He declared he would never die. He was flamboyant, colourful and very boisterous. Jesu Oyingbo. Nigeria is a land brimming with over 170 million religious souls. There is no time I write about the apotheosization of human beings in Africa that Nigeria does not come into focus. And that is partly because of the fact that since much of Africa is yet to be fully perfused with the latest advancements in science and technology, the deification of man becomes a commonplace.
This is coupled with the fact that African syncretism has the humanification of gods as a major feature. From Olumba Olumba Obu to Sat Guru Maharaji to the fat, loud, King-Sunny-Ade-music-loving woman named Malaika but worshipped as God by her adherents (read about her HERE), these often-charismatic fellows draw crowds in their thousands, and in some cases, like that of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star, in their millions.
Today, we are zooming on a man who remains one of the most famous in Nigeria’s history, no one other than the late Immanuel Olufunmilayo Odumosu aka Jesu Oyingbo, a man who declared himself as the living reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
Oyingbo is a bustling municipality in mainland Lagos and apart from its being renowned for vast commercial activities, Jesu Oyingbo is one man whose tale shocked the entire nation and directed everyone’s attention to this ever-busy Lag neighbourhood.
Popularly known as the God Father, Jesus of Oyingbo, Daddy, Odumosu 1, he still has a handful of followers today but his movement is no match for the titanic Pentecostal churches.
BIRTH AND EARLY DAYS
Immanuel Olufunmilayo Odumosu was born in 1915. He was a descendant of Joseph Odumosu (1863-1911), both descendants of Odubela and Otubadejo of Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, southwestern Nigeria. Joseph Odumosu was a prominent official in Ijebu and Lagos and he is credited as being the first person to introduce printing to Ijebu Ode.
His grandfather (who also wrote the classics Iwe Egbogi, The Book of Herbs in two volumes, Iwe Ala (The Book of Interpretation of Dreams) and Iwe Iwosan, The Book of Healing) was said to have been a renowned traditional doctor and healer, who was said to have passed some of his healing skills to Jesu Oyingbo. His books were so popular that they were widely used. It was the widespread belief that Pa Odumosu was killed by herbalists who were mad at the dude for revealing their trade secrets and methods.
Odumosu initially took up the job of a carpenter. Later in life, when his religious establishment picked up and gained prominence, he became a real estate developer.
While still working as a carpenter in the year 1951, nine years before Nigeria’s independence, Odumosu claimed to have received a revelation straight from the chambers of heaven that he was the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. He also believed he was imbued with supernatural powers. Fresh from the blaze of the fiery revelation from above, Odumosu set up a group (first held its activities on the first floor of the Jolly Food Center) headquartered in the Oyingbo suburb of Lagos State and in no time, he began to draw a crowd, many of whom were really interested in his supposed supernatural powers.
At first, the man who called himself the ‘Second Coming’ gained dozens of followers who loyally trooped to his enclave. Members were reportedly commanded to abandon their families and move into the secluded commune. With time, the number increased and he later moved to Manor Street (later Immanuel Street, Maryland, Lagos) but by then, the name Jesu Oyingbo had already stuck.
BECOMING JESU OYINGBO AND THE FOLLOWERSHIP
Moved by his belief in being the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, Jesu Oyingbo formed the Universal College of Regeneration, UCR (also called the Jesu Oyingbo Church) in the early 1950s. As the leader of the congregation, Jesu Oyingbo blended an ingenious method of entrepreneurship with his teachings, effectively introducing the concept of religion as a private business in Nigeria.
This practice of monetizing religious activities with profit maximization would later spread to other parts of the country. In his enclave, over 500 followers devotedly served him as both members of his congregation and workers for his labour force. Right there within the confines of his building, Jesu Oyingbo had a barbing salon, bakery, printing press, construction company and a restaurant. Proceeds from these various businesses made Jesu Oyingbo wealthy and comfortable. One of his children, Olulaja Immanuel Odumosu described his late father as a ‘kind and generous’ man who provided all that they wanted. In fact, they had their own cars and drivers as children.
INTERESTING THINGS ABOUT JESU OYINGBO
-Jesu Oyingbo had a dedicated followership and many of his members in their hundreds lived on Manor Street, Oyingbo, Lagos in beautifully-decorated and colourfully-named buildings. Some of the buildings had really grandiose, albeit fantastic, names. One building was called ‘Merciful and Mighty’ while another was named ‘Everlasting Father’ and another went by the name ‘Prince of Peace’.
Some of the most catchy features of these houses were the various statues and effigies of Jesus Christ that were all over the surroundings. That was not all. There were also imposing tractors, sculptures of menacing lions and seductive mermaids with water squirting out of their mouths. It was really a majestic scene to behold.
-In 1961, he thundered:
‘I am the Lord, the Great I AM. The Trinity-The Father –and he who believes in me will receive salvation….The first Jesus came to sacrifice and to suffer. He took care of all the necessary cross-carrying and crucifixion. The second Jesus comes to enjoy himself. I have come to enjoy life, my friend!’
-Although many know him as Jesu Oyingbo, he had other numerous names, and these included: The Lion of Judah, Immanuel the Christ, Adam, the Second Abraham. He demanded worship from his enchanted followers and they directed prayers at him while choruses of his praise rented the air.
