The Most Revd Michael Akinyemi recently retired from the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion after serving the church for well over 30 years. He shares his experience with Church Times Nigeria chronicled how he left the Redeemed Christian Church of God to take up the challenge of working for the Lord in the Anglican Communion. Below are excerpts from the interview with the duo of Gbenga Osinaike and Tunji Oguntuase
It is gratifying that that the Lord has used you for His glory in the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion. Looking back what would you say informed your choice to be a priest particularly in the Anglican Communion?
The decision to be a priest was not mine. Before God spoke to me, there had been series of revelation by some other men of God telling me that God was going to use me in the Anglican Church. I never took those men of God serious because becoming a priest especially in the Anglican Church never crossed my mind. In the first place right from my primary school days I never had interest in Bible Knowledge as a subject. I had wanted to be a medical doctor or an engineer.
I was a science student. So when they kept telling me that I would be a priest it did not make sense to me. But situations surrounding me kept pointing to that reality that I would work in the Anglican Church. There was a time I attended Mount Taborrah at Ogere Remo in Ogun State. That was in the 60s. Then I was working with the Ministry of Agriculture. During ministration the man of God spotted me out of the massive crowd declaring that God wanted to use me.
So you also attended the Cherubim and Seraphim Church?
Well I had the grace of attending a few churches before I finally settled for the Anglican Church. I was originally in the Anglican Church and was a choir and was also a Sunday school teacher. At a point during my secondary days I got interested in the catholic way of worship. But my father did not want me to be a Catholic. But when I was out of home and was independent I lived in Ibadan. That was where I picked interest in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. I was one of the pioneer members of the Ibadan branch of the church. It started in my elder brother’s living room. The late Pastor Josiah Akindayomi, the founder of the RCCG was always coming from Lagos to teach us the Bible at the Ibadan branch. Then we used to come to Lagos for the church’s convention. I knew the founder of the RCCG very well. It was in RCCG I became born again in 1965.
But then I was working in Moore Plantation and I was posted to Ikenne. So whenever I was in Ikenne I would attend the C and S. But I never liked the idea of worshiping in the Anglican Church because then Ogboni fraternity people were in the Anglican Church and they did not hide their activities. So I never liked going to the Anglican Church. So rather than go to the Anglican Church in Ikenne I would go to the C and S to worship. That was where there was a prophecy that I would be used of God in the Anglican Church. But I did not take it serious. I was just content with serving God because by then I had become born again.
So people were telling you about God’s call in your life?
Yes people were telling me. But then it got to a point that God spoke to me directly about His plan to use me in the Anglican Church. When God spoke to me about it, I consulted with Pastor Akindayomi. But it was during that time there was a disagreement between Pastor Akindayomi and his deputy Pastor Adegboyega. They were arguing about the fifth commandment; whether to prostrate for an elder or not. One of them believed honouring father and mother entails prostrating for elders while the other did not. That led to a break up. Baba Adegboyega pulled out of the church and started the Elim Christian Church of God. The church is still in Ibadan. My uncle went with Baba Adegboyega. By that time I was not keen about joining either Baba Akindayomi or Baba Adegboyega because then I was convinced God wanted me to work in the Anglican Church.
But Baba Akindayomi encouraged me about my resolve to work in the Anglican Church having been convinced of God’s purpose for my life and he encouraged me to pray and fast about it. So I went to the Lord in prayers locked myself up for seven days. I was inside the room and was there for seven days without food without water waiting on God.
I did not go out. I started receiving revelations on what God wanted me to do and later went back to Baba Akindayomi who prayed for me and encouraged me to obey God’s voice. It was a time of great decision because I was worried about the Ogboni (cult) element and was asking God how I would cope in the church. So I went to my village parish priest who was glad to hear that I wanted to work in the Anglican Church.
Incidentally the very week I went to my village church was the time for the entrance exams to Vinning College, Akure. I was encouraged to write the exams; which I did and I returned back to Ikenne to resume my work. I was told that I passed but that they would not admit me because I was not recommended by any bishop.
The priest in the village ensured that I met the provost in Ibadan who gladly took me to Bishop Osanyin who just recommended me straight away. He did not ask me any question. Immediately he saw me he was glad. He promised to sponsor me throughout my stay in Vinning College and implored me to pack my things and resume in the school. That was how I became a seminary student.
