The Venerable Beniah Adeleke Adelaja (August 21, 1912 to December 8, 2001)
One of Nigeria’s Foremost Educators, Prominent Church Leader and Mentor
Beniah Adeleke Adelaja, fondly referred to by his students as “Oga”, “the Boss” or “Canon Adelaja”, trained and mentored thousands of students, many of whom went on to occupy leadership positions in the country of Nigeria. Beniah Adelaja declined to ascend the royal throne of Ijebuland to pursue a life in education, Christian ministry and leadership. As principal of the CMS Grammar school for over 20 years, he presided over the oldest and arguably one of the most prestigious high schools in Nigeria. Together with his wife, Princess Eva Adebayo Adelaja, founder of Eva Adelaja Secondary Grammar School, Gbagada, he helped shape the minds of many future prominent Nigerians.
Beniah Adeleke Adelaja was born in Ijebuland, Nigeria on August 21, 1912 to the Royal Family of Adelaja of the Gbelegbuwa Ruling House of Ijebuland. His parents were Prince Jacob Oduniyi Adelaja, and Mrs. Felicia Bomonlu Adelaja. Beniah descended from His Royal Highness Gbelegbuwa I, the 44th Awujale of Ijebuland.
The name, “Beniah,” means “Son of God”. His parents, who were early converts to Christianity, were devout Christians and leaders of St. Peter’s Church, Faji, Lagos. Young Beniah was raised in Lagos where his parents resided, firstly in the Branco/Bamgbose Streets of Lagos.
As a young man, he attended St. John’s Aroloya where one of his memorable teachers was Pa. Mr Solagbade. He also attended St. Paul’s Breadfruit School. He then proceeded to the CMS Grammar School in Lagos, where he became the Head Boy and captain of the football team, graduating with the highest honors. He was a member of the first class to pass the senior local examination of the University of Cambridge in 1931. Beniah was an avid soccer fan and player and was featured internationally in advertising by Benjamin Crook and Sons Ltd, a soccer equipment manufacturer and marketer.
Early Professional Life and Education
Between 1932 and 1935, Beniah Adelaja served as Junior School Master at the CMS Grammar School. According to Professor Ayandele’s book “The Ijebus of Ijebuland”, he declined the opportunity to become the Awujale of Ijebuland in 1933 when he was selected, indicating “I cannot be King. There is only One King, Christ, and I have already dedicated my life to him”. That commitment to Christ and the priesthood defined young Ben Adelaja's life. He had set his eyes on education, divinity, public service and leadership.
In 1935, he proceeded to Fourah Bay College in Freetown (Durham University) where he received his B.A. degree in 1938 and his M.A. in 1944. Beniah Adelaja also received his D.Th. from Durham University and his D.Ed. in 1947 from the University of London.
Beniah Adelaja interspersed his earlier professional life with work as a clergyman, teacher, educator, and administrator. He assumed a staff position at Ijebu-Ode Grammar School in 1940. He was deaconed by Archbishop Vining in 1941 and was ordained a full priest on March 21, 1943. He assumed the position of Vice Principal of Ijebu-Ode Grammar School in 1941, a position he held until 1946 when he assumed the position of Principal for a few months. Some of his mentors in the vineyard of God included the late Arch-Bishop Vining, late Bishop Howells and late Archdeacon Lucas.
In 1948, he was appointed the Acting Principal of CMS Grammar School, the oldest secondary school in Nigeria. He was appointed principal of the same school in 1950. In 1950, Beniah became the first Nigerian to serve as Student, Head Boy, Teacher, Acting Principal, and Principal of the same school. Beniah Adelaja became a Canon of the Cathedral Church of Christ in 1955.
In 1958, amidst significant criticism, Beniah Adelaja relocated CMS Grammar School to the village of Bariga (then an undeveloped suburb of Lagos) in order to expand the physical facilities well beyond the capabilities of the limited space on Odunlami Street in central Lagos. The new campus, built from scratch, featured larger classrooms, new athletic facilities, new dormitory space and a modern four-storey science building sporting impressive physics, chemistry, biology and other laboratories. To make the undeveloped Bariga environment livable and accessible, he built new roads. Beniah Adelaja is credited for bringing economic development to the Bariga, Shomolu and Oworonshoki areas of Lagos. He strongly advocated for and facilitated the development of basic infrastructure (roads, power, water, schools, markets and churches). In recognition of his activities and impact, two schools are currently named after him in the Bariga area.
