By Femi Kehinde
B’olode Oku Ode Ohu gbegi- meaning-”once the valiant celebrator dies, the empire becomes a thick forest;”- is a very swift and apt metaphor, that describes the life, times and essence of the self professed Jesus Christ of Oyingbo, who came into prominence in 1952 and died in 1988. The empire eclipsed, almost soon thereafter.
Nigerians are by nature, people of great faith.
They still believe and could easily be vulnerable, to religious bigotry and indoctrination. No matter their level of education or sophistication, there is still the general belief, that there is the being or something that is responsible, for their existence in this world and which is deserving of their prayers, adoration and veneration.
Religion, being the opium of the masses, is certainly one of the most organised and most prosperous form of legal dishonesty.
Immanuel Odumosu latched on this and prospered.
Immanuel Olufunmilayo Odumosu was born in 1915, in Ijebu Ode to Jacob Odumosu.
His grandfather was Joseph Odumosu, a famous traditional healer and herbalist in Ijebu Ode.
Without the privilege of a formal education, Immanuel learnt carpentry and was self taught.
He served in the Post and Telegraph department (P & T) during the World War II.
In the P&T, he was an active member in the workers Union and took an active part in the worker’s strike in 1945, which subsequently- led to his disengagement from service.
He went back to his carpentry work and opened a workshop on the Oil Mill Street, Lagos Island, Lagos.
Despite his dexterity in the carpentry business, he could not make ends meet and was constantly in debt and was at a time, jailed for six months, as a result of charges, brought by his creditors.
Life at this time was harrowing and unexciting. He needed an escape valve.
He attended various Pentecostal churches in Lagos for spiritual succour and comfort, but apparently, found none.
In the course of these spiritual adventures, Odumosu claimed he received visions and dreams from GOD, which he interpreted as messianic visions, that revealed he was a messish that has come to redeem the world.
To him, this was a spiritual rebirth and he began to pronounce this, by holding evening meetings in his carpentry workshop.
He established the Universal College of Regeneration (UCR). His early sermons emphasised duality of the World and self discipine.
He saw a World that was in conflict, which he regarded as a conflict between the natural world and the Spiritual World.
He saw a natural world that was filled with evil machinations, principles and principalities and a spiritual world, which only him had access to, being the redeemer of the natural World.
In 1952 when he started this ministry, he denounced and detested alcohol , women and tobacco.
With a small congregation of about 30 members, he encouraged tithe giving, to assist the poor, the needy and the vulnerable in the Ministry.
He encouraged members, to fund his evangelical ministry.
In 1954, a wealthy member of his ministry, provided a property for Odumosu in Ebute Metta, close to Oyingbo market.
He encouraged his flock to relocate to Ebutte Matte and live in rented properties, close to the church building.
He encouraged payment of tithe. As an emerging Ministry, he began preaching his sermons in loud speakers, placed outside in the church hall, at a location close to Oyingbo market.
Oyingbo market, established in the 1920s, was a great market of delight and prosperity.
When traders of the Apapa Road Market, in the 1930’s were relocated to swell the ranks of traders in Oyingbo, Oyingbo became a market of first destination to traders and one of the oldest and biggest markets in Lagos and Nigeria respectively.
Before Balogun market stole the show, Oyingbo Market, close to the Iddo Train station, was a bee hive.
The fortunes and prominence of Oyingbo could easily be compared with the fortunes of the Ejinrin market, in the Epe-Ijebu division of the present Lagos state, Ejinrin, in the early 19th century, was the only point of contact between Lagos and other parts of the world as one of the major commercial centres for slave trade.
It was a destination hub, for transportation of slaves and commercial activities.
In Ejinrin, the Europeans constructed the second oldest sea port in Nigeria and also, the Colonial masters built in Ejinrin, the large market that had over 1,800 stalls, trading in cocoa, fabrics, fish, matches, wine, spirits and other consumables and export items.
Several multinational companies, like the UAC, John Holt, PZ, CFAO, Lever Brothers (Unilever Plc) had their first presence in Ejinrin.