The then Bishop Abiodun Adetiloye was at our graduation and he picked some of us to Ekiti. After spending about 6 months in Ekiti Adetiloye urged us to go to Emmanuel College. We were in Emmanuel College for another three years. That marked the end of my first major training to be a priest in the Anglican Church.
You never liked the Anglican Church. But here you are a priest in the Church. How did you cope with the initial shocks that you encountered in the church?
When I was at Vining College I did not have problem with the school; but with fellow student who liked to Lord over others particularly those who called themselves seniors. I did not allow them to push me round. When they were playing funny I brought it to the attention of the principal. I told them we were not in secondary school that they did not have a right to treat people anyhow. The irony was that those who were maltreating me then in Vining College became my junior at Emmanuel College. That really humbled them.
You never like Bible Knowledge. But here you have to do Bible knowledge. Was it such a difficult thing for you?
By then I had had my Advanced Level Certificate and Bible Knowledge was one of the subjects that I took. Amazingly I did very well.
You got born again in 1965. Did you exhibit an unusual zeal after your conversion?
As a young man after my conversion I went back home condemning many things my father did. But he made me succumb to Anglican Church when I travel home. But since God was the one who asked me to go to the Anglican Church I knew God wanted to use me to do something in the Church. All this while, I was a bachelor. I was struggling with life and I said I was not going to marry anybody until I graduated from the University. So I went to UI and read up to Master’s degree before I married. I married at 39.
But why were you so concerned about getting a degree before marriage?
I wanted to be financially independent. I wanted to do my marriage by myself. By then I was already a priest. The primate then, The Most Revd Timothy Olufosoye was like a father to me. I had issues with leaders of the church. But he was the stabilizing factor. He believed in me and encouraged me to do what I felt was right. I believe in missions, Bible study, Revival and deliverance ministration which many priests then did not welcome. But I was always at home with Baba Olufosoye because he did not have issues with such things.
Tell us about Olufosoye the then primate?
Baba and I were quite close. I went to him in a T shirt a day after our ordination. He was shocked to see me in T. Shirt. And he wondered why I dressed like that. I told him that I was coming to him as a son and that I see him as a father. I told him whenever we were in the church service he would be my bishop but outside the church service he would be a father to me. I said I wanted him to see me as his own son. He was shocked. He laughed and invited his wife to come and hear me. And that marked the beginning of a fruitful relationship with him. He was a very intelligent man. He was super. He had photographic brain. He was a father.
So how was it at the beginning of your service in the Anglican Church?
I was asked to man a church as a vicar when I was posted to be a priest. After the first four years I left for the university. That brought me closer to Baba Olufosoye. I got scholarship to study in Birminghan but the letter was not delivered to me. I went to the Bishop and expressed my mind to him. I felt bad that he did not allow the letter get to me. But amazingly he did not take it up with me. He eventually was the one who secured scholarship for me in the US and later sent me to the school he finished from in Canada. He paid for all the perceived wrongs. I was the first among my peers to be made a canon, archdeacon and then bishop.
Your relationship with him would have stirred jealousy among your peers?
Maybe it did. But I was not concerned about that. I was just concerned about pleasing God. I don’t know how I came about those promotions because I never lobbied for them. But I saw the hand of God working on my behalf.
You said the presence of the Ogboni people in the Anglican Church was the source of your hatred for the church. How then did you handle them when you became a priest?
I was hard on them. I had open confrontation with them. I remember when the father of the late Olu Onagoruwa died. He was the head of the Cooperative Bank then. He was very popular just like his son was popular. But he belonged to the Ogboni. So when he died, he was to be buried by the church. So at the service the Ogboni people came and wanted to enter the church with their regalia. When I saw them I was furious and I told them they should leave the place if they don’t want the fire of God to consume them. I shouted at them. And they were just wondering and looking at me because I was young and zealous for God. They did not hesitate. They left the place.
I did not spare them anywhere I saw them and did not care the repercussion. I was a curate then but I had boldness and believed that there was no way they could harm me. I also had confrontations with the witches and wizards when I was holding revival programmes across the churches.
You were perhaps one of the few evangelicals in the Anglican Church then?
