By Gbenga Osinaike, Tunji Oguntuase and Sanmi Falobi
The story of The Rt. Rev. Peter Awelewa Adebiyi is one long script of trials, temptations, and triumphs. Starting from his birth till now, Adebiyi cuts the picture of the quintessential apostle of God who had to do battle at every stage in life.
He was in fact not given a chance to live. “I could faint up to seven times in a day when I was barely six months old and I did not enjoy the luxury of breast milk. To one of my brothers, I looked like a small rat that should be thrown away. To the glory of God, who alone knew my future, He restored me to life” he reflected in a piece published in The AVMCC Christian Outlook Dec/June 2013 edition.
Today, Adebiyi is not only healthy, he stands strong and ready to go many more years serving God. Born on April 27, 1943, to Chief Samuel Ogunmola and Madam Alice Fatinuwe Adebiyi, both of blessed memory, at Osi-Ekiti, Ekiti State young Adebiyi did not have the luxury of a sumptuous childhood. Indeed, he did not have the privilege of putting on a pair of shoes until he was 18.
But the unpleasant circumstances of his birth and childhood did not in any way affect his drive to be outstanding in life. His elder brother, Samuel recounted that Awelewa took his destiny in his hands one sunny afternoon as he refused to continue going to do farm work, a profession common to most indigenes of Osi Ekiti.
He rather chose to go to school. So when he was six he found his way to Saint Paul’s Nursery and Primary School Osi Ekiti, got registered in the school, and from there started to carve a niche for himself.
His educational pursuit saw him through many schools and colleges. He attended a secondary modern school, All Saints Teachers College, and then sat for the General Certificate of Education also known as GCE. He turned out to be the only one to pass the GCE exams in the entire Aramoko town in Ekiti in 1967. That feat saw him through higher schools starting from Emmanuel College of Theology where he first cut his teeth in theological training.
He obtained a diploma in Theology from the University of London and was adjudged the best in his set; a feat which earned him the college prize in New Testament Greek. He secured his first and second degrees in Religious studies in 1975 and 1981 respectively at the prestigious University of Ife now known as Obafemi Awolowo University. He did not look back until he bagged a Ph.D. in 1987 in Religious Studies in the same university; specializing in Church History.
But what attracted him to the priesthood? Richard Adefemi Ojo, one of his close friends said he had seen a vision that he was going to do God’s work. Then, Ojo used to call him a young pastor. But Adebiyi insists in several fora that he was initially reluctant to do the work of a priest. He had gone to an interview panel for admission into the priesthood at the instance of Late Vev. J.S.Oloniyo, the vicar of his church at that time.
He scaled the first hurdle reluctantly. But at the second stage of the interview when he was asked how he knew he had been called, he said, “By Revd Oloniyo” The interviewers laughed. And he was happy thanking God that at last he would not be admitted to priesthood and that would make him pursue his dream to be an academic. But that was not to be. He was selected as one of the postulants to Immanuel College in 1967. That was the beginning for Adebiyi. He also ran his academic programmes side by side with his priesthood.
He was ordained a deacon in1970 and then a priest in 1971. He started his career as a priest at the Holy Trinity Church of the Anglican Communion, Ilawe Ekiti. From that humble beginning, he went to several other parishes of the Anglican Church in and around Ekiti. He was preferred a canon in 1983 and was the vicar of Archbishop Vining Memorial Church, Ikeja between 1987 and May 1993. He was collated an archdeacon in 1990 and consecrated Bishop of Owo Diocese on May 26, 1993.
Apart from running a career in priesthood, Adebiyi carved a niche for himself as a successful teacher and university lecturer. Started as a primary school teacher, a house master, chaplain and then became a Vice Principal at one point at Babatope Memorial High School, Ikoro, Ekiti.
