Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Pastor Taiwo Odukoya Speaks On Late Wife, Pastor Bimbo, New Wife and New Life.
Christendom mourned. Even the heavens shed hot tears of agony over the huge calamity that had befallen the church and country. Devastating as it was, Pastor Taiwo Odukoya bore his pains with the strength of Christ on the way to Golgotha and continued the great work that the Lord committed into his hands.
However, four years down the line, God, whom he has faithfully served, wiped away his tears, and he found love again. By some divine arrangement, he met a South African beauty, former Miss. Rosemary Simangele Zulu and the two lovebirds hit it off in a whirlwind romance that culminated in marriage on January 5, 2010. The marriage had the unalloyed blessing of his three children with the late Pastor Bimbo.
If the news that filtered into the press last week is to be held sacrosanct, then, Pastor Taiwo Odukoya, a petroleum engineer, will soon become a father again. His wife, we reliably learnt, is pregnant.
Recently, Pastor Odukoya sat down with me for about two hours in his Ikeja GRA residence and granted The Spectator his most comprehensive and most revealing interview ever.
He started with his days as one of the big boys on the University of Ibadan (UI) campus, and ran through his running battle with God, before he finally surrendered at the point of imminent death, occasioned by food poisoning, and spoke for the first time on his meeting and steaming romance with the late Bimbo at UI, who was then a final year student of History/Archaeology, revealing how he had to abandon his relatively new car on Agege Motor Road, Mushin, Lagos, on his wedding day, and climbed a rickety taxi cab to beat time for the marriage service. The interview is the stuff legendary love stories are made. Enjoy.
Let’s start from the very beginning. How was your childhood, life growing up and the kind of family you came from?
I actually will say that I came from an average, lower-middle level family (laughs). My dad was a chief clerk in the civil service. So, you can imagine: he was a junior staff; he was just getting to senior cadre when he retired.
He retired after how many years?
He was in the army, then he left the army after the Second World War. And thereafter, he joined the public service. And then he had to volunteer to go to the North because then they were just starting the Northern public service. But the politics of Nigeria had been on then, and of all his working years, he got only two promotions and retired as a chief clerk! That was the politics of Nigeria, which today, I want to believe, is a little much better because we have states that have commissioners of people who are not the states’ indigenes. Even as late as 1974, when I was leaving secondary school, I could not attend any tertiary institution in the North.
One reason, because I wasn’t an indigene. Then, the argument that I was advancing was that I was born in Kaduna. Still, ABU (Ahmadu Bello University) will not take me to their School of Basic Studies though I had a Grade 1 (WASC) at the time. Then, I tried the College of Arts and Science, which was just starting at the time in Zaria, but they still wouldn’t take me for no reason.
On account of you being Yoruba?
Yeah, on account of the fact that I wasn’t a northerner even though I was born in Kaduna. I think the politics then was if I was taken I would be put on a scholarship and they were not ready to do that to non-indigenes. So, the summary of it all was that I could not get into a tertiary institution in Kaduna, in the north.
So, your parents had to relocate to the south?
Of course, and I’m going to quote my dad’s exact words here (in Yoruba): ‘Gbe apoti e ki o kori si isale!’ Meaning: ‘Pack your baggage and head down south’. Go and compete with your colleagues in the south. Then, I came, and as God would have it, I gained admission into School of Basic Studies, Ibadan Polytechnic. From there, I went to the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) where they gave me Chemical Engineering, which I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t enjoy life in Ife at all because it was initially rough. We had nowhere to stay, no allocation into any hall of residence. So, I just opted for UI (University of Ibadan) for Petroleum Engineering.
When did you graduate?
I graduated in 1981.
That kind of experience you had very early in life was nothing but discrimination…
(Cuts in…)Yes, it was. Even in my school, there was a lot of discrimination. Then, it was Saint Paul’s College, Zaria. It was an Anglican school. But when we were in form three, the government took over and it became Kofena College. Now, it’s a tertiary institution. When government took over, by the time we got to form five, a lot of indigenes of the state were encouraged to go to school. They poured into the school, which was perfectly okay. At a time, government will pay the students some pocket money just to make them stay in school but they will not stay! So, we will be told to make sure they were in school. So, you have to go all out and persuade them to come back to school.