Then we were few evangelicals in the Anglican Church but God helped us greatly. It was quite unfortunate that many priests joined the Ogboni cult. They felt there was nothing bad in it. The missionaries came with Freemason. But in Nigeria they do Ogboni fraternity. But I used to tell them that both Freemason and Ogboni are not right. I warned them against using the psalm as occult materials.
So would you say you are satisfied with the situation of the Anglican Church today?
I can say confidently that the Anglican Church has been stripped of the mess caused by the Ogboni Fraternity. But there are still some in the church that are still holding to it. It was really bad then. Priests and bishops did not hide their involvement in Ogboni. But today things have changed greatly.
RCCG laid a solid foundation for me. In those days it was a great delight listening to Pastor Akindayomi. He had excellent Bible teaching sessions. His interpretation of the scripture was super. If he was enlightened like Pastor Adeboye perhaps RCCG would have gone farther that it is today. He deserves to be given credit for the solid foundation he laid for the church. I was quite close to him and related with him so much. He was a great man. I still have some of the Bible study outlines of those days and still refer to them.
How did you receive the news when you were elected a Bishop?
When I was made a bishop I went to God and asked for his direction. I went to God to know why I was made bishop because Initially I wanted to turn the appointment down. I did not see anything about it. I believe it was going to cage me. But God encouraged me to take it and said to me that I would be able to do the work well.
When I got to my station I declared to them that I was a bishop on the move. I was the one leading revival in all the archdeaconry seats. I was doing that for a long time and that informed the turn-around in the area.
You are the pioneer Bishop of the Diocese of Igbomina. What is peculiar about Igbomina?
It is a diocese in the diaspora. They are more in the diaspora than at home. Except you go to them you can’t make anything. But we thank God I followed them up in Lagos. Almost two third of Igbomina people are in Lagos. They only come home on Christmas days. I try to bring them home. They don’t joke with Christmas. Many of them concentrate their investment in Lagos. Many of them are affluent and rich but they don’t come home. They build magnificent building in the village but they don’t come around.
What was your highest point as Bishop?
Do I have any highest point? I know I had hard times which I passed through. I was persecuted by my bosses but I can’t recall any high or low point. I am just content with pleasing God and doing his will. I take one day at a time.
You said you were persecuted by your bosses. But then you enjoyed rapid promotion. How did that happen?
Yes. That was God’s doing. They could not help it. My first Archdeaconry was a father. But there was one who was neither a father nor a tormentor. I was always being threatened with being reported to Primate Olufosoye but before he ever got to Olufosoye I would have reported myself. So when he goes to report me Baba Olufosoye would say leave this boy alone. There was another of my boss who insinuated I sent hired assassins to him. I confronted him and spoke harshly to him. I was just a priest then but I did not hide my feelings.
He addressed me as my son. But I fired back at him and said, “sorry I am not your son I used to be but now I have withdrawn from being your son.” What happened was that robbers came to his apartment . He was not at home. His wife was attacked. I risked my life and I took her to the hospital in the dead of the night. So I wondered why he would accuse me of sending hired assassins to him. I did not take the allegation kindly. At a point he was avoiding me. He refused to give me work in the cathedral. I was just processing in and processing out for months. People were now worried that they did not hear me speak. The usual meeting of priest which he was to supervise were cancelled because he did not want to see me. He was avoiding me but I told him I would not do anything until I meet him. I later had the opportunity of meeting him and poured my heart to him. That settled it. That was when I could relate with him very well. The problem is that I do not know how to bear grudges.
You were bishop and archbishop for 19 years. What did education do to you?
Education widened my horizon. My special area is Old testament. The Old Testament is the foundation. It is the basis for all the theology in the New Testament. Without the old there is no new. The first fruit teaching and some other elements that seem to be contentious in the church today are in the Old Testament. But they are not things that should be taught as a doctrine. I believe the first fruit should be a personal thing between an individual and God. It is not what you make a doctrine out of.
You are addressed as My Lord Bishop. How does that make you to feel?
Personally I do not subscribe to the idea of being addressed as Lord Bishop. Jesus is the only Lord. We are his servants. I don’t encourage it. But people will always address you as such. The term was borrowed from the Church of England because the priests were also members of the parliament. They had the house of commons and house of lords. The priests were members of the house of Lords so they were addressed as My Lord. But as I said I do not buy into it. Not everybody will understand. It sounds quite strange to the hearing. Jesus is the only Lord.