APOSTLE Hayford Ikponmwosa Alile, the pioneer Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, chairman of several blue-chip companies including the Oceanic Bank International and the Spiritual Leader of the Saint Joseph’s Chosen Church of God International, SJCCG, was born into Alile family of Benin some 70 years ago.
He turned 70 yesterday and in this revealing interview with SAM EYOBOKA and OLAYINKA LATONA, you will be shocked, as we were, to learn that this exceptional gentleman was once a student activist who had made sterling contributions to the development of the country. As a matter fact, he had to abandon his state scholarship as a result of his activities then. Excerpts…
When I was in Class 5, we took the common entrance and I passed but there was no money to pay my school fees. The following year the same thing happened and the reason was that my mother had been bed- ridden for almost eight years with a strange illness. Something happened in 1954 when everybody had lost hope of her surviving. She called on my father to appreciate all his efforts to ensure she was healed.
After taking her to several hospitals in Lagos, Ibadan and everywhere, my father resorted to native doctors, spending all his money in the process to no avail. I had gotten admission to Loyola College, Ibadan. Our neighbour, Mr. Igunborâ€™s wife was paralysed from the waist down and every Friday they hired a lorry that takes sick people from Ajagbodudu, not too far from Sapele to meet one Pastor Joseph Ikechukwu who, they said, prayed for them. The ones that were healed would go back rejoicing, while those who didnâ€™t get their healing would go back to their homes. It was one of such occasions that Mrs. Igunbor joined others for the trip to Ajagbodudu where they stayed over night.
Ikechukwu prayed for them but Mrs. Igunbor did not get her instant healing. However, when they got back to the junction where they normally alight, Mrs. Igunbor who could not walk, was said to have jumped down from the lorry unaided as others were jumping down. On that fateful Sunday, when everybody expected my mother to give up, she pleaded with my father to take her to Joseph Ikechukwu. My father immediately went to Mrs. Igunbor’s house to make the necessary arrangements but she wasn’t there but instead her husband was.
After the normal pleasantries the two neighbours took their bicycles and went to what served then as the Benin branch of Saint Joseph Chosen Church of God. They met some kids who who told them that the pastor had just arrived from Ajagbodudu, a distance of about 45 kilometres. His bicycle was parked nearby. On their way inside, they overheard the man of God praying and thanking God for bringing him to Benin according to Godâ€™s directives to pray for a dying woman whom he (Ikechukwu) did not know anything about. He was saying that God should come and fulfill His words. When they entered Ikechukwu was able to recognize Mr. Igunbor but did not know my father. So my father was introduced and his mission was also made known to the man of God.
Ikechukwu said it was God that directed him to Benin that there was a woman that needs to get healed there and that if he gets there, the woman will surface and that the womanâ€™s name is Hannah. My father was surprised hearing that. Ikechukwu also informed my father that the woman and her family would be useful for his ministry. He asked them to kneel down and the three of them knelt down and it was about 5:30 p.m., and Ikechukwu prayed and instantly my mother got up at home. My father who was a pagan at that time, didnâ€™t understand what was really happening. The third day they went to see Ikechukwu in the church and thereafter they both gotÂ converted and started going to church.
In Loyola College, I was already a mass server at the Catholic Church. But unfortunately in Catholic, in those days, we were not allowed to read the Bible. We all prayed through the priest and nobody taught us about the Holy Spirit. But when I got to Benin on holiday and was taken to the church, I saw people reading the Bible and interpreting it. It was a remarkable experience. Even the mode of worship was a remarkable experience for me. And the first time I went to see Ikechukwu in that church, he told my parents that I was the one he was talking about when he prayed for them while I was at school. There and then, he released a lot of prophecies and that all haveÂ come to pass in my life.
My first Sunday service at the church was also different. During the offering time, there was a particular box that people dropped their coins and I was not happy with the embarrassing manner the coins were making noise. And when it was my turn to give my offering, I knelt down and dropped my offering and the only prayer I could make was; ‘God by next time that I will be giving my offering here, I donâ€™t want to give coins that will make noise.’ And the following Sunday just before my return to school, Ikechukwu prayed for all of us that were going back to school and he told the elders to do something for the students. The money I get that day was a shilling and three kobo which almost doubled what I dropped on Sunday.
Meanwhile, my father has gone round to borrow money for my school fees. I later got a letter from the Benin Divisional Council that I have been placed on a scholarship. Interestingly, I did not apply neither did my father knew anything about it. But my conclusion was that the prayer that I prayed has been answered, because the scholarship also stated that my parents were entitled to an allowance of 10 shillings and six pence. This is equivalent to one pound and one shilling. I was sunk in and donâ€™t know what to do. So, I took the letter to the school bursar and they were all congratulating and hailing me.
In Loyola College
Mine was the first set at Loyola College and we were 34 in number. I was the second to the smallest in the school. The principal, Rev. Father Mackle asked me to be the prefect of the school but I said no, because of my stature and I did not understand any bit of Yoruba because any of the big boys can just knock me on the head. But he insisted and I managed it till form four. In form four I recommended someone else that can be the prefect, but the principal refused. Also out of all the 18 exams that I did in the school, I came first 17 times and I came third once.
Right from form two, I started grading the papers of those that are taking common entrance into Loyola College and the same for my colleagues. And it was happening because of the trust the school management had in me. After my final examination at Loyola College and I was about going home when one of my mates called me that the principal wanted to see me urgently. Getting there they asked about my exams and I replied fine. The principal asked me what I was up to after the exams and I replied that my bags were already packed for me to go home and wait for my result.
But to my surprise, the man said I should go home and rest for two weeks and return to school to teach. I said teach? But my result is not yet out. Father Mackle said they already know my results. When I came back, I was assigned to teach practical chemistry, physics and mathematics in forms one, five and six. I was made the first house master of the school. And the pay was good.
Journey to higher institution
I took the entrance to the University of Ibadan and passed. I was the fifth in the whole country and in those days the first 10 were given instant scholarship and they were called the state scholars. I registered in for physics and we were only two in that faculty. Meanwhile, Loyola College gave me scholarship to go to Cock University in Cock, Ireland. Similarly, the Western Region gave me scholarship as well as the Federal Government. So, I had four scholarships but the other three canâ€™t be compared to the state scholar! It is too robust-the school fees are paid, books provided, holiday allowances, transport and they did not ask if my parents were working or not. They were both entitled to one-one pound.
After the second year at University of Ibadan, I went into student politics and I was nominated as the secretary of National Union of Nigerian Students, NUNS. The following year, it was the turn of UI to provide the president of the NUNS and before I knew it, I was also nominated as a candidate for the secretary-general and we won the election. I became the secretary-general. That was 1963 and 1964. It was a wonderful year for me, because with such a position you canâ€™t go to classes any more as both social and political issues of the land are top priority for the students. Example; during the 1963 national census, I was asked to manage the rebellion of Nigerian students against the conduct of the census, because it was fraught with irregularities. Also, the issue of Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact was not palatable to the Nigerian students and I have to do something about it.
*To be continued next week