-From his bakery, there was the Good Luck bread (na you sabi o! lol!) which was said to be cheaper and better in quality than other brands. The bread sold like hot cake in the neighbourhood. The bread was so popular that other Christians in the neighbourhood preferred to purchase it.
-Jesu Oyingbo made relentless efforts to convert others to his ways of teaching meeting with success in some cases and outright failure in some others.
-Olukayode Immanuel, his eldest child eventually left him but not after he had repeated that Jesu Oyingbo send the kids to school and that he cannot force religion on people.
-Upon his death, he was said to have left behind a sum of N376,000 in his room while he left behind an estate worth millions of naira. Remember, that was in 1988. And wait for this: while he was alive, he cruised around in a shiny Pontiac while his wardrobe was stuffed with the latest designer wears. As at 1961, he was already married to seven women.
-When many of his disciples left their families to live in his commune, their outraged family relatives did not find it funny and dragged Jesu Oyingbo to court severally but he always managed to meander his way out.
-As at April 1991, a publication, News Enquiry, put the number of his children at 1,340.
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-In a sprawling courtyard among the buildings, followers used to gather at night to watch movies. He showed the people movies using his projector, in a calculated attempt to make garner him more popularity and it worked.
-Jesu Oyingbo did not only call himself Jesus Christ, but he also declared himself immortal and stated that he would not die. His male members were believed to have surrendered not only their property but also their wives.
-Of his numerous wives, three of them were believed to be his own biological daughters. Incest was reported and procreation was said to be a major goal of the sect. For these and many more, he had various clashes with the authorities of the day.
-According to the book, Yoruba Gurus: Indigenous Production of Knowledge, his powers were reportedly credited to the charms contained in the Iwe Egbogi (The Book of Herbs).
-His neighbours described him as a lively, nice and very humourous man who waved to everyone as he passed by.
-Jesu Oyingbo and his followers were accused of disturbing the entire neighbourhood with their noisy activities (the government has to really do something fast about this issue. Nothing can really be as ridiculous as noise pollution) because they woke up really early to commence their activities. Neighbours said they could not complain about the deafening noise but felt some degree of ease after his death.
-Odumosu was accused of promoting a questionable mix of Christianity, African traditional religions and profitmaking in driving his religious empire. He has been fingered as one of the individuals behind the rapid proliferation of independent churches all across Nigeria.
-An allegation levelled against the late Jesu Oyingbo was marrying a mother and impregnating her twin daughters.
Conservative estimates list the number of Odumosu’s wives as 34 while some others give numbers as outrageous as 80 (the communal form of living made it difficult to identify who was Odumosu’s wife and who was not). However, it was clear that he had the unquestioned sexual priviledges over any female member or the wives of his followers as part of his divine benefits for leading them from darkness to light, as he had preached. The number of children was put at least 40. Although some of his children believed his doctrine and followed his teachings, not all of them agreed to fall in line. His daughter, Bukola Immanuel Odumosu, who studied economics at the Lagos State University courtesy her mother, stated bluntly that she started having doubts after his death. She stated:
I do not take him as my Saviour. He is my biological father. I have only Jesus Christ as my Saviour. I think my father was ok but I do not know.
His children were so sheltered and protected that while he was alive, many of them did not get formal education as they were not really allowed to go out. It is stated that for those that later schooled after his death, it was due to the influence and efforts of their mothers.
After his death, fight broke out over his wealth. At the end of the whole legal tussle, the court ruled in favour of his family (and 34 wives) for the recovery of the various properties that were held in the commune’s name in posh neighbourhood of Maryland, Lagos. That set the stage for World War II among the family members. See some of his children:
DEATH AND AFTERMATH
In 1988, at the age of 73, Jesu Oyingbo succumbed to the icy hands of death, throwing the entire commune into an unprecedented chaos and entropy of immense proportions. He died in a hospital outside the commune and many of his followers could not believe that the acclaimed Messiah was gone. Many of his followers gleaned from the iron grill of their windows to ask outsiders and confirm if the bad news was true. Jesu Oyingbo had told his followers that his commune was the ‘New Jerusalem’ where Jesus Christ himself would perform the final wonders.
Following Odumosu’s death, everything scattered, the movement jagajaga-ed and the centre just fell apart. His children went for each others’ throats fighting dirty and nasty over the property of their late charismatic leader and father. Wives rose against themselves, mothers against their kids, fighting petty but really bitter wars while longtime members also joined in the melee, grabbing all the ‘grabbables’.
It was so serious that the eldest son, Olukayode Immanuel Odumosu had to drag some long-term members to court. He won the case in 1997, evicted all the members but by then, the church had collapsed. Although he allowed his father’s children to stay on the premises, they still insulted him and labelled him a thief. He was even accused of using their father’s money to construct a textile factory while refusing to take care of them. Talk of Fuji House of Commotion. Then aged 56, Olukayode later left the church in search of ‘personal freedom’ while complaining that they showed him gross disrespect, against what obtains in Yoruba culture.
THE MOVEMENT TODAY
Far from its days of brightness and flamboyance, many of the buildings constructed and used by Jesu Oyingbo in his days have either been deserted, taken over by weeds or transformed into a hideout by petty criminals. There is a handful of his believers but the momentum is just no longer there. Following the demise of Jesu Oyingbo, his religious empire has not been able to experience a resurrection although his son said in 1998 that Nigeria survived and his father’s movement will also survive. Whether his movement will witness a ‘second coming’ or not, time remains the greatest teller.
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