Former president of The Apostolic Church, Nigeria, Pastor Gabriel Olutola, talks to EMMANUEL OJO about his near-death experience and life as a clergyman.
You turned 90 on April 4, a feat regarded as a rare privilege. How do you feel about that?
I praise the Lord for it and shall continue praising the Lord. I’m happy that the Lord has done this for me because, at the initial stage of my life, I never thought I would make it this far. I have never been to any other church than The Apostolic Church. The only thing was that I was not born into the church but from the third month of my birth, my parents were forced to become members of The Apostolic Church.
How did that happen?
Three months after birth, I was diagnosed with smallpox, and for three days, I couldn’t take breast milk or water, I was just breathing, so my father’s cousin visited us and said there was a prayer man in Oke-Oye (Osun State). He (my dad’s cousin) didn’t know what the church was called but said if my parents could visit the place, I would not die. so, that was how they brought me to The Apostolic Church for prayers and the Lord answered the prayer. So, seeing me at 90, it’s all thanks to God. I wouldn’t have made it. When I was young, with the experience I had around me and what happened to my parents and my other siblings, I wouldn’t have thought that I would make it to this stage, to the extent that I told God that I wouldn’t have my birthday celebration until I turned 50. By my calculations, I felt that I should have been married with children by then, so, if anything happened as it happened to my siblings, at least I would have left something behind that would console my parents. I didn’t say this to anyone. When I got married and I was celebrating my wife’s birthday, she said she didn’t like it that way again. She felt I wasn’t celebrating my birthday and wondered why I should be celebrating hers alone. I told her that I would let her know when it was time and she said until then, she wouldn’t allow me to celebrate her birthday again. I told her that I had observed from my experience in life and that of my parents that they were not happy with the situation of the family.
Can you tell us more about your family?
My parents had seven male children. I had two elder brothers, and four younger ones, that is, I was the third child. They all died one after the other. My parents couldn’t explain the reason why I survived. All they could remember was that they took me to Oke-Oye at three months old when I had smallpox. Smallpox left some marks all over my body and they are there today. My mum and dad took me from Ilesha on a bicycle to Oke-Oye. Before Babalola prayed, he told my parents that they shouldn’t have waited so long before bringing me.
Was he Joseph Ayo Babalola of the Christ Apostolic Church?
Joseph Ayo Babalola was famous for the CAC and not The Apostolic Church. Or is there a connection?
He started in The Apostolic Church, Oke-Oye. It was the late Babatope that was the leader of The Apostolic Church, according to the language then, the founder of the Church. Babalola was a trailer driver before the Lord revealed to him that he should leave that job. The very spot he left the machine, was where the university, Joseph Ayo Babalola University was established. At that time, people disregarded him because they wondered how such a small boy could be called a servant of God. There was a meeting to be held then which was between the leaders of the mission then and Babalola. I will not say what the meeting was about. They brought him and as they were at the meeting, he sat down on the floor of the church. Suddenly, there was a large crowd outside and news broke out that the crowd was there because a boy had died. Babalola took a bell, rang it on him (the dead boy), and prayed for him and the boy came back to life and that was how the revival of 1930 of The Apostolic fathers started.
The Apostolic fathers who came for the meeting left Babalola with one of the founders of The Apostolic Church, though they didn’t know each other. When the Lord used Babalola for that miracle, they left him alone. Whether they wanted to do so or not, the Lord gave a reason why they should leave him. Babalola was a revivalist and was a young man then. Babatope (Adeyemo) was the leader of the church. The names sound alike but they are not the same.
There were some controversies that The Apostolic Church left the Christ Apostolic Church. What’s your position on that claim?
Before 1944, it was only The Apostolic Church. I was a young boy then. I was born on April 4, 1933. I was a boy when they (CAC) left The Apostolic Church. The church (TAC) wanted to bear the same name but at the point of registration, the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not agree.
The late Babalola stayed with the CAC . Did he lead the group out of TAC?
No, he didn’t. Some people, who claimed to be knowledgeable because they could speak good English and were fluent, said they were the most experienced people. They took him away. That was when they named the church Christ Apostolic Church. I was 11 years old then.
You said you were born on April 4, 1933. Was your birth officially recorded?
