Proclaimed messiahnism and priesthood as trade, By Femi Kehinde

Proclaimed messiahnism and priesthood as trade, By Femi Kehinde

The late Immanuel Olufunmilayo Odumosu, better known as Jesu Oyingbo.

In the 1959 declaration, he proclaimed that, “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.”

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, which 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 levels of education or sophistication, there is still the general belief that there is that 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 prosperous forms of legal dishonesty. Immanuel Olufunmilayo Odumosu latched onto this and prospered.

He was born in 1915 in Ijebu Ode to Jacob Odumosu.

His grandfather was Joseph Odumosu, a famous traditional healer and herbalist in the town.

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 P&T, he was an active member of the workers’ union and took an active part in the workers’ strike of 1945, which subsequently led to his disengagement from service.

Immanuel then went back to his carpentry work and opened a workshop on Oil Mill Street, Lagos Island, Lagos. Despite his dexterity in the carpentry business, he could not make ends meet and was constantly in debt. At a time, he was jailed for six months as a result of charges brought against him by his creditors. Life at that time was harrowing and unexciting, and 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 that he had received visions and dreams from God, which he interpreted as messianic visions revealing that he had come to redeem the world.

To him, this constituted a spiritual rebirth and he began to pronounce this by holding evening religious meetings in his carpentry workshop. He thereafter established the Universal College of Regeneration (UCR), and his early sermons emphasised the duality of the world and self-discipine.

Immanuel saw a world that was in conflict, which he regarded as a clash 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 he had access to, being the redeemer of the natural world.

In 1952 when he started this ministry, he denounced 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 equally encouraged members to fund his evangelical ministry.

In 1954, a wealthy member of his ministry provided a property for Odumosu’s use in Ebute Metta, close to Oyingbo market. He then encouraged his flock to relocate to Ebutte Metta, to live in rented properties close to the church building.

As an emerging ministry, he began preaching his sermons through loud speakers placed outside the church hall, at a location close to Oyingbo market, and promoted the payment of tithe by his members.

Oyingbo, established in the 1920s, was a great market of delight and prosperity. When traders of the Apapa Road Market were relocated to swell the ranks of those in Oyingbo in the 1930s, Oyingbo became a market of first destination and one of the oldest and biggest in Lagos and Nigeria, respectively.

Before Balogun market stole the show, Oyingbo, close to the Iddo Train Station, was the bee hive of trade.

The fortunes and prominence of Oyingbo could easily be compared with those 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 of the slave trade. It was a destination and hub for the transportation of slaves and commercial activities.

In Ejinrin, the Europeans constructed the second oldest sea port in Nigeria and also a large market having over 1,800 stalls, with huge volumes of trade in cocoa, fabrics, fish, matches, wine, spirits, other consumables and export items.

As a result of its proximity to the market, the membership of Jesu Oyingbo’s church, the Universal College of Regeneration (UCR), witnessed a huge upsurge in numbers. And, to induct new male members, Immanuel would whip them with a cane nine times each. Presumably, this was a cane inherited from his traditional herbalist grandfather, Joseph Odumosu.

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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 was location of the first Post Office in Nigeria. It was with the giant status of Ejinrin that Oyingbo market could be compared, in terms of prominence, relevance and business activities. And, it was with Oyingbo market that Immanuel Olufunmilayo Odumosu shared proximity and attention. As the loud speakers of Immanuel Odumosu’s Church boomed into the market, this is what gave him the sobriquet of ‘Jesu Oyingbo’.

Ebenezer Obey, a great Juju music composer, singer and philosophical artist, lauded the beauties and gains of the Oyingbo and Ejinrin markets in some of his lyrics. He sang: “Oja Oyingbo ko mo pe eni kan owa o” (“The majesty of the Oyingbo market is such that no one’s absence is ever noticed in the sea of people present”), and with equal prominence that, “b’oko kan o re Ejinrin, egbe gberun e aa lo…” (“No absent lorry is ever felt in the thousand lorries that throng Ejinrin!”)

As a result of its proximity to the market, the membership of Jesu Oyingbo’s church, the Universal College of Regeneration (UCR), witnessed a huge upsurge in numbers. And, to induct new male members, Immanuel would whip them with a cane nine times each. Presumably, this was a cane inherited from his traditional herbalist grandfather, Joseph Odumosu.

Then the bang came!

In 1959, he declared himself as 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; the Deluxe Bakeries, makers of Good luck bread; the barber shops; lodging and accommodation facilities, etc.

Late Jesu Oyingbo’s building at Maryland Lagos. Picture credit: Kaizen Photography/Wikimedia Commons

In the 1959 declaration, he proclaimed that, “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 implanted in him overnight to evangelise to the world.

For Immanuel Odumosu, his declaration as the second Jesus was as a result of a divine revelation, straight out of the Chambers of Heaven, and his mission was to save people from their earthly worries, and comfort and redeem them. He established communal enclaves and asked his followers to forsake their families and come into the New Jerusalem to live with him.

Hence, the members of his church/enclave were not only his congregation but also part of the work force in his various business enterprises, whether the printing outfit, bakery, restaurants, bars, salons, construction company, real estate outfit, etc., from all of which he derived enormous income.

Aside from the occasional gifts he received, he also derived other benefits from the commune, which he considered as his entitlement as their redeemer. One of these was his unlimited access to the wives of the men in his flock, from whom he could choose to do whatever he pleased, to satisfy his seemingly 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 will, he could call on any of the women who caught his fancy to satisfy his urges at anytime.

The Jesus of Oyingbo married a large number of wives, numbering 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, and as any member of his congregration’s wife could easily be appropriated.

In 1959, when he had just about seven wives and was questioned about his polygamous nature, he said: “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 with the transition from being a carpenter, to a Jesus-figure, 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 had refused to let them have their shares of a £50,000 (fifty thousand pounds) business concern, which they have been running with him for several years.

