My 24-year sojourn as priest in Anglican Church-Ven Oniye

by Church Times

Ven Olugbenga Oniye is a signpost of God’s mercy. He has had close to five surgeries at different stages of his life, yet, his visage does not betray ill health.

 Life began to bear its fangs when he was taken for dead as a toddler. It was not clear what the problem was. But he had to undergo a surgical procedure for his life to be preserved at that tender age.

 While in Europe studying at both North East London Polytechnic and the University of Hull; he battled with life-threatening ailments. He was once rushed to the hospital and had to come under the knife of the surgeon again.

 This time, he felt an unusual pain in his stomach which made him long for death. “ I wanted to die because the pain was too much. I remember telling the nurse in the hospital to give me something that I could take to die and escape the pain.”

 12 hours operation

But while making the request another lady in the hospital assured him he would not die. “This happened in Eastern Memorial Hospital. I was wheeled into the operating theatre and I was operated on for 12 hours. They had to take out my intestine and do all kinds of things with it, correcting what was wrong.”

 Ironically Oniye had not known God on a personal level. “Nobody prayed for me, I can’t remember praying, yet, I believe it was God who saved me,” he said.

 Oniye, 66, who voluntarily retired as a priest in the Anglican Church in October having put in 24 years in the church said he did not spend more than five days in the hospital because the healing process was fast.

 “After I was discharged I went to the doctor, a Ghanaian. I asked for the drug I was to use after and he said I was cured, that there was no need for me to use any drug.”

Oniye had been diagnosed with chronic ulcer. Ironically, he used to smoke and was also heavy on alcohol. And he just could not give up the habit.

 “After the surgery, my friend said I won’t be able to smoke and drink again. I was worried about that. I went back to the doctor and asked if I could still smoke. He said I could still smoke.”

Vomiting blood

 It was not certain if the doctor was being sarcastic, but he took the counsel literally and continued with his lifestyle. Barely a year later, he became sick again. This time he was vomiting blood. I had to undergo another operation. But he survived the ordeal. Several years later, he had another attack on one of his trips to the UK right at the airport. But to the glory of God, the Lord brought him out of the crisis.

Those experiences have over the years shaped his theology. He believes it is the discretion of God to work miracles in people’s lives. He frowns at pastors who use miracles as bait for people to come to Christ noting that a miracle is not something anybody can arrange or determine.

 “There are people who don’t know God. But they experience the hand of God in their lives for a purpose because God has a plan for them. And some people know God and yet they face health challenges and don’t get out of it. And that does not mean God is unjust. He is God and healing is at his discretion,” he said.

The AVMCC effect

 But the great change came for Oniye when he came back to Nigeria in the early 80s and had the opportunity of worshipping at the Archbishop Vining Memorial Anglican Church, Ikeja, Lagos. He was so enthralled by the worship template of the church and so decided to give his all to God.

“When I came back from Europe after my studies, I was fortunate to start my own business in partnership with a friend. It was an advertising firm. We had big companies as our clients and were doing quite well. I also became a member of the AVMCC. The spirituality of the church was top-notch. I looked forward to being part of their outreaches. The ministrations were so powerful and touching that you see clearly that nothing comes first before God.”

 That initial experience in the church made him rethink. He began to understand that God had a purpose for his life and that he wanted him to be useful to him.

Quest to know God

 “I had this quest to know him more. That made me enrol at the  Lagos Anglican Bible College which was established by the late  Archbishop Joseph Adetiloye. I was among the first set of people that would enrol in the college.

 “At that time I was also involved in my home church. Our vicar in the AVMCC was now made bishop of the diocese of my home church, that is the Rt Rev Peter Adebiyi who has now gone to glory. It was around that time I was made the youth patron of my home church. After the Bible college, I became more involved with the church and served as a lay reader in the AVMCC”

God and business

Oniye said he had also impulsively given up the habit of smoking and drinking. He became so involved with the church that he was ready to let go of his huge advertising business. “There were corporate meetings I could not attend because they were clashing with midweek programmes in the church. I could not imagine leaving those programmes for my business.

I lost about four major accounts due to my involvement with the church. But I was not bothered because my heart was with God and still with God. I remember also going to the Nigeria Stock Exchange for a business deal. After we finished signing the deal, I said to the woman who was in charge of the negotiation that we should pray. She was annoyed and said I should get out of her office. I then told her that if she would not allow us to pray I won’t be interested in any business deal.”

 Oniye said that was the point where he knew God wanted him to embrace the priesthood. “As I was leaving the office of the woman and taking the staircase out of the building, the Lord spoke to me that what I was experiencing was an indication that I would be more valuable in his vineyard.

 “The voice I heard gave me the conviction of my call to ministry. I had always had it in mind that I would retire from my business at 45 and then be very much involved in community work. I had planned to retire in 2002. But before then I had gotten admission to Immanuel College of Theology for my seminary training. I was there between 1999 and 2002. Before I graduated from Immanuel College I was already serving at AVMCC because I had the Lagos Anglican Bible College certificate.”


