convention described him as a pastor, an academic/theological educator, an educationist, a denominational and interdenominational leader; and a national and international figure According to Paul Kolawole, the president of the Osun Baptist Conference, he was a great man of faith who had been one of the greatest pillars and fathers of faith in the building of a glorious Osun Baptist Conference. He was a silent actor, a pillar and a mover behind the scene, a lover of leaders, a counselor, a peace lover, a man who believed in a proper working relationship between the members, deacons and pastors in all churches; a man who always loved to see the growth of the conference through her leaders and one who positively influenced and impact many lives.
Michael Adeleke Ogunewu
Oluwole Oyebamiji, “An Ode to a Patriarch: Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori” Tributes in Honour of Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori, 12
Full list: He attended Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomoso from 1954 to 1956 and 1964 to 1967 and Olivet Baptist High School in Oyo from 1960 to 1963, both in Nigeria. He also attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas from 1967 to 1970; Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and North Texas State University in Denton, Texas from 1970 to 1975. He has the following additional degrees to his credit: Bachelor of Theology,1967; a Bachelor of Arts (Education) in sociology of religion/history, 1969; a Master of Arts (Education) in sociology/history, 1970; a Master of Divinity in Biblical studies, 1971; a Master of Theology in Biblical studies/church history, 1974. Sources include David A. Adeniran, “The Profile and Contributions of Joseph Abiodun Ilori to the Development of Christian Higher Education in Africa”, in The Development of Christian Higher Education in Africa: Essay in Honour of Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori, 2014, 3
He was traveling pastor for the Ogbomoso Baptist Association (1957-1959). He served Alawusa Baptist Church in Oyo from 1960 to 61, Immanuel Baptist Church in Oyo from 1962 to 1963, Okelerin Baptist Church in Ogbomoso from 1964 to 1967, and Oore Ofe Baptist Church in, Zaria from 1984 to 1993).
In addition, he was a member of the National Executive Committee and the Program Planning Committee; president of Baptist People’s Fellowship, all of the Nigerian Baptist Convention and member of the governing council of the Baptist Seminary, Kaduna. He also served as adjunct professor to Evangelical Theological Seminary in Jos; West Africa Theological Seminary in Lagos; St. Francis of Assisi, an Anglican Seminary in Zaria; ECWA Seminary in Jos; Assemblies of God Seminary in Port Harcourt; and the Redeemed School of Missions in Ede. From April-November 2009, he was the principal of the Evangelical Seminary of Southern Africa (ESSA). He represented the Nigerian Baptist Convention on the governing board of Bowen University in Iwo from 2001 to 2003.
Source: Emiola Nihinlola, “Rev. Professor Joseph Ilori: A Tribute of Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso – Tributes, 28
S. P. Ango, “Joseph Abiodun Ilori,” in A Century of Nigerian Baptist Convention: A Call for Celebration and Renewals, Ogbomoso: Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, 2014, 323.
He was graduate assistant in African studies at North Texas State University from 1974 to 1975; senior education officer (SEO) for the Federal Ministry of Education in Lagos from 1975 to 1978; a senior teacher at Ilorin Teachers College (UPE) from 1975 to 1978; lecturer and head of the Department of Christian religious studies at Kwara State Polytechnic in Nigeria 1978-1980; deputy provost, dean, school of arts and social sciences, principal lecturer and head of the Department of Christian religious studies at Oyo (now Osun) State College of Education in Ila-Orangun, Nigeria from 1980 to 1984; and lecturer and head of the Department of Christian religious studies at Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria from 1985 to 1998. Source: Funeral Programme, Rev. Prof. Joseph Abiodun Ilori, 2014, 14
S. P. Ango, 324
Included in these are seventeen (17) journal articles, five (5) book publications, twenty-two (22) chapter contributions to books , and eleven (11) conferences and seminar papers. Funeral Programme, 15
S. P. Ango, 325
S. P. Ango, 325
S. P. Ango, 326
S. P. Ango, 327
Oluwole Oyebamiji, Tributes, 12
He was a member of the Zaria Rotary Club, from 1988to 2014; member and national officer of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) from 1990 to 2014; chairman of the National Committee on Christian Religious Studies Curriculum from 1982 to 1998; member of the Committee on War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in Egbedore Local Government, Osun state up to 2014. He was also a member and president of the National Association of Christian Educators of Nigeria (NACREN) from 1975 to 2014 and member of the Nigerian Association for the Study of Religions from 1984 to 2014.
Emiola Nihinlola, Tributes, 3, 29
Simon Kolawole, “Rev. Professor Joseph A. Ilori: A Tribute”, Tributes, 15
Paul O. Kolawole, “Osun Baptist Conference: Tribute in Honour of Late Rev’d Prof. Joseph Abiodun Ilori’, Tributes, 17
Adelani Adeyinka Akande, Family, Tribute to a Great Icon and Spiritual Giant – Rev. Prof. Joseph Abiodun Ilori, Tributes, 2014, 30-32
Adeniran, David A., “The Profile and Contributions of Joseph Abiodun Ilori to the Development of Christian Higher Education in Africa,” in The Development of Christian Higher Education in Africa: Essay in honour of Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori, 2014, 3
Ango, S. P., “Joseph Abiodun Ilori,” in A Century of Nigerian Baptist Convention: A Call for Celebration and Renewals. Ogbomoso: Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, 2014, 323
“Concise Biography of Reverend Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori,” Funeral Programme, 2014, 14
Ishola-Esan Helen, “Prof. J. A. Ilori: All in One,” Tributes, 2014, 29
Kolawole Simon, “Rev. Professor Joseph A. Ilori: A Tribute,” Tributes, 2014, 15
Kolawole, Paul, O., “Osun Baptist Conference: Tribute in Honour of Late Rev’d Prof. Joseph Abiodun Ilori,’ Tributes, 2014, 17
Nihinlola Emiola, “Rev. Professor Joseph Ilori: A Tribute of Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso,” Tributes, 2014, 28
Odiase Yeside, “More than a President – Reverend Professor J. A. Ilori,” Tributes, 2014, 29
Oladapo, John A., “To Die is Gain: A Tribute in Honour of Rev. Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori,” Tributes, 2014, 17
Oyebamiji Oluwole, “An Ode to a Patriarch: Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori,” Tributes in Honour of Professor Joseph Abiodun Ilori, 2014, 12
This article, received in 2016, was researched and written by Dr. Michael Adeleke**Ogunewu of Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Ogbomoso, Nigeria.**