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Tuesday, 13 March 2018

I’LL NEVER FORGET DAY SEX WORKERS ASKED ME, “NOW WE ARE BORN AGAIN, WHO’LL TAKE CARE OF OUR SEXUAL NEEDS?”


   - Lagos based Clergy, Rev. Dr. Gabriel Oyediji


Social intervention advocate and General Overseer of Compassionate Outreach Ministries, Rev. Dr. Gabriel Oyediji clocked 60 few weeks ago, and instead of choosing a lavish party to celebrate with high society, he chose to give back to children. 

According to him, "I would have loved to celebrate with a big society party, but no not now. The celebration was for the children whose future is uncertain. So I hosted a symposium on child protection challenges in Nigeria and the way forward. We had stakeholders from local and international organisations like Unicef the ministry of social welfare, the judiciary and others. That day I gave back to the society."


Rev. Oyediji went on to tell us in this interview with Paul Ukpabio and Biodun Adeyewa, how the challeges he faced as a deprived child from a privileged home, shaped his future and led him to unimaginable success.

At sixty are you still gainfully employed?
Yes I am, in the sense that I still run social intervention projects in many direction. We have the compassionate orphanage for orphans and vulnerable children, we have the compassionate outreach for the homeless where we identify with homeless people, miscreants, area boys and girls under the bridges, we even had a programme where we stayed with them under the bridges. I am the founder of that and the compassionate outreach ministry too.
I have a degree in agriculture, veterinary and animal health. I have a veterinary clinic, and an agro chemical and pest control services company, I am not a pastor who sits down and collects money from his church members for sustenance,. As a matter of fact I encourage pastors to have a vocation so that they do not become liabilities on their members.  

What's the difference in being 60?
I realise that when I was much younger, when we heard someone is sixty we shouted and wondered whether we would ever get to that age. But here I am already sixty. I didn't even realise I was getting older until people started addressing and treating me as an elder. When I get to the bank people call my attention and then offer me a place to sit, instead of standing on a queue. They tell me, 'Daddy, can you sit down here?' That was the first thing that told me that I am ageing. That was when it also dawned on me that 60 is a significant age and a good length of journey in a man's life. I thank God because I know that I have had an active life, I have been busy doing so many things.
How about family?
My wife is Motolani Oyediji who is also a co-worker in the ministry's activities and other social intervention projects that we run. We have a boy and a girl who are presently married and a younger child who is still in school.
You have a particular interest in the under privileged, what motivated you to start?
We started in year 2000, the work of the ministry was getting bigger and we needed more hands. The ministry was boosted by the different social intervention projects we were handling right from the beginning. We had social counselling, social development for people that we had rescued, who then needed spiritual development. Essentially, the motivation was borne out of my experiences as a half orphan. I was initially raised by a mother and never knew what it was like to have a biological father. I grew up in an environment where there was plenty but was treated with hostility and I didn't understand why. I found myself in a family that had so much, a family that became popular. I was sitting in a pool of water but was made to thirst for water. I was alienated, I was not accepted. The family looked down on me as a child who would not become anything in life. At a point It wondered why I remained in the family. So I decided to move out of the family. As a child, my family was wealthy and our doors were open to all sorts of spooky religious people, prophets who came with prophecies and freely came in and out of our home.

And I started thinking that the way it was going, any of those religious people, could decide that the family needed to do a sacrifice and ofcourse it was likely that if such a thing came up, that I would likely be the choice for the sacrificial lamb, since I was seen as the black sheep of the family. My family saw me as rascally and told me severally that I was bad. I knew they would not think twice before using me for sacrifice if the need arose, because I looked like a spare tyre that had no value to them. Nothing suggested at that point that I could become anything meaningful in life. I used to do all the crying alone, with no one to say okay stop or come around to comfort me. I had to cry severally until there was no energy in me to continue crying and no one would stop me. I stopped myself. I used to stop when I could cry no more. I could lock myself up in a room and cry myself to sleep. If I had known a way to suicide when I was a child, I would have opted for it. I was made to swim in the hard side of life that suggested a cloudy and foggy future, with no faint sign of any rainbow.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up In Ibadan.

But if your parents were rich, it meant you were privileged
That is the most painful and depressing aspect of the life I grew up in. If you grow up in a very poor family and everybody is poor, there is no big deal about that, but when you grow up and find yourself in a seemingly rich family that can be ranked as one of the ten richest families in town, and you are not  it, it creates something else in you.