No transaction

He was however a non-stipendiary priest. He still kept his business. But more of his attention was given to the ministry. And he had no expectations. “My involvement in the ministry was not a deal with God. It was not a  transaction. It was not that God, I will serve you if you do this for me. I did not have that mindset. I believe a genuine obedience to God’s call is unconditional. God told Abraham, follow me I will show you a place you will go. At that time Abraham had no expectation. He was ready to accept whatever came his way. I was just ready to obey God and wait for whatever comes my way. But then as human, you begin to have certain expectations.”

 Coming from a corporate world to the church environment, Oniye said he was taken aback by certain things in his early years as a priest in the Anglican Church “I was coming from a corporate world into a religious setting. But then, when you realise that God is the one who called you into the work, you will have no other choice but to wait on him and obey His leadership.

“I remember I was called a stubborn priest by some people in one of the parishes I served. They reported me to the Bishop and told him I was stubborn. The Bishop would ask them if I stole church money, and they would say no, did I sleep with their women they would say no. But then they told the Bishop that the problem they had with me was that I was stubborn. Many of them fail to realise that as a priest you are being led by God to do certain things which may not go well with them.”

The priest and soul-winning

According to Oniye, the goal of a priest is to win souls. “Your goal is to expose members to the vision of soul winning. However, some parishioners lack understanding in that regard. That is where we had conflict”

By 2011, Oniye became an administrator. The then Bishop had to prevail on him to change to full-time priest because he saw he was doing much and more so that a priest can’t be an administrator if he is not full-time.

 But before going full-time, Oniye had a strong financial footing. Though he experienced huge losses in business because he was not giving his full attention to it, he still had the grace of maintaining clients who could not do without his service.

 He also that he enjoyed a lot of God’s favour as a priest. He recounted how he got a call from an individual who offered to sponsor him to Jerusalem and how an old senior in his secondary school days bought a brand new vehicle for him.

 Oniye spoke glowingly of the Diocese of Lagos West describing the current Bishop, Rt. Rev James Odedeji is a man with a clear vision.

 “He has been a great blessing to both the priests and the laities. We thank God that the diocese has been blessed to have wonderful bishops so far starting from the late Rt Rev Peter Adebiyi to the present Rt. Rev James Odedeji


The retired Anglican priest reasons that the management principles in the corporate world to some extent are useful in managing churches adding however that when it comes to the work of God, faith plays a pivotal role.

 He recalled that God also used him to bring many churches out of the doldrums.  “The first church I pastored was in a classroom. The third church was also in tatters. But God used me to bring those churches to reputable places of worship.  Any church under my care always prospered. I did not mind being posted anywhere because I knew there would be work for me there and more importantly God would be there.”

 On his experience with people in the 24 years of his service, he said, “You have all kinds of people, the rich, the poor, those who like you and those who don’t like you. I believe a priest should just preach the word. You must rise above sentiment. See yourself as a sinner saved by grace.

“You must look at it that you were once like them. The negative part of people’s disposition should not be a concern rather should be seen as a blessing. I had pleasant and ugly experiences but both meant nothing to me. The greatest joy I had while serving was to see lives changed. I will not forget when a lady who was a Moslem came to me and said she became a Christian after listening to my message. That was a thing of joy for me”

Tributes for Oniye

Canon Hapiness Nosike in his tribute to Ven Oniye at retirement described him as a man with a large heart. He recalled his work experience with him and how he helped to shape his philosophy.

 He wrote, “I came in contact with Ven. ONIYE for the first time, sometime in 2011 as a Postulant in training However, in the year 2012, I was formerly posted to him as the first Curate of the Church, All Saints’ Anglican Church, 41 Road, Festac. Proudly, I can authoritatively say that Baba ONIYE is an interesting boss to work with.

“His unassuming nature, punctuality at all services, willingness to guide and direct, knowledge about the ministry, readiness to impact knowledge to whoever that cares, understanding of the Liturgy and above all; his truthfulness, faithfulness, always available for the ministry and his total submission to authority drew me very close to him.

To date, he is still the same person I knew many years ago. What a wonderful man of God.”

He is transparent

In his assessment, Ven Chidi Ukachuchukwu says Oniye is a transparent, diligent and upright servant of God. He recalled how he has been a blessing to him since he met him in 2001 while also praying that God will keep him strong in the years ahead.

 The All Saints Church, Festac Town wrote a glowing tribute recalling Oniye’s time in the church. In a letter jointly signed by Ven Oludare Michael and Adim Godson, the church noted that his labour of love and sacrifices while in the church is worth emulating.

 Evangelist S. O. Oniagba described Oniye’s contribution to the diocese as a testimony of his stewardship and dedication to God.

 Otunba Yomi Nubi who had known Oniye for over three decades said he has remained humble, caring, loving and dedicated to the cause of the kingdom over the years.  He prayed that God would keep him strong and healthy in the years to come.

Indeed, Ven Oniye’s footprint is in the sand of time.

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