Ayodele Joseph Oritsegbubemi Oritsejafor, fondly called Papa Ayo Oritsejafor by many of his numerous admirers is the founding and Senior Pastor of Word of Life Bible Church, located in Warri, Nigeria.
He became the national president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) on the 7 February 2005, a position he held for five years. He was elected President of CAN, Christian Association of Nigeria.
As a result of this, he became the first Pentecostal leader to hold the two positions simultaneously. He is married to Hellen Oritsejafor and they are blessed with many children in the Lord. In this interview, he speaks about the history of Itsekiri people and other topics:
what would you say is unique about the Itsekiri people of Warri kingdom?
First of all, it is very important to establish the fact that Christianity started in Nigeria in Warri kingdom. It is what the average Itsekiri man or woman knows but they don’t talk about it. One of the reasons they don’t talk about it is a lack of spirituality. The first church that was built in Nigeria was not in Abeokuta, Badagry or anywhere. It was built here in the 16th century. The ruins of it are still here.
The first Christian missionary that came here was the Roman Catholic. In fact, the first contact with a white man was here. The Itsekiri people are the first contact with the white man in Nigeria.
By the way, the second thing that many people in Itsekiri may not elaborate on is that Itsekiri is Yoruba. The Itsekiri language is a dialect of the Yoruba language. Itsekiri people migrated from Yorubaland. Some of them migrated directly from Ife.
Some migrated from the riverine areas of Ijebu, and some migrated from Ondo. Some of them especially the ones that migrated from Ife, they migrated with the Ilaje. The Ilaje stopped at a point but the Itsekiri continued and they ended up here in Warri.
Now, a few of them came from Benin Kingdom. The Benin connection came from the palace. The palace connection is still Yoruba at the end of the day because the first Oba of Benin was a son of Oduduwa.
The first Olu of Warri was a first son of the Oba of Benin. That’s the Benin connection. The Itsekiri, when they moved here, they came with their Ife.
The upland Yoruba called it Ifa. We are the waterside Yoruba. Our people will call the other Yoruba, Iroke. They called the Oyo people Iroke and other Yoruba Iroke but the Yoruba called them Ara Oke. This history is very important because they are dying away. In those days, the Ife which the mainstream Yoruba will call Ifa was the god of divination.
The Ife had told the Itsekiri people that a prince would come and become their king. Therefore, they stayed without a king for a very long time, in fact for many years.
They were waiting for that prince, eventually this prince who was the first son of the Oba of Benin was a grandson of Oduduwa. He was very proud so he had a lot of problems with Benin chiefs.
They were going to kill him. His father who was the Oba of Benin, you know he was supposed to be the Oba of Benin after his father, but for his own protection, his father had to get him out of Benin Kingdom. He gave him about 70 chiefs.
They smuggled him out, put him in a boat and they performed all kinds of rituals. They put him in a boat then sailed to Warri. When he ended up here, remember our own people were waiting for a prince, they have been waiting for years.
When he arrived, they consulted their Ife again and the Ife says, “This is the prince”. So, that was how he became the first Olu of Warri. That was how the first Olu of Warri came about.
In those days, in the palace, in Warri kingdom, they used to speak Yoruba. The palace was 100% Yoruba. Don’t forget the Itsekiri language is a dialect of Yoruba land and therefore a Yoruba language as it is to this day.
The Benin are not Yoruba; they are descendants of Oduduwa but the palace is Yoruba