Bishop Bola Odeleke has carried with her over the years the credential of being the first woman Bishop in Africa. She began her ministry work as far back as 1974
She also has the credential of being one of the earliest televangelists inNigeria. She was literarily being begged to come on air at no cost as far back as the early eighties. Her television programme: Agbara Olorun Kiibati (the power of God never fails) was a programme that touched many lives and homes.
By the time she began evangelical work, it was a novel thing to see a woman preach with her kind of fervor. It was not even common to see women mount the pulpit in churches nonetheless hold evangelistic crusades. One significant event in the early days of her ministry was when she lost one of her babies. Even at that she still preached at the crusade ground that same day she lost the baby. No other thing mattered to her but the expansion of the kingdom of God.
She became a household name when the Lord through her delivered a woman who had carried pregnancy for 38 years. Journalists literarily turned the crusade ground where the miracle happened to a news source as they reported there daily to record the incredible things God was doing.
Married to a General in the Nigerian Army, Bishop Odeleke however had to go through certain vicissitudes at different stages of her ministry. She lost her husband, who was a member of the then Provincial Ruling Council during the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida in a motor accident in 1990. That incident soon cast a shadow on her destiny as things never remained the same again.
Three years after the death of her husband, she married one Rev. Salau a member of her church. That decision to re-marry set tongues wagging. Some people believed she was going too far by re-marrying, some were disappointed and they literarily walked out of the church. She too soon found out that the man she had committed her life to do fit into the bill of the kind of person she would have loved to marry. She walked out of the relationship. But the need to fill the vacuum her husband left was there. And she thought another man would fill the gap. But she was wrong. She took another step and married a Rev. Pius. But years after, she came to a full realization that no man could step into the shoes of her late husband. She stepped out of the marriage again. Now, she has seen it all. She confessed in this interview that God had allowed her to go through these experiences, though painful, to prepare her for another round of ministry.
Now 61, Bishop Odeleke is committed to a life of evangelism and spreading of the good news. But the good news is that her focus in ministry now is more on the Christian character rather than the gift. In this no-holds-bar interview with Church Times, the Ibadan born African bishop tells hers story revealing how God called her and took her through the knitty gritty of ministry. Below are excerpts from the over one hour encounter:
By the time you started out as an evangelist, it was unthinkable that a woman would be involved in ministry work. Can you take us on an excursion of how the whole thing about ministry work started?
This is one question I have had to answer over and over again. But I love to answer it because my calling is unique and I remember very well the circumstances that led me to ministry work.
The whole thing started in 1974 when I obeyed the Lord’s instruction to go on dry fasting for three days. Actually the command to embark on this fasting started in 1971 but I heeded the call in 1974. I was wondering how I would survive without food for three days. It was a great concern for me. But when I started the fasting and praying programme, I saw God move in a way that I never expected. I saw so many revelations and got so many instructions from heaven. Many of what the Lord told me then are still being used in the ministry today.
But the whole idea of mission work was precipitated by an experience on the second day of the three day fast. It was in the evening. I was sitting down and meditating when I suddenly felt a cooling sensation on my forehead. I thought it was water but when I touched it I discovered it was oil. I began to fidget immediately I discovered oil was on my forehead. The oil was literarily oozing from my forehead and I could feel the presence of God. When that happened I ran to Prophet Timothy Obadare’s church with the hope of sharing my experience with him but was told he was not around. Another prophet in the church attended to me and tried to calm me down. He said God had already revealed to them that a woman would be raised who will proclaim the word of God. He said the late Ayodele Babalola had already predicted that a woman would be used mightily of God.
So my going to him was like a confirmation of what God had already said. I told the man all that I had been seeing because in those days it was unthinkable for a woman to mount the pulpit. So, he calmed me down and I went back to continue my praying and fasting. The following day I was sitting with my first two children and found myself in a trance…
Were you married then?
Yes I was married. I got married in 1970 to 2nd Lt. Lasun Odeleke who died as a General in the Nigerian Army. We were together throughout until his death. He was a great husband. So, back to my initial experience as I was saying, my children were with me and suddenly I saw the door which was locked with key open on its own. I was literarily shaking in my bed. It was around 5 am in the morning. As the door opened, somebody walked in. I could only see the leg side of the person and he walked in and said to me, I have come to congratulate you. He now began to talk to me about my calling. He gave me three things. He gave me a bell but it was in the trance. As he handed over the bell to me, it entered inside of me and the man said to me that anywhere I rang the bell that God would do great things. He also gave me a bible and instructed me to preach the word and then a bottle of water which he asked me to heal the sick with. All these things were done in the trance. After leaving me with the instructions he walked away. I could not even say anything to the person.