My father was a trader that went to foreign towns to trade in clothes. So, he knew how to calculate dates and all that. Also, the man who married my aunt (my father’s elder sister) was a retiree at the Nigerian Railway Corporation. He wrote down the date of my birth. My dad was capable of writing it too.
How did you become a clergyman?
After Babalola prayed for me at Oke-Oye, my mother said on their way back home that she remembered the lessons taught in their Anglican Church that Hannah (in the Holy Bible) made a promise that she would present Samuel later but she (my mum) never discussed it with my dad. My father also had the same thought but didn’t tell my mum.
This matter came up when I was convinced that I would become a servant of God. It came up after I informed my parents that the Lord had called me. Other people and ministers foretold that I would become a servant of God but I refused because of how ministers were poorly remunerated then. I thought about it – that if I accepted and became a pastor, would I be able to take care of myself and my parents, being the only surviving child? But the Lord convinced me, then I succumbed.
Before my parents took me to The Apostolic Church, they attended church services maybe just two or three times a year; the harvest, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Those were the occasions they attended church services but when they came to The Apostolic Church, they were active in the church. So, they always took me to church and that was the only place they took me to. If I am not going to be boastful, The Apostolic Church in Nigeria is the largest in all other countries of the world. It is a privilege to be in such a capacity.
You retired in 2017 at 84. What compelled you to do so at that time?
It’s part of the rule. After retirement, the council decided that I would be able to attend all the meetings of the councils of the church. In January this year, I got a message from the Lord that He wanted me to be among those executives to serve Him as His witness. The council decided that I would be part of it.
How did you meet your wife who was worried about your decision not to mark your birthday?
I got married at the age of 30 but I didn’t let people know that I was 30. Being the only surviving child, my parents wanted me to get married earlier than that. If there would be a marriage in heaven, I would like to get married to my wife again. Back then, I was the witness leader, my friend was the choirmaster in church and my wife was a chorister. We attended the same choir practice and witness meetings, at least once a week. Our pastor then said my mum was getting worried that I hadn’t brought a lady as a wife to them. Baba told me to talk to my wife but I told him that she could have been engaged.
Some years before then, I told God that part of the signs I wanted for the lady I wanted to get married to was that she shouldn’t say yes to my proposal the first time but give a positive reply three days after the proposal. I forgot the prayers I made and the commitment I made to God when I went to her. When I spoke to her, she said she was engaged to an elder but I knew it was a lie. She was surprised when I told her that the person she claimed she was engaged to would get married soon in Ekiti, his hometown. After much discussion, I left. I went the second day and she said the same thing but Baba (the pastor) told me to keep going because he had made findings from her mum about her status. I went on the third day, and at that point, I recalled the agreement I made with God, so I was very courageous in talking to her. I didn’t tell Baba (the pastor) what I told God.
On that third day, I visited her at home and told her that all she told me earlier was not the truth and she should know that she was talking to a man of God and an ordained elder. She made pounded yam that day and brought it to me but I told her I wasn’t there to eat but to ask for her hand in marriage. When I asked the third time, she told me to eat first and that she would answer me after the meal. I took about four morsels and stopped eating, then, I waited for her reply. She then told me that she could only marry me if I would stick to one woman because I was the only child of my parents and pressure could mount at some point to have another wife, especially, when the need to bear more children arose. I assured her that it would never happen and I reminded her of my status in church as an ordained elder and the leader of the witness group. I told her that even if the Lord blessed us with just two children, it would be enough. My parents had seven and the six others died. At that point, she was surprised to hear all of that from me and that was how she agreed. God blessed us with children and there was no argument between me and my wife till she died.
Is it true that you attended Harvard University?
That was later in life. That was even a few years ago. I, first of all, attended The Apostolic Church Bible College in Pennycross, Southwest in Britain, where I had a diploma in Theology. I tried more because I was more aware of the values of education at that time. I was already an area superintendent before I went to Harvard. Earlier, I attended the popular primary school at Oke-Igbode. From there, I started work as a teacher and I taught for a year.
Since I gave my life to Christ, I have not had anything to regret because He has not permitted me to do so. The only thing I will say is that I didn’t want to come to this ministry (TAC) but when I came, my life became better. I am proud of being here (at TAC), proud that I am a child of Christ.