David Ishola Olatayo was born June 23, 1916. He was a native of Oro-Ago in Ifelodun Local Government, Kwara State, Nigeria. He was the first child of a pastor of the Sudan Interior Mission (SIM), Benjamin Dosunmu Olatayo, who was married to Sarah Joni-Dada Olatayo. He received his primary school certificate in 1928 at Egbe (which was at that time in Kwara State but is presently Kogi State), and his diploma and Bachelor of Theology degree from the SIM Bible School at Igbaja, in 1941, an institution that is known today as “ECWA Theological Seminary, Igbaja.” He also received a Bachelor of Religious Education degree from an institution in Toronto, Canada. In 1991, because of his immense contributions to the Evangelical Church of West Africa, he received a Doctor of Divinity degree (D. D.), honoris causa, from ECWA Theological Seminary, and was called “the living Encyclopedia of ECWA,” and “the father of ECWA.”
His ministry and contributions
As a son of an SIM pastor, David Olatayo grew up within the SIM church (which was later changed to ECWA), where he had his salvation experience. He served in various capacities in the mission at an early stage, working as the secretary and as the conference interpreter for the nationals that were the representatives of the Agba Igbimo (Council) in what was then the Yoruba district of the Sudan Interior Mission, from 1945 to 1957. This Yoruba church council was comprised of the entire Yorubaland, from Jebba, south of the Niger, to the coast in Lagos. He was one of the nationals who made the observation that, unlike their white counterparts, African women were denied a mission representative at meetings. As a result, there was a protest which led to the end of the participation of women missionaries at the Agba Igbimo meetings. Following this protest, it was decided that national pastors should assume the mantle of leadership for the Igbimo. National pastors took up the chairmanship and secretariat of the meetings when the council was set up as a council of elected elders and pastors in 1947.
When the missionary who was the district superintendent exclaimed in Yoruba, “David Kini ti e gba yi e o ni le see fa. Mission ko si ni gba a pada lowo yin,” meaning, “David, this administrative role you people have assumed–you will not be able to run its affairs successfully; and when you fail, the mission will not resume this work,” David Olatayo responded, “Lagbara Olorun, a o le se,” meaning, “By the grace of God, we shall do it successfully.”
Furthermore, from 1950 to 1954, Olatayo was appointed to represent the Yoruba district in the “All-SIM Conference,” and when the ECWA constitution was being drafted, Olatayo and other national delegates opined that since the mission could neither ordain pastors nor hand over or transfer properties to unregistered churches, an immediate step should be taken to register the church with the government of Nigeria as the Evangelical Church of West Africa. He also took the bold step of urging the mission to speed up the registration process so as to stop the Anglican reverends in Offa (in Kwara State) from ridiculing them and calling them “teachers only.” He personally pursued this registration vigorously, and on June 11, 1956, the ECWA was officially recognized and registered by the Nigerian government under the leadership of governor general Sir James W. Robertson. The governor signed the certificate of incorporation (No. 415) under the land (perpetual succession) ordinance of West Africa (Cap. 107), and Olatayo was elected as the first ECWA president.
Olatayo was also an early contributor to the cause of religious freedom. When many delegates, especially from northern Nigeria, experienced a lack of freedom of worship in their various areas, Olatayo was one of those who suggested that a letter be written to all the Christian members in the House of Representatives in Lagos, to ask for and to push for the insertion of a clause on human rights in the new constitution of Nigeria. It was also resolved that a separate letter be sent to the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the premier of northern Nigeria at the time, inviting him to join the meeting of the SIM/ECWA which was to be held shortly at Jos, which he did. At his instigation, the SIM and the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) wrote a joint letter on April 20, 1955, which was presented to the civil secretary of the northern region of Nigeria that was still agitating for religious freedom for Christians.
He carried on this fight for religious tolerance during his tenure as the first ECWA president. Because of his initiative, the ECWA resolved not to join the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) as a member body, but agreed to have a working relationship with it, with the goal of having human rights and freedom of religion inserted in the Nigerian constitution. All these steps taken to ensure religious freedom eventually yielded some fruit, and religious freedom was eventually included in the nation’s constitutions.
David Olatayo also contributed to the education sector, serving ECWA as the first Nigerian manager of schools, during which time he helped to open many SIM/ECWA primary and post-primary institutions. In addition, he served as the general secretary of the board of governors of virtually all of these institutions of learning.
He also emerged as the first indigenous studio director of the African indigenous Christian radio station, Radio ELWA, Igbaja. In 1975, he was elected vice president of the executive committee of the Christian communications conference of the World Evangelical Fellowship (WEF), where he represented Africa.
More broadly, he wrote several books on the Christian faith: Christian Life and Marriage, Church Membership, Holy Wedlock, the Holy Spirit, Ministry through the Radio, the Christian and Politics, as well as some articles on baptism. He also authored a number of brochures and tracts.
He also served in the secular sector in several capacities: as a teacher, as a board member of the very first Kwara State school board, as a member and former chairman of the Igbomina East District Council and later ex-officio member of the Local Government Council of the former Igbomina/ Ekiti (North) division, Kwara State. In 1985 he was honored as an outstanding farmer by the National Agricultural and Commercial Bank (N.A.C.B). He was once elected president of the Kwara State Cooperate Federation (KCF), and was honored with a chieftain’s title as the “Asanlu Okeluworo” of Oro-Ago, in Kwara State.
Olatayo was the first president of the ECWA, (serving for three consecutive terms), the third ECWA general secretary, and the first full-time paid secretary, from 1958 to 1967. He was the first president of the Nigerian Evangelical Fellowship (NEF) and also served as its secretary. In addition, he served as the first president of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar (AEAM), as the second vice-president of the Bible Society of Nigeria at its inception in 1960, as an elected member of its national executive committee, and as a member of the board of trustees. He also served on the national committee of the Boys Brigade of Nigeria.
Olatayo, D. I. ECWA: The Root, Birth and Growth. Ilorin: Ocare Publications Ltd., 1993.
Martins Olatayo, interview by author, February 20, 2009.
Turaki, Yusufu. An Introduction to the History of SIM/ECWA in Nigeria 1893-1993. Jos: Yusufu Turaki, 1993.
De la Haye, Sophie. Tread Upon the Lion: The Story of Tommie Titcombe. Agincourt: Sudan Interior Mission, 1973.
This article was written by Pastor Salami, lecturer at ECWA Theological Seminary, Igbaja, Kwara State, Nigeria. It was edited and submitted by Rev. Dr. Samson Adetunji Fatokun, Senior Lecturer in Church History and Pentecostal Studies, Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, West Africa and DACB liaison coordinator.