Lives of great men all remind us that we can take our lives sublime. And departing leave behind us footprints on the sand of time…
Palmer Ese Onoiovosa Ofuoku was born at Okorore, in Ethiope East Local Government Area, Delta State, on May 16, 1926, to Mr. And Mrs. Ofuoku Osagwu. He was the second of the ten children born into the family.
Like most of the people in his hometown of Okorore at that time, he probably would not have received any education but for his mentor, Rev. J. E. Aganbi, who encouraged him to go to school. He attended the Baptist primary school in Eku (now Aganbi Primary School), from 1936 to 1943, where he displayed a rare brilliance. His ambition to further his education and to become a lawyer earned him the nickname “Barrister” from his contemporaries. This ambition caught the attention of his mentor, who recommended his admission into the Government Teachers Primary College, Warri, Delta State, where he studied and obtained his Teachers Certificate Grade III (TC III). He later attended the Government Teachers College, Abraka, from 1950 to 1951, where he trained for the Teachers Certificate Grade II (TC II). Eager for more education, he enrolled in a correspondence course given by Bennett College, Sheffield, England, for mechanical engineering and draftsmanship.
He was converted in 1941 through the reading of a book entitled “The Way Made Plain,” written by Brooks, which was given to him by Dr. E. M. Howell. He was later baptized in the same year and became a member of First Baptist Church, Eku.
After finishing his training at the Teachers Primary College in Warri, he taught for a year (1948-1949) at the Baptist school in Oginibo before proceeding to the Government Teachers College. From 1952 to 1957, he held various positions: assistant headmaster, Nigerian Baptist Convention School, Eku; headmaster, Ovu Baptist School, Ovu; Baptist School, Warri, and Baptist Secondary Modern School, Eku (now Baptist High School) all in Delta State.
Ofuoku married Rebecca Otimeyin Aniboro Efekurhobo of Oginibo, in Ughievwen, Ughelli South Local Government Area of Delta State, on June 3, 1954. The marriage was blessed with five children, one boy and four girls, who are presently: Dr. Edit Ofuoku, Miss Juliet Ogheneruno Ofuoku, Mrs. Omonoro Ruby Wad Worth Jr., Markson Ofuoku, and Mrs. Nyerhovwo Sweet Aganbi Obarorakpo.
While serving as a teacher, he prepared for and passed the London University General Certificate of Education examination. Once again, the possession of this certificate ignited his desire to opt for law, but the demise of his mentor, Rev. J. E. Aganbi, who died on September 25, 1957, interrupted this wish. Aganbi had preached a long sermon on Sunday September 22, 1957, during which he challenged his audience, saying, “If I die, who would take my place?” His death three days later created a vacuum in the Baptist work in Eku and its environs. After the burial of Rev. J. E. Aganbi on September 28, 1957, a pulpit committee that included Ofuoku was set up to run the affairs of the church until a trained pastor could be called.
One night, Ofuoku went to meet with the chairman of the pulpit committee, Mr. Johnson Ukueku, to discuss the challenge that Aganbi had made. When he returned home that same night, he shared his ambition and ministerial calling with his wife Rebecca (née Aniboro), and she gave her approval. Later, Ofuoku resigned his teaching appointment and proceeded to the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, in 1959. He completed his studies at the seminary in 1963, obtaining a Bachelors degree in theology. He graduated with Rev. C. T. T. George and Rev. J. M. Enomate. In 1962, during his student days at the seminary, he served as a student pastor at Eastern Antioch Baptist Church, Ogbomoso.
On his return from Ogbomoso, he was called to pastor the Aganbi Memorial Baptist church in Eku, in 1963. He was ordained into the full-time gospel ministry in the following year, on November 29, 1964, along with four deacons and two deaconesses. While serving as pastor of Aganbi Memorial Baptist Church, Eku, he was also appointed chaplain of the Baptist Medical Centre, Eku, where he served from 1967 to 1968.
In 1968, Ofuoku went to the United States of America for further studies. In 1970, he graduated with a B.A. in history from California Baptist University in Riverside, California. He then entered Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in San Francisco for his M.div. studies, from 1970 to 1971. In that same academic year he was given a scholarship to work on his Doctor of Divinity degree, and he had begun these studies when a call came from home informing him that Rev. Ambromare, who had taken charge of the Aganbi Memorial Baptist Church in his absence, had signified his intention to leave the church to pursue higher education. This call from home weighed him down so much that he decided to abandon his doctoral program, and he returned home in 1971 to resume leadership of the Aganbi Memorial Baptist Church. As a result of Bible teaching and the introduction of adult education, the church grew during the years of his pastoral work. The educational program was so successful that members who had been through the process could teach Sunday school. Church planting was also embarked upon, and five churches were planted.
