The story of The Rt. Rev. Peter Awelewa Adebiyi is one long script of trials, temptations, and triumphs.
Starting from his birth till his passing on Thursday, February 10, 2022, Adebiyi cut 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.
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 beautiful childhood. Indeed, he did not have the privilege of putting on a pair of shoes until he was 18.
The unpleasant circumstances of his birth and childhood however did not in any way affect his drive to be outstanding in life.
His elder brother, Samuel recounted that Awelewa took his destiny into 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.
Adebiyi 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 at the same university; specializing in Church History.
How he became a priest
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 stated 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 because “he was called 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.
A priest and a teacher
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.
Adebiyi 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 the priesthood, Adebiyi carved a niche for himself as a successful teacher and university lecturer. Started as a primary school teacher, a housemaster, chaplain and then became a Vice Principal 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 a lecturer both at the University of Ekiti and Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos between 1983 and 1990.
Adebiyi 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.
Adebiyi as Bishop of Owo Diocese
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. 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 now late also played complementary roles in his life. She was instrumental in the establishment of a vocational training centre that is a viable learning centre for those who wanted 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 the emergence of six new churches in addition to the existing ones and the establishment of an investment fund for the diocese.
His passion for evangelism at the Owo Diocese was phenomenal. The grace of God upon his life enabled him to nurture the diocese to a great height before his eventual translation to the Diocese of Lagos West.
Bishop of Diocese of Lagos West
His impact on the diocese of Lagos West in the 14 years of his tenure was no doubt monumental. God used him to build the diocese from the scratches to making it 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 informed the establishment of an outstanding hospital. His concern for the priests working under him also led 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 high point of his achievements was perhaps the creation of two more dioceses from Lagos West.
Family and relational life
Blessed with brilliant and wonderful children, Adebiyi’s commitment to family life was indeed quite unparallel. His first child, Boye Adebiyi told Church Times that he gave ample time to the family despite the pressure of work. Some of his children though professionals in various fields have also taken to priesthood. The women among them are married to priests too.
Adebiyi’s human relations have also been described by parishioners as unprecedented. He knew virtually all the over 300 priests that worked with him on a first-name basis and related with them as father and sons.
And then the sickness
Unfortunately, his dreams to continue making an impact were cut short by a strange sickness that hit him not long after his retirement in 2013.
While on the sick bed Adebiyi said to Church Times that he cherished his days while in active service.
He said of the illness, “I was in the US for some months when the sickness started. I have been on it since then. I really don’t know what happened to me,” he said in a nondescript tone.
He recalled that shortly after his retirement he was invited to many places to minister including the US before he was down with ill health. Adebiyi added that he had discovered he could not have done more than what God gave him the opportunity to do.
Lessons from people
On the lessons he has learned from people, he said, “Since I retired, I have not seen some priests that used to be close to me. But I am not worried because I am not looking for food. God has blessed me. I do not have any problem. My children are taking care of me.
“The church has also been so good to me. They have really cared for me and given me all that I needed. I get the best medical attention. The current Bishop of the Diocese, Bishop Odedeji has been of great help. He has come to check on me regularly and has done great in taking care of me.
“But for those who have not visited, I have no problem with them. If they want to visit fine, if not no problem. I appreciate those who come, those who don’t come no problem. Whenever the present Bishop of the diocese comes to visit, I normally ask after others.”
And then the warning
He warned against position seeking among priests. “Many priests want to become Bishop. Those who are Bishops want to become Archbishop. If you want to become king and you become one, what else do you want? Until I die, I will be called Bishop Adebiyi. Even after death, I will still be called Bishop. That is very important. But I will like to tell fellow bishops to be careful. They should be generous. And they should be contented,” he admonished.
On how he will love to be remembered, he said, “I will like to be remembered for my sermons. I will love to be remembered for my admonition to people and my boldness in speaking both for the people and even the government. About my sermons, it depends on what is being planned concerning them. But I know God has a way of keeping those sermons alive for coming generations..”
That was indeed his last homily to the church. For those who knew him in his days, those last words will keep ringing in their ears. His daughter Ronke Fatile said she was at his bedside when he passed on. “I was chatting with him when I fell asleep by his side. By the time I woke up, he had passed on.” She recalled that her father had always longed to be with the Lord.
Indeed, the Diocese of Lagos West has remained supportive of Bishop Adebiyi in life and even now that he has gone to the great beyond.
Since Sunday, April 24, several groups in the church have taken turns to honour him.
A service of Songs is expected to hold on April 27 at the Archbishop Vining Memorial Anglican Church before his remains would be moved to Osi Ekiti for the last rites and his eventual internment on April 29 at the premises of St. Peters Church, Osi Ekiti.
For a long time to come, the story of the late Bishop Adebiyi will continue to be told.
Ven. Gbenga Oniye described Rt. Rev James Odedeji as the best gift Adebiyi bequeathed to the diocese.
Oniye explained that the choice of Odedeji made the transition from one Bishop to another seamless. “Bishop Odedeji was one of those trained by Baba Adebiyi. He knows the workings of the diocese. So, it is easy for him to continue from where Baba stopped. And that has been the experience of the diocese”
Indeed, Bishop Odedeji has continued to hold the flag of the diocese high. For nine years and still counting, the diocese has experienced both spiritual and physical growth.
By Gbenga Osinaike