 
Why do you think you were so treated?
Ours has been a traditional family. Historically, when a child is born immediately after his father dies or the mother dies after childbirth, the child is seen spiritually as a suspect for that parent's death, or looked at from different perspectives. Some see the child as a bad one that came to take away their loved one. So even though it wasn't voiced, I think they saw me as someone who was responsible for the demise of my father because, he died about a month before I was born. That was the emotional abuse that I had to pass through and live with. But I think the rejection did not just come from them, I believe that God allowed it because He God knew what I would become in life. The worst aspect was when outsiders enjoyed the riches in the family while I did not taste it.

But did you try to find out from the family why you were so treated?
I once stopped and asked the head of our family if my mother brought in my pregnancy from outside the home to warrant the demeaning treatment I was getting  from the family. He said no. I then asked him what I had done wrong and he told me that I had done nothing wrong. However, when I started running an orphanage, I saw a child in a similar situation, that was brought in to our orphanage  home because, he was born immediately after one of his parents died.

But your family sent you to school?
Yes, I was sent to a primary school before some other help came. I had a caring mother but unfortunately, she couldn't do it all alone. After my father died and I was born, my mother was later constrained by tradition to marry my uncle. That is how we became a family of seven persons. I was the last born for my mother and my mother later had three more children for my uncle, who entered into wealth, real big wealth but I didn't taste it. That led to my depression. My mother tried her best and so did my eldest sister. I could only reckon with two of them for showing sympathy or empathy to my life at childhood. And to my uncle, I couldn't blame him, like it is said, the stone that the builders rejected later became the corner stone.


How did you get a change of life?
A time came when my situation got blue and black and i knelt down and cried asking God that if He can take me away reproach and experience of life, I will serve Him. I was crying and begging God to change my childhood. And there and then, i made a promise to God that If He changed my circumstance and I become somebody in life, that I will give my life back to Him. After that, God started working miracles in my life and bringing me up. I didn't know where to start. But the first vision He gave me was to show me people who were out of control and were not wanted by other people. So I was told to take care of them and develop a programme for them because they are creations of God. I asked where I was to see them and I was told to look for them.

So what did you do?
I gathered people who were working with me and we were practically sleeping under deadly and dangerous bridges. Popular bridges like Ojuelegba, Oshodi, Maryland bridge, Ikota gate, Kuramo beach and so on. We started at Ojuelegba which has always been the confluence where you see the assemblage of all kinds of characters. In Ojuelegba there is avengers avenue for those who want to avenge a hurt, there are consultants there who will attend to you, and you tell them how you want them to avenge the person that hurt you, there is an Indian hemp area, there you see heaps of Indian hemp and wraps are folded like torchlights and the smoke rises into a fog in the night at  smoking avenue right there in Ojuelegba. There is also a 419 area and another place for people who have finished their jail term and returned from prison can be found. And for this last set of people, it is not their fault because, when they returned from prison as ex convicts, they could not return home, because they have been stigmatised by their family and society. The prison too does not have a rehabilitating programme for those who have just left prison. Once a convict is through with jail term, the door of the prison is opened, the person is on his or her own. So these ones find a new home at Ojuelegba where they meet the senior ones who had come out much earlier and has stabilised in crime and are now making money. They will now be inducted into new wave length crimes. That is Ojuelegba for you. We stayed there doing midnight evangelism with them. We used to go with gifts, sometimes we had a party and sometimes it was just ministration and prayer sessions. We became popular amongst them.

Over the years how successful has these your intervention projects been?
We have been able to rescue many among these people from the above circumstances,those who became converted and joined us in the ministry. They started by saying they did not want to live in those circumstances again, they had new conviction and were suddenly tired of living under the bridges. So we rented a home, furnished it with two people in each room, introduced them to counselling sessions and also began to monitor their spiritual development.

But we heard you also got involved in the rescue of prostitutes now usually referred to as sex workers. Tell us about it
That one started in 2004 when we had a programme for 315 homeless children under the bridge and for prostitutes at Ijora railway area. The older ones among them became part of our work team, and at the end of it, we had a big party. After the programme and party, they returned to where they had come from. When I got home, I was sad because they were all gone back to their regular prostitution work. That prompted me to think about starting an orphanage for the children to provide them shelter. We got government approval in year 2006. We did evangelism in the prostitute avenue in Ojuelegba where ladies stand by the door in pant and bra positioned to drag men inside their dimly lit rooms. We started a social intervention programme for them which we called compassionate positive family for people living with HIV-AIDS because, I asked one of them what she thought about contacting HIV-AIDS and her reply was that, whenever anyone of them died of HIV-AIDS, the rest gathered money and buried the person. She told me that there is no big deal about that. So we started counselling them on change behaviour and we had a support base for them too which included food items and supplying their HIV-AIDS drugs.

