Meet a Methodist priest with a PhD in ‘Yoruba incantations and herbal cures’ and he practises traditional medicine

Here is an intriguing anecdote of a rare Nigerian who despite being brought up and groomed as a christian teacher and preacher, finds pleasure in yet another divine calling as oracular and traditional herbal medicine practitioners.

Originally published by My Tori

I am a Methodist priest with a Ph D in 'Yoruba incantations and herbal cures' and I practise traditional medicine

My name is Obafemi Jegede. The Very Rev’d. Dr. Obafemi Jegede, a university teacher, a presbyter of the Methodist Church of Nigeria and a traditional medicine practitioner. 

I was born on 14 March 1964 to Obasola and Titilayo Jegede. We are from Atori village (the birthplace of Ogedengbe Agbogungboro, the 19th Century warrior who liberated Ilesa and Ekiti from Ibadan domination) but I do not know much about the place because I was born and raised in Ilesa, which, to every Ijesa person, is home. It is like the capital. 

I attended Ilesa Grammar School from 1977 to 1982. I am not too sure how or why I got admitted into that prestigious school considering my lack of interest in education. One of the reasons I sometimes adduced is that it was the closest secondary school to where I lived at VK 4, Igbaye, Ilesa. It certainly was not the easiest of admissions: I was among the third batch of admissions. 1st batch. 2nd batch. 3rd batch. I consider myself one of the least qualified to be a pupil of that school. I think it was just luck or a dint of chance. I also never did well all through. I was pushed from one class to another without repeating. 

Even in terms of social class, I did not measure up. The school had on its roll mainly children of the members of the high class of Ilesa and its environs. Whereas I was from the lowest end. My father was a court clerk. I did all sorts of menial jobs to survive. I dug graves, carried loads for people in Ilesa market, carried blocks and sand during construction of houses, cleared farmlands, cut firewood…. At weekends, I sold water at a sawmill in Imo to complement the food sellers and I earned the sobriquet Olómi (water seller). I was a hard-working small boy. I had already figured that after my secondary school education I would become a full-time labourer. 

Then  one Chief Oladipupo Fadahunsi came into my life. When they talk about divine intervention, this is it. He was like my messiah. He entered my life and turned it around 360 degrees. This Baba took me from the marsh to the rock. He would pick me up from our mud house to where he was building a house at Ilaje. I was helping him to carry blocks, sand, and everything else. One day, I heard him say:  ‘ah, this boy is very hardworking’  and I took note of it. He developed interest in me because of  my diligence. I would resume in good time and I never rested when there was work to do I was faithful to my job. He was paying me three naira while he paid others two naira. I became the coordinator of the work. Later, I asked that he should allow me live with him. He did not respond immediately but he eventually agreed. I moved into his house at BS 3, Ilemo Street, Ilesa. He gave me a big room, where for the first time, I enjoyed electricity and other comforts.  I could well have been in paradise: I had never known what it was to have electricity. I slept on a mattress. Me…Ah my God. He assumed the role of a father to me.  Till tomorrow, his children are like my brothers and sisters and they also accept me as their own. He showed me the path to the light, to greatness. I cannot say enough what this man did to me. I cannot adequately express my eternal gratitude to him. I will come back to him later. 

Back to Ilesa Grammar School. Our teachers were mainly Indians and Ghanaians, and they were highly committed to getting the best out of us. But I was not brilliant at all; I was incredibly dull. I was more interested in playing football. I never knew that one needed to read or know anything about scholarship or education. In my West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE), I had only one credit – in economics. I had two passes – in health science and commerce. I failed English Language and mathematics and the other subjects I sat for. I did not do well at all.

In 1983, on the recommendation of the (then) Archbishop of the Methodist Church in Ilesa, The Most Rev’d Timothy Akinnigbagbe, I sat for the entrance examination to the Methodist Theological Institute, Sagamu. I took the examination in the residence of the then registrar who later became the principal, and much later, the Archbishop of the Ibadan diocese, where he retired from priesthood (in 2018). He is the person who changed my trajectory from being uninterested in education to an academician. He is The Most Rev’d Michael Kehinde Stephen. I was the only candidate he tested for the examination. I passed. Or, well, I was admitted. At the seminary, I was trained to be a sub-pastor. There, we did not pay school fees. Instead, we were given free accommodation and feeding, and sometimes we got some stipends. Archbishop Stephen was the person who refashioned me and opened me up to the value of education. He recalibrated me to develop an interest in scholarship. Through his teaching and relationship with me, I realised that I could further my education. I have adored him over the years and regard him as the one who intervened in my destiny and through him, I have become what I am today. I venerate no other teacher apart from him. He is my role model for life. I cannot also forget his wife….