He served as a member of the board of governors of Oganganmodu Grammar School, Ido Ekiti between 1976 and 1980. He was the examining chaplain, Ekiti Anglican Diocese between 1980 and 1987, and lecturer both at the University of Ado Ekiti and Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos between 1983 and 1990. He was translated to the Diocese of Lagos West as the pioneer bishop on the 20th of November 1999. His successor at Owo said it is difficult to match his achievements in Owo
In Owo, Adebiyi’s footprints have remained indelible. His love for education saw him establish a secondary school during his tenure as Bishop of the diocese. He did not stop at that, it is great to note that he was the brain behind the Palm kernel plantation in the Owo diocese which has been a source of blessing to the diocese. The diocese still generates income from the plantation. His wife, Caroline has also been playing complementary roles. She was instrumental in the establishment of a vocational training centre that is a viable learning centre for those who want to pick up creative skills.
Adebiyi is reputed to have constructed a multipurpose shopping complex for the empowerment of women in the diocese. His tenure in Owo saw to the emergence of six new churches in addition to the existing ones and the establishment of an investment fund for the diocese. It is heartwarming to note that his passion for evangelism is phenomenal. The grace of God upon his life enabled him to see the diocese to a great height before his eventual translation to Diocese of Lagos West.
His impact in the diocese of Lagos West in the last 14 years is no doubt monumental. God used him to build the diocese from scratch to becoming the leading diocese in the church of Nigeria in terms of the number of parishes, asset base, and global impact. The number of churches rose to 300 from about 100 that he inherited. It is on record that the asset base of the church rose fromN500,000 when he assumed office to billions.
His concern for the health need of people saw to the establishment of an outstanding hospital. His concern for the priests working under him also saw to the establishment of a multipurpose thrift and credit society in the diocese.
On the political front, he helped to galvanise the diocese to be politically conscious with the introduction of political debate during elections. The highpoint of his achievements was perhaps the creation of two more dioceses from Lagos West.
Blessed with brilliant and wonderful children, Adebiyi’s commitment to family life is indeed quite unparallel. Some of his children though professionals in various fields have also taken to priesthood. His human relations have also been described by parishioners as unprecedented. He knows virtually all the over 300 priests working with him on a first-name basis and relates with them as father and sons.
What would you consider as the most trying time of your ministry?
There were several trying times but the one that readily comes to mind was when a parish under my diocese raised a kind of insurrection against the church. But that has been put behind us. In fact, the priest who was behind the problem has since come to apologise and he has been absolved back into the church. A lot of people have said I had no business forgiving the priest that he ought to have been sent out of the diocese. Indeed he caused much harm. The story was all over the place and my reputation and image were smeared. My children called from abroad that some of their white friends read the story on the internet and they came accusing them. When they described the whole scene, I just laughed.
You pardoned the priest who did that to you. What informed your attitude in this regard?
If you want to go to heaven, you will not allow anybody to stand in your way. My goal is to see God in glory. I have no time to harbour a grudge or keep malice. It is true that the man did not deserve to be forgiven, but the important thing is that he repented, saw his mistakes, and came apologizing. I was left with no option but to forgive. Since I don’t know when God will come I don’t want anything to prevent me from getting to heaven. That is why I put all my heart into what I’m doing There is the story of a man who went to heaven and came back because he had to reconcile with the person he offended on earth. But not everybody would have that opportunity.
But how did you solve crises in your years of service in God’s vineyard?
One of the things that helped me to solve crises is my desire to always have peace in my heart. When I was the Archdeacon AVMCC there were three priests that were not good. I fought for them and ensured that God used me to help them become what they are today. The two of the supposedly bad people are now archdeacons. It was only one of them that we could not be helped because it was his own wife that brought a letter that he was in the secret cult. We are still on the case.
To manage crises you don’t think of today but of tomorrow. We have to think of the effect on the church and try and manage the crisis so that it does not jeopardize the life of the church. When you don’t care about the future you cannot be a good leader. I don’t want my successor to have any crisis. I want him to have a safe landing. The diocese is too big for him to have a crisis. The first year of the work will be visitation that is why we had to make a last-minute transfer so that he would not have to be bogged down with the problem of transfer.
What would you say you have learnt from the over 300 priests in the diocese?
