Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Olubobokun, John

Anglican Communion (Church of Nigeria)

John Olubobokun is one of many Africans whose contributions to the expansion of Christianity have not received adequate attention. It is true that Isaac Babamuboni from Iyin Ekiti was noted for his major role in the evangelization of Ekitiland, yet two great men from the same town, Osewa [1] and Olubobokun [2], stand out among those who worked with Babamuboni.

John was born during the 1870’s to the Odofin’s family of Iyin Ekiti, in the present Ekiti state of Nigeria. No one is certain of the exact year of his birth. However, as he was a young man in his twenties at the arrival of Babamuboni in Iyin Ekiti in 1894, his birth was tentatively fixed during the 1870s.

Typical of those days, John did not receive a formal education. According to a reliable source [3], it was Babamuboni who taught him how to read and write. This exposure eventually had a positive impact on his life.

Babamuboni’s homecoming to Iyin Ekiti in 1893 [4] after he gained freedom from slavery in Ibadan brought John Olubobokun into contact with Christianity. However, his closeness with Mr. J. A. Sowumi, an envoy of the Church Missionary Society in 1895 [5], triggered commitment in Olubobokun. Sowumi was sent from Ibadan to Ado Ekiti en route Iyin Ekiti. [6] As Odofin Oshipe of Okelawe was accomodating, he gave Sowumi the opportunity to preach to the people on repentance. It is gathered that after delivering his sermon, Sowumi asked about the route to Ado Ekiti. To make the journey easier for him, Olubobokun, as a young servant (Omodeowa) [7] was mandated to lead Sowumi to Ewi’s palace in Ado Ekiti. There Sowumi reminded the king that his presence in Ado was to fulfill the promise made earlier by the CMS representatives–Rev. Johnson and Rev. Philips–who visited Ado Ekiti in December of 1894. [8]

Olubobokun was among the first converts to Christianity in Iyin Ekiti in 1896 [9] and the first to be baptized in 1901. [10] Interestingly, after his confirmation the following year at Emmanuel Anglican Church, Ado Ekiti, he was commissioned as the first lay reader [11] in the same church. He held this position until 1929 when his uncle, Odofin Osipe died and the people of Iyin Ekiti put pressure on him to fill the vacuum.

Travails as a young convert

Like the Christians of the early church, John Olubobokun faced some challenges after declaring himself for Christ.

In 1900, barely four years after his conversion, John was bitten by a poisonous snake one day around four in the afternoon. As was the custom for the people of his generation, the native doctors were contacted for medicine to neutralize the poison. None was favorably disposed to help simply because John had become a Christian. Their response was that “the God he serves should take care of him.” [12]

John was in pain for sixteen days before he received miraculous healing without applying any herbal medicine. This divine intervention built strong faith in John and in a few Christians in Iyin at that time. Even the heathen began to see that the God Babamuboni and Sowumi preached was superlatively powerful.

John Olubobokun also faced persecution initiated by an uncle. Spurious allegations ranging from laziness and hatred for idolatry (his father’s religion) were made against him. While the first allegation was generally based on the fact that Christians who observed Sunday as a day of rest were lazy people who dodged responsibility, the second allegation against John was not taken lightly. To his people, his vehement abandonment of idols was interpreted as an action against the family because idols were recognized harbingers of good fortunes to the family. [13] As a result, on June 27, 1900, at about four in the morning, John, as an adult, [14] was tied up, hands and legs, and was given a severe beating by members of his family–an action meant to deride him and make him turn against Christianity.

When public disgrace did not discourage John, his uncle came up with another story: John had to pay three pounds that his late father owed. His response to the allegation was that the inheritor of his father’s property–fourteen wives, ten children, and five slaves should not have brought up the issue of an insignificant loan. Later, John realized that the allegation was aimed at humiliating him for observing Sunday as a day of rest when he was not dead because it was the belief of non-Christians, at that time, that it is only the dead who do not work. [15] John therefore decided to take any work that would fetch him money in order to pay.

On August 17, 1901, John visited Catechist J. A. Sowumi in Ado Ekiti and told him of his desire to go to Ijebu (Ogun state) so he could get a job as a laborer in order to pay off the loan. To his dismay, Sowumi promised to lend him the three pounds with the agreement that John would serve him [16] for three years. John accepted.

Any time Sowumi was not around, Olubobokun would attend to people who came for prayer. Later, leading daily Morning Prayer was added to his responsibilities. No wonder that after his confirmation in 1902 by Bishop Philips John was given a license the same day to start practicing as the first lay reader at Emmanuel Anglican Church, Ado Ekiti.

Severe Persecution in Ado Ekiti

Reminiscent of the challenges faced by the early church in Rome, Christians in Ado Ekiti experienced severe persecution within the first decade of the arrival of Christianity in the land. Olubobokun’s case was more pathetic because as a teacher of the Word of God, he became vulnerable to various attacks from adherents of traditional religion.

In 1912, [17] adherents of traditional religion, against the orders of the king, Ewi Aladesanmi I of Ado Ekiti, descended on the Christians and began beating them publicly. On June 12, Esther Osunyemi was seriously beaten for refusing to give money to a masquerade. True to his name, the masquerade known as Abolohunku [18] stripped Esther naked. She ran to the mission house to report the case to Rev. Harding.

