Encounters with a Strange Prophet

Femi Akintunde-Johnson

We have had a relentless itch to do this for weeks…a lingering desire to share our remote encounters with this interesting man, after about two years of close monitoring, as much as one is able to keep pace with his frenetic activities. Of course, we recognize that religion is a strictly private engagement, and its practice, devout or peripheral, is a matter of personal disposition.

  I met Prophet Abel Taiwo Ojo online, through my wife, during the initial lockdown that came in the wake of the first wave of the Wuhan gift to the world, COVID-19. That was around June, 2020. 

  His ministrations was conducted mostly in Yoruba, a language I love to hear, but a work-in-progress to speak as deeply and fluently. This man ignited my interest with his familiarity with the scriptures; his virtually inexhaustible anecdotes of personal calamities and vicissitudes; his humorous interjections with some of his lieutenants, and a general sense of passion for things of God – especially the copious hours devoted to prayers, fasting, songs and hymns, daily!

  A careful and regular listener (or online ‘follower’) would have been fully aware of Ojo’s life story: from the village boy adept at farming, hunting, and surviving the harsh realities of rustic lifestyles, to the vagaries of itinerant evangelism, and sundry testimonials of abject poverty. All the narratives are delivered in impeccable Yoruba which his translators struggle to transmit as quickly and as accurately as possible into English, for the sake of non-Yoruba ‘congregants’. Even his most efficient translator (Lanre) sometimes trips over a few of Ojo’s heavily metaphoric or onomatopoeic Yoruba words and symbolisms, tinged with the iconic Ibadan dialect, though he insists he is of the Ogbomosho stock. 

  Another unique aspect of Ojo is his almost inhuman energy – a remarkable capacity for a man who looks anywhere from 45 to 55 years old. When we came in contact with his “Prophet Taiwo Ojo Live” on Facebook, he was straddling around 2,000 and 3,000 viewers – and I was often amused when he requested repeatedly: “ẹ share ẹ nigba mẹtala…” (share it – the FB video link – 13 times), or some higher numbers. Quick confession: I refused to do so. After all, I was just “sounding him out”…why would I share what I hardly knew? Nowadays, his “online members” are tipping over 10,000 people on Facebook, with daily comments in excess of 50,000. Similar impressive numbers are attained on the YouTube channel.

  But his services, between two hours and four, or more, were often electric. And rapid! God bless data providers and sellers! This man is on the pulpit everyday, twice a day! And thrice on Wednesday/Thursday and Friday/Saturday for four-hour vigils. Each programme (which he claimed he was divinely instructed to start online long before the lockdown) is headlined by a specific title: Every morning, except on Sunday (which is a six-hour binge), is “Isọji Ori Afẹfẹ” (Online Revival) which runs live from his Ibadan location with few attendants, and on social media, between 7.30 am and 9 am. Similarly, every evening, between 7 pm and 8 pm is for “Àsọtẹlẹ Woli” (Prophetic Declaration). 

  The vigils are conducted in a fairly large auditorium of his church called CAC Covenant of Mercy (“CAC Majẹmu Anu”), off Iwo Road, in Adelubi area of Ibadan, Oyo State; and sometimes at the huge expanse of their campground, dubbed Mercy Camp, in Osengere, along Ife-Ibadan expressway. The vigils (“Oru Itusilẹ” – Night of Deliverance) run from 12.30 midnight to about 4 am. And because Ojo is a poor timekeeper, his programmes run beyond allotted times, with the connivance of his live audience who often egg him on. Virtually, all the prayer meetings run late. Apparently, no one cares, and there is hardly a dull moment, when Ojo is in his element. 

  During the scourge of global panic in curtailing the ravages of COVID-19, it must be astonishing to advocates of safe distancing and face masks, when huge numbers of congregants were always mingling and milling at every service. Sunday morning is a different world entirely: from 7am to 1pm is a walk in the park. He’s like an incredible man-machine – without a flagging speed, nor have I noticed a hoarse voice. The truly astonishing part for me is the unfailing morning service after each vigil. About three hours after the vigils of Thursday and Saturday, the voice and velocity crank up the volume for “Isọji Ori Afẹfẹ” at exactly 7.30am!

  Another of his peculiarities is his numerous and uncommon frank and unique prayer points. You sense that this man has been so brutally beaten by life’s bitter ‘koboko’ for decades such that nothing now matters to him except seeking after holiness; being immersed in fasting and prayers (he mentions fastings not as a matter if days, but in weeks and months, and trips to sundry ‘mountains’ that sound far-fetched to the uninitiated); and surrendering himself to be used by God as He pleases. Ojo churns out prayer points, laced with vivid testimonials, complimentary anecdotes and corroboratory passages from the Bible, then wraps them with an “if-you-like-stand-and-pray-or-if-you-want-you-can-sit-and-waste-your-life” admonition, as he rumbles through an hour or more of relentless and frantic prayer tussles.

  Many of his online parishioners come from all over the world – and this is for real – to a quarterly three-day revival (broadly themed “72 Hours”) at the Osengere Mercy camp which, I believe, can contain more than 10,000 people. The attendees speak of different acts of miracles: physiological healings, extraordinary turnarounds, spiritual upliftment, overcoming demonic attacks, reversals of misfortunes, etc. The next one is due June 10-12, 2022. Interestingly, Ojo is always quick to disclaim personal knowledge of the miracles, as he insists that he merely follows, and responds, to the “voice of God” that he hears…the same who has led him to take countless actions and acts of self-denial. 

  Many top gospel artistes, and guest ministers have graced the platform of the Covenant of Mercy: Bola Are, JA Adelakun (Ayewa), Elijah ‘Olorunosọbẹ’ Akintunde, Bunmi ‘Omije-Ojumi’ Akinnanu, Dare Melody, etc. Incidentally, it was on his stage that Tope Alabi made the “Oniduro Mi’ gaffe…and he wasted no time correcting her error, even before it went viral.

  Any open-minded observer would be entertained by Ojo’s delivery and performance – he bounces off borderline limericks and jokes on some of his pastor acolytes, like Laide, the man with the facial marks; Yinka, the good-looking pastor whose command of English is abysmal; Wale (official pastor) is his usual whipping horse to illustrate grass-to-grace anecdotes; and Taiwo, his pot-bellied deputy and namesake, who tries to keep a straight face as much as possible. There are a couple of elderly pastors that Ojo apparently defers to, and are thus a little immune from his jocular darts – Baba Adebowale and Baba Adeleke. Even some members of the choir and few regular congregants are now fairly well-known to Ojo’s admirers because of his occasional jabs at them: Sister Bridget, Bola ‘Dudu’, Bola ‘Pupa’, Saida, Iya Michael, Alhaji… their interactions, often one-sided, make the extensive prayer sessions less draining.

  In spite of his humour and flourish in ministration, Ojo is also a highly disciplined and fair-minded person. Admirably, he doesn’t cavort for dues, tithes and offerings as is common in some of today’s churches. “I don’t need your money, it’s your salvation I’m after” – he regularly warns in his best English pose. He walks the talk often – publicly lambasting any of his lieutenants who show favouritism in giving privilege to anyone to jump the queue for the long and draining counseling sessions he sometimes conducts after services. No one is too big to escape the queue, and he often berates highly-placed individuals who storm off, offended that they are not accorded “due protocols” in recognition of their statuses. Well, if he is even-handed to his family members, as he claims, to the consternation of his aides, how much more important strangers?   

  Whaoh – that is a man I would wish to meet one day – to, among other things, ask: are you really that real?

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