One of the things I learnt from them is that no two people are the same. They may have similarities but they are not the same. There are priests who may have crises in the churches you post them but if you take them to other parishes they will not have a problem. If for instance a priest is well educated and you put him in an environment where the parishioners are mostly illiterates, there is no way he will succeed in that place. He will be too high for them. But if you place him where people are educated then he will flow. I learn a lot from their sermons. When I sit under their sermons I pick a lot and apply it to my own life.
Have there been cases of priests resigning as a result of being posted to where they don’t like? And do they lobby for postings?
We never had such. If a priest comes and says he does not like where he had been posted that may be his exit from the diocese. There are cases where the priest would influence members to protest. If we see the reason why we should not transfer, we may change our mind. When I was working on the last transfer, I got some counsel from people and prayed about it. But as soon as a transfer is carried out, we try to stick to it. Nobody has ever lobbied me. But they go to people close to me and try to influence me but I don’t get carried away by that.
In what way has the diocese been of help to Anglican Churches outside Nigeria?
We assist churches in foreign lands and train priests for other countries. We have trained priests for Cameroun, Sudan, and East Africa. We assist dioceses outside like the missionary diocese of Trinity in Indianapolis.
Being the pioneer bishop of the Diocese of Lagos West, what would be your recommendations for the Church of Nigeria if it is to create a new diocese?
The church of Nigeria has created many dioceses in recent years. Some are not up to a church council area and some are not up to an archdeaconry in Lagos West. With that, we have thrown the bishops into the problem of funding and evangelism and a lot of them instead of growing are shrinking. I’m happy the primate said there will be a merging of dioceses in the future. There are some dioceses with 10 churches or less and there are no places they can expand to.
There are some bishops who say they are better off as archdeacons. If a diocese is to be created, they must look at the need for it and the number of dioceses. There must be a need. When the Diocese of Lagos west was to be created there was a need. The whole old Lagos diocese is now five dioceses. There is no way the diocese will not expand in the future. Here in the DLW, we have about 300 churches and we can build another 300. I was telling the new Bishop that there are many areas where we have to expand to. There are kilometers apart where Anglican Churches do not have a presence.
There is no need to create dioceses for the sake of it. There must also be an enabling opportunity. There must be an area for expansion and there must be the manpower that will make the whole thing viable. It is not fair to create dioceses where the members are overstretched.
Your comments would probably stop some from becoming bishops?
I was in Agbara oto in Delta State at the Ibru Centre and one of the Bishops stood up and said I did not want some people to become bishops. But about a year after one of the bishops said when he was archdeacon he was able to pay the school fees of his child but now that he is a bishop he could not. Many of them write us to give money from the Diocese of Lagos West and also pay the salary of their workers. There are hundreds of our priests that are not paid in the church of Nigeria and the primate has to set up a committee on how this thing can be ameliorated. Unfortunately, when some dioceses are created, some bishops ceded the poor part of their diocese to the new one.
Does that not call for redistribution of wealth among the churches?
Well, that may be considered but the issue is that there is no point in creating poor areas as dioceses. We are now working towards assisting such areas. It is a very tough thing and I hope and pray for the primate. When you are not paying priests the church cannot work well.
But how did you come about the ability to administer so well?
I don’t know. But I was a teacher. What I think must have affected me is my association with the late Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, The Most Revd Abiodun Adetiloye. I was his chaplain for many years. When I was his chaplain, I was looking at what he was doing. I told the new Bishop that he had no reason not to succeed because he was also my chaplain. This kind of administrative capacity is inborn and sometimes it’s a passion for what you are doing. One of the things that have helped me is that I have tried to learn how to use people around me to do things for me. What I just do is harness what they do. A lone ranger cannot be a good administrator. I try to make myself accessible to people so I can tap from their resources. The covenant seed was introduced by a younger person, Mr. Toyin Okeowo. If I did not buy the idea when he gave me, then the church would probably not be where it is today.
Have you had cases of people taking you for granted?
