Rev. Johnson Babalola Adeyemi is the immediate past General Overseer of Gospel Pentecostal Assembly with its headquarters in Dopemu, in Lagos State. He clocked the milestone age of 80 years on September 12, 2023. He played hosts to church members and well-wishers on Sunday September 17, 2023 at his Ipaja Church branch. Days later PTL News was with him in his house where he spoke glowingly of his 80 years memorable life experiences from cradle to becoming an octogenarian. Rev. Adeyemi, popularly referred to as G.O. Emeritus of GPA also spoke on his smooth transition of power and successful succession plan to another capable General Overseer, and several other things about the Church and Nigeria as a country. Rev. Adeyemi, a civil servant, lawyer, cleric and a prolific writer who also presented a book at the birthday celebration is ever an interviewer’s delight on the state of the nation. Enjoy his counsel at 80.
Congratulations on this birthday sir. How do you feel celebrating 80 years?
I feel happy celebrating 80. Few days before then, I was ruminating over my life, from the way I was born, my school years, how I worked, my jobs, and how my mother gave birth to me I saw that it as a privilege to be used to open her womb. My mother was over 50 years before giving birth to me. I thought of how she was able to take care of me even as a widow. I also thought of how she permitted me to go to school alone in those days, plying through major road all alone along the then Akure-Benin-Onitsha road.
When I thought deeply I saw it as a grace of God. Having counted my blessings one by one and what God has done for me and through me, getting born again, becoming a worker in his vineyard, rising to the position of a minister, holding various positions in the Church and within a year they elected me to be on the Board of Elders in the Church, and later to become the treasurer, it was a big church with avenue to steal but I did not do all that, till I became the General Overseer of my Church, Gospel Pentecostal Assembly, I was not the most qualified, I was not the best person, thinking about what the Lord has seen in me to see all these, I saw that God had prepared me very well and made me to reach 80 years, I am very happy.
Old age is a covenant of God with His children. It is not by any schedule or any exercise, it is all by the doing of the Lord, and I am very grateful to God for it.
What can you say are your lessons of 80 years?
It has pleased God because of what He has planned for my life. There had been some interruptions, and God saw me through them all. In 1960 we were travelling from Owo to Lagos in preparation for the Independence Celebration of Nigeria, and when we got to Ilesa, our vehicle had an accident, it summersaulted, two of our tutors were sitting at the front and I was the one sitting next to the motor boy, just by the door, as soon as the accident occurred, I came out, as I was coming out, I saw my bag in front of me, I just picked it, the motor boy died, but I did not sustain any injury. The driver and the motor boy died and nothing happened to me and our teacher. I believed that happened because of God’s purpose for my life.
The second issue was that all the places I had worked were not by my efforts. I worked at where we can call the present day Ministry of Works when Ikeja was part of the Western Region in 1964. It was a colleague of mine that informed me. Six years after, something happened at work that I did not like. I wanted to go for my leave in December when I always went for my exams, my boss did not permit me. I had to write a letter, crying and praying to God, and by May 1968, I was called for an interview and I got a work at the Central Bank of Nigeria. Immediately I resumed I got a transfer to Kano. I didn’t want to go but I went. It was in Kano that I met my wife. We belonged to the same Church.
She was working at the Customs and she was living in GRA. That day her sister did not come to our service and she had no means of going home. She would have gone home with her sister’s car. So she was stranded, and the pastor called me to take her home with my car. It was while I was taking her home, we engaged in mutual discussions. She told me she was going to Kaduna for training, and one thing led to the other as it is said, and the rest is now history.
Another issue that came up with me was that thinking of how someone could be working in Kano and get an admission to study in the University of Lagos. As if they had been planned for me, the following day they transferred me back to Lagos. I can remember that my fiancée then told me to be praying for her or I should be looking for a job for her and as God would have it, the following week she told me she had been transferred to the Ministry of Establishment and Training, and she was transferred to the Ministry of Trade at Onitiri, and I was living in Yaba. I realize that God has always planned my life from the beginning to date.
You are also a lawyer sir. What did it take you to become a Lawyer?
It was not easy then to study. It was rigorous. In the beginning my mother used to escort me to school. All those things gave me the courage and boldness to study hard and never to disappoint her. All those things helped a lot. There was nothing I determined to do that was too much for me. I used go do different courses in those days. I studied Institute of Banking remaining two subjects, I also attempted Institute of Secretaries and Administrators. Whatever I wanted to do, I would do it.
