Papa Ayo The Man Behind The Swagger


There are some interviews that are simply off-the-hook, others are just by grace, you chase the subject, several encounters are cancelled but when they come just to you…you know that you only have a choice, and that is to jump at it.


So AWT jumped on this one out of many personalities, a founding and senior Pastor, a general overseer, two time president. In many circles he has been addressed as a Pastor, Evangelist, Teacher, Prophet, Apostle, Papa, and an Author

He boasts of several first, like first to host one of the most popular Christian preaching television programs on primetime, he also was the first to do same via satellite; he was a convert of the nation’s first Pentecostal archbishop.

The well travelled man prides having shared the gospel in more than 70 countries, journeying across every continent.

He is called the seed-faith apostle, around his neck hangs the popular gold chain, shiny, jerry-coiled looking hair. He once said “There is an Island called Polo Rico in the US. Whenever I go there, they receive me like a president. They have a governor in the Island and he comes to all my services. People respect Nigeria because of some of us who preach the gospel”.

We took him on his wealth and flamboyancy; his many luxury cars which he cruises round town with in customized plate numbers.

He told AWT, “I never stole, but there was nothing I did not smoke, from cigarette to marijuana and cocaine. I was practically into all kinds of vices while growing up”.

Until he was five years he could not talk, just like that, no health issues, he would just not speak until he was five and the day he spoke, he just did. They do not come stranger than this. probed, we asked, he smiled at times, and he laughed, then we noticed the frowns but we were not deterred as we took all the bends and curves in this journey of a man.

His church is the massive over-thirty thousand seater/member church, Word of Life Bible Church, located in Warri, southern Nigeria, and he has been the President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN). Converted through Benson Idahosa, he is today President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), a position his mentor once held too.

Through the tunnel, the man many call papa Ayo, the man who gladly tells you, “You will never be the same again, you are in a new season with double grace, God will take you from zero to hero and You are ten times better”…graciously we are seated with Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor

AWT: Sir, you were accused not once nor twice as being a showoff, an Americanized Pentecostal exhibitionist, even a modern day prophet of Baal with reputation for jumping up and down and making a scene to be heard of God…, also you have been referred as one of Nigeria’s “highest paid pastors”’

Pastor Ayo:  Who pays me, na wa, anyway I am not hearing it for the first time. God has been faithful to me

I say often, it is not my doing. I cannot explain my self, I do some crazy things at times on the pulpit that I cannot really explain myself. When you are controlled by the Holy Ghost, there is no way you can control it. You just allow the Holy Ghost to do whatever He wants to do with you. Or can you control the Holy Ghost’

I am sure that is what people call show-off. Really it is not like that. Maybe as we are speaking I start to jump up and down you will write some spectacular story about it.

I am not Americanized whatever you call it, people look at what I wear. I like to look nice, most of the things I wear are not as expensive as made out but because of my personality, and people think they are expensive. I naturally know how I want to dress, and what I want to wear. Most people do not understand that when you look at Ayo, you need to ask and find out who he really is.

AWT: From vices, what today one would call an area boy, God called you…you were arrested, can you share with aworship your salvation experience, we recall that is one problem you had with TB Joshua, his inability to share his salvation experience, in a part who really is Ayo the Christian’

Pastor Ayo: (Silence and then laughter) Okay, area boy, maybe that was it, I never stole, but there was nothing I did not smoke, from cigarette to marijuana and cocaine. I was practically into all kinds of vices while growing up. I think when God wants to use you, He picks you from somewhere. He does not pick those who do not have a past.

I think. I got involved in those vices through peer groups. It started just through smoking before I graduated into hard drugs. It became a normal thing for me to smoke. I was no more interested in the ordinary cigarette. I preferred to be in company, of those smoking marijuana and I thought it was fun doing it at that time. All the money I had, I preferred to smoke with it than eat or buy clothes. That was how bad I was.