Beniah Adelaja served as Principal of the CMS Grammar School for 21 years (until 1970) when he retired. During his tenure as an educator, he helped shape the lives of many Nigerian men. His students include Chief Ernest Shonekan (former president of Nigeria), Chief Rotimi Williams (prominent attorney and Senior Advocate of Nigeria - SAN), Chief Duro Onabule (former Press Secretary to the president of Nigeria), the late Art Alade (renowned Musician and Artist), the late Professor Ayo Awojobi (renowned university Professor of Mechanical Engineering), Chief T.O.S Benson (Senior Advocate of Nigeria - SAN), Prof. E. Ade Elebute, Prof. Deji Femi-Pearse, Prof. Kayode Oyediran (all former leaders in their academic institutions and specialties), Mr Adekunle Kukoyi (a founding student of the University of Ibadan and renowed surveyor) and Chief Sunny Odogwu (Industrialist). Beniah Adelaja, widely recognized in Nigeria as a leading educator, also served in government in various capacities, including as Senior Education Officer for the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 1970 to 1972.
Selected Public Service and Service to the Church
In 1972, Beniah Adelaja became the Archdeacon of Ijebu and Vicar of St. Savior’s Church, Italowajoda, Ijebu-Ode. During his tenure in Ijebu as Archdeacon, Venerable Adelaja worked toward the creation and growth of the Diocese of Ijebu. In 1975, he became the Archdeacon of Lagos and Vicar of St. John’s Aroloya. Still Archdeacon of Lagos, he was assigned the Vicarship of St. Paul’s Breadfruit in 1976.
The Venerable Adelaja was local secretary of the Cambridge University Examination Council from 1950 to 1955 (in an era when examination papers never ever leaked), and was Secretary General of the Grier Cup competition for secondary schools. He was also President of the Principal’s Cup competition.
Venerable Adelaja served on the Federal Electoral Commission of Nigeria (1961-1964) during the early years of Nigeria’s independence. During this period, his strong sense of principle and leadership was a major asset as the nation dealt with problematic leadership issues and major transition toward democracy. Adelaja resigned from the Electoral Commission in 1965 in protest of voting irregularities and election fraud that characterized the electoral process at the time and the limited ability of the commission to address the issue.
Beniah Adelaja was actively involved in philanthropic and civic leadership activities. He was active for many years on the Executive Leadership team of the Nigerian Society for the Blind. Beniah Adelaja was the Charter Secretary (1970-1971) and later the President of the first Rotary Club in Nigeria (Rotary Club of Lagos). He continued as a member through most of his life. He was also an active member and leader of the Lagos Dining Club. While serving as Principal of CMS Grammar School, he founded and pastored Christ's Church, Bariga, providing leadership to it for many years.
Marriage and Family
On May 11, 1948, Beniah Adelaja married Princess Evangeline Adebayo Adebonojo “Eva”, the daughter of His Royal Highness, Samuel Adebonojo, the late Dagburewe of Idowa. Together, they dedicated themselves to the service of others. Eva Adelaja founded the Girls’ Secondary Modern School in 1960 and the Girls’ Secondary Grammar School in 1964. The latter, now named Eva Adelaja Girls’ Secondary Grammar School in memory of the founder, was developed to meet the needs of underprivileged girls. The Venerable Adelaja and Mrs. Adelaja opened up their homes to raise numerous children, many of whom became successful and famous leaders in Nigeria. Together, they served in various duties and capacities within the church and in their communities.
The Venerable Beniah Adelaja and his wife had six children of their own:
• Dr. (Mrs) Adepeju Olukoya, M.D., M.PH. (born in 1949); noted Pediatrician and Professor of Medicine at the University of Lagos; public health specialist and renowned women’s health scholar and advocate; founder and director of the Women’s Health Organization of Nigeria; Women’s Health Specialist with the Gender, Women and Health Unit of the World Health Organization’s Department in Geneva Switzerland.
