Apostle Alexander Bamgbola was one-time Chairman of the Lagos Chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and then Chairman of the Lagos chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria until 2020. He has been playing active roles in the church since the 90s. He was next in line to the celebrated Pastor Gabriel Oduyemi, founder of Bethel Ministries known as Wonder City.
He moved on later to start a fresh work, Zion The City of the Lord Ministries from where he was appointed the Chairman of Lagos Chapter of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria and then CAN.
Beyond the church, Apostle Bamgbola was one of the leading bankers in Nigeria in the early 80s. He came back to Nigeria from the US in 1979 as an expatriate and was Managing Director of the then Nigeria-America Merchant Bank.
Now 75, Apostle Bamgbola, shares his story with Church Times Nigeria. Below are excerpts:
To attain 75 is not a joke in Nigeria. Did you ever envisage getting to this age?
I will not say never because of the circumstances surrounding my birth. My mother had three children before me while in Lagos in the late 30s to early 40s and each one of them died. When she was pregnant again, my grandfather who was a monarch and also the chief priest of Ifa Oracle for the whole of Yorubaland then, would not take chances. He saw through the oracle that if she put to bed in Lagos again, the child would die.
My grandfather then asked my mother to come and stay with him under his power before having me. That was how I was born. At the age of nine months, I was taken to an unknown place as revealed by Ifa just like Jesus was taken to Egypt to escape from those who wanted to kill him.
So how does that make you think you would live to this age?
I was sure because my late parents had been told by people who used to see into the future that I would live long. My parents used to tell me that. So, it registered in my psyche that I would live long. But I think the grace of God has just been there for me.
You talked about being taken to an unknown place?
I was taken to an unknown place called Iroko, close to Ibadan. My father was doing cocoa business and was prospering in Lagos. But because of me, he had to leave his business and joined my mother to take me to an unknown place. They didn’t know where the place was. They were coming from Ilorin in a truck, which was used for transportation then. When they got to this place called Iroko near Ibadan which was a thriving town then, the vehicle developed a fault. They were trying to repair the vehicle. They could not finish repairing the vehicle and it was getting late. My father then walked into town and asked if they would allow him and his wife with the baby to stay. The people welcomed us.
My father stayed there and ended up spending 65 years of his life there. He had a lot of business acumen. He went into the farming business, thrived so much. He prospered to the glory of God. He was able to send us to school from there. He built a house there. I spent a lot of my early life in Lagos too. We were only two from my mother for him until he married another wife later in life and had other children.
What were your early recollections of the Christian faith then?
My grandfather had to become Moslem because he was to get the stool of the Oba in one of the towns in Ilorin then. That was the condition given by the emir of Ilorin. That was how our generation became Moslems. But then I had fallen in love with the Christian faith from my primary school. I was at a Baptist secondary school. That was where I first surrendered my life to Christ secretly. But I derailed later. That was before I traveled to the US.
What was your experience in the US?
I was no longer a Christian when I was going to the US. I had gotten involved in some fetish practices. My luggage was three-quarters full of juju when I was traveling. I thought juju would work in the US, but I found out that it won’t within two months. While in the US I did not go to church either. I remember only going to church to marry. It was when I came back to Nigeria that my elder cousin tried everything to minister Christ to me. He persuaded me to go to church. I used to go to a Baptist Church then. I did that for a while but then I soon went into deep occult until I later gave my life to Christ in October 1989.
You said Juju did not work in the US?
Yes, it didn’t. Somebody sent a video clip of an American preacher who said in his message that if they really want to deal with demons, they should bring in an African pastor. He said the demons in the US are chicken demons. He was saying that to underscore the point that African pastors deal with greater demons than those in the US. That is by the way. But from the experience I had in the US, the juju I took there did not work.
Is it that juju does not have a universal application?
I think so. There are many don’ts for those who use occult paraphernalia. You’re forbidden from certain practices. For instance, I was told that I should not put it on my body when having sex, or when my wife was having her menstrual cycle. And one of the conditions was that when I fly over the ocean, it would not work.
I remember when I was in Chicago in the US. I was staying with two of my friends. I had gotten a menial job. Barely two months after I got there, the FBI was looking for one of the two friends I was staying with. We were living on the 11th floor. My friends had left for work. The FBI officers came up and sought to enter the house. They knocked on the door and I saw them through the hole in the door.
I saw them and became afraid wondering what they were looking for. I went to my juju box and went to take the one that was really powerful. They kept knocking and I kept making incantations thinking the incantation would drive them away. They kept trying to enter. When it became difficult, they invited people in the maintenance department of the building to bring a drill so they could drill through the door. They were drilling the door and I recalled that I had a powerful charm called kibaati. (irrepressible) I went for that and I was making incantations. But they kept making progress to gain access into the room.
I was adamant. The devil told me that you are speaking Yoruba, that your juju can’t hear Yoruba, that I should speak English to the juju. So, I started speaking English to the juju. By the time I was through they had broken into the door and they saw me helpless inside the room. They were wondering why I did not open the door because I had my passport and my visa since I was not the one, they were looking for. That was when I knew the juju would not work. I later became a freethinker.