Did you for once considered that what you were doing was putting your life at risk?
Yes, I had friends that told me that severally. Even the police commissioner warned me about Ojuelegba. He advised me to stick to a day programme that ends before evening. But the holy spirit insisted that I do all night programmes because the kind of people I was looking out to help usually come out in the night. I decided to obey God and behold, nothing evil happened to us. When we got to Maryland, there were menacing looking ones who took a bad look at us at first. But when they saw their colleagues from Ojuelegba, that had joined our ministry, they calmed down. So we used those ones that we had converted at Ojuelegba to win more souls because the ones at Ojuelegba are more popular and more respected. And the fact that our new converts were now dressing in corporate clothing indeed attracted the others. All the bad and terrible areas we entered in lagos, they were the opens that led us

Was there any time you were attacked?
Yes we actually passed through such moments, there was a particular day we went for a programme at Ijora, and at ojuelegba too. I must tell you that initially when we used to go and minister to them, they were using one hand to hold their indian hemp and the other hand to clap while we did praise worship. A reporter at one of the television stations here who was also during a project for a Foundation, wanted to know what night life in Lagos looked like. Since I had been on the Kaakaki programme speaking on the challenges of homelessness in Lagos, she was sent to me,. She asked that she come along with us during our programme. We allowed her to come. That night we were at the heart of Ojuelegba where the chieftains and drug kingpins  were. They surrounded us smoking all sorts while we ministered. The reporter had a sensitive camera that can record in the night. But we didn't know they will notice that it is a camera. As soon as the gang leader saw it, he said 'henhen', collected the camera and seized it. He moved closer to me and said, 'Pastor, I feel like removing all your teeth but I just pity you.

However, before I open my eyes, pack yourselves out of this environment. One of them who is an elderly man who had also lived there with them for about twenty seven years but had become part of us, moved near him in a bid to apologise on our behalf. The gang leader took one glance at him, picked a big rod by his side and smashed the elderly man's head. Blood covered the man's face. It was a big challenge that night to get the man with his bloodied face to a hospital for treatment.

The next challenge was how to recover the camera. We were advised to send another kingpin to him. That one advised us to bring money, that when he sees money, he will release it. We raised the money part of which he used in buying suya for N5000 for the gang leader. They said he loved suya. That was how we got the camera back. There was another incident. You know we have been giving employment to some of them. I employed one to be my driver, but didn't know he had been a notorious robber. That was another fearful encounter for me. I didn't know he had also killed during an operation in Benin and one of his gang members was caught, while he escaped to lagos where he had been living. We didn't know all that when I gave him employment. It was later we found out. After we rehabilitated them and gave them accommodation, there was nothing for them to be doping so we gave them jobs. But one day when we were on the road, he suddenly parked the car and turned to me. He said in a threatening voice, 'Oga, I have never known how to beg for anything. I take anything i need by force. So always give me what I need, don't wait for me to ask or beg for it because if you do, I will not beg you, but will take it by force.' I felt a chill run up my spine. That was when I started suspecting trouble. We managed him for a while before I got him a job with NDLEA. He however got there and was caught with indian hemp. So he got into trouble. There was another time when some of those we rehabilitated stirred up agitation. They were sending me text that I was not feeding them well after all, that I was receiving foreign grant which I'm supposed to use to take care of them. I laughed and took steps to let them know that I had never collected any foreign grant from anywhere. It had always been my resources that I used to finance all our projects.

While you catered for the rehabilitated sex workers and paid for accommodation for them, was there anytime any of them wanted a relationship with you?
Not only that, we were usually going to where we lodged them to bring them to bible meetings. But one day, they held a meeting within themselves, after which they came to collectively have a meeting with me. During the meeting, they told me that, 'our food is sex. Now that you have brought us here, how do we get our sex? We need money and we also need sex. Now that you have brought us here, are you going to be giving us that sex or pay for that sex?' (Laughs) It sounds funny now, but it was not funny then. So I replied them that 'I cannot pay for that sex, and I can not get anyone to be giving you sex as food. I can only advise you as the bible says that if one is in Christ, old things pass away.' They chorused 'no, this one has not passed away o. Old thing no go eat?.' Out of all the 34 sex workers we brought for rehabilitation, all of them went back to their old job and old lifestyle. Unfortunately I was not buoyant enough to establish vocational centres for them to get them engaged and properly monitored, unlike now that vocational centres are common, it wasn't then.

The Lagos state government has in recent times created vocational centres for such people what can you say about that?
We have been working with Lagos state government and they have been monitoring what we do, but we have not been able to access financial assistance and I will tell you why. Lagos state is the connection point for people in need all around the country. Lagos is an assemblage of Nigerians across the country. So it affects the state's budget, and the growing population in the state does not help matters. The social problems in Lagos is overwhelming. There is no state in Nigeria or Africa that has the social challenge problem equal to that of Lagos. But thank God, the state government is trying its best. They are still the best because even though they are not giving grants to us, they are monitoring and they are giving back-up support.