When I was admitted to the University of Lagos, I was attending evening classes. They even got me employed before interview. I had collected four months’ pay before I was interviewed. That was another story. There was a man on the panel of interviewers, he was known to be very tough. They called him Mr. Manuwa then. A week before the interview I had started praying and fasting, and as God would have it he was not around on the day of the interview, and at the scene of the interview, no question was directed to me, among other candidates, they always passed me by anytime they asked questions. When I was about to be questioned, the question came I just realized I was smiling and before I finished my smile, one of them just rose and that was the end of the session. It was the interview that made them transfer me to Port Harcourt. So I could not continue my education at the University of Lagos, I had to study Law by correspondence at the University of London. There was no lecturer, I had to do tutorial for myself, and I made it. The former police Inspector General of Police Sunday Ehindero was my course mate at the Law School.
How about your practice as a Lawyer?
When I left my last job as Company Secretary and Legal Adviser to Cocoa Industries Products at Ile Oluji, now in Ondo State, a friend of mine told me he had got an office at Ikeja, we came there to inspect the office. I told him to reserve a room for me, and before two months of my coming I furnished the place, I came to Lagos and relocated. I began to tell my friends and began to get briefs and businesses. Within three months it was like I had been practising for long. People will also want lawyers to do some things for them, from ejecting and accepting tenants, I applied to banks like Wema Bank, First Bank, UBA, prosecuting loan defaulters. I had a very lucrative practice.
How did you move as a lawyer to become a full time pastor sir?
When God wanted to close that chapter, you cannot beat God. All of a sudden, our then General Overseer was not sick and suddenly he slept and didn’t wake up in June 1994. He was my uncle. I was already a pastor since 1978. I became a senior pastor what we call Reverend in 1984. When it was time to choose a successor the members of the Council went to pray and all the revelations that came out was pointing to me. One fantastic revelation to one of the ministers that knew us said he saw a white man came into the hall and the white man said the man God wanted to use had known himself and with time he would show himself. The prayer continued, it was for seven days. The following day, one of the senior pastors had a similar dream again, saying the same thing, the man peeped out of the window and saw me in the vision. He then said if he knew what I was passing through in my business, that I would know from what I have been seeing. Truly it was tough in the office. I began to realize that I was not having successful cases at the court. Most of my cases were calling for adjournment.
One of the days I invited a friend to share what I was passing through. We prayed together all night, he went to sleep and I came upstairs and he called me to tell me that God was behind my challenges, that He wanted me to close that chapter. Meanwhile, I was being considered for the post of the Legal Adviser of the Social Democratic Party then in Alimoso Local Government. That was my expectation.
At the end of the prayer five of the senior pastors were shown my name. Two of the Senior Pastors went to one of our senior pastors in Ilesa, (Pastor Omole) to ask if our General Overseer told him about any choice, without telling him that we were praying. He told them to continue to pray. He later came to share the vision he received. Three of us including the two that went to Ilesa, were asked to pick bells, two of us did not pick the bell with the jingle, I was the only one that picked the bell with the jingle, and that was how I was chosen and became the General Overseer. I did not plan to leave my legal practice. I had to accept and God worked through me. God helped me to move the church forward.
God had planned my life, raised those who would help me. It is not by my power or my intelligence. There is nothing I asked from God without doing it for me.
Tell us sir about your life and experience as General Overseer
What I discovered was that my mentor, my uncle and our General Overseer used to tell us that if you are pastoring a church do not choose any person as your favourite, and that helped us to know what man can do. I realized that people are very difficult to lead. God helped me to move the church forward. My training in the Institute of Industrial Managers helped me to know how man can be taken care of. We learn how to ensure welfare packages for the people and prepare for the future. When I became a pastor, I introduced those things. We used to have joint retreat for the pastors, bring lecturers, medical practitioners and specialists, what we learn and what we practice were put to practice. We encouraged delegated leadership, and allowed pastors to take rest. We encouraged waiting on the Lord, we implement all these in the church, and the Church continued to grow and expand.
Another legacy you are leaving behind in the history of the Church is smooth transition. You have a successor in your life time. How did you do this sir?
In 2016, I discovered my health was failing. I had a partial stroke. I did not know it. It was when I went to the clinic the following day that I was told what happened while preaching was a sign of stroke. I discovered while I was calling prayers after the sermon, my tongue ceased, and the doctor said it would have been more severe if it had been on my arms. You do not need to wait until you die on the pulpit before you know you are doing the work of God. We cannot be blaming God for everything. After this experience I began to pray over it. I also began to realize that I was losing memory, that is what they call dementia which were not part of my normal life. God has always given me retentive memories. When you discover that your body is not strong enough, you need to call it quit and take your rest.
Our church constitution also showed how one can retire or be sacked. It was almost at the same time when Pastor Adeboye of the Redeemed appointed a National Overseer for his Church after the CAMA Act.