I could not hold it. The experience was just too much for me. By then my husband had just been posted to Kaduna . I was the only one and the children at home. We were preparing to go and meet him in Kaduna . But then as I was planning that the Lord spoke to me. I hear audible voice when God speaks. He said to me that I should go to Oke-Itura. That was Prophet Obadare’s church. He said there was a woman who had been tied down in the church that I should go and release the woman. Upon hearing that instruction, I was happy because I saw it as an opportunity for God to prove Himself. So I ran to the church. I remember going there in my night wear and as soon as I got there I saw the lady who had been tied down. I walked up to her but before then some of the leaders in the church had warned me not to move near the lady that she was very violent. But that didn’t stop me. I walked towards her and commanded the spirit holding her bound to lose in Jesus name. Immediately she was delivered. That was the first miracle that God wrought through me.
What were you doing then for a living?
I was selling cloths. I had two boutiques then. But apart from that I used to preach around very early in the morning. It never occurred to me that I would be a preacher of the gospel in the sense that I later found myself. The challenge I had then was that there was no woman doing the kind of thing I was doing so there were no women to confide in. The people around me were men. When I later had the opportunity of meeting with Prophet Obadare and shared my experiences with him, he was happy and he encouraged me. I later traveled to Kaduna to meet my husband and shared all the experiences I have been having. He advised that we should see the General Evangelist of CAC in Kaduna and seek counsel. I agreed and we went to meet the man. But rather than encourage me the man did all he could do to discourage me. He said, “You said God called you? Is the God white or black? How can you say God called you? He then went on to discourage my husband and specifically asked him not to allow me to go into ministry.
So what was the reaction of your husband?
My husband was quite supportive. I got to know my husband as a small girl. We grew up together in the same area before he went to the Defence Academy and we later got married. So when I shared my experiences with him he was just wondering and asking for the role he would play in the ministry. I used to tell him jokingly that he should go and ask God. On our way home after the evangelist had discouraged me from doing what God had asked me to do the Lord spoke to me and said He had not ask me to go to the man. As a matter of fact God was already speaking to me as soon as we got to the man’s place that He never asked me to seek his counsel. As we were going home, the Lord spoke again and said I should go and conduct a revival programme in that same church where I was rejected. I was in a conversion with the Holy Spirit and my husband was by my side. He was really worried and said I was talking to myself. By that time I was lost in the conversation that I did not even realize I was talking aloud. As soon as I told him I would be going back to the church for a revival programme he just exclaimed and said, now I know that something must be wrong somewhere. He said how could I go and hold a revival programme where I had just been rejected. But as God would have it things took a new turn the following day.
The man who had rejected us came praising me and asking me to pray for him. He said he had an encounter with an angel immediately we left and that the angel was hard on him. He said the angel pulled his tongue and wiped it saying he never asked him to deliver the message he gave me. His mouth was already swollen by the time he got to me. I got water prayed into him and asked him to drink it. He was healed immediately. We later got round to do revival in the touch and God moved in tremendous ways.
How did you come to Lagos?
Well, when my husband was transferred to Lagos I had to move with him. But the work of God had to go on. Somehow the Lord led me to CAC church in Yaba and I discussed with the pastor in charge of the branch. We printed the flyers for crusade and we started the work. In that church I was preaching everyday for three years. That was between 1980 and 1983. I preached in the morning hours between 9and 11 and also in the evening hour between 6 and 9pm. The miracles were awesome. Herbalists would come to the ground and submit their charms, many sick people were healed. The first miracle that the Lord wrought through me in Yaba was on a woman who had been pregnant for 38 years. But right at the programme she drank the water we had prayed on and immediately she was delivered of a monkey-like being. The following day it was the headline of many newspapers. Many journalists came to the scene that day and several days after to do a follow up on the story.
That event was what led to my television ministry. I was invited by NTA 10 to hold regular programmes without paying a kobo. They literarily came to beg me to come on air. By the time I started paying for my television programme on LTV I was paying N500 for several years. By that time we were not many and only a few of us used the electronic media.
But what was your husband doing all these while?
As I said earlier, he was always supporting me. He would source for the funds I used for the television programme and would take care of the kids. He did not allow me to go through any stress whatsoever on the home front. And he was always praying and fasting for me. He was an elder in the CAC church and she used all that was within his ability to promote God’s work in my life. By the time I go for a crusade and come back home I would meet him praying and fasting.
Were there times you were discouraged doing this work?
There was no discouragement at all because I was sold to the work. There was a time I lost one of my children and still went ahead to preach that same day. I put the baby in the car and drove to the crusade ground and placed the baby there. I carried on with the crusade and God performed a lot of wonders in the lives of people. But in my case He did not touch the dead baby. We had to bring the baby back home to be buried. But even at that I was not discouraged. It is a delight and a privilege to do the work of God. I’m praying that God will restore the kind of spirit we used in the work to the church in this present age. Many preachers today are thinking of gain rather than service. But then the zeal was all consuming.
