Charles Ajiro Jemiriye was the pioneer missionary of the Baptist mission work in Ekiti, Akoko, and Kabba Land. He was brought up and trained by European Christian missionaries like Harden, Hoffman, Johnson, and others. As early as 1888, Charles Jemiriye was prominent among the founding fathers of the Independent Native Baptist Church in Lagos. He was ordained by Dr. Mojola Agbebi in October of 1916 at the Araromi Baptist Church, Obalende, in Lagos. Long before that time, he had commenced active pastoral work in Igede Ekiti, where the First Baptist Church was founded at Odo-Uri, Igede, in 1901.
He was born in 1851. His father’s name was Jemiriye and his mother’s name was Famoreokun; both were natives of Igede Ekiti. He was very young when Oyo warriors waged war on, and ravaged Ado-Ekiti. He was the youngest of the three children of his mother. For a long time, the Oyos besieged Ado-Ekiti town and made it impossible for anybody to enter or leave the town. The battle with the Oyo from Ibadan was great, and there was no food or water for the inhabitants of Ado-Ekiti during the war. The situation was bad everywhere, and the town became woefully sad and lifeless.
During this time, Jemiriye’s mother was in hiding, and she kept her three children in the bush with her. With only one yam left, she fed her three children in their place of hiding, but the Ibadan warriors captured the town and carried them away, along with the other captives, all on the same day. Soon afterwards, they were separated because they were sold and taken to different places. The mother could no longer see her children and none of the children saw each other or their mother until after a reunion, in 1901.
“All things work together for them that love God…” (Rom. 8:28). That verse could apply to the life of Jemiriye, whose personal name was Ajiro. Before Ajiro was captured, the British government had enacted a law to abolish the slave trade. Police patrols on land and water were intensified, in order to arrest anyone found buying or selling slaves. Any slave dealer that was caught was heavily punished and his slaves were seized and liberated.
This is what happened to Jemiriye, but he could not return home because he was an infant, and he could not locate his people. He still felt the horrors of war, as they were so fresh in his memory, but he had no choice but to remain in a place where there was peace and quiet.
In the process, he came under the care of a British official who gave him everything he needed, and later handed him over to a missionary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) for care and education. The name of the missionary was bishop Tugwell. After a few years, he was entrusted to the care of another missionary named Harding, also of the CMS. He attended a Teacher Training Center and was successful in his examinations.
During that time, education was not limited to academic training alone. Having completed their academic courses, students still had to learn a special trade they were interested in. After the completion of his academic coursework, Jemiriye opted for tailoring. He learned to do this work very efficiently and understood it thoroughly. Having completed his period of training, he was asked to choose between clerical work and teaching, and he chose to be a teacher.
He took an appointment under the Church Missionary Society and worked profitably for the denomination. His work was so accomplished that he was sent to seminary for pastoral training. The dramatic story of his liberation from slavery spread far and wide, and an English Christian man wrote to the C.M.S. missionaries, offering to provide all of the needed funds for the boys’ training. This generous Englishman provided money for all of Jemiriye’s general and educational needs. When he became a worker, he changed his name from Ajiro to Famoreokun, his mother’s name. He was so young at the time that he did not remember his father’s name, as it had been too long since the Ibadan war caused him to be carried away from his home town.
The work undertaken by Famoreokun under the C.M.S. Mission gave him peace of mind. His work progressed, he was encouraged, and he advanced in it. Still, he often felt the necessity of visiting his hometown, the place from which he had earlier been captured and sold into slavery. This thought occupied his mind day and night, so he wrote to collect information concerning his people. He learned that his people were alive and at home. He did not learn who they were, but upon receiving this news, he set out one day on a visit to his hometown.
When Famoreokun appeared in Igede town there was great jubilation in the whole town. He was conducted to his home and his birth place, where his mother saw him. Old though she was, she jumped up and kissed him with great joy. She thanked God for the privilege of being able to see the face of her son once again. Immediately after the mother had ended her greetings, a man and a woman entered to greet Famoreokun. He discovered that they were his brother and sister, who had been captured along with him at the time of the Ibadan war. This great reunion of Famoreokun with his family was something that caused tremendous excitement and that would be remembered for a long time. His father had died before then, but he learned that his name had been Jemiriye, so he adopted Jemiriye as his surname.
The Beginning of Baptist mission work
After some years of service with the Anglican mission, he returned to settle in Igede, and on the first Sunday in April of 1901, he founded a Baptist Church in Igede Ekiti. Jemiriye was a skillful and learned missionary. He never took his new work of evangelism lightly, but did it with all his strength and thought, giving it a firm foundation.
Twice every Sunday, in the morning and in the evening, Sunday school was held. The work developed and grew wonderfully, and the believers increased in knowledge. The Bible studies were profound, and their minds were enriched with the true meaning of various doctrines. The pastor held Sunday school in very high esteem, and believed that without it, the church could not grow steadily and rightly, and that the members could not gain a sound knowledge of God’s word.
Although he was an Anglican while he was in Lagos, he later resolved to be a Baptist because of his love for Sunday school, which he had admired in the Baptist church. He was simply someone who was interested in exploring the truth and certainty of the scriptures, and he seemed to find this more in the Baptist denomination.
In 1902, one year after the founding of the Igede church, an attractive building was erected. In the same year, the church was placed under the supervision and management of the late Dr. Mojola Agbebi. Through the untiring efforts of Jemiriye, four members were sent to Lagos that year for baptism.