Did you now join another cult?
Yes. I did. That was when I came back to Nigeria in 1979. My mother was around to help us take care of our children. My late mother would call me and tell me the need to see some witchdoctors to get protection because Nigeria was dangerous. I didn’t listen to her initially because I was an expatriate and I knew I would always be the boss in the places I work and no Nigerian would be my boss. I thought there was no need to be afraid of anything.
One day my friend who was a top manager in one of the confectioneries had an accident and died. That scared me. That was how my mother reminded me that she had been telling me that I needed protection. So that got me. My mother then took me to one baba in Ibadan, Oyo State and the man told me I would have died if had not come. He was an old ragged man. That was the genesis of my juju explorations. The man said I would need a black cow for the charm he would prepare for me and it would cost me N15k. I paid part of the money there and sent the remaining to him later. That was a lot of money back then. I began to build my occult involvement from there.
I was involved in the occult from 1980 until God himself visited me in 1989. My juju led me to even trying to kill my wife then. But the juju did not work on her. She was deep in the Lord. She was attending Deeper Life Church and she used to speak in tongues. I hated that and was going to get rid of her. We went to the headquarters of the occult in the southwest where prominent Nigerians including leading traditional rulers used to consult. That was where people were sentenced to death if they had offended any one of us. I never heard of a case where people came back and said the people did not die.
But in the case of my wife, no charm worked on her. I did all the juju things, buried a hen as if a human being was being buried as I was instructed. I was told if the hen didn’t die, I would become so powerful that no human being could kill me. But that I could kill my wife. By the time we opened the grave after seven days, the hen jumped almost half a mile into the sky. I got into so many other things that I can’t possibly be talking about because of time.
One of my cousins was ministering Christ to me. I cut him off. But when the Lord touched me, it took a whole pick-up load of juju and my official car then, laurel to throw all the juju I had acquired into the lagoon. The testimony of my conversion was all over the place because I was active in the Full Gospel Business Men Fellowship and the Lord brought many people out of the occult through the testimony. Many women come to me today to say God used the testimony to save their marriage.
What would have made you want to get rid of your wife then?
It’s all satanic manipulations. I did not like the fact she had become a Christian and a tongue praying Christian for that matter. She was so deep in the Lord. But beyond that, I was told in the occult meetings that she was the one standing as a barrier to my ambition. Then I remember having the ambition to become the CBN governor and I had all the opportunities because I was close to the top military officers who could influence it and make it happen.
But occult people told me it was my wife that would not let it happen. That was when I decided to get rid of her rather than lose the opportunity. The truth is that the bondage of the devil is real. Only the Lord can deliver those who have been bound by him. Looking back, I thank God that God did not allow me to succeed then.
How serious was the occult then? We’re told some lawyers could not do anything without being members of the Ogboni fraternity then?
That is the truth many years ago when the occult was real occult. Years ago, those who wanted to do well in the judiciary or any other enterprise were deceived into joining the occult. The popular occult then was the Ogboni Fraternity. They had signals and they knew how to link themselves. But it is no longer common. What replaced it now is the milder social groups like the Palmwine Drinkard Club, the Seadog which have no serious consequences.
You left the US to come back to Nigeria. What was the motivation?
I was working with the First National Bank of Boston in the US. The bank eventually got a license to start a branch in Nigeria. I was sent to Nigeria to build the bank as an expatriate. There was a survey done to determine my salary. At the end of the day, only Chief Ernest Shonekan’s salary who was MD of UAC was a little bigger than my salary in the corporate circle in Nigeria then. The bank had gotten me a house in Ikoyi and had paid three years. The conditions of service were quite attractive.
But then, even in the US, I was doing so well. I did well in my academics and was being invited for interviews in quite a number of corporations. I had my BSc in Finance at the University of Illinois. I ended up with the highest honours in Finance, studied Marketing, and also earned an MBA. So, both Nigeria and the US were just good for me. But it was better for me to come back to Nigeria.
With these experiences and exposure, how will you assess the banking industry in Nigeria?
We thank God for what he has done in our economy. But I am saddened by the situation on ground. I witnessed so much mess when I was active in the finance industry. I had to reject the offer to manage a government bank because I could not stand a situation where I could not speak my mind.
I remember one of the brightest minds in the banking industry was retired from First Bank then because he spoke his mind during the IMF loan debate during the regime of Ibrahim Babangida. He was retired from First Bank the same week he spoke his mind. The only safe place for me to be was the private banking sector where I could speak my mind on the economy.
Now banking has been indigenized and we now control our banking system. But then I have discovered that the banks are not being professional. I was in Backlay’s Bank before I travelled to the US and also got into banking in the US. So, I know the industry in and out.
My problem is that banks were not developing the economy of the nation since 1896. They would collect all the deposits and lend them to white companies, multinationals, Lebanese, and not to Nigerians. That used to pain me. So, when I came to start the Nigeria American merchant bank, I had soft spot for local banks and indigenous companies like the then Cooperative Bank of Eastern Nigeria. When Buhari came to power in December 1983, all the banks in the world closed their doors to banks in Nigeria. But I went to my bank in Boston, US, and staked my career because Nigeria needed help.