So you were not discouraged?
I was not discouraged at all. But I would say I became discouraged when my husband died and I remarried and people started complaining. And I found out that people were only interested in being blessed through my ministry but were not interested in my happiness.
How did your husband die?
He was one of the members of the PRC and he was going to their meeting when he allegedly had an accident and died. It happened in Abuja . I had been leaning on him all my life. I saw him as a brother and a friend. When we were young he used to protect me from men and would warn boys around me to stay off. He was always telling me to face my studies that I should not allow any of those boys to touch me because if they did they would truncate my ambition of becoming a lawyer. I didn’t know he had an agenda to marry me. We later got married. He went to Nigeria Defence Academy while I was preparing to gain admission to the University of Ibadan . But that was not to be as we got married before the admission came. I leaned on him all my life until his death and there was a big void in my life. I thought getting married would solve the problem but it didn’t. But I became discouraged because making all kinds of uncomplimentary statements as if it was wrong for a widow to re-marry.
But we hear that Rev. Salau had already married before he came to you?
The marriage he had was an “arrangee” marriage so as to get visa in London . The marriage could not be sustained. But I soon discovered that my going to marry him was a wrong choice I made. I found out that he was just the wrong kind of person. He was stealing from me. He was involved in all kinds of atrocities. It was a shock to me because I thought a choir leader in a ministry would at least live a clean life. I was too trusting. I think that was my undoing.
And then you married Rev. Pius?
I married Rev. Pius because he was a pastor and I thought at least a pastor would be able to complement my ministry. But then I was wrong again. I found out that many of what we have today among some preachers is grammar, shining shoes, big English and glamour. Many are not deep in the word. I used to think a man that goes by the title of reverend will live a modest life. But when I married I saw something different from what they profess. I was carried away by his charisma. I did not know the details about his life. I was only relating with him based on the pulpit. He was in Akure and I was in Lagos . And I thought that marrying him would help complement my ministry work. What I have learnt from that is that emphasis should be placed more on character than charisma. Many new generation pastors are carried away by charisma. But I have come to realize that it is not the gifting that matters but the fruit. Anybody can preach and do it very well; but what about the fruit?
But how could you have married a man you did not know very well?
You don’t really know somebody until you live with the person. What you see on the pulpit sometimes could be deceptive.
What we hear is Rev. Pius was already married and you knew that he was married and still went ahead to marry him?
That is bullshit. I knew he was supposed to be married and I invited the lady she was married to confirm before I took the step and the lady said she had nothing to do with him again. I invited the lady in the presence of many other people and she said she had nothing with him. That was what emboldened me to go into the relationship. But again it was a bad choice. I have seen the extremes. I have since come to the realization that it is not by force to marry. That is why I have decided to stay alone
Well ma, we will like to congratulate you for this courageous step. But how did your ministry fare during all these experiences?
Well the church broke and many people left. And the media did not help matters. I used to tell journalists that they did not make me and they will not de-make me. My joy is that many of those who left are now coming back. Things are changing and God is taking me somewhere.
But what will you say has kept you in ministry? One would have expected that you have packed it up with all that you have been through?
It is the Holy Spirit. Let your foundation be strong. My foundation is Jesus Christ. I was trained in my dream by God and by experience. That is enough to keep me. And that is what has been keeping me. There are areas that I could have done better though. I was telling somebody that if I knew what I know now in those days, my ministry would have come out better. But I still thank God for where He is taking me and what He has done through me.
On the issue of the men that came to your life after your husband’s death, one would have thought you have learnt your lesson from the first man before making another mistake?
Well as I said it was error of judgment on my part. And I have since learnt some lessons. Now I know that if intending couples ask me to pray for them and I see that there are children between them that should not make me say they should go ahead. One should look at other factors. The man may be able to father a child but be may be lacking in character and which is the key in any relationship. But beyond that marriage is like trading in the dark. Until you handle and experience what you buy in the dark you may not be able to know what it is made of. Above all, we need more of God’s grace and mercy in the choices we make. All I saw in Pius was the ministry gift not the character. I was looking for somebody who will complement my ministry but he was just the wrong person.
You said earlier that Rev. Salau was stealing from you. How is it possible for your husband to steal from you?
He stole my money and property. He was my husband and he had his signature on my account. This same man would drain my account behind me to give to other women. He used my name to source for funds and took loans from the bank. My son was in England and he was telling me all these. There was a time he took me to the airport while coming to Nigeria from London only for him to take another woman to the bank and got the woman to impersonate me so he could collect loan from the bank. He committed many other atrocities that were unthinkable of somebody who calls himself a servant of God.
So you were just a victim?
Yes, I was a victim of circumstances. But I now know better.
Would you say you have any regret for any of the actions that you have taken so far?
