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The great pilgrimage of Peter

By Dare Babarinsa
17 February 2022   |   3:41 am
When the angelic delegates came to summon Peter Awelewa Adebiyi home, he was fully ready. Throughout his years as an active priest of the Anglican Church, he always maintained that this world...

Peter Awelewa Adebiyi

When the angelic delegates came to summon Peter Awelewa Adebiyi home, he was fully ready. Throughout his years as an active priest of the Anglican Church, he always maintained that this world is a market place and heaven is the home for all true believers. His children and other members of his family were thinking he would wait long enough to mark his 80th birthday next year, but God decreed otherwise. Adebiyi was a fearless advocate of good governance and Christian charity. He roared where angels would have feared to whisper. Now his voice is stilled, forever.

Adebiyi would have been 79 on April 27. He was enthroned as the Lord Bishop of Owo Diocese in May 1993. Barely a month later, Nigerians elected Chief Moshood Abiola as their president on June 12. Abiola’s victory was later annulled by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. Few months down the line, Adebiyi found himself on the same side as the opposition National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), under the leadership of Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin and Chief Anthony Enahoro. NADECO was engaged in a titanic struggle against the draconian military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha who had seized power in November 1993.

Chief Ajasin, first elected Governor of Ondo State and leader of Afenifere and NADECO, was a leading member of the cathedral where Adebiyi had his throne. They soon formed a formidable alliance. For Adebiyi, the pulpit was a staging post against dictatorship and oppression. Soon, the military regime sent secret agents to record his every sermon. They tried to intimidate him. They failed.

I first came in contact with Adebiyi and his late wife in 1978 when he was serving in Ikoro-Ekiti. Then my elder sister, now Mrs. Ebun Adetunji (nee Babarinsa), who celebrated her 70th birthday last week, was serving as a young schoolmistress in the town. Later, Adebiyi became one of the priests serving in the personal entourage of our father, Bishop Abiodun Adetiloye, the lionised second bishop of Ekiti Diocese of the Anglican Diocese. Adetiloye had succeeded Bishop Osanyin who died suddenly. Adetiloye was to serve in Ekiti for 15 eventful years until he was translated to the See of Lagos in 1985.

With Adetiloye, Adebiyi was to witness some of the most dramatic moments in the modern history of the Anglican Church. Baba Adetiloye had made an ecclesiastical proclamation to all the priests in the diocese that all known members of secret societies cannot be accorded full Christian burials in the Church in any Anglican Church in Ekiti Diocese. He said if their members insisted on marching in their full regalia as part of the burial entourage, then the priest must disallow them.

It was a controversial decree and many congregants were afraid for the bishop and his young protégés. So one day, they brought the body of a leading citizen of Ekiti to the Emmanuel Cathedral where Adetiloye had his throne in Ado Ekiti. The body was followed by a long procession of cult chiefs in their full regalia and fearsome aspect. Adetiloye ordered the cathedral door locked against them. The leader of the cult team stood at the door and pronounced a curse loudly against the bishop that Adetiloye would die within seven days. Then he and his team marched into the horizon with the coffin of their colleague.

On the seventh day, Adetiloye and his priests, including the young Adebiyi, were at the Cathedral for the early worship. It was during the morning worship that they brought the news that the Ogboni chief, who pronounced the curse, indeed, died that morning! That was the incident that transformed Adetiloye into a legend.

When Adetiloye was translated to the Christ Church Cathedral as the Lord Bishop of Lagos, Adebiyi followed him. It was to be a turning point in his Christian pilgrimage.

Adebiyi was made an archdeacon and posted to serve at the Archbishop Vining Church at the Ikeja GRA. It was from Vining that Adebiyi was preferred to become the bishop of Owo Diocese where he found himself under the wings of his old teacher and mentor, the great Bolanle Gbonigi, the bishop of Akure Diocese. It was a turbulent period when the church was challenged to use the pulpit to confront the evils of our society. Adebiyi stood to be counted among other giants of the church like Adetiloye, Gbonigi, Bishop Alaba Job of the Catholic Church, Bishop Sunday Mbang of the Methodist Church, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, Pastor Tunde Bakare and several others.

It was from Owo that Adebiyi was translated to the Diocese of Lagos West to become the first bishop in 1999. The old church where he had served as the archdeacon had now become the cathedral and the seat of the bishop. It was a triumphant homecoming for him.

Vining also represented a poignant memory. It was while serving there that robbers invaded the church premises and he was shot and seriously wounded. That he survived was a true miracle through the medical expertise of doctors and nurses at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), Ikeja. Now he was back.

He accomplished a lot as the bishop of Lagos West. He was one of the founders of the Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary in Ikorodu, one of the leading mission secondary schools in Nigeria. He was also one of the founders of the Bishop Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo. He supported church growths, not just in his diocese, but across Nigeria and other countries. He built new churches and helped missionary dioceses to grow. He was a tireless church planter.

He had a special relationship with our society, the Apostles of Peace. The society was founded by a group of young people and some elders at the Saint Paul Anglican Church, Ishagatedo, Isolo, Lagos. It was led for many years, by Siyanbola Oladapo, who was later succeeded by the likes of Gbenga Babington and Paul Ajisafe.

Adebiyi was the Grand Patron of the society and every year, he would host us at the Bishop’s Court in Ikeja. His successor and protégé, Dr Olusola Odedeji, the Lord Bishop of Lagos West, is now our Grand Patron.

Adebiyi agonised for many months on the issue of his successor. His reign has made the new diocese of Lagos West to become prominent in the Church of Nigeria and as his tenure was drawing to a close, many bishops would have loved to be translated to Ikeja. Adebiyi would prefer that one of his men should be elected the new bishop.

It was a big victory for him when the Dean of the Cathedral, Dr Odedeji, was elected the new bishop. Odedeji’s tenure has brought tremendous changes and his emergence was the crowning glory of Adebiyi’s remarkable pilgrimage on this realm.

In retirement, Adebiyi had sought to set up a foundation to help the needy, especially retired priests. His long illness did not allow him to consummate that dream. He lived his life fully for the church and society. His books, including the seminar, History of Christianity in Ekitiland, and his lectures were to delineate his fearlessness, patriotism, sagacity and his intellectual depth.

We were very lucky that he was our first bishop at the Diocese of Lagos West where he proved to be a formidable soldier of Christ. Archbishop Vining Memorial Church Cathedral (AVMCC) has a large parcel of land adjacent to the Ikeja Golf Club. One night, a powerful politician summoned the bishop and said he should name whatever price he wanted for that piece of land. “After all, you are bishop alase, (the unquestionable),” he told Adebiyi. “Tell me how much you want for the land and I would pay you!” It was in the dead of the night and the bishop sat in his purple habiliment, trying to remain calm.

“I am not the owner of the land,” he told the big man. “I am only holding it in trust for the church. We will not sell the land.” He added: “I may be bishop alase, but I report to a higher master.”

On February 10, 2022 Peter, the pilgrim, was recalled to headquarters to meet his Master. Peter the Pilgrim, has fulfilled his assignment. May his valiant soul rest in peace.

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