The bank approved $60 million to indigenous banks in Nigeria mainly for indigenous manufacturers. The money helped the Nigerian banks to come back to life. They were also able to give loans to many business owners and manufacturers. I am proud God used me to do that for my country then.
I later found out that to lend money to Nigerian business owners was a high risk. Some Nigerians used to take loans only to marry more wives. Eventually, I did not blame the whites for giving money to the multinationals.
When you became born again did you encounter any shocking thing among believers?
All I remember very well is that I was one of the first set of top bank directors who became born again. It was unheard of that a top bank executive would become born again. After my conversion, I discovered quickly that you can’t serve God and mammon. The reason is clear. The way banking was and is, exposes the banker to all kinds of temptations.
After I became born again, I discover that there were certain things I could not do again. As MD I remember we had to prepare a set of books for shareholders, another for the CBN, and another book that has the real accounting details which we keep to ourselves. You lie to shareholders, lie to the CBN and you keep the authentic account to yourself.
That made me retire in time. When the Lord appeared to me Himself, I had to retire. When you truly become born again, old things must pass away. By 1991 December my late wife and I agreed that I could not continue working in the banking sector. I had to leave. I then had my peace. But then when I was in the bank, I had no peace.
Are you saying to be a banker and a Christian is a tough call?
It is tough. But nothing is impossible for God just like Jesus said in the book of Luke, that it is easier for the Carmel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to make heaven. One day, shortly after I became born again; I took my wife’s car to church and I was listening to a message in the car. The minister said, “banks are houses of demons”. It shocked me and I said, so all my life I had been working in the house of demons. That was part of the words that motivated me to leave.
How then did you manage through the temptation of money while in the bank?
I can trace it back to three things: my upbringing, my experience in the US, and then the reality of my new birth. In my family, you must live a honest life. I grew up in a generation where you do not spoil your family name. We were born, to be honest. We would rather die telling the truth than tell a lie. The American banking system was also part of me. I never collected gifts. In the US, if you take a gift of more than $10 dollars you have to report to the authorities. I remember a training officer in the US then who collected a gift of 10 percent of loan given by the bank to a customer, he was dismissed. When I brought the $60 million dollars to banks in Nigeria, some people who benefitted from the loan attempted to give me gifts which I turned down. I remember one wanted to give me a house in West End London and another one in Manhattan, in the US. I said never, I turned the houses down. Some other people sent gifts which I turned down. Apart from Christmas when people bring hampers which I mostly distribute to my staff I did not collect gifts from people when I was in the bank. When I became born again, I realized that whatever is not from God does not belong to me. So, I resisted the temptations of collecting bribes and indiscriminate gifts.
I was bad in the area of women and juju but the day I surrendered my life to the Lord, all those things ended.
You were the second person to Pastor Gabriel Oduyemi who was then so popular. He took the whole of Africa by storm. Why has it been difficult to sustain the revival of those years?
Well, that is why we have to keep crying to God to forgive the sins of the Church. It is mammon that has taken over the Church. The deterioration started long ago. A. W Tozer said about 160 years ago that he, Tozer, asked for the world and he found the world in the church. He then asked for Church he found the Church in the world. The church started well but over the years, things deteriorate. I was listening to Pastor Kumuyi many years ago saying when Deeper Life started that corporate organisations used to write to him to send Deeper life people to hire as staff, but today they were writing him that deeper life people were thieves in offices.
What are your recollections of Pastor Oduyemi?
He was a wonderful man of God. He did his own bit. He was the first to buy a jet as a man of God in Nigeria. I remember some of my elderly friends used to ask me why I was in the church. But I think I was there for a purpose. The Lord has taught me to guard my salvation with fear and trembling. The Lord helped me while being there to maintain my Christian testimony. And when it was time for me to leave, I had to leave. Late Rev Oduyemi did what he could do with his calling and he has gone to be with the Lord. When we built the church known as Wonder City, the whole of Aja was jungle. It was the first church with air-conditioners. Everything was glamorous. Those who attended the church when it was newly opened did not return back to their churches. We grew from 100 people to about 2000 just within a month the church was opened. People were awed by the comfort. But then I think God took me there to learn certain things which I am grateful for.
You were in the PFN and CAN as chairman. How was it leading these associations?
I was called to come and lead the PFN in Lagos State just after Pastor Wale Adefarasin had served as the chairman. Before then I was not active with the PFN but they came to me and the Lord told me he was sending me there for a purpose. It was a week after I accepted the offer that my wife then had a stroke which eventually led to her being called home. I was chairman of PFN for five years and then CAN where I served for six years. It takes a lot of grace to be where I have been.
The Church in Nigeria is full of all manners of things. There are many evil leaders here and there but then it is not all bad news. There are those who are also sincerely serving the Lord. As of today, the church is full of spots and wrinkles. I can say that from the point of view of my experience. But I know the Lord will not return to a church that is full of spots and wrinkles.
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