His challenges in life and ministry
In 1903 a great persecution arose against the church. The real agent of the unbelievers and of Satan was the C.M.S. catechist who was then at Ado-Ekiti. The main cause of this persecution was envy and jealousy, and this persecution was so great that its evil result was long felt in the community. The Christians in Igede suffered grievously: they were taken to Ado Ekiti, flogged, imprisoned, forced to pay large sums of money, and their houses were also burnt. It was the severity of this persecution that made Dr. Agbebi go to Igede for the first time in March of 1903, after the church was put under his care.
The satanic influence was so devastating that the king commanded Jemiriye to leave Igede, his hometown. In those days, things were not done according to the law or according to what was right, but according to the wishes of the powerful. The ones in power did whatever pleased them and their actions could not be called into question. One surprising and shameful thing about this persecution was that the quarrel was occurring between two groups that were each called “Christian.”
The setback for Christianity that was brought about by this persecution was felt not only among Baptists but also among other denominations. The unbelievers who were aware of the real cause of the fight remarked that the Christians had nothing good to offer if that was the extent of their love for each other.
It was with deep sorrow that he left, but he departed with the affirmation of his faith, knowing that the power of the devil would not prevail. His greatest sadness was that he would not longer have the opportunity to look after his newly established ministry. On the other hand, he was sustained by the conviction that the church was the Lord’s and that God would not desert His church. The second reason for his assurance was the belief that God rewards those who are prepared to suffer for his name’s sake. He left the town with courage and in the hope that he would eventually return to carry on his work at a time to be appointed by God.
He traveled to Owo town, where he applied to the government for work. He was asked to report to Benin City, and from there he was sent to Agbede town to open a government school and to head the teachers there, and to act in the capacity of town clerk. He did the two jobs successfully from 1903 to 1908, when he resigned from his appointment as the town clerk and concentrated on his work of teaching and administration. He was the headmaster and a skillful grade one teacher and he also successfully passed all the examinations required of teachers at that time.
Before the end of 1910, some of the members of the Baptist church he had founded, who had been driven away by the persecution that took place in 1903, began to reason for themselves. They saw the light and became free.
They broke away from the other denominations to which they had involuntarily been driven, gathered themselves, and pledged their loyalty to the Baptist Church. They then sent for Jemiriye, who was working as a teacher in Ekpoma, in Benin Province. First, he came to see the church and to observe the growth that had happened during the eight years of his exile. Soon after this, in 1910, he resigned his appointment with the government and returned home to his work of gospel ministry, finding that the number of believers had increased in spite of persecution.
Soon after his return, the work started to grow. He was in Igede from 1910 to 1925 and he started many churches: Ikogosi-Ekiti in 1911; Epe in 1916, Aramoko-Ekiti, Oke Ako, and Ipao in 1917; Arigidi-Akoko and Ipoti in 1920; and thereafter at Ado-Ekiti, Esure, Oke-Mesi, Efon-Alaaye, Osogbo, Ilesa, and Ife Area.
Having labored successfully in Ekiti for many years, he was transferred from Ekiti to another district in 1925. He then left Igede for Atijire, near Lagos, where he founded a Baptist church. He labored to found the church and built a school and a parsonage. Later in 1928, he moved from Atijire to Ijebu-Ife, where he visited Ijebu-Igbo, Igbogbo, Ijebu-Ode, and other neighboring places. He nurtured the Ijebu-Ife Baptist church and started a school there also. From Ijebu-Land, he came over to Ile-Ife, as he had been in contact with the Ile-Ife Baptist mission for a long time. His first visit to Ilare Baptist Church was in October of 1916, and he visited that church from time to time thereafter. But in 1933, he came to that church and stayed there until 1938, when he finally retired from active service to his hometown, in Igede Ekiti. From 1930 on, he was ill and he did not enjoy any respite from this illness until he died on June 6, 1941 at the age of 102.
As an educator, he founded many schools. In fact, everywhere he founded a Baptist church he always founded a school as well. Records show that Charles Jemiriye was the school master who started Owo Government School, in Owo. He also taught at Benin and Agbede, in Bendel State (1903 to 1910).
It is hard to find ministers who are as selfless as Jemiriye was. His spirit of devotion to duty and his endurance were unparalleled, and his patience and tactfulness was unsurpassed. He was a tireless and highly respected worker, a good leader who traveled widely. He brought Christianity and Western education to several places in Ekiti, Akoko, and Kabba Land, including his own hometown of Igede- Ekiti, where the Ekiti Baptist Boy’s High School still stands today as a testimony to his work. When the history of the Baptist Mission in Nigeria is written, the name of Charles Ajiro Jemiriye will be very prominently featured.
Moses Olakunle Olabiyi
Coker, Folarin. “Tribute to the Late Rev. Charles Ajiro Jemiriye” [in] “Faith, Courage, and Perseverance, Personified” (undated).
Fatunla, N.F. “History of Christian Missions in Igede-Ekiti.”
Fatunla, N.F. “A Short History of the Ekiti-Akoko Baptist Mission 1936.”
Fatunla, N.F. “A Short History of the Baptist Mission in Ekiti District, Nigeria.”
Report of the Ekiti Baptist Association churches, 1920.
This article, received in 2010, was written by Moses Olakunle Olabiyi, 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.
Jemiriye, Charles Ajiro, Nigeria, Nigerian Baptist Convention