The very day I gave my life was very dramatic. I had gone to buy Indian hemp when a Christian gave me a handbill to attend a crusade and I cursed him for giving me such a gift but the man was just smiling until I collected the tract from him. Some weeks later, I still had the tract on me and so it happened that I was at the Crusade. It was late Papa’s crusade (Archibishop Benson Idahosa)

I thank God that I was a fool and I think I prefer to remain a fool. If this is what He does to fools, I better remain one.

For the first time in my life, I heard the word of God preached and it touched me. There and then, I decided to give my life to Christ. My friend and I were half drunk that day but he later told me that I was crazy for my action. He could not believe I did that because I taught him how to smoke. After the alter call, as we were going home, he called told me, I did not know you are a big fool like this.

The next day, I started preaching to people. My friend who called me a fool died some months after that conversation. If being a fool is being alive, I better remain a fool. He was wise and died. I was a fool and I lived and still living. I thank God that I was a fool and I think I prefer to remain a fool. If this is what He does to fools, I better remain one. Honestly, I don’t think I would have lasted up till now if not for His intervention. I was one of the very few people, until that time, who hated anything that had to do with Christ and God. It never interested me. I never saw anything interesting and good about God and church.

AWT: Is that all sir…’

Pastor Ayo: Yes, all that I can recall’

AWT: Sir, before that fateful, or correction sir that blessed day in November when you gave your life to Christ, we hear about an estranged relationship with your mother and…

Pastor Ayo: (cuts in) and what’ That is not anywhere near the truth

AWT: Sir, what is the truth, the truth shall set us free, I mean…

Pastor Ayo: You mean…

AWT: (Smiling) I actually meant the truth shall set us, the public free, many want to know, infact not long ago in public domain, you were accused of calling for Christians to attack Muslims because of your upbringing.

Pastor Ayo: Let me clear the air, first I gave my life to Christ on the 17th of November 1972. I come from a decent home, nothing was wrong with my upbringing as you put it.

I didn’t really come from a poor family but things went wrong and that is part of life. Things that have made me strong and prepared me for life I grew up to know more of my grandfather. He too used to wear double-breasted suits with pocket-handkerchief.

One aspect of what went wrong was that my father died when I was just four years old. Then, that finished everything. I am sure you know the implication of that, so I am sure you would understand what happened.

My mother had to remarry, she was young. We were only two of us, me and an elder sister; they left her with my grandmother. And you know naturally, most men don’t like to carry excess luggage. I don’t blame my mother; she had to go on with her life. So, they had to move me to uncles. My mother went to the United Kingdom. I started moving from one uncle to another. It got to a point that my whole luggage in life was contained in one black nylon bag.

In fact, I didn’t even know what I had. I think I had something like a bag. But it wasn’t a real bag.

Probably because I was a boy, I don’t know, but they just kept moving me from one place to another. In fact, I never could tell how long I would stay in a place. In some places, I stayed for three days; and they would just say, “pack!” And I would pack my things; get into the car or whatever. We would arrive somewhere and they would say: ‘“this is your home. So and so is your uncle. So and so is your aunty.”  I would sit in a corner. If they liked, they would show me a corner to sleep. It could be on the floor. It could be in the parlour or anywhere.

I went through that for years. It got to a point I almost had no feelings. Life meant nothing. I was hooked on drugs. We used to have a lot of tablets; different kinds of tablets. You take some to take you up, and some to take you down. I just wandered away. I lost hope in everything and anything.

But like I told you I never stole, or killed, it was just vices and smoke, all and any type.

I was so addicted that I would cry. I would cry like a child. I asked myself whether there was God. I was tired of life. That was how bad it was. That’s the kind of background I came from. You can’t go lower than that. My mother came back. But at that point, my life was really messed up.

This could have happened to anybody and to say the least it was the typical life of most families’ within my environment.