Being a trading hub, Ejinrin had the first Post Office in Nigeria. It is this giant status of Ejinrin, that Oyingbo market, could be compared with in prominence, relevance and business activities.
It is this Oyingbo market that Immanuel Olufunmilayo Odumosu now shares proximity and attention.
The loud speakers from the Immanuel Odumosu’s Church, blows into the market, which now gave him the sobriquet – Jesu Oyingbo
Ebenezer Obey a great Juju music composer, singer and philosophical artist, espoused the beauties and gains of the Oyingbo and Ejinrin markets in some of his lyrics.
He sang- “Oyingbo market is so big, that nobody with notice the absence of anybody.”
“Oja Oyingbo ko mo pe Eni kan owa o” ; and that in equal prominence, “b’oko kan o re Ejinrin; egbe gberun e aa lo …”
“A lorry’s absence will never be noticed, in Oyigbo market!”
As a result of the market proximity, the membership of the Jesu Oyingbo Church- the Universal College of Regeneration (UCR) began to swell.
To initiate new male members, he would whip them with 9 strikes of the cane. Presumably, a cane inherited from his herbalist grandfather – Joseph Odumosu.
Then the bang came!
In 1959, he declared himself Jesus in Oyingbo and began to initiate various business enterprises, to form the new Jerusalem.
Among the ventures, were the Jolly markers and the happy day food canteen, deluxe bakeries, makers of good luck bread, barber shops, lodging and accommodation and etc.
In the 1959 declaration, he declared –
“I am He. I am Jesus Christ, the very one whose second coning was foretold in the New Testament. I have come and those who believe in me will have an everlasting life and joy. I am the missing of the trinity. I have come to prepare the faithful for the judgment day”
This Oyingbo declaration heralded the arrival of a new Jesus. Without the benefit of formal education or attendance of a theological school, this new Jesus, said the Bible had been planted in him, over night to evangelise the World.
To Immanuel Odumosu, his declaration as the second Jesus, was as a result of a divine revelation, straight from the Chambers of Heaven.
His mission was to save people from their earthly worries, comfort and redeem them.
He established communal enclaves and asked his followers to forsake their families and pack into the New Jerusalem and live with him.
The members were not only his congregation but also, part of his work force in his various business enterprises- a printing outfit, a bakery, restaurant, bar, salons, a construction company, real estate development, Bush clearing and all sorts,from where he derived enormous income.
Aside from occasional gift, he also derived some fringe benefits, which he considered as his entitlement as their redeemer.
One of this fringe benefits, was the fact that he had unlimited access to any of the wives to the men in his flock and could choose to do with them whatever he pleased to satisfy his unquenchable libido.
There was an occasion, when he married a man’s wife, in order to punish him, for his errant behaviour.
On another occasion, he handed over the wife of an unruly member, to other men in the flock.
At his will, he could call any of the women who pleased him to satisfy his needs at anytime.
He married a large number of wives, ranging from between 30 and 80, three of whom were also rumoured to be his biological children.
The real number of his wives could not be determined because of his communal life style, because any member’s wife could easily be appropriated.
In 1959, he had about 7 wives and he said, when questioned about his polygamous nature –
“I have not finished with wives yet, I am going to marry more, to save the faithful, I must behave like one of themselves. I must marry more women for am I not the shephard and they the sheep?”
Jesu Oyingbo became enormously wealthy as a shephard in the vineyard, and moving from the background of a carpenter, to a Jesus, he became a phenomenon.
In 1961, some of his followers got disenchanted with him and disgraced him on the pages of a Sunday Newspaper as “a fake, a cheat and a humburg”.
The folks did not stop there, they further went to the Police with the complaint that Jesus Odumosu has refused to let them have their share of a €50, 000:00(Fifty Thousand pounds) worth business concern, they have been running with him for many years.
When the Police searched Jesus Odumosu’s house and those of his more intimate followers, the sum of €5,000 pounds was recovered.
