In a remarkable twist of fate, several Nigerian pastors have transitioned from the pulpit to the palace, trading in their cassocks for royal regalia. This unexpected journey from the world of Christian ministry to traditional rulership reflects the complex relationship between African traditional religions and Christianity. In their research, Chukwuma O. Okeke et al. highlighted the enduring conflict between these two belief systems, which at times has resulted in severe consequences, including loss of life and property.
However, in recent times, there have been instances where devout Christian clerics defied the odds and became traditional rulers, wielding influence and authority from their newfound positions. Here are six prominent Nigerian pastors who have embarked on this unique path.
Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle (RCCG):
In 2012, Pastor Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle, a pastor in a Lagos branch of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), achieved the extraordinary feat of becoming the Olu of Ilaro and the paramount ruler of the Yewa-Awori axis in Ogun State. His unanimous support from the kingmakers and subsequent victory in an election marked a significant departure from his previous role. In an interview, Oba Olugbenle shared that his acceptance of the throne was not sudden but guided by spiritual reflection.
Professor James Ayatse (Deeper Life Bible Church):
Until his ascension to the throne in 2017, the paramount ruler of Tiv people worldwide, the Tor Tiv, Professor James Ayatse, was both an academician and a pastor of the Deeper Life Bible Church.
On Saturday, March 4, 2017, history was replicated in Gboko, the traditional headquarters of the Tiv nation in Benue State, following the coronation of His Royal Majesty, Orchivirigh, Prof. James Iorzua Ayatse as the paramount ruler of Tiv people worldwide, the Tor Tiv, the fifth.
The memorable event generated no small controversy among the Tiv society and the general Christian community because the new king was administered the oath of office with a bible instead of “Swem” the traditional god of the people.
It is believed that the Swem upholds the customs and values of the Tiv people, thereby ensuring justice as well as equity in the land and that the traditional god has the power to punish offenders. Traditionalists opined that any king who swears by the Swem is bound to do justice to the people or risk the wrath of the gods if he goes contrary while discharging his duties.
Some critics have opined that the professor of Biochemistry, who hails from the Kwande bloc of the Ipusu generation in Mbakan, Shangev-Ya in the Kwande local government area of the state, has, from the onset of his reign, desecrated the culture of the people for which he was elected to preserve, as they based their argument on the grounds that the stool was established on traditional spiritual practices.
Gabriel Ayodele Adejuwon (RCCG):
Gabriel Ayodele Adejuwon, formerly a pastor at the RCCG and a civil servant, was crowned king of Isan-Ekiti in 2017. He faced questions about how his faith as a pastor would align with his responsibilities as a king. Oba Adejuwon explained that he believed in managing diverse faiths harmoniously and that he supported the traditionalists in his community without compromising his Christian beliefs.
Matthew Jegede (Deeper Life Bible Church):
Oba Matthew Durojaye Jegede, a Deeper Life Bible Church pastor, became the first Alahan of Ahan Ayegunle Ekiti in Ekiti East local government area in 2020. Initially, he had reservations about becoming a king as a Christian but eventually accepted the role after experiencing recurring dreams that indicated his destiny. Surprisingly, those who opposed his decision eventually attended his coronation ceremony.
John Elaigwu Odogbo (Deeper Life Bible Church):
John Elaigwu Odogbo, another Deeper Life Pastor, emerged as the paramount ruler of Idomaland in 2021. His journey to becoming Och’Idoma-elect was marked by a vote of confidence from the kingmakers and his commitment to traditional rituals. He was officially coronated as the fifth Paramount Ruler of the Idoma nation on June 30, 2023.
Wilson Pius Ahola (RCCG):
Wilson Pius Ahola, formerly an RCCG Pastor in Lagos, was selected as the Oche’Akpa, the paramount ruler of Akweya kingdom in Benue State in January 2023. Chief Wilson pledged to uphold the traditions and culture of his people while describing his appointment as an act of God. He was officially presented to the Och’Idoma, HRM John Odogbo Elaigwu, by a First Class Chief.
Afolabi Ghandi Olaoye (RCCG):
Following the passing of the late Soun of Ogbomoso in December 2021, Afolabi Ghandi Olaoye, a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in the United States, was chosen as the new monarch. In a video message, Pastor Olaoye shared his initial reluctance and the divine calling he felt to accept the throne. He argued that both pastors and kings share roles as shepherds and leaders. He was crowned on September 8, 2023.
These stories of Nigerian pastors who transitioned to traditional rulership illuminate the unique dynamics at the intersection of religion, tradition, and leadership. Their journeys challenge conventional expectations, highlighting the power of faith and destiny to reshape lives and communities.