Remember her? Her television programme, Agbara Olorun Kiibati (the power of God never fails) made waves in the 90s. The first female bishop in Africa and one of the earliest televangelists the country can boast of, Bishop Bola Odeleke is the General Overseer of Power Pentecostal Church with headquarters in Lagos. She lost her husband, who was a member of the then Provincial Ruling Council during the regime of President Ibrahim Babangida in a motor accident in 1990. That incident soon cast a shadow on her destiny as things never remained the same again. She remarried twice. She divorced twice.
But years after, she came to a full realization that no man could step into the shoes of her late husband. Now 70, Bishop Odeleke is committed to a life of evangelism and spreading of the good news. In this no-holds-bar interview, the Ibadan born African bishop tells her story
When was your first marriage?
I got married in 1970 to 2nd Lt. Lasun Odeleke who died as a General in the Nigerian Army. We were together throughout until his death. He was a great husband.
Were there times you were discouraged doing this work?
There was no discouragement at all because I was sold to the work. There was a time I lost one of my children and still went ahead to preach that same day. I put the baby in the car and drove to the crusade ground and placed the baby there. I carried on with the crusade and God performed a lot of wonders in the lives of people. But in my case He did not touch the dead baby. We had to bring the baby back home to be buried. But even at that I was not discouraged. It is a delight and a privilege to do the work of God. I’m praying that God will restore the kind of spirit we used in the work to the church in this present age. Many preachers today are thinking of gain rather than service. But then the zeal was all consuming.
How did your husband die?
He was one of the members of the PRC and he was going for their meeting when he allegedly had an accident and died. It happened in Abuja . I had been leaning on him all my life. I saw him as a brother and a friend. When we were young he used to protect me from men and would warn boys around me to stay off. He was always telling me to face my studies that I should not allow any of those boys to touch me because if they did they would truncate my ambition of becoming a lawyer. I didn’t know he had an agenda to marry me. We later got married. He went to Nigeria Defence Academy while I was preparing to gain admission to the University of Ibadan . But that was not to be as we got married before the admission came. I leaned on him all my life until his death and there was a big void in my life. I thought getting married would solve the problem but it didn’t. But I became discouraged because people were making all kinds of uncomplimentary statements as if it was wrong for a widow to re-marry.
But we heard that Rev. Salau had already married before he came to you?
The marriage he had was an “arrangee” marriage so as to get visa in London. The marriage could not be sustained. But I soon discovered that my going to marry him was a wrong choice I made. I found out that he was just the wrong kind of person. He was stealing from me. He was involved in all kinds of atrocities. It was a shock to me because I thought a choir leader in a ministry would at least live a clean life. I was too trusting. I think that was my undoing.
And then you married Rev. Pius?
I married Rev. Pius because he was a pastor and I thought at least a pastor would be able to complement my ministry. But then I was wrong again. I found out that many of what we have today among some preachers is grammar, shining shoes, big English and glamour. Many are not deep in the Word of God. I used to think a man that goes by the title of reverend will live a modest life. But when I married him, I saw something different from what they profess. I was carried away by his charisma. I did not know the details about his life. I was only relating with him based on the pulpit. He was in Akure and I was in Lagos . And I thought that marrying him would help complement my ministry work. What I have learnt from that is that emphasis should be placed more on character than charisma. Many new generation pastors are carried away by charisma. But I have come to realize that it is not the gifting that matters but the fruit. Anybody can preach and do it very well; but what about the fruit?
But how could you have married a man you did not know very well?
You don’t really know somebody until you live with the person. What you see on the pulpit sometimes could be deceptive.
What understood that you knew Rev. Pius was already married but you still went ahead to marry him?
That is bullshit. I knew he was supposed to be married and I invited the lady she was married to confirm before I took the step and the lady said she had nothing to do with him again. I invited the lady in the presence of many other people and she said she had nothing with him. That was what emboldened me to go into the relationship. But again it was a bad choice. I have seen the extremes. I have since come to the realization that it is not by force to marry. That is why I have decided to stay alone.
But how did your ministry fare during all these experiences?
Well the church broke and many people left. And the media did not help matters. I used to tell journalists that they did not make me and they will not ‘de-make’ me. My joy is that many of those who left are now coming back. Things are changing and God is taking me somewhere.
But what will you say has kept you in ministry? One would have expected that you have packed it up with all that you have been through?
It is the Holy Spirit. Let your foundation be strong. My foundation is Jesus Christ. I was trained in my dream by God and by experience. That is enough to keep me. And that is what has been keeping me. There are areas that I could have done better though. I was telling somebody that if I knew what I know now in those days, my ministry would have come out better. But I still thank God for where He is taking me and what He has done through me.
On the issue of the men that came to your life after your husband’s death, one would have thought you have learnt your lesson from the first man before making another mistake?
Well, as I said, it was error of judgment on my part. And I have since learnt some lessons. Now I know that if intending couples ask me to pray for them and I see that there are children between them that should not make me say they should go ahead. One should look at other factors. The man may be able to father a child but may be lacking in character and which is the key in any relationship. But beyond that marriage is like trading in the dark. Until you handle and experience what you buy in the dark you may not be able to know what it is made of. Above all, we need more of God’s grace and mercy in the choices we make. All I saw in Pius was the ministry gift not the character. I was looking for somebody who will complement my ministry but he was just the wrong person.
You said earlier that Rev. Salau was stealing from you. How is it possible for your husband to steal from you?
He stole my money and property. He was my husband and he had his signature on my account. This same man would drain my account behind me to give to other women. He used my name to source for funds and took loans from the bank. My son was in England and he was telling me all these. There was a time he took me to the airport while coming to Nigeria from London only for him to take another woman to the bank and got the woman to impersonate me so he could collect loan from the bank. He committed many other atrocities that were unthinkable of somebody who calls himself a servant of God.
So you were just a victim?
Yes, I was a victim of circumstances. But I now know better.
Would you say you have any regret for any of the actions that you have taken so far?
I used to say I regret but God cautioned me. I also used to say I made mistakes and God told me they were not mistakes but experiences. I was the one who told God I needed a man and I got what I wanted. The lesson I have learnt from that is that if I want to ask for anything from God I will ask in a more precise way. My late husband cannot come back again. But what I have been through have toughened me. Now if I have to talk to widows I will tell them never to think of remarriage until they have finished mourning their husbands and that could take several years. The problem I had was that I was looking for somebody like my late husband and couldn’t just find that person.
But at what point did it occur to you to walk out of your last marriage?
It was after I have had enough experience. If you want to have 10 children nobody would tell you not to but when you think of your pocket you will restrain yourself. I simply found out that my relationships after my husband’s death were distractions from the major reason why I was born.
You clocked 70 years amidst the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown..?
Covid-19 is a time of reflection. God makes things happen as He likes. Everybody is saying satan brought it, fine! God owns the world; earth and heaven. So if anything is going to happen here, He permits it. To me, it’s a time of reflection and like I do tell every Pastor, “why don’t we go back to God instead of murmuring” let’s enquire from God, what He wants to do, what He wants to bring out of all these. I have not seen any sickness, or disease as tough as this. It is important for everyone to stay safe. Let us take good care of ourselves. Let us eat good food. Let us rest to revitalise. Covid-19 is telling us to take care of ourselves. Covid-19 came to humble us. Let everybody think of what we are doing if it’s essential, if not think of other things you could do. It is also certain that a lot of people are going to lose their jobs. Just think of what you could do to get better.