Venerable Joseph Ipinmoye: I Was Born in the ‘Dark Ages’ But Learnt from Soyinka


Venerable Joseph Ipinmoye in this interview with Funke Olaode talks about personal struggles and accomplishments in the shadows of colonialism, a world war and Nigeria’s military dictatorship

At 90, how has life treated you?

Life has treated me well. There were challenges but God didn’t allow them to overpower me. I was born in a small village in Ekiti. By divine grace I had the opportunity to go to school and make some mark in life.

Were there things you would have done differently? 

I don’t think so. Because I was born in the days we could refer to as the ‘dark ages’. 

How would you describe that time? 

I grew up in a community that was not exposed to modern influences at that time. There was neither electricity nor modern conveniences. But the coming of the Church and education brought development. I had my education at the Methodist School, Itapa, between June 1938 and June 1941. Afterward, I went to St. Peters Ayede to continue Standard One. The reason was that I was the only one left out of the original six from my community. Being the only one from my community, I was often bullied by my school mates from other communities. Because the school’s class stopped at Standard Five, I had to change school again – this time to St. Andrews Primary School, Usi, for my Standard Six. I trekked everyday for about 30 miles to Usi.

What factors shaped your life? 

I attribute the course of my life to the grace of God. In those days, we did not have the opportunities that education and enlightenment had brought. People farmed, a few traded. But in the midst of that, I had a good family background. My siblings were an inspiration. We went to farm, worked and when I was picked to go to school, they cooperated with my parents. Before I finished school, we lost our father, and there was a decision made by the extended family that I should stop schooling. But by then, I had come to love education. So, I decided to go against that decision and thankfully, my mother and siblings supported me. I farmed to support my education. The challenges I faced helped me later in life. The influence of the Church was tremendous. At an early age, we were selected to help lead services, and serve in the house of God. The assignments we were given was the beginning of my church work.

Can you recall any childhood pranks that landed you in trouble? 

No, I can’t recall any. I did not have time for pranks. I was too busy trying to survive and fend for my mother and siblings. Life became tough when we lost our father – playing pranks was out of the question. 

How did you manage to acquire university education?

I passed entrance examinations to Christ School, Ado-Ekiti in 1945 but could not afford the tuition. After Standard six I worked as a teacher from 1948 to 1951. From 1951, I became a catechist and was at St Paul’s CMS Church (now Anglican Church) Ikole. I used my spare time to farm and money earned was used to buy books. With my devotion to studies that year, I was able to pass the entrance examination to Melville Hall, Ibadan. So I entered Melville Hall in 1952 and was there until 1953 when I received the certification as a trained catechist and was ordained as a priest on June 1, 1958 by Bishop Adelakun Howells at the Christ Church Cathedral, Lagos.  But based on my desire for higher education, I went to the University of Ife in 1963. I was one of the second set of students admitted into the university when the campus was in Sango, Ibadan. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Literature in 1966. Prof. Wole Soyinka was one of our lecturers and was quite brilliant. In 1974 to 1975, I was at the University of Ibadan for a postgraduate diploma in Education.  

Having lived this long, what changes in Nigeria would you like to see before you die? 

The colonial era in Nigeria produced great developments for the country. They brought education, hospitals, road networks and other amenities. They even brought some new food items and introduced same to our farmers. For instance, when I was growing up, there were very few food crops being grown. It was in the 1940s that we saw cassava for the first time. People rejected it initially because it was believed to be poisonous and that it killed people. Musicians sang about the disgrace of eating cassava. But in 1944, during the World War, there was famine and people were hungry. So, farmers eventually embraced the cultivation of cassava. The processed garri then was different from what we have now. We will soak it in water and wait for some period for it to be ready for consumption. Rice came to our area in Ekiti in the 1940s. The colonial masters brought development and during their time, there was discipline in governance. The intervention of the military in politics was a misnomer. The military are not trained for governance but to protect the country. Their entrance into politics has resulted in a loss of professionalism in the military.

Why did you decide to live Lagos for your hometown, Ijelu, after retirement and not the state capitaI, Ado-Ekiti?

I have always loved my community. I grew up here. One prayer that we always pray is that the Lord should enable us to bring home the proceeds of our labour. After our retirement, my wife and I chose to come back home – to our roots. This to our mind will enable us bring development closer to our people and also demonstrate to our people that, east or west, home is best. On retirement, we stayed in Ado Ekiti for a short while and moved here to the village. It has been a blessed time ever since we came home.