I cannot but have such people. But they are not many. When I was at Owo, I told my wife one day that I was going to be tough with the priests because they were taking me for granted and she begged me not to change by attitude to them. She said it was better for them to say I am weak than to say I am wicked. So sometimes I have people taking me for granted. I am seen as a weakling and people overuse my receptive nature. They approach me anyhow and I try to manage it. But what I get from people generally is far more than what those who take me for granted do to me. There are some of my colleague bishops that you cannot see without fixing an appointment. But I try not to do that. As long as I’m available I see you even if you did not book an appointment.
Do you envisage any post-retirement shock?
I am not going to retire to a quiet life. As far as cultural life is concerned, I belong to an association in Ekiti and people look at me as a resource person. I will not be indolent in the church. There is the theological college where I may have to lecture. I’m still trusting God for assistance to publish my books. Intellectually I have a lot of things to do.
People are now calling me for lectures. I will not have a hectic schedule of work but I will not be idle. I will be shuttling between here and my village and occasionally travel outside the country. I will not be sleeping. I only pray that I will not be bedridden. When I’m 80, I will begin to slow down.
I have a lot of books I want to publish. I will need a lot of assistance from the diocese in this regard. I will be useful to myself and society if I push out the books God has enabled me to write. I have every opportunity to keep myself busy. Though it can’t be compared to when I’m overseeing over 300 churches.
What is that one thing you wish you had more time to do?
I wish I could do a lot of things not one. In this diocese, I wanted to have a television station, a technical college, and a secondary school apart from the ones we have. My 13 years is like cutting the trees and pulling down the roots. The person taking over will not complain so much about funding but he has to consolidate on what is on the ground. The more churches we have, the more we are able to make an impact on the larger society. We create a church to evangelise the people and bring them to Christ.
You seem to be passionate about Nigeria given the series of lectures and sermons you have had in the past. Has anything really changed?
I don’t want to talk about Nigeria. I don’t believe in Nigeria any longer because this country is a country where anything goes where leadership takes everything for granted where the poor is poorer and the rich is richer. The spate of recklessness in Nigeria is alarming. There are community crises, Boko Haram, and a number of vices. For 25 years, I spoke at every Synod and I have not seen hope.
A time will come and we will wake up and there will be no Nigeria except there is a change. In this church when I was the vicar of AVMCC, three men came to me and they played a sermon before me and they said it was my sermon and they wanted me to speak to it. I now found out that they were SSS men. I challenged them. I told them when I graduated from the university I had seven interviews for jobs and I was given an appointment in six and I did not take any because I was already a priest. I remember buying a fully air-conditioned 504 car shortly after I took up teaching appointing on my Bishop’s instruction. I told them you don’t have such luxury now. They were just looking at me because that is the truth.
The memories I have of this diocese are so many and I really can’t exhaust them. Is it the synod that you want to talk about that holds every year where people come from all over the place and where we accommodate people who come to give us lectures and encourage us on the way forward? I also remember vividly the fifth anniversary of the diocese which was the first major celebration in the diocese. I remember the parade on the field and how the members of the diocese and priests celebrated the unique day. It was a milestone for us.
I also still have memories of the tours and the Episcopal visits to all the churches especially to the river-rine areas and the rural areas of the diocese. I remember riding in ordinary boats without life jackets to these areas especially in Badagry. Then I used to imagine what could have propelled me to do all that because I was not brought up in the river rine areas but rather I come from a place with a lot of hills. Then it was a lot of risks but I soon discovered that it was the love of God that was propelling us to do what we did. I remember there were those who will not ride in the boat with us. They will rather remain at the edge of the river and wait for us to go and come. When I see the pictures of those trips, I just marvel and thank God for His mercy.
I also remember the drama that went with the purchase of the land close to AVMC. It was a major breakthrough for us because the government was to take over the land and we had to quickly make money available to purchase it. We raised over half a billion in one day for the property. I remember the treasurer coming to encourage me to sign the loan papers. It was a big risk but faith in God propelled me. I remember my hands were shaking as I was signing the papers but the Lord took the lead at the end of the day. It was a major breakthrough in our economic pursuit. It may seem the land we bought is idle but I believe work will commence on it as soon as possible.