You have worked at Ojuelegba and many other bad spots in the city of Lagos, trying to reform people, do you see the possibility of the people in those areas being totally reformed and those places closed down in near future?  
I think so because Ojuelegba and Oshodi gave us a tough time. We were doing evangelism one day at Oshodi under-bridge and one of us was held by four hoodlums. They dragged him and asked him why he  was marketing there. He was detained and beaten up. He was asked who gave him the authority to come and talk and address people at Oshodi. Yes Oshodi was as bad as Ojuelegba but when the intervention began with a standby mobile cctv and twenty four hour stationed policemen, we can now see the difference. So if the government can continue such intervention in other such areas around Lagos, then many criminals will go back to their states of origin. However regarding the issue of homeless people, we just have to know that government cannot do it all alone. Let everyone be involved, let religious bodies all come together to help the government of Lagos in minimising social problems. For instance, religious bodies must appeal to families, to accept their people back when they finish jail terms. That they served in prison, doesn't mean that it is the end of their lives. Let us stop the stigmatising of ex convicts. When we continue to kick them out, one day, they will kick us out. After being out of jail and family shun them, they form gangs.

We know your early life was indeed a struggle, but have you had any incident that forced you to show uncommon interest for the downtrodden?
Yes, that actually reminds me of an incident that led me to trouble with the police. When it was time for me to get a gainful employment, I approached my uncle who was at the time working with Alhaji Lateef Jakande. My uncle was the Managing Editor, while Alhaji Jakande was the editor in chief. I was 22 when I was given a job at the newspaper. He handed me over to Alhaji Jakande who handed me over to Peter Apesin who was the editor. Apesin and Awofeso led me to the newsroom where I started with proof-reading. But something took me out of the newspaper work. I had an encounter that led me into a blackmaria, to a police cell, to court and to agodi prison for a weekend. I left office late to return home that particular night. On the road a motorcyclist parked by the roadside and alighted to buy bread. I was there too to buy bread when a police man came and held the man. He accused him of not wearing a helmet. So I corrected the policeman that the man did not need to wear a helmet since he was not riding the bike. After all the motorcycle was parked. The police man said he was arresting the man so I took the policeman's number.`

He stopped and asked why I took his number. He told me to follow him to his boss. When we got there, he told his boss I took his number. His boss asked for my identification, when they realised I was from a newspaper, they knew I wanted to report them. So that thursday night, they took me to the station and told me to go behind the counter. When the DPO came, they told him I had beaten them. They threw me into a dark cell where I received a thunderous slap from a man who was inside, but who I could not see because of the darkness. I was taken to court the next day and my case put at the
 bottom. By the time the case was treated late that day, there was nobody to stand in for bail for me. That was how blackmaria took me to agodi prison. On tuesday someone got the news to my family and to my place of work. The newspaper lawyer came to bail me. When I was released that tuesday, the newspaper told me to write my experience. It was published and it became a major issue of editorials in many newspapers with my picture. That made my family angry and they said this boy again. They were angry that I went to work for the Awolowo's when I knew that my family was supporting NPN and Chief Akinloye was always in our home. They said I must have been leaking the family's political party secret to the Awolowo's. That was how I was forced to leave the newspaper house.

Now that are 60, what next?
I have a dream of putting together a place to be called the compassionate village where I can assemble all my work, the orphanage, the widows I take care of, the church and a vocational centre.

How did you meet your wife?
She was already a Christian when I met her at a fellowship. We liked each other. It was obvious we were interested in each other. So I proposed. Since then we have been working together, she has been very supportive as you know  am multi-vocational.

What can you say was the turning point in your life?
My childhood struggles determined a lot that has happened to me. These days I have become a rallying point for my family. I have become the stone which was rejected that has become the corner stone. Most things that takes place in my extended family today always waits my input and prayer. Today I live with about 60 children in the orphanage where I am. I choose not to live separately from them. When God gave me the place where I am now, I shook my head in wonder because if I was told that I would one day own such a place, I would have doubted.

Any regrets
What I could say created my initial setback is our culture that alienates children who are born after their parents have died or children who are born and suddenly the mother takes ill and die. I was a victim of culture and I was also a victim of a lawless environment. However I wouldn't say I totally have a regret about it because all through my pain, God provided a way. I also regret that I wasted much of my earlier life focussing and depending on the family. I wasted time expecting too much from the family and when it was not forthcoming, my heart was broken. Depression, insults and alienation came upon me. But when I removed my focus from the family wealth and concentrated on God, He gave me boldness and strength to pursue my business which prospered.


Culled from: The Nation newspaper















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