I want to praise the government of that time because they were trying to make them understand the importance of schooling. And I think now that we have many more states in the northern part of the country, government should put in a lot more efforts to make them stay because it will benefit all of us. But I will say, by and large, the situation in northern Nigeria today is much better. But it is still there.
Okay, as a child, how did that register in your mind?
At the time, I didn’t like it. But I wouldn’t say I was bitter. I wasn’t particularly happy about it but at the time, maybe because of the home I came from, I was determined that if I had the opportunity I would correct it. And so, all my life, growing up, I thought I would end up in politics. I thought I would end up in the military. In fact, I had ventured into the military but my dad did not allow me. In fact, that was what created some of my problems because I thought I would go first go to NMS (Nigerian Military School), then head straight to NDA (Nigerian Defence Academy). In fact, I got the admission but my dad said ‘NO’!
Why did he say no?
Because he was in the army and he didn’t like it there. He didn’t like the army at the time.
But you going in there as a learned person it would have been a different ball game; he didn’t see it that way?
Well, like the Bible says, authorities over you, sometimes, say something that you don’t know why they are saying what they are saying. But you just obey because God has ordained it to be. My very good friend, his name was Amosun; he was from Lagos state and he went through NMS, and we were going to NDA. He was a year my senior but he was delayed, so, we were going to NDA at the same time. By the time he got commissioned after NDA, his first assignment was Bakassi. He was the young officer that was killed in Bakassi. He was a year or two older than me at the time but at that time, he was already married with a set of twins! And I was 16. So, when that happened, I just told myself, ‘Oh, my goodness, that could have been me!’ It could have been anybody.
You said you didn’t feel any bitterness?
I didn’t but I was a bit discouraged, though, that such a thing could happen. But then, there was a determination in me that one day I would have an opportunity to correct it. That is why I do the best I can today to create awareness.
So, how would you have corrected it?
If I had the opportunity, if I would be in a position to disallow such a thing, I would. I would continue to preach that ‘look, let everybody be free to be part of this great country. This country has a great future, so let everybody be able to be part of the country. Be a part of at least where you were born, contribute your quota, and live peacefully with everyone. Our strength is our diversity. I think that is where the greatness of this country lies. Our greatness is in our diversity. So, our unity must be fostered in such a way that our diversity is given the opportunity to display itself because that is our strength.
You also mentioned that you wanted to veer into politics, why did you want to do that?
I wanted to. I had thought maybe the only way to do it would be via politics or being in the military. That is what I knew at the time. So, when I met Bimbo at the time and she was asking me questions about my future, I said ‘I don’t know’. I said I guess I might be going to into politics some time in the future. And she said: ‘What!’ I said because I want to influence people in a way that will give hope to many. That was behind my mind all my life but I never knew that I would become a pastor. It was the last thing I ever dreamt of.
The last thing you ever dreamt of was being a pastor?
Oh no, I didn’t want to be a pastor.
Why did you not want to be a pastor? Their frugal way of living? Their Mungo Park jackets in those days?
(Laughs…) No, not necessarily. Amazingly, I very admired and so much appreciated our Pastor in the North, the Rev. Akingbola. Papa lived up to almost 100 and something years before he died. But then his lifestyle was just fantastic. I admired him. But I never wanted to be a pastor. As I grew up, leaving the North, coming South, I realized that quite a number were respected and others not respected. And I realized that the moment you say you are a pastor you put your self on a pedestal for public scrutiny.
As if you weren’t a human being…
That’s right. So, you are not allowed the normal privileges of a normal human being anymore. And I thought, ‘no, I like to live my life privately. I like to take care of my children but I will like to influence people as much as I could’. Now, marrying those two sounded impossible but today it’s okay.
Did your late wife, Pastor Bimbo, influence your becoming a Christian? Becoming a pastor?