Between 1972 and 1996, while he was the pastor of that church, he also served as principal of the Baptist Pastors School that was located on the premises of the Nursing School in Eku. This school for pastors later became the Baptist Bible College and the Baptist College of Theology, and is the present Baptist Theological Seminary, Eku. He served as the first acting principal of the institution for about a year, and was later the principal for twenty-three years, for a total of twenty-four years of service. This service had initially come from an appointment made by the advisory board of the school on January 29, 1972.
In 1977, the Midwestern Baptist Conference began to think of having a permanent site for the College of Theology in Eku. They were hoping to move it from the hospital premises in Eku to Sapele, but Ofuoku had already purchased three parcels of land that enabled the school to remain in Eku, and the school was moved from the hospital premises to its present site in 1980.
At the Baptist College of Theology in Eku, Ofuoku left a legacy that, at least in part, qualified the institution for an upgrade to the present status of seminary. He oversaw the building of the chapel and the library complex, the administrative building, several classroom blocks, the staff quarters, and the student hostels. He also had a gigantic water bore drilled, and it served the seminary for years. In addition, it is said that he planted the flowers and all the fruit trees that are on the seminary campus. In 1996, Rev. Gold Anie preached the message at his retirement service, but even before then, the school had begun to admit students for the diploma program.
He was a pastor with great administrative ability and vision. A very intelligent man, he also had a great deal of wisdom, and he was very diplomatic in his relations with others. He was also very hardworking and versatile, and he had knowledge in many fields. In addition, he was good with the management of resources, and he knew how to avoid waste. He also taught theology and Biblical studies at the Bible College in Eku.
Moreover, Ofuoku served in different leadership positions at the three levels of the Nigerian Baptist Convention: Association, Conference and Convention. He was the first recording secretary of the Midwestern Baptist Conference, from 1963 to 1968. He also served as chairman of the Midwestern Baptist Conference, 1974-1980; of the Bendel Baptist Conference, from 1990 to 1993, and of the Delta State Baptist Conference, from 1993 to 1996. He was a moderator and advisor to the Eku Baptist Association for many years. At the Convention level, he was a mentor to the board of trustees and to the executive committee for many years.
He had a very good command of English and Urhobo, which enabled him to serve as a key figure and notable member of the interdenominational committee on the translation of the Bible into Urhobo. As the chairman of the committee and as an editor, he led the team in the translation exercises. To that end, he attended a linguistics conference in Cameroon in 1963.
Ofuoku taught the word of God with good diction and style, making use of rhymes, schemes, proverbs, and alliterations. He always illustrated his sermons with appropriate stories that were both precise and concise, and he would conclude with moral lessons that the congregation could “take home.” His favorite Bible verse was John 10:10. His hobbies were playing football, hunting, gardening, carpentry, and reading.
He died on May 10, 2005, after a brief illness, at the Baptist Medical Centre, Eku (now Eku Baptist Hospital), at the age of seventy-nine, and was buried on June 11, 2005.
Helen Ewena Olomu
Sweet Obarorakpo Aganbi (daughter), interview by author, November 6, 2009, Owhruwerhue, Warri.
Gold Okwuolise Anie, “Biographies of the Bridge Builders” in Seventy Years of Baptist Theological Education in the South of Nigeria: 1936-2006. Lagos: Functional Publishing Company, 2006.
Eward Anenene Boje, “Baptist History: Aganbi Memorial Baptist Church, Eku, Delta State” April, 26, 1967.
Funeral program for Rev. Palmer Ese Ofuoku (1926-2005), Aganbi Memorial Baptist Church, Eku, Delta State, June 11-12, 2005.
Isaac Eseoghene Ekpon, interview by author, November 4, 2009, Baptist Theological Seminary, Eku.
R. O. Ikpen, funeral oration read on behalf of the Baptist Theological Seminary, Eku, Delta State, on the occasion of the funeral service of Rev. P. E. Ofuoku, June 11, 2005.
P. E. O. Ofuoku, A History of Eku (part one). Lagos: Functional Publishing Company, 2004.
Rebecca Otimeyi Ofuoku (wife), interview by author, November 5, 2009, Eku.
Ordination program, Aganbi Memorial Baptist Church, Eku, Delta State, Nigeria, November 29, 1964.
Gideon O. Oyibo, address presented by the executive conference secretary, Delta State Baptist Conference, at the funeral service of Rev. P. E. Ofuoku, Aganbi Memorial Baptist Church, Eku, Delta State, June 11, 2005.
This story, received in 2010, was written by Mrs. Helen Ewena Olomu, a Ph.D. candidate, as part of an Interdepartmental Colloquium under the supervision of Dr. Michael L. Ogunewu at Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, and submitted by Dr. Deji I. Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.