He was a great man and as youngsters say on social media, I have the receipts to prove it.
To be a good man is easy; do the right things, obey the rules and don’t cause trouble. But to be great requires more. It demands something higher and bigger than you. It insists on self-sacrifice and self-abnegation but only a man who has a self can self-abnegate.
Self-abnegation is the denial of self for the purpose of a higher cause and in the case of Pastor Taiwo Daniel Odukoya that higher cause was service to God and humanity.
Pastor Taiwo was a pastor’s pastor. To me, he was not so much a preacher as he was a sharer and a leader. His life was a primer for what it means to be a man, not just a man of God but a man.
Thinking back, I have so many recollections both on a personal as well as on a corporate level of instances where he lived his walk. There was no Janus-faced facility with Pastor Taiwo; the man you saw on the pulpit was the man you saw at the office, at home and anywhere else.
A quick example will suffice. The year was 2012. My marriage was in trouble and I believed that if we could just sit with Pastor Taiwo and have him counsel us, all would be well, so we booked an appointment.
Now to see Pastor Taiwo was not easy but he made it easy because he often insisted on seeing you even if it was just for a few minutes. The first appointment was after service in his office and after we had prayed and talked for a while, an assistant poked in her head to say it was time for him to leave.
“Brother Toni, we have to speak again.”
I left, half upset that he had only given us less than five minutes over a matter that was urgent and important.
I was shocked and relieved when a week or so later, I got a call telling me that Pastor Taiwo wanted us to come over to his house for another session. My anger dissipated.
His house was full. It turned out we were not the only ones with problems that needed his intervention. We must have gotten there at about 5pm and were told to wait.
Time passed but every thirty minutes or so, someone would come in and say “Brother Toni, Pastor says you guys should hold on.”
By the time we saw him, Pastor Taiwo was tired and hungry and drained from seeing and counseling and praying for all the people we had met when we arrived. He apologised for keeping us waiting and then he took off right from where we stopped the last time.
This time we had enough time to state our cases and argue and shout and when things got too heated, he would laugh what my children call his “Pastor Taiwo” laugh and say, “Ok, let’s take it easy.”
I left there feeling happy that we had given it a go and blessed to have a Pastor who had taken his time to sit, listen and counsel.
We would see him a few more times and each time, he remembered the details and prayed for us.
So, it was not difficult for me to join the Editorial Department of the church when I was asked to. I was happy to serve in a church that had him as Head Pastor and as a church worker, I got the opportunity to interview him a couple of times.
During one of the interviews, he told us about his days at the NNPC and how one day as he drove off in his rickety Mercedes Benz, a man who had been offering him a bribe to get some allocation had screamed out his name – “Odukoya, see the car you are driving. Poverty will kill you.”
Working at the NNPC put him in prime position to make money through crooked means but he refused, deciding when he had had enough to move on into full ministry and God showed that he was truly called and blessed him adequately.
I was always amazed at the personal warmth that he exuded and his unique ability to remember your name and acknowledge you. He had a habit of tapping you on the shoulder and when you turned he would extend a firm hand shake as he rushed out of the church building en route a ministration or engagement elsewhere. He was defined by his kinetic energy.
His mission in life was clear; to raise an army of men who would serve God and impact their families and society and he did. The Discovery for Men (and Women) which he founded and hosted for many years was close to his heart and I remember the adverts that ran for years on the front page of The Guardian through which he ministered to men.
The Couples Breakfast series was also a great initiative through which he helped husbands and wives connect. We were encouraged to ask anonymised questions about any topic as it affected our marriages. I remember someone asking once whether it was okay for Christians to have oral sex. Pastor Taiwo’s answer had everyone in stitches.
He lived the words he preached. When I came to The Fountain of Life Church in 2002, no one invited me. We had left our old church and were looking for another. For the few Sunday we stayed at home, we tuned in to watch Pastor Bimbo. Eventually we found the address and attended in-person.
I was shocked to learn that she wasn’t the Head Pastor, that she had a husband who was actually the founder of the church. My shock was from the fact that we live in a patriarchal and misogynistic society. How many men would let their wives lead from the front like Pastor Taiwo? He gave his wife the stage to shine, made her a household name and propped up her ministry. And for naysayers who might say, “oh but they started it together” he did the same with Pastor Nomthi. He was a man shorn of ego, an example of what a selfless husband and father and leader should be.
Pastor Taiwo was the first pastor that made me cry. I didn’t realize that I had never hugged my father until I listened to Pastor Taiwo that evening in church, when he posed the question; “how many of you have ever hugged your fathers?”
In a church full of over 2,000 men, the hands that went up were not up to 200. It was a sobering moment. He told us to seize the next opportunity to do so. Now it might sound like nothing but it was a teachable moment for me and many others, one that defined the kind of father I have also become.
A hug is not just touch. It is more. It is an affirmation, a point of contact, a laying of claim and a form of endearment and an expression of affection. Pastor Taiwo taught me that when I was already over 30 years old, with two degrees in English language and a father of two.
He loved to give. He gave on the pulpit and he gave off the pulpit. Under him as Pastor, The Fountain of Life set up a free clinic, an orphanage, a skills acquisition center, a soup kitchen, gave scholarships, dug boreholes and refurbished schools and none of these were ever made public.
On a personal level, I will never forget when my brother and mum died. He called and prayed and sent money. It was more touching with my mother because at that time, Pastor Nomthi, his second wife was already battling an ailment. To reach out to lighten another person’s burden when you had your own speaks to his greatness.
The tsunami of tributes that have poured out in the wake of his passing are testimonials to the man he was; a leader of men, a father of accomplished children, a petroleum engineer, a prolific author, a mentor and lover of God.
Despite his passing, my enduring image is of him on the pulpit, skipping along like a happy child in the presence of his father, his booming voice belting out a tune (he loved to sing and dance), speaking in tongues or exhorting us to dance without shame.
Pastor Taiwo was also a man who saw affliction. Like Daniel whom he was named after, he went into the lion’s den and triumphed; losing two wives and a sister in less than two decades and still managing to get up every day to encourage others.
That is not the way a good man behaves. As we say in Warri, those were the “doings” of a great man.