No. I was a Christian before I met her though I had backslided.
So, when did you become born again the first time?
Ah, that is an interesting question! Well, at age 11, I knew what born again was, being a Baptist. I was born a Baptist; my dad was a Deacon at the First Baptist Church, Kaduna.
Sorry, you have not even told us where you came from?
I am from Ogogo in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State. My dad is from Ogogo my mum is from Erunwon, also in Ijebu-Ode.
And you were born when?
I was born on June 15, 1956.
How many children did your parents have?
We were 10-five men and five women. I am number five. My twin sister and I are number five. We are in the middle.
Were you over pampered because of the peculiarity of your birth? Being twins?
No. I tell you why because my immediate younger ones were triplets!
So, you have a history of that in your family. So, do you have a set of twins?
No. I just have three children. Two girls and a boy. Incidentally, none of us has multiple births.
Back to our question: did meeting Pastor Bimbo influence your becoming a pastor?
I was a backslidden Christian when we met. At age 11, I was born again and live continued. But I was born again as a Baptist, and you know, Baptists are strong on the Word, very serious about Christian living. But it’s the power living that we don’t pay attention to. Because, we will tell you that the days of healings are over. We will tell you that speaking in tongue was not for us.
I was in the Baptist church too in the early 1980s till early 1990s, and at that time, you couldn’t even clap as rigorous as we do these days!
Oh yes, we just sang our hymns. But we attended Sunday School, Christian Union, Royal Ambassadors, etc. There were so many programmes where people were really grounded in the Word. I was from that kind of background. Then, I came down south, and I was in The Polytechnic, Ibadan, at the time. I was in the SBS (School of Basic Studies). And we were a group of young people from secondary schools across the south and some of us from the North. So, it was really my first time from daddy and mummy. Eh! So, we ran into trouble. At that point it was like you had to prove you were born again and prove your life all over. Even then, life continued until I got into UI in 1975, and in 1976, my Christian life was kind of being watered down with all these our friends in the Polytechnic.
You went partying?
Occasionally, I used to party but you still go to church.
Well, not too much of the girls. My Word life was a little bit holding on me; you know…not smoking, not drinking. But girls? Yes, we had a lot of girls here and there but… So, in 1976, I was like that. But in UI, I saw one of my seniors who invited me to the fellowship. So I went for fellowship and I saw good looking boys, good looking girls, good ministration, good music…Oh my God! And suddenly, it hit me that my Christianity still had a lot left to tackle.
So, when they made the altar call, I went out. So, what they were telling me was not particularly new to what I had heard. But now, it made much, more impact on me. Now, that I was making my decision, everything became clear to me. So, I gave my life. So, I got born again. So, life continued. But one thing was different…they were speaking in tongues. I didn’t think I must speak in tongue. So, we had another programme like a Christian get-together. So, all of us that were born again were asked to come out for the filling of the Holy Spirit. We all knelt down and almost everybody began to speak in tongues but I didn’t speak. I tried but I didn’t speak. I tried again, but I didn’t speak. It was a bit discouraging. The fellowship ended, we all left. So, I was questioning: why didn’t I speak when I really wanted to speak?
And they didn’t set you aside for special ministration?
They did. Well, they explained and did everything. Okay, Iife continued again, but it didn’t disturb me from coming to fellowship. But my friend, with whom we went, gave his life, spoke in tongues, and so himself and some other people were constantly on my neck. They said, ‘Taiwo, say something.’ And I will say: ‘I like the way that man is dressed.’ And they laughed. One day, a song was playing on their radio, I didn’t know what language it was, and I didn’t understand what they were saying. But I was humming along and my friend said I could say that. This was going to about two months, and I said no, no, no, I couldn’t just be saying something I don’t know.