• Mr. Babalola Adegboyega Adelaja (born in 1952); musician, artist and film producer; founder and Managing Director of Solar Productions Nigeria Ltd.; accomplished keyboardist and member of the Hugh Masekela Band; and recording artist and record producer.
• Dr. Adesoji Adelaja, M.A., M.S., Ph.D. (born in 1956); noted economist and academic administrator, former chair Agricultural-Food-Resource Economics, Dean and Director of Research for Cook College and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station; Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Dean of Cook College, Founder and Director of the Food Policy Institute and the Food Innovation Center, all at Rutgers University; and The John A. Hannah Distinguished Professor in Land Policy and Founder and Director of the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University.
• Mr. Olurotimi Adelaja, LL.B. (1958 - 1996), attorney and social activist who passed away at the age of 38.
• Mr. Taiwo Olusegun Adelaja, B.A. (born in 1961): music technologist, sound designer/producer, percussion artist, environmental, cultural and social activist, media researcher and entertainment writer; electronics entrepreneur and CEO/Managing Director of Metasoundz Nigeria Ltd.
• Mrs. Kehinde Olusola Kamson, B.S. (born in 1961); chartered accountant; Founder/Owner/Managing Director of Sweet Sensation Confectionery, a leading fast food chain in Nigeria.
The Venerable Adelaja’s siblings include Frances Ajayi (1927-2009) and Adenike Adefeso (Born 1932), Frederick Adekunle Ige (FAI) Adelaja (1917-1986), and late Mr Edward Adedotun Adelaja (1935-1989). Venerable Adelaja was the head of the extended Adelaja family and a leader of the Gbelegbuwa Ruling House of Ijebuland.
Venerable Adelaja's grandchildren include:
Peter Ademola Olukoya Wemimo Fasehun (nee Olukoya). Angel Oluwayimika Adelaja Ayomikulehin Anibaba (nee Kamson) Samuel Adeleke Adelaja Samuel Olatunji Kamson Adebayo Adelaja. Olayinka Kamson Evan Adebayo Adelaja II Temitope Kamson Beniah Adeleke Adelaja II Olusola Kamson Ava Omotunde Adelaja
Amongst the friends and contemporaries of the Venerable Beniah Adelaja were Sir Kofo Abayomi, The Bishop Adeniyi, Rev. Akin Adesola, Hon. Justice Samuel and Dr (Mrs) Irene Ighodaro (the late Iyase of Benin), Bishop S.I. Kale, Otunba Abimbola Odunlami, Otunba Ade Tuyo (of De Facto Bakeries), Chief Okunowo, Archdeacon Oredugba, Archdeacon A. Alayande, Justice Anthony Aniagolu, Chief S.O. Odugbesan, Bishop F. Segun and Professor C.O. Taiwo, Chief Oyediran, Dr E.S. Pratt, Rev. Father Slattery - all of blessed memory.
On his tombstone at the cemetery in the basement of the Cathedral of our Saviors, Italowajoda in Ijebu-Ode, his ancestral home, where he is buried alongside his beloved wife, you will find the following inscription:
“The Music In Our Hearts We Bore, Long After It Is Heard No More ...” (Wordsworth)
Venerable Adelaja picked this verse from Wordsworth’s “Solitary Reaper” as his parting words to his family, friends and followers.
The Archdeacon's name also bears the title of a primary school on the compound of C.M.S.
Archdeacon Adelaja was born on August 21, 1912, to the family of Prince Jacob Oduniyi Adelaja. He later married Evangeline Adebayo Adebonojo, who also became a prominent educationist in Lagos and was a daughter of an Ijebu titled ruler, the Dagburewe of Idowa. He attended St John's School in Lagos and later went to the C.M.S. Grammar school for secondary education. After finishing his studies at CMS, he proceeded to the Fourah Bay college, the first higher training institution in West Africa. From Fourah Bay, he crossed the Atlantic and attended the University of London's Institute of Education.
He started work as teacher at his alma mater in Lagos: C.M.S. Grammar School. In 1950, he was appointed the school's principal. Prior to that, he was Vice principal at Ijebu Ode Grammar School, another one of the early Nigerian secondary school.