I was in the seminary till 1985.

I was posted to the Methodist Church in Matele village in the Odeda Arena of the church, near the Ogun State capital, Abeokuta. I was the sub-pastor there.  

In 1986, I was admitted to the Immanuel College of Theology, Ibadan to study for a diploma in theology. I used my certificate in theology from Sagamu for the admission. In our first year (Diploma 1), they introduced the paying of school fees. It was impossible for me to pay anything called school fees.  I could not even imagine the possibility. And, I didn’t have anyone to pay for me. So, I left the institution for Lagos, to meet Chief Nathaniel Adebowale, the one whom one of the longest streets, if not the longest, in Ojodu – Adebowale Street – is named after. He comes from Matele Village where I was a sub-pastor; and he was then principal of Ojodu Grammar School. He was kind to me, gave me accommodation and free food for nine months. 

Soon, I joined another church called the United Church of Christ (UCC), founded by Apostle Samuel U Egbo, and located at (Banwo Street) Idi Mangoro, Ikeja. I was sent to its headquarters on Obioma Street, Achara Layout, Enugu, to be trained (in their creed). I spent three months and 17 days there and after the training, I was sent back to (Idi Mangoro) where I was assisting one Pastor Ogbonnaya who was the one who had recommended me for the training, in the first place. Back in Lagos, I learnt that the Methodist Church of Nigeria (leadership) was looking for me. The story was that the church realised that, at the seminary, I was not only well-behaved I was also an outstanding student, and therefore, I should be supported. Yes. So, I was granted a scholarship to complete my diploma programme at the Immanuel College of Theology. I was made to continue from Diploma 2. When I hesitated about the wonderful offer, Chief Adebowale (mentioned earlier) persuaded me to accept it. I took his advice. 

In my second year, at Immanuel College, I decided to retake my WASCE. Many of my classmates who had been admitted to the college with poor WASCE/GCE results were re-sitting the exam(s) to gain admission into universities. I was not going to be left out. So, in May/June 1988, I sat for the examination. My centre was Bishop Onabanjo High School in Ashi, New Bodija, Ibadan. This time around, I had five A’s and one credit (in English Language). Yes. I sat for JAMB (Joint Admission Matriculation Board) examination, I passed and gained admission into the University of Ibadan (UI) for my first degree in religious studies.  Thus started my (academic) revolution. And, this is where Chief Fadahunsi comes in again. He initiated full, robust scholarships for me throughout my university education, covering food, books, everything. You see, why I had said earlier that he was my messiah.

After my first degree, I was back at the Methodist Theological Institute Sagamu as a teacher. I taught theology to trainee-ministers of various denominations, for eight years. During this period, I was made the institution’s registrar; a post I held for six years (1995-2001). Thereafter, I was transferred to Immanuel College (in 2001) as a lecturer. Of the schools I attended, it is only Ilesa Grammar that I have not taught. But I am an active member of the Old Students’ Association, helping to contribute to its development. 

I was soon back at UI to study for a master’s degree in African Traditional Medicine and Belief Systems. It was here that the table turned. That was when the pan-Africanist tendencies in me came to the fore. I was clearly irked by my studies of church history, slave trade and the like, and fired to study Africa in its vastness, and champion the cause of the African, and I didn’t want to do that ignorantly but to be adequately equipped with the knowledge. I decided to zero in on the medicine of the African people. For me, it is where the energy really is. I was not going to buy the idea that Africa had nothing to offer to humanity as the global North presents the African being. Don’t I always see the babaláwo, the egúngún, the hunter? Long before the incursion of the colonialists, the African had been living and sustaining themselves. I sought to find out what was in African medicine that could be harnessed to show that the African has a lot to offer humanity and that the people also have their traditional ways of solving their health challenges.

That was how my journey into African medicine began. And, besides reading widely, I immersed myself in the practice to explore the devices which Africans solve their problems with.

So, after obtaining my master’s degree, I decided to go full-blown into indigenous knowledge system. I became an apprentice under Bàbá Awo Rabiu in Sagamu (Ogun State). He, in fact, initiated me into Ifa. I later became an apprentice under Bàbá Awo Ifagbade who was younger, and we could communicate better.   They brought me up properly. (Through their teachings), I became able to  handle simple and complex ailments – diabetes, hypertension, fibroid… to the degree that solutions to some of the problems appear to me in dreams, inspirations, and intuitions. I am not bothered whether this is derided as being unscientific; what is important to me is whether the solutions are efficacious or potent, and they are. Very much so.  