Relationship with the diocese in retirement
I’m not going finally. I will be back in the diocese and will continue to relate with the diocese. I’m retiring into the hands of the people of the Diocese of Lagos West. I’m a bishop forever in the diocese of Lagos west. I cannot but love the people of this diocese because they have shown me, love. They abandon their commitment and businesses each time we go on Episcopal visits and rally round to support me. That I will forever cherish.
Your greatest accomplishments
It’s difficult to say this and this is my greatest achievement or my achievement. I think such questions are better answered by the people in the diocese and I’m sure there will be different perspectives. It is difficult to categorise achievements in this regard. But I know God has assisted us to do what we have been able to do in the area of evangelism, the establishment of the hospital, planting of churches, and making the diocese what it is today. I can’t really pinpoint which is the greatest. The people should be able to talk much about that.
I think funding was our major challenge. We started with 100 churches and it was clear that if we are to establish more churches we will need money. And the challenge was how to raise the funds. My people through the treasurer, Mr. Okeowo suggested the covenant seed and I bought into it and we were able to use that programme to raise the funds that have been used in building new churches. Today, we have over 300 churches in the diocese despite the fact that we carved out two dioceses out of the diocese.
Some people say you are a charismatic fund raiser. How will you react to this?
The irony of it is that we have not earmarked one day for fund raising in this diocese. We have used all our members to get the money we needed. People donate voluntarily and we have seen people build churches for us on their own. We have got lands from people free of charge. All the development that you see taking place in the church is through the covenant seed. We don’t believe in waiting for money bags. It is the N500 that individuals contribute every month through the covenant seed that has been working for us. There are people who give large sums of money but we don’t wait for them. I believe that the Anglican Church must be at least within two kilometres of the diocese. There are people who are old who can no longer travel far distance to churches so need a place that is close. God has used us to plant as many churches as possible and I believe there are many projects ahead of us that will be executed by the new bishop.
How will you react to views that you are a family man to the core?
On whether I’m a family man to the core, I think my children and wife should be able to talk about that. Since I became a bishop I worked from 8 am to 8 pm and sometimes 9 pm. I have not really. I had time for them. I pity those who work with me. I had initially had to beg the human resources officer of the diocese Mrs. Akinkoye to work with me just for two days in the week. But when she came and saw the mass of work, she had no option but to give her all. She and my secretary have worked long hours with me.
But I think the reason I’m enjoying a good family life is that when my children were young, I had time for them. I would play with them and cuddle them and there were times I had to force them out of my bedroom because they would always love to be with me till late in the night. The Lord blessed me with a good home and closely knit family. That is how we came about being close. When I came to Lagos, they were already in higher schools. Today there is no day I will not talk with them on phone everyday though they are now outside the country.
I think the problem many homes have today is that parents don’t have time for children when they are young. They are busy pursuing money and business. They leave home late and come back late. There is no way such family can be close.
I’m happy we have a new bishop. He is part of me. He was my chaplain when I just got to Lagos and he has understudied me. He knows the Knitty gritty of the job. With him as the Bishop, I can take a good rest. I believe I have handed it over to the right person. It’s like the continuity of a regime. The taking over will be so smooth but he needs the cooperation of the people of the diocese for him to succeed. He is a young man and he has a lot of years ahead of him. He has close to 25 or more years to be the bishop of this diocese. I have no doubt in my heart that he will perform. It is the duty of members of the diocese to cooperate with him. I remember priests from the diocese of Sudok from Britain came to understudy us as a mission.
They were about 15 who came. If he performs well which I’m sure he will do and the people of the diocese cooperate with him, people will come to see what God is doing through him. In this diocese, I have able men and women who can deliver. Out of the over 300 priests, we have 200 that can easily become bishop. We have men that have been trained. In this diocese, our priests go to school every year. We learn and we are exposed to regular training. This diocese is a great diocese for the future. It is really a blessing working with men and women of integrity who have the love of God at heart.