I was messed up, that was the word, messed up. It got to a point when I hated to go to school. I hated to go to school. You see, I don’t pray for my enemy to have some of those experiences that I had. Sometimes, you wonder what your own flesh and blood can do to you. You wonder if these people were really your flesh and blood

Yet I never went to the police station, never slept there for anything. God still held my hands.

AWT: You wear so many caps but importantly you are the face of Nigerian Christians as CAN President, you are known to be forceful and some say uncouth with words, to the point of issuing final warning to Muslims’

Pastor Ayo: I have at several occasions held the view that it appears as if the President is pampering the Boko Haram group who are responsible for several bombings of churches and it makes complete nonsense to see people say the group should not be labeled as a terrorist group, contrary to the official views of American and because the group was inspired from prevalent poverty in the north.

I said that much during my presentation at the United States House Foreign Affairs Committee.

I said it clearly that by refusing to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization, the United States is sending a very clear message, not just to the federal government of Nigeria, but to the world that the murder of innocent Christians and Muslims who reject Islamism and I make a clear distinction here between Islam and Islamism, are acceptable losses,

It is simply hypocritical for the United States and the international community to say that they believe in freedom and equality when their actions do not support those who are being persecuted.

However I must quickly correct the impression created that we are calling for carrying of arms against the Muslims.

AWT: And your right hand sir, Pastor Mrs. Helen Oristejafor, many say she is trendy, flashy and all that sweet words, how has she fitted into your life, especially after the demise of Mama Stella’

Pastor Ayo: After my first wife passed one, I asked God for not just a replacement but a new direction, that year 1996 when I lost Stella. It was a great test, she was recovering from diabetes. It was indeed a very sad day for me. She just collapsed. She spent twenty years of her life with me. She was a very interesting personality. Her death touched me just like the death of my father who died when I was very young. She was somebody, until her death I could not do without.

I met mama (Helen) a year after the death of my first wife. God gave her to me so she could wipe away my sorrows. And tears and that was exactly what she did. She was a member of the church.

She was running an engineering company in Lagos. She actually studied mass communication. She knows a lot about building so that by the time we got married, she was partly the brain behind our structure in Warri. Till tomorrow, she helps me because I am not very good at many things. I am very grateful to God for giving her to me because she is a rare gem

I have a great wife in mama, a woman of God, she loves God. A man of God that does not have a good support is not serious. She loves God and my ministry; I can say that without a blink.

AWT: Sir, we gathered, you were a product of mystery too, the issue of your inability to talk for five years, still on your ministry, today, the young at heart call it swagger, you have carried on with that swagger, one which is not popular with pastors of old. What is it that you would have been, sports, music…’

Pastor Ayo: Na wa for journalists o, (frowning). My mother wanted a male child so much, to a point she had a covenant with God, a Hannah and Samuel kind, but in her case, she simply forget it.

Anyway yes, it was a mystery that for the first five years, I could not talk. I was told that there was nothing wrong with me, I just could not talk. But at the age of five, I was told that I just started talking, not that I was learning to talk but I was just talking normally. I was one of those few people who had a call even before they were born.

My first trip to the United States of America (USA) in 1979 was when my mother suddenly remembered the promise made to God and she broke down in tears, obviously she did not keep her part.

So, I now understood why I had that urge, the pull to do something for God. God was just claiming what belongs to Him. So there was no way I could have become anything else other than preacher of the word.

The swagger was from birth… (Laughing)

AWT: With great men of God like you, the likes of Papa Adeboye, Oyedepo and others, people rather than see the redemptive call of Christ in church feel downcast, as there is no effect on the society, instead we hear, rich pastors, top rich pastors etc’

Pastor Ayo: It is not true, try to imagine or picture what the society would have been without Church. If the society is like this with the church sit, down and imagine what it would have been without.