I think this is one of the problems of Pentecostalism. Now, don’t tell me what to do, what to say, what not to do, what not to say again. Please back off. I told them ‘I’m not attending your fellowship again if your idea of Christianity or being born again is what you are doing, disturbing everybody, judging everybody, trying to control what I say and what I don’t say. Please when you see me, stay clear. So, I left them and walked to go ease myself in the toilet. By the time I came back to the room, they were all going for tutorials. I refused to go with them. Funny enough, I was a squatter. I still jumped on one of their beds and I was relaxing. And I felt into a trance right there.
You see that sculpture in Maryland (Lagos) with some people holding Nigeria up so it won’t fall. That is how I saw Nigeria. It was scattered with black darkness. I didn’t understand. Then, I saw spots of light around some parts of the south, and I recognized I was at the bottom. Then I heard a voice, then a big beam of light was coming down from above, and the voice said ‘the reason you are standing there, scared, is because you are standing at a spot. Now lift up your eyes’. I did. I now saw a spot of light scattered down but more around the south. He said I have work for you to do.
At that point I heard a lady’s voice that said: “We are doing well here, I’m coming to reinforce you”. I didn’t understand. She was dashing across. I want to believe that that was Bimbo then. I didn’t know her. I didn’t know she existed then. But it was a lady’s voice. That was 1976. From that day, I became a rascal.
How do you mean?
I mean I behaved like I was not a Christian because I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be a Christian. Then, God came to meet me there on the bed. But I still went ahead and backslided. Ah! I was a rascal.
What were the things you did as a rascal?
I started trying to smoke cigarettes but I wasn’t good at it. I will smoke and cough. When you see ladies, you puff the smoke and, then, you cough. Then, I will drink and drink and will go somewhere and start vomiting because it wasn’t me. But I was a tough guy. Then, of course, everyday, women. Everywhere, women.
Then, some strange things happened. I will be with guys, and being a petroleum engineer trainee, we will go to the field. We will spend three, six months in the field. I was a federal scholar and they were paying. The oil field was very rough with the issue of women and drink; black or white they came from everywhere, and so on. The women will charter boats to go meet the oil workers on the high sea, in the creeks. Oh yes, it was really a rough life.
So, I was a backslider, and life was going that way. I would be with a group of men and women in impossible places. Yet, I will see light. The light will come bam, bam, bam. It has a way it will come. By the time it will stop right around my head, it will explode and I will see that vision again. Now, all the people there will be wondering what was going on. But I was seeing what they weren’t seeing; I was hearing what they weren’t hearing. It happened for four years. I would freeze when I see it. And anytime the voice came, it will ask me the same question: ‘Is this where you are going? For four years!
When the last one happened, I had been broke. Within a month when school resumed, we were broke because we would have spent money on parties upon parties, and all that. Then, on that day, I went to buy fried fish, Geisha, dried paper, and a little garri to cook in school. So, I did the food but the fish was already bad, so, I got poisoned. I was in trouble. I ran to Jaja Hall that is our hospital in UI. I was given some injections, but they said I must take something. So, I rushed back to the room the following morning to take something, I fell unconscious. I knew it was the end. I was unconscious on the floor; my mouth was filled with fluid I had taken in the hospital. It had filled my mouth, my nose, and I couldn’t breathe. I was now saying inside: God, please, have mercy on me.
I was saying: ‘You have been patient with me for four years. You have followed me all the way, have mercy on me. Have mercy on me. I was helpless. I didn’t know what happened but I just felt something like a slap on my face. And at that instant, and the liquid in my mouth went off. Suddenly, I could breath again. So, I crawled to my bed and lay down. For three days, I wasn’t normal. I would see people like shadows. I could not communicate. The way I came out too was miraculous.
How did this happen?
One day, my two roommates were friends, and they were saying: ‘If this boy dies here we will be in trouble. Let’s go and report to the authorities now o. They moved towards the door, but before they could open the door, and turned the knob, I regained my voice. I said: ‘Come back guys’. I began to talk. They said I was mad, that I had been pretending. I said no. That was how I came back. When I came back, I knew that it was a second chance and I wasn’t going to blow it in Jesus name. So I took my Bible the following fellowship day, a Tuesday, and that was where I began to get close to Pastor Bimbo.