As a Lawyer, I thought of working on our constitution, that one could quit not until law of diminishing returns set in. I told them age of retirement should be set. We agreed on 70 years as the statutory age of retirement. Then one of my children in the Lord invited me to America. When I came back I was already 70 years or over. When I came back I wrote to the Council to be praying on the choice of another General Overseer. We began prayer, fasting and it was read at the meeting and we began to pray and God chose our present General Overseer, Rev. David Owolabi.
In the meeting, the Spirit of the Lord fell on one of us who happened to be our current General Overseer, he began to speak in tongues for more than two hours, something he was not known for before. After the meeting we went into prayers, and we asked the Lord if he was His choice and God confirmed him. I handed over to him and the church has been moving on smoothly. You can also see a lot of changes. He is doing well. He has introduced new reforms and the church is doing well.
Choice of Successor is becoming an issue in the modern Church, how will you like to address this?
From the bible God said only the Levites, meaning only the family of Levi will be producing priests. Eli lost it. God does not allow for levity. He rejected the family of Eli and chose Samuel. Samuel failed over his children and the people rejected his children. When Saul failed God, He chose David after him. God protected David from Saul. As a lawyer I know Company and Allied Matters Act came in two areas. God appoint leaders. When leaders misbehave He appoints another. Saul thought he was not qualified enough. Saul wanted his son Jonathan to succeed him but God rejected it. We are not perfect but we don’t allow people to dictate. If people bend the rule God will change His mind and reorganize things.
My advice: Based on the examples of the Bible and my own example, a relative told me a similar story. God will respect His choice if you are working, He will support the one He has appointed. My advice is not to run choice as a business enterprise. Nobody owns any share in the Church, pastors are representatives of God and perform their assignments perfectly without bringing sentiments to it. I always refer to my former G. O. He didn’t want to be called founder. He would ask if man was called the founder, where would they place God?
You just published a book. Was it to commemorate your 80th birthday? Share your ideas and inspirations on why and how you write.
Like I said, I don’t know about most of the things I do. As far back 2020 was when the idea came to me. I had a lot of opportunity during Covid -19, I wrote the draft, gave it to my editor by 2021, I was itching to print it. I realized the book I used to print with 350,000 Naira was getting to 500,000. I didn’t have that money. I tried others I could not afford it. I wrote to my spiritual sons and daughters but was not enough and that delayed it till 2023, it was then that the idea came to me to dedicate it at 80. It was the original plan. It would have come earlier.
When are we to expect the next one?
(Smiles) Only God can answer that, when He gives a vision He makes the provision in strength He was never weak. If God appoints He will see it through.
As a keen observer of the state of the Nation, what are your views on Nigeria, as a senior citizen sir.
I grew up in having interest in what is going on in my country as a keen observer as a student of current affairs. From the first generation which I monitored very closely, I admired Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik) for his education, Awolowo for being a good planner. In the first republic the leaders had competitive minds. Whatever Awolowo did in the West, Zik would go to the East to replicate the same thing. It was a very good competition, with the TV, the stadium, Cocoa House and he did not name anything to himself.
Today people are calling for regional government. The regional government of the first republic did not succeed because it was a region but because of the men and women who ran them. The first republican leaders were leaders with virtues, integrity and love for motherland even with limited resources. Now they have the money but cannot manage the resources well. The problem with Nigeria is about management. Their own palliative was not the government sharing money.
What the current leaders should do is to adopt free education at all levels. Now they have destroyed public institutions so much that only private institutions thrive today. It is no more like Chief Awolowo’s time when Western Region was on free education. They should genuinely invest in education, health and infrastructure. These are the facilities we need. Whether you are young and old you can go for health facilities at minimum cost. If people are enjoying these, what other subsidy do we need? The farmers should be protected, there should be fertilizers to produce food, let there be electricity, those are the subsidies and palliatives Nigerians need. Ghana has celebrated 20 years of un interrupted power supply. It will help the artisans.
On Nigeria and President Tinubu
His case is a legal, constitutional and moral issue. It is a multi-dimensional and complex issue. My observation is the way we are going we must learn from all these multifarious issues. The way the politicians are doing this is over bearing. Speaking as a lawyer, one lesson we can learn is to go to the parliament and amend our laws, pre-election matters should be treated before election. Atiku ought to have gone to court earlier on all these before the election. Now they want to over burden the judiciary. There must be clarification from pre and post elections. He needs not to wait this long. Before swearing, all cases must have been resolved. Let us correct our electoral reforms. He shouldn’t have been allowed to contest election.
We shouldn’t blame the parliament, it is a bad workman that blames his tools. We don’t need to blame the legislature.
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