I do not know if you are married and, if you are, imagine your wife makes good-soup for you and she always put salt in the soup which you always take for granted, The day she forgets, you scream, my God, what is this’

What you did not know is that there is something she has been putting in that soup that you have been taking, it is so little but very important and there you have it

The church is so much in the society that the society has taken it for granted: If not for the church, imagine where we would have been now if we are like this with the church. You should also understand that its end times, evil is also multiplying every day; People are creating new ways to do the wrong thing

When I got into ministry, it was not like these, a lot has changed and a lot will still keep changing. There is GSM, all sorts of new technology and innovations

I believe this nation can change; I believe corruption can end. The church united is a catalyst for the end of evil in Nigeria.

AWT: I am married sir, and that leads me to my next question, Sir, if there is any problem we have in Christendom today is division, hatred, jealousy and more vain virtues from men of God and the trend is both pew and pulpit, and between denomination, as CAN president what is your take, how are you trying to make the marriage work’

Pastor Ayo: (Laughing) First I said it at one of our NEC meetings or so, that the time has come for the church to begin to understand that in Heaven, God does not see us as Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals or whatever group you belong to, God sees the church as the church.

The church can be one; the church should be one; the church must be one. I want to encourage us to be our brother’s keeper. The God whom we serve is a God that releases blessing where there is unity.

AWT: Talking about unity, we have it on good ground that there is a lot of bickering, disunity in CAN that is headed by you, with different chapters holding different opinions on same matter and accusations that during elective matters you have your candidate and such allegations’

Pastor Ayo: Is it an allegation or you are sure’

AWT: We are sure sir’

Pastor Ayo: Maybe politics in the church that is misconstrued or not understood. We keep talking and resolving conflict which is part of life. Devil has not gone to sleep.

AWT: Sir, you have not answered..

Pastor Ayo: You want to put words in my mouth, tomorrow una go say I talk say…

AWT: Sir, despite all, you have been forceful and sometimes diplomatic, one recalls you stand on Islamic banking, Boko Haram and shortly your conditions to the Sultan’

Pastor Ayo: Really on many occasions, one says something, you find another thing on the papers, like the issue of Islamic banking, I was simply against the use of public funds by Sanusi to sell the idea. It is against the spirit of the Nigerian Constitution.

I felt that people who are interested in Islamic banking to use their money to sell their manifesto to Nigerians with a view to wooing them to accept that form of banking which is different from what they used to know.

I did not go about making noise; it was an issue that affected Christians, The Sultan and I are both sitting on the Inter-Faith Council.

On the Islamic Banking thing, I was only initially surprised that the Sultan, who is respected across the country, failed to address the two cardinal issues involved in the controversial Islamic banking before he concluded that it has come to stay.

I stated that Christians in Nigeria are not against the Muslims as people have made the generality of Nigerians to believe. In fact, it the Christians that have always been at the receiving end of violence that has taken place in parts of the North.

Well the Islamic Banking issue is resolved at least for now.

On the activities of Boko Haram, what pained me was the statement that was credited to the Sultan, who said the state of affairs in the North Eastern part of the country should not be blamed on Boko Haram, rather that the government should fish out those behind the violence.

However I think that in recent times we have witnessed condemnation coming from the leaders in the North. What only upsets me is the exchange of war songs by leaders on both side of the divide as it is we see a nation that is not united and my take is that we need to get it right for coming generations.

AWT: At your age, you look all fresh and agile, no doubt you have been successful, what is your joy and that is one of our final questions, and how old is Papa Ayo, in his 70s’

Pastor Ayo: No, I will not tell you, maybe after one year I will tell you, I don’t talk about my age. I don’t like people knowing my age.

Most people don’t really know how I got to where I am today. A lot of people talk of success without sweat. It sounds good. But I can tell you that if you find success without sweat, you are going to sweat to keep that success. From Genesis to Revelation, God will not commit greatness to an untested soldier.

God has always been there for me, wonderful children, many achievements by His grace and I believe there is more to aim for.

AWT: We are so grateful for giving us your time and hope that when next we come calling you will not say no.

Pastor Ayo: Thank you for the gift of love too, in finding me worthy for all these time, may your endeavors find multiplication.

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