What was Pastor Bimbo doing?
She just came in to UI towards 1979 ending. She read History/Archeology, a combined course. I had seen her with the friend who was one of those guys that was giving me trouble at the time, the Christians. So, I said to him (in Yoruba): ‘Ah, so, this is the fine girl that you are carrying about?’ He said: ‘No, she is my sister’. That was it. But now that I was back in fellowship, I saw her from a distance and she recognized me and said ‘oh, you are in fellowship’. I said yes. And we got talking. And we later became very good friends.
For how long were you ‘very good friends’?
I was in my last year in UI when she was coming. But amazingly, I had to go back for one semester and I didn’t like it because I really shouldn’t have. I was kind of victimized. I was careless in those four years but I was good enough to go. But we had the head of department that was the god of the university. So, he disturbed me and I didn’t like it. It was to be my worst semester but that was also when I had the golden opportunity to be closer to Bimbo. That was when we got closer.
How long did that initial friendship last before you told her your mind?
Well, from that moment, were friends. We were just going on. Our friendship continued. Then, I was to go on holidays and she asked: ‘Where do you live in Lagos?’ I told her and we realized we were actually living the next street to each other. My sister and my brother-in-law were using Bimbo’s mummy’s daycare for their children in Papa Ajao in Mushin. They were in 40 Olasunde Street, off Ladipo, Palm Avenue. And, occasionally, I will stop by there, during the holidays, and say ‘hello’ and will run away. Their daddy, had girls-Lara, Biola, Bimbo; it was the last two that were boys. So, the men…eh! Then, Bimbo went back to school. I was lucky, I did my youth corps in Lagos. We were friends for four-and-a-half years before we got married.
At what point did you propose to her?
Just by the time she was in her final year. That was 1981 since she did direct entry. Before the end of 1981, was when we got talking. Strangely enough, we didn’t even talk marriage. I did not formally propose. It just happened. It was like ‘suppose this,’ ‘suppose that,’ ‘suppose if we get married…’ Ah, ha… She said that was something to be prayed about o. So, I said, ‘let’s pray about it then.’ We did and that was it. We never got to say ‘no’, or ‘yes’. No special ceremony.
Did you at any point, at that initial stage, feel intimidated or that there could have been some other guys around the corner also eyeing her?
Did I? Maybe because of my kind of experience, I didn’t. Of course, they were guys who were eyeing her but it didn’t distract me. Maybe probably because…
Maybe you gave her close marking…
Maybe, I did unconsciously. I guess so.
So, tell me about your big day, wedding day.
When we got married, I was going to be 28 and she was going to be 24. I drove my car on my wedding day. My best man didn’t come on time, so we agreed to meet in Bimbo’s house. So, my younger brother came in the car with me. When we got to Agege Motor Road my car that I bought brand new and was just 10 months old, started jerking! I said: ‘Iwo car yii, oo mo nkan kan.’ Transliterated, it means: ‘You this car, you don’t know anything’. I jumped out of it. I left my car on that spot and got a taxi and went to church to wait for her. By the time I could look up, my brother had driven the car there.
What brand of car was it?
It was a Passat.
Did you sweat when it was jerking?
Well, I didn’t expect that. So, it was a surprise. But I didn’t allow that to destabilise me because that wasn’t the car we were going to use anyway. It was just to drop me in church, then, my brother will take the car home. It parked up at Mushin Oloosa. Anyway, it was a glorious programme. I remember one of her friends, Akunna; she is based in London now. Then, she said she will sing: ‘O Perfect Love’. There is a place in the service where we will kneel down and the church will stand up to sing. As they were about to sing, a sheet of paper got to the minister and he said someone would sing a special number. So, she went up and sang the solo. It was so anointed. I heard God clearly. I was weeping there because of the presence of God. And I heard God say to me clearly three times that “in blessing, I have blessed you.” Then, I said to my wife that I heard God. And she said: “I heard him too.” Oh, it was glorious. We entertained guests in the evenings etc.