I used to say I regret but God cautioned me. I also used to say I made mistakes and God told me they were not mistakes but experiences. I was the one who told God I needed a man and I got what I wanted. The lesson I have learnt from that is that if I want to ask for anything from God I will ask in a more precise way. My late husband cannot come back again. But what I have been through have toughened me. Now if I have to talk to widows I will tell them never to think of remarriage until they have finished mourning their husbands and that could take several years. The problem I had was that I was looking for somebody like my late husband and couldn’t just find that person.
But at what point did it occur to you to walk out of your last marriage?
It was after I have had enough experience. If you want to have 10 children nobody would tell you not to but when you think of your pocket you will restrain yourself. I simply found out that my relationships after my husband’s death were distractions from the major reason why I was born.
So what are your plans for the future of your ministry?
The Lord told me that in year 2011 He would bring two generations together. He gave me the story of the prodigal son. The senior brother had always been with the father but he refused to celebrate when his younger brother came back home. But God is asking me to begin a process whereby both the old and the new generation of believers would come to terms with certain truths. There is a need for the old generation to learn from the new and the new to tap from the experience of the old. We are doing a lot of mentorship and there are a lot of pastors submitting to me. The Lord said he would bring revival for His body this year. From this years we are going to be having crusades again. We are also involved in prison ministry and all kinds of evangelical efforts. I’m coming out strong and prepared for the task of evangelism and church growth.
Taking you back again to some of the experiences you had, would you say your upbringing contributed to your experiences later in life?
I was very close to my father and He was an organist in the church. I think I got the gift of singing from him. But I was closer to my grandmother because she was the one who brought me up. I used to be a tomboy when I was small. But my husband patiently took me by the hand and molded me. We got married and we were together all through and we were so close.
What are some of the profound miracles that God wrought through you?
I remember a mad man that God used me to heal. He was violent and used to break into walls. He was too fierce that he broke chains. When I approached him and prayed he was calm and he was healed. God healed him and he got his job back. Today the man is a pastor. I don’t want to mention his name. There was also a time the Lord used me to raise the dead. It happened at the Anglican Church, Yemetu, Ibadan . It was a programme and the woman ran in with her dead baby. He was about 6 years. The parents were yelling and shouting. They just put him in front of the altar. When I saw that I started to move back and put down the microphone. I was afraid to even pray. And the Lord said to me return. I didn’t know what I was preaching. I just continued preaching. And not long after the child began to sneeze and came back to life. That was the first time God would raise a dead person in my meeting. I couldn’t get over the miracle for months. Even as I talk now I can still picture the image of the boy.
How did you become a bishop?
It was a council in Britain that made me Bishop. The Archbishop of Canterbury signed my certificate. The group that made me bishop are like the CAN in Nigeria . They go to House of Common in the UK . It was gazetted in the UK in 1999.
Experience preaching in UK ?
The first time I preached in UK in another church was in 1986 and it was a great experience.
What is it about this university controversy that your church is enmeshed in?
Don’t mind them O! they just want to give me scandal. I have a Bible College which metamorphosed from a Video Bible College which had been in existence since 1985. Recently somebody suggested to us that though it is a Bible College why don’t we call it Christ Message International University and affiliate it with LASU. And we wrote them in LASU and the whole process started before LASU had instructions from the NUC that they must not have out-campus again. And even when we were processing it was still Bible College . We are not teaching Science or any other course for that matter apart from the Bible. The people there are pastors in my church and some people from outside. Just one Saturday some people came in to the premises they thought the whole place is used for the Bible College and before we knew what was happening we were in the papers that government had closed down our university. If you look at the list of university government closed our name was not even there but I guess because the papers wanted to sell they put it in the headlines that they had closed down a university that did not exist in the first place because the affiliation thing was still being processed. Nobody wrote me from NUC and NUC did not even say in the report that they closed down our university. But the report says, NUC closes down Bishop Odeleke’s University. I find this very curious.
You would have been used to negative reports from the press?
It doesn’t bother me. And it doesn’t bother my members either.
You said earlier in the interview that some of your members left. What were precise things that happened that led to their exodus?
Two things happened. Some left because we used to be under CAC and since we pulled out of CAC they also left. Some people left because I re-married. When the papers now started to write all kinds of things about me, they also left.
But you still relate with those who have left?
Yes. As a matter of fact some of them are coming back.
Are there pastors you relate to as fathers in ministry even now?
Yes. Prophet Obadare is my father in ministry. Baba Durojaiye another father in ministry is dead, Idahosa and many others
How would you react to some unconfirmed reports that Prophet Obadare went to hell and saw Bimbo Odukoya there?
We were all surprised to hear that because we all knew Bimbo and we later found out that Obadare never at anytime had such experience. That is why we keep telling journalists do investigate their stories very well and do research before publishing anything. It is not fair on the people that we report when all that we report about them is false.