I continued with my apprenticeship while I was a teacher at the Immanuel College of Technology. I taught here for four years, during which time I was connected to the Institute of African Studies at UI where I started my doctorate degree in traditional medicine. My PhD was on “Incantations and Herbal Cures in Ifa Divination”. If you must know, incantation is one of the most concentrated energy of the African. I defended my thesis on 14 October 2004 and was graduated in November 2005. Prof. Jacob Kehinde Olupona of Harvard Divinity School encouraged me to publish my thesis into a book, and he wrote the Foreword. It was after my PhD that I was offered appointment as a teacher at the Institute (of African Studies).

I teach Traditional African Medicine and Belief Systems at master’s degree level only. I also teach Transformation Studies in Africa.

I supervise six, seven Ph D students who work in the areas of medicine, indigenous knowledge and religion. Many of my students want to be like me. They talk like me. They act like me. Some of them say I am their mentor. Some of them are also university lecturers. One of such is Rev Father Dr Paul Akinmayowa Akin-Otiko, a Dominican priest and a researcher at the Institute of African and Diasporan Studies (IADS), University of Lagos.  I supervised his PhD thesis. He also practises traditional medicine and many of his congregants are his clients. 

Now, being a clergyman, I did not have the confidence to practise openly. Even, whenever I fell ill, rather than apply the African medicine, I would go to the hospital, which meant that I did not have enough trust in what I studied. 

I became troubled. Devastatingly. For more than six months, I couldn’t sleep. My head got swollen, almost doubled what it is now; like a football. My scalp was peeling off. My eyes appeared to be coming out of their sockets. It was like my head would be removed from my neck. It was an agonising and harrowing experience to the extent that I sought to die. I was broken into pieces.

This viral attack or bombardment as I call it happened in February/March 2013. 

So, I started going from one hospital to another and from one babaláwo to another. It lingered on till 2014. It was by 2015 that I started getting better. Immediately after this terrible suffering, I had this sudden push to go back to what destiny had called me to do. Before then, my father, who, in his lifetime was a non-practising herbalist, had appeared to me. He apologised to me and gave me a ritual bath; like he was empowering me. To be sure, I didn’t understand what it meant (then). On reflection and inquiries, I realised that the man was asking me to take over his business. I also found out that the attack was a result of my reluctance to practise. I decided to go head on (into the practice) and my life has not been the same again. I am properly fulfilled especially when people have problems and I give them solutions that work.  

It was during my intensive research that I discovered and formulated the Dásháká Green Soap, a potent analgesic in soap form.  (Dásháká in Yoruba language is shortened from kí ara dá sháká which translates to having a healthy body). I get orders (for it and my other products) from the United States of America, United Kingdom, and a lot of other places, to the degree that DHL (Courier company) has special charges for me. 

I live on the UI campus, and I do all my production here. In fact, on the campus, many refer to me as Babaláwo.

(Please note that) my immediate family members still go to hospitals. They resolutely reject my herbs. I allow people to make their choices of what they want for themselves.  But, I am not going to allow myself to be subjected to Western medical episteme. For me, hospitals are like disease centres where people get more illnesses. But that discussion would be for another day.

(It is for that reason that) I am starting up the Dásháká Gem Village in Gbongan in Osun State where people can come and rest and be treated (like royalty); where we shall make medicine or healing a way of life. (To me) healing is much more about our inter-relationships. How we treat our fellow human beings can make that person unwell or well. I believe that respect and honour for people could lead to total wellness. My mission is to let people know that the closer you are to nature, the closer you are to good health and long life, and the farther you are from nature, the closer you are to sickness and death. I am trusting that I would get the wherewithal to accomplish this (sooner than later). With God, all things are possible.

I hope to continue practising (traditional medicine) till I die. And: I am not interested in leaving Methodism or leaving the church. No, I am a Christian. I love to live and die as a Christian. I have an extensive understanding of theology. I am, however, not going to support Christianity at the expense of (the wisdom of) my ancestors. So, just as Christianity is forever my faith, I am a scholar in traditional knowledge and health systems. I apply my scholarship to solve problems, and the only way I know that this would be effective is through indigenous methods. 

Suffice it to say, I am humbled by destiny.

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