To Jesus Odumosu, prophethood is a trade.
Whilst Odumosu was making waves in Lagos, in the then Western region of Nigeria, another Jesus had also emerged in Ikot Ekpene of the Eastern region of Nigeria.
Nigerians are great lovers of panache. They like to dance, sing and parade in mortal ecstacy and belives so much in miracles and graven images.
Jesus Edidem Bassey, a former truck pusher, after proclaiming himself Jesus Christ was regarded as one of the richest men in the whole of the Eastern Region.
He had the most expensive building in Ikot Ekpene and he lived a life of stupendous luxury that could not be easily rivaled.
According to the Drum Magazine publication of July 1961, the life of this Jesus of Ikot Ekpene, was captured as follows- “He has a throne on which he is dragged through all the nooks and corners of Ikot Ekpene once a year.”
“He has male followers who obey his bidding without question. He is a God and can take any woman (provided she is one of his own flock) that he fancies. It does not matter that the woman may be married to one of his male followers. That he, a god, condescend to fancy his wife at all is accepted by any of his male followers as the greatest honour that a god can do to a mere mortal.”
The article further stated –
“ The police have, until very recently, closes their eyes to the carrying-on of fake Messiah because none of their followers have ever come forward to complain of having been duped financially “
“Although we knew all along that they have been using religion to make money, we also know that they will continue to be in the clear until one of their followers defects and comes to us with a complaint.”
“Jesu Odumosu has been terribly shaken. Once one of the big ones is behind bars, without the heavens falling our guess is thst the lesser ones will disband and run for it”
“Until this happens, religion will continue to remain a cover for one of the most organised and prosperous forms of legal dishonesty in Nigeria. As long as the false prophets are protected from the police by the fanatical belief of their followers in them, religious confusion will continue.”
Perhaps, Wole Soyinka, the great writer, poet and author had the likes of these Jesues in mind, when he published his epic drama-
“The Trials of Brother Jero” – a light satirical comedy, that exposed religious hypocrisy, in the form of a charlatan or fraud, who preached to his followers on bar beach, in Lagos, Nigeria. He realised the mentality of his followers, in their search for money power and enhanced social status.
The drama was first produced in Mellamby Hall of the University of Ibadan in April 1960 and was eventually published in 1963 by the Oxford Press.
It exposed religious gullibility and credulity of one of his ardent followers-Chume, whom he had prophesied, would be promoted from Chief Messenger to Chief Clerk in the Civil Service and that a politician he had prayed for in the bar beach, would become a Minister of War in Nigeria.
He had also warned Chume not to beat his wife Amope, because unknown to Chume, Brother Jero had a secret relationship with Amope.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who also shared a Kuti blood with Wole Soyinka and whose mother – Grace Eniola, daughter of J.J Ransome Kuti was also of the Kuti family in Abeokuta. Fela, sang melodiously too, in his epic album-Suffering and Smiling.
“suffer suffer for World Amen, enjoy for heaven Amen…”
“Arch Bishop dey enjoy, Pope sef dey enjoy;” lyrically, exposed religious hypocrisy and gullibility, in sweet and revolutionary melody.
Immanuel Olufunmilayo Odumosu, later relocated from his well known abode and place of worship centre in Oyingbo, to Maryland in Ikeja, Lagos but the name Jesu Oyingbo had stuck. In Maryland, he was still Jesu Oyingbo.
In Maryland, all the adherents of his religious faith, now lived a communal life in an enclave.
In the enclave in Maryland, were nursery, primary and secondary schools.
In the enclave with about 700 worshippers, he had more than enough workforce for his sprawling business.
On Immanuel Street, Maryland, Ikeja, where he now had his Universal College of Regeneration, (UCR) were various inscriptions on his numerous buildings.
“Merciful and mighty”, “Prince of peace,” “everlasting father” and some of the buildings were surrounded by statutes of the original Christ.
There were also Caterpillars, tractors and also, sculptures of lions and mermaids with water sprouting from their mouths.