Rev. Harding’s appointment at Ilawe Ekiti prevented him from handling the case. Therefore, he delegated Olubobokun to follow the woman to the Ewi’s palace. On their way, the masquerade emerged from his hiding and attacked them. In order to implicate Olubobokun, the onlookers started shouting that he was the one beating the masquerade. This allegation was serious enough to accuse anyone before the king and the elders, because masquerades are believed to be custodians of the culture of the people–any attack on them is tantamount to breaking the cultural norms of the land and attracts severe punishment. The people released their anger on Olubobokun, using various items to beat him so that he fainted for a long period. He was then resuscitated and detained at the Ewi’s palace. The masquerade hit John on the head with an object, creating an enduring pain that he felt for the rest of his life. [19]

The news of this attack on the Christians spread to other towns and villages. When Rev. Harding arrived in Ado, he went straight to the palace to seek John’s release. When the king hesitated, Harding threatened him, saying that should Olubobokun die, the colonial government would intervene in the matter. [20] Consequently, even while the people were yelling at him, the Ewi reluctantly released Olubobokun to Rev. Harding who took him away for treatment. The pain Olubobokun felt from the attack confined him to bed for eight days before he could stand on his legs. It took him three months to regain enough strength for any domestic chores, farming activities or church programs.

Despite these various challenges, Olubobokun remained undaunted but focused on his spiritual activities until July of 1929 when he took the throne as the Odofin of Iyin Ekiti. It must be recorded that when the people of Iyin Ekiti were putting pressure on him to take up the position, John Olubobokun repeatedly told them that he would not participate in traditional practices that jeopardized his Christian convictions. The people accepted this condition before John ascended the throne.

Socio-Religious Legacy in Ekiti

In 1947, Olubobokun championed the relocation of Iyin Ekiti from its former segmented settlements (in Odoro, Okesale, Okotoro, and Okelawe) to its present site. [21] As he had received a revelation that suggested that a demonic covenant was plaguing the settlements that comprised Uyin, he advocated for the change of name from Uyin to Iyin in 1949. [22] Iyin means “the shout of joy day and night.” To authenticate his divine mandate, Olubobokun was the first to build a house and settle in the present Iyin Ekiti.

His divine mandate was also felt at Ado and Igbara Ekiti where he suggested the change of Ado to Ade (crown) and Igbara to Igbala (salvation) Ekiti. Though these communities declined his suggestion, about forty years later, the Anglican authority in Ekiti created Igbala Otun archdeaconry [23] which means “new salvation.”

John Olubobokun bequeathed a legacy of Christian standards not only to Iyin Ekiti but to Ekitiland in general. The fruit of such legacy began to show up in the emergence of many Christian Obas in Ekitiland who were determined not to comprise their faith with ungodly traditional practices. The latest of these was the present Oluyin of Iyin Ekiti, Oba (Justice) Ademola Ajakaiye, a staunch Anglican who decided to have his investiture ceremony done in the church (All Saints Anglican Church, Iyin Ekiti) in 2005, [24] rather than in the shrine located in the forest.


The attack on John Olubobokun might be connected with his relationship with Babamuboni (the apostle of Christianity in Ekitiland) who was from the same town. In 1896 Babamuboni instructed the Ewi to stop wearing his cap in church [25] as a mark of honor to the king of kings, an action the people of Ado Ekiti considered disrespectful, coming from an ordinary evangelist from Iyin Ekiti, a surburb in Ekitiland. It is therefore not far-reaching to think that John Olubobokun’s activities would be viewed with suspicion.

John Olubobokun, a pillar of Christianity in Iyin Ekiti and its environs, died on October 31, 1969.

S. M. Mepaiyeda


  1. Rotimi Omotoye, “The Contribution of Bishop Charles Philips to the Church, Political & Socio-Economic Life in Eastern Yorubaland (1877-1906),” Ph.D Thesis (Department of Religious Studies, U.I., 1999), p.124.

  2. J. O. Odofin, Iwe Itan Kukuru fun Igbati Oro Olorun de Ile Ekiti Ni 1895, published in 1959, p.7.

  3. Interview with Evangelist Olubobokun, Diocesan evangelist and lay reader, 74 years old, Iyin Ekiti, 2008.

  4. J. O. Odofin, op. cit.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid, p.11.

  8. P. A. Adebiyi, History of Christianity in Ekitiland (Lagos: CSS Ltd, 2003), p.47.

  9. J. O. Odofin, op. cit., p.20.

  10. Ibid.

  11. In the Anglican church’s setting, a lay reader or lay preacher assists the pastor by visiting members, reading the scriptural passages and occasionally by preaching the Word of God.

  12. Ibid, p.19

  13. Interview with Evangelist Olubobokun, op.cit.

  14. J. O. Olubokun, op.cit.

  15. Ibid, p.20.

  16. Such service in the vicarage (mission house) includes domestic chores, farming for the missionary, and assisting in tidying the church’s surrounding.

  17. J. O. Olubobokun, op.cit., p.15.

  18. Ibid.

  19. Ibid, pp.16-17.

  20. Interview with chief Dorcas Omotoba, 88 years, Oketoro, Iyin Ekiti, 2010.

  21. Ibid.

  22. J. O. Olubobokun op.cit.

  23. An archdeaconry is an area comprising many churches under a supervisor known as an archdeacon.. The area is carved out for administrative convenience in a diocese.

  24. Recorded in the log book of All Saints Anglican Church, Iyin Ekiti by Ven. Bode Otenaike, vicar in 2005.

  25. J. O. Olubobokun op.cit.

This article, received in 2011, was written by Ven. Dr. S. M. Mepaiyeda, Department of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan. 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.