When the Police searched Jesus Odumosu’s house and those of his more intimate followers, the sum of £5,000 pounds was recovered.

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To Jesus Odumosu, prophethood was a trade.

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 stuck to him. In Maryland, he was still Jesu Oyingbo, and all the adherents of his religious faith continued to live a communal life in an enclave, which had nursery, primary and secondary schools.

Whilst Odumosu was making waves in Lagos, in the then Western region of Nigeria, another Jesus also emerged in Ikot Ekpene, in the Eastern region of Nigeria.

Nigerians are great lovers of panache. They like to dance, sing and parade in mortal ecstacy, while believing so much in miracles and graven images.

Jesus Edidem Bassey, a former truck pusher, after proclaiming himself as Jesus Christ, was regarded as one of the richest men in the whole of the Eastern Region. He constructed the most expensive building in Ikot Ekpene and 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, condescends 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 that:

“The police have, until very recently, closed 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 that 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 the bar beach in Lagos, Nigeria. He understood the mentality of his followers, in their search for money, power and enhanced social statuses.

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 exposes religious gullibility and the credulity of one of Jero’s ardent followers, Chume, who he prophesies 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 also warns Chume not to beat his wife, Amope, because unknown to Chume, Brother Jero is in a secret relationship with Amope.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who was a blood relative of Wole Soyinka (through the latter’s mother, Grace Eniola, who was a daughter of J.J Ransome Kuti of the Kuti family in Abeokuta), also sang melodiously in his epic album,  Suffering and Smiling: “suffer suffer for world, amen/enjoy for heaven, amen…” He exposed religious hypocrisy and gullibility, singing that, “Archbishop na miliki/Pope na enjoyment/Imam na gbaladun”…

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 stuck to him. In Maryland, he was still Jesu Oyingbo, and all the adherents of his religious faith continued to live a communal life in an enclave, which had nursery, primary and secondary schools.

With about 700 worshippers in the enclave, Jesu Oyingbo had more than enough workforce for his sprawling businesses.

On Immanuel Street, Maryland, Ikeja, where he now had his Universal College of Regeneration (UCR), there were various inscriptions on his numerous buildings, such as “Merciful and mighty”, “Prince of peace,” “Everlasting father”, with some of the structures surrounded by statutes of the original Christ.

There were also heavy equipment like caterpillars and tractors, and also sculptures of lions and mermaids with water sprouting from their mouths.

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There were numerous wives, as much as about 80, according to some accounts. The long drawn out legal tussles saw the sprawling estate become hideouts for urchins and criminals, and tenants of his properties, who were as many as 2,000, refused to pay their rents. The empire, which some of his adherents believed would resurrect in 1998, 10 years after the demise of Jesu Oyingbo, failed to resurrect.

Odumosu had a multifaceted religious approach, prophesying Christianity, Islamic religion and traditional worship; after all, his grandfather, Joseph Odumosu was a traditional spiritualist.

He justified this liberal attitude to religion by emphasising the disparity between him and Jesus Christ. He said that while Jesus came to sacrifice and suffer taking care of the cross-carrying and crucifixion, he, the second Jesus, “simply came to enjoy life”.

While addressing some newspaper reporters, he said: “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, on numbers 7a, 7b, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, and 17 Immanuel Street, Maryland; also on 37 Aliyu Street, via Felicia Ayodeji Street, off Ikorodu Road, Ketu and 370/322 and 624 Ikorodu Road, Mile 12 exposed the extent of his wealth. He equally had vast properties and funds in his United Kingdom and Nigerian bank accounts.

Odumosu was very friendly with his neighbours in Maryland and on most evenings, he would show them local and foreign movies, which were projected in the neighbourhood. The Goodluck bread from his bakery was heavily patronised by the neighbours, and even by Reverend Fathers and Sisters and Nuns from the nearby St. Agnes Catholic Church, Maryland, Ikeja.

It was generally believed that his Goodluck bread brought goodluck.

Immanuel Odumosu had prophesied that he would never die, but unfortunately the ‘immortal’ Jesu Oyingbo was gripped by the cold hands of death on January 17, 1988 at a private hospital in Lagos, where he passed on at the age of 73 years.

To his worshippers, it was unbelievable that their messiah could die. His congregation waited for him to resurrect after three days, and when this did not happen, his 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 it was done to Africa during the Berlin conference of 1884.

As Jesu Oyingbo’s wives began to fight among themselves, so also did contentions break out among his children and old members of the enclaves, who believed they were equally entitled to the spoils of his life, and thereafter began a frenetic struggle.

There were a series of litigations, in-fighting, backbiting and acrimony involved in those fights.

The eldest child, Olukayode Odumosu, filed an action at the Lagos High Court, for the eviction of residents of the spiritual enclave.

On June 18, 2014, after a long 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”, as Jesu Oyigbo had died intestate, i.e. without a will.

There were numerous wives, as much as about 80, according to some accounts. The long drawn out legal tussles saw the sprawling estate become hideouts for urchins and criminals, and tenants of his properties, who were as many as 2,000, refused to pay their rents. 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 thick forest of weed, in the sprawling high brow Immanuel Street, in Maryland, Ikeja, in a manner that justifies the popular Yoruba aphorism: “Bolode oku, ode ohu gbegi”.

Also, after the death of Jesu Oyingbo, the popular Yoruba song, which goes: “Emi o mo jesu Oyingbo/emi o mo jesu Agege/emi o mo Guru Maharaji/Jesu ti mo mo/l’ Apata Ayeraye” (“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.

Femi Kehinde, a former member of the House of Representatives, is principal partner in a law firm based in Ibadan, Lagos and Abuja.

 

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