Dr. Gabriel Olutola, 83, is President, The Apostolic Church, and Chairman, Lagos, Western and Northern Areas. In this interview with Eric Dumo, the cleric recalls events that have shaped his journey...his love story is particularly ery interesting. Enjoy!
At almost 83, how has the journey been?
There have been ups and downs along the way but we thank God for His mercies upon us.
Take us through your growing up days, what was your childhood like?
I lived in the village with my parents as a child in Ilesha, Osun State and I really loved it. My parents were farmers so we woke up quite early in the morning to go to the farm. My paternal grandmother was alive at the time and she loved me so much that she wouldn’t want me to go to the farm. She always wanted me around her all the time. I was the only child of my parents even till this day. We were seven but six died. I could have died if my parents didn’t receive Christ.
I was afflicted with small pox when I was three months old, the same ailment that killed the six before me. My condition was so bad at that time that everyone feared I was going to die. My parents couldn’t handle my situation anymore and so a relative advised I should be taken to a church in another village for prayers. The next day, my parents set out on a bicycle. When they got there, they were told my ailment was the work of the enemies and God was going to heal me. They were given water that had been prayed into and they were advised not to discuss things with anyone. They were told to give me the water to drink for the healing to take place. I was also bathed with the water. My father was told to sharpen his cutlass and keep vigil, that whenever he heard the noise of the whirlwind, he should move round the room with the cutlass and say ‘the Lord destroy you’. The pastor of the church they visited told my father the evil spirit was going to come three times and that if he managed to stay awake these three times and use the cutlass to fend them off while repeating ‘the Lord destroy you’, that I was going to live. God took control that night and the evil spirit was defeated.
My being alive today is a miracle. That was one of the major reasons my grandmother never wanted me out of her sight. In fact, as a result of how much she wanted me around her, I didn’t start school until I was about 13 years old after she died. She said she could not allow me go to school for a teacher to flog me. Even after she died, my father didn’t want me to go to school because he felt I was too old for primary school. I was angry because the other boys could already communicate in English language. My mates were already in Standard Six and I wanted to start Infant One, my father asked how I was going to do it. At the end of the day, he allowed me to go to school and I started from Infant One when I was 13.
God also rescued me from blindness as a boy. Efforts to get help medically failed. It was by God’s divine mercies that I am still able to see with my eyes today because for nine months, I wasn’t able to see.
At 13 when you eventually started primary school, what kind of reception did you get from the other boys in your class who were of course younger than you?
They all called me ‘broda’. I was the oldest in my class. My mates started in 1939 when they were six years old but I started in 1946, seven years after I should have started. In 1947, many of my mates became teachers but I was only in Infant Two.
At what point did you go to secondary school?
My father was a poor farmer who struggled to take care of his small family so he couldn’t afford to send me to secondary school. However, we didn’t know that my mother had saved a lot of money ahead of my secondary education and being a brilliant student, I was later taken by the Anglican Church to be a teacher. I worked there for a while but decided to look for another source of livelihood because I wasn’t getting much from teaching. I had parents I must take care of, so the pressure pushed me to live with an aunt in Abeokuta, Ogun State who was into clothes and textile materials business. I was in the business for a while before returning home to Ilesha.
Being an only child of your parents and a favourite of your grandmother, you must have been very pampered, was that the case?
Of course I was pampered but I never liked it. I just wanted to experience life normally.
How was it like growing up without any sibling?
I didn’t know that there was a difference between my cousins and me. We were all living together and so I felt they were my siblings. It was when we all grew up into boys and girls that we knew the difference. My cousins were my siblings, so I didn’t feel any vacuum.
What was your ambition as a young man?
Being a teacher was the biggest thing anybody could aspire for during our time. My aim was to be a successful teacher, build a house and then get married. There was a lot of pressure from my parents for me to marry, especially being an only child. I married at 29. But things didn’t go as initially planned.
At what point did you go into pastoral work?
I was 33 when I went into the ministry. The Apostolic Church don’t pay much so I felt God wanted me to remain poor and that was why He had called me into this ministry. I even told my wife we could not be rich at all since God had decided I go into full-time ministry in the Apostolic Church. I told her if I could not afford a motorcycle, there was no way I could ever dream of buying or owning a car. I pleaded with her to do her best for me to get good food all the time.
But when I was 37, the Lord surprised me with a car. It was unexpected. As a result of the calibre of people I was interacting with, I decided to improve on my education. I started to study privately. There was a school close to where I was living in Ondo State then and so I enrolled for GCE. All my education was achieved during old age. I was doing a correspondence course then in Ilorin and so immediately I passed my GCE, through the help of a church member, I was admitted for the course proper in the United Kingdom. I was really encouraged by that experience and I joined the Bible College in Akure, Ondo State on my return.
How did you meet your wife?
We were members of the same choir in Ilesha and I was the choir master. I had been taking careful observation of her all the while but did not say anything. The fiancee of a friend of mine who felt the two of us would be compatible with each other, told me one day to marry my wife but I told her that I didn’t have money. She told me I was comfortable enough to pick a wife. I wouldn’t know if the lady discussed the matter with our district pastor at the time because he called me a few days later to say that my mother told him that I had yet to marry. I told him that I didn’t have money and I would marry when I was ready. He spoke with me for about three hours that day and made sure he convinced me into agreeing to marry.
When we finished evening prayers that day, I went to her house to see her. She told me she had someone in her life. Well, I told her of my intentions and told her to pray and I was going to come back after two days for her response. I went back to her after two days to get words from her but she smiled and asked if I was still on the matter. I left. Meanwhile, I had prayed to God to show me a sign on the woman He had meant for me. I told God He should allow the woman He had destined for me not to agree to my proposal until I had gone to her three times. If she agreed on the first or second time, then that was not the woman for me. I had forgotten about this anyway, so I went to her the third time and asked if she was going to marry me and she smiled and said yes.
That was how we started and our love grew so strong that we became like brothers and sisters. That was why I made a vow not to remarry after she died. We lived together for over 40 years, I was 75 when she died and we had nine children together. She was a huge part of me; so difficult to let go.
Her demise must have rattled you considering how close you were?
Of course! If my children would ask anything from me, they knew they had to go tell her first before coming to me. She knew how to get anything from me. I was there by her bedside when she died. Taking another wife didn’t make any sense to me since the vacuum she left behind can never be filled. We had lived together for so long.
Was there no pressure from different quarters for you to remarry after her death?
There was a lot of pressure from even within the family for me to get another wife. My mother in-law was the first person to approach me that I should remarry because I needed someone to take care of me. I declined even though I knew she wanted the best for me.
So how has it been playing the role of a father and mother at the same time to your children?
I enjoy it a lot. My children are like my siblings and we relate very fine. Since their mother died, God has given me the grace to nurture them in His love and kindness. They have all grown to be successful and God-fearing children. I am so proud of them.