He had a multifaceted religious approach, prophesying Christianity, Islamic religion and traditional worship; after all, his grandfather- Joseph Odumosu was a traditional herbalist.
He justifies these liberal attitudes to religion by emphasising the disparity between him and Jesus Christ.
He said while Jesus came to sacrifice and suffer “taking care of the cross-carrying and crucifixion, he, the second Jesus, “simply came to enjoy life”.
According to him, while addressing some newspaper reporters – “I have come to enjoy my life my friend”; and in enjoying this life, he amassed stupendous wealth, both in cash and in kind.
His sprawling estate in Maryland- 7a,7b, 9,10,11,13,14,15,17,Immanuel Street, Maryland, Lagos, 37 Aliyu Street, via Felicia Ayodeji Street, off Ikorodu Road Ketu, Lagos: 370/322; 624 Ikorodu Road, Mile 12 Lagos, really exposed his wealth.
Asides from other vast properties and funds left in his UK and Nigerian Bank Accounts, he was very prominent and very friendly with his neighbours in Maryland.
Most evenings, he would show them films, through his projector, local and foreign movies. His bread- Goodluck bread from his bakery, was heavily patronised, by the neighbours and even Reverend Fathers and sisters and nuns, from the nearby St. Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland, Ikeja.
It was generally believed that his goodluck bread brings goodluck.
Jesus of Oyingbo had prophesied that he would never die but unfortunately, the immortal Jesu Oyingbo was gripped by the cold hand of death on the 17th of January, 1988 at a private hospital in Lagos, where he passed on at the age or 73 years.
To his worshippers, it was unbelievable that their messiah could die. He died and the worshippers waited for him for three days to resurrect, and when he could not resurrect after three days, the empire began to crumble.
Naturally, his death exposed the vanity of human life and the scramble for and partition of his sprawling estate, began, like the Berlin conference of 1884- The scramble for and partition of Africa.
Wives began to fight against themselves, children against children and old members of the enclaves who believed they were equally entitled to the spoils of war, began a frenetic struggle.
There were series of litigations, in fighting, backbiting and acrimony.
The eldest child – Olukayode Odumosu, filed an action at the Lagos High Court, for eviction of residents of the spiritual enclave.
On the 18th of June, 2014, after a long probate battle, Justice Ronke Harrison of the Probate division of the Ikeja High Court ruled that “all 167 children are entitled to share in the vast estate as beneficiaries in equal proportion”. Jesu Oyigbo died intestate, i.e. without a will.
There were numerous wives, as much as about 80. The sprawling estate became hide out for urchins and criminals and tenants who were as much as about 2,000 refused to pay their rent. The empire, which some of his adherents believed would resurrect in 1998, 10 years after the demise of Jesu Oyingbo, failed to resurrect.
Because dust has returned to dust, the Jesu Oyingbo empire became a fast weed of thick forest, in the sprawling high brow Street of Immanuel, in Maryland, Ikeja-which justifies that popular Yoruba aphorism –
“Bolode Oku Ode ohu gbegi”.
Also, after the death of Jesu Oyingbo, the popular Yoruba song –
“Emi o mo jesu Oyingbo, emi o mo jesu agege, emi o mo Guru Maharaji, Jesu ti mo mo, l’ Apata Ayeraye” meaning –
“I don’t know Jesus of Oyingbo, I don’t know Jesus of Agege, I don’t know Guru Maharaji, the Jesus that I know, is the rock of ages” became a prominent sing song. Interestingly, the Jesu Oyingbo phenomenon is still very contemporary in our modern world in its tomfoolery and charlatanism.
Religion, certainly, is the opium of the masses!
May the gentle soul of the self acclaimed second Jesus Christ – Jesu Oyingbo- Immanuel Olufunmilayo Odumosu continually find peaceful repose with the Lord.
Hon Femi Kehinde, legal practitioner and former Member, House of Representatives, National Assembly Abuja, represented Ayedire/Iwo/Ola-Oluwa Federal Constituency of Osun State. (1999-2003)