One of the historically remarkable settlements along the coastal stretch in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State is Ayetoro, otherwise called the Holy Apostles Community. The town was a utopian Christian community where communism once fully held sway. There was joint ownership of properties; it tilted towards a classless society. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, after a visit to Ayetoro, reports the peculiarities of the town and the challenges therewith.
Ayetoro was popularly known for its adoption and practice of communism in the late 1940s. The history of the community started when a group of militant Christians known as Omo Oba Jesu came into the coastal part of Ilaje in the southern part of the state. This group of Christian preachers called the Holy Apostles thus, on January 12, 1947, converged and established their church and a settlement called Ayetoro.
They reportedly had a unique way of communal relationship which was akin to communism as practiced by the early Christians in the Bible. In Ayetoro, these militant Christians ensured that there was the public ownership of all investments. At that early part, there was no individual ownership of property. Their peculiar way of life and place of settlement was initially opposed by some powerful rulers in Ilaje land.
It, however, took the intervention of the colonial authority through the secretary of Ondo Province who allowed them live as they deemed fit.
The people of Ayetoro were reputed for their commercial living and advanced technology in fishing, transportation, industry such as carpentry and furniture, shoe making, bakery, soap making, Textile and marine business.
The town was said to be so popular that it attracted the attention of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the communist world in the 1950s, particularly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Many students from Ayetoro were educated through a bilateral agreement with countries like West Germany, Hungary, Austria and the United Kingdom.
However, the decline in Ayetoro’s sense of communism began in the 1970s.
An octogenarian and one of the survivors of communism in Ayetoro, Pa Bankole Joshua, in an interaction with Nigerian Tribune spoke glowingly of the early days of communism in Ayetoro, just as he added that the people celebrated Ayetoro’s 70th founders’ day on January 15th, earlier this year.
He recalled that the community was uninhabitable before the first Christian militant, Zaccheus Okenla, received the call of the “Almighty God” and led others there.
Pa Joshua added that in the beginning there was no individual ownership of properties, no security challenges and the whole community worshipped in one church with the spiritual leaders being in control of all activities.
Speaking on the genesis of communism in Ayetoro, he said the spiritual leader then, Okenla, whom he described as intelligent, imaginative, and strong-willed “received the inspiration on the style of governance from God through the Holy Spirit.”
According to him, “the adoption of communism was aimed at reducing the importance of family bonds and fostering of communal ownership of everything. Under Ayetoro communism, the traditional extended family was abolished and all activities organised along family lines were discouraged. By early 1950s, the whole settlement was spatially divided into female and male sections separated by a central board-walk raised on stilts.”
He explained further that spouses lived separately saying about four or five women lived in one house in the female section while same applied to the men. Speaking about raising children, Pa Joshua said young children under the age of five were kept at a special section while their mothers worked in different departments until they retired home around 5pm.
He said different departments were created then and things were done together or uniformly. He listed the departments to include: textile, boat making, carpentry, shoe making, soap making and fishery which was the community’s major source of income.
He said fish were sold and the income used to develop the community, saying “we had a central system; we ate together and whatever you needed would be catered to. But there was no right to private ownership; it was just collective ownership.
“Children were usually assigned to foster parents whom they lived with from the age five or six. These foster parents were responsible for their training and behavior. Every man was regarded as a father to every child here. We saw ourselves as very civilized. People came from far and wide to understudy how we did things here. Christianity played a vital role as the church leaders whom we referred to as the Holy Apostles placed more emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in directing our affairs. Though communism is no longer fully practiced, it still plays out in our day to day activities.”
Speaking on the state of communism in the town, one of the elders of the only church in the community, the Holy Apostles Church, Lawrence Lemamu affirmed that communism was not utterly eradicated as speculated by people but reformed to suit modern trends and to avert the circumstances that destroyed the system in Russia and other places where it was practiced.
Lemamu said as a matter of fact, the system was reformed to embrace individual responsibilities rather than a large whole feeding on the efforts of a few people. He said the traces of communism could still be felt in the church which is the only symbol of authority in the land: traditionally, spiritually and administratively.
He noted that the increase in human population was another factor that led to reforms in the communal system, saying that providing for the teeming population became a huge task which could not be met by the leaders.
According to him, the people of the community still jointly carried out some projects for the wellbeing and welfare of the people. “The NDDC sunk a borehole for the community without completing the project but through communal effort, we finished it and water runs in almost every home in Ayetoro. Aside this, we renovated our old bakery and started production again. The loaves of bread we consume are produced by our people while we use the profits from the proceeds to develop our land.
“To make life more comfortable for our people, each house in the community enjoys at least four hours of uninterrupted power supply every day of the week. At weekends, we supply electricity from morning till evening. We have been doing this since the days of communism. We don’t depend on government for this,” he said.
Lemamu lamented that those who were sponsored through communal efforts to acquire western education turned against the system when they returned home.
According to him, “the educated elite saw themselves as more superior to the people who worked for their academic training. They considered the old tradition and system of the community as barbaric, archaic and evil. This affected us a great deal. They insisted that we embrace capitalism and not communism. Today, each family is responsible for the education of their wards or children. It is no longer through communal efforts.”
A member of Ayetoro youth congress, Emmanuel Aralu, noted that those who turned against the tradition of the people were driven by selfish motives meant to destroy the traditional practices of the people under the guise of bringing civilisation to them.
“This people, since they had acquired foreign education through communal sponsorship and attained influential status, they chose to fight the community’s governance establishment. Our community is educationally backward. The only secondary here is Happy City College which was established during the days of Obafemi Awolowo. Today, the school is nothing to write home about,” he said
Aralu frowned on the neglect of the community by subsequent governments in the state. “We have cried to government for help on the frequent occurrence of ocean surge which usually damage our homes but succeeding governments are insensitive to our plight. Some members of elite from this town are also not helping matters by using the embankment project of the government to siphon money into private pockets. We have not felt the impact of this embankment project. Our homes are daily flooded while some of them are interested in the oil deposit in the community,” he said.
Lemamu said the peace in the land was disrupted by some members of the educated elite who wanted to change the style of living of the people after the demise of the last ruler of the community. He said leaders in the past were chosen “after prayers were offered to the Holy Spirit”, just as he insisted that the tradition would be maintained.
He explained that the kingship crisis reached its climax early last year when the whole community was preparing for its founders’ day anniversary. He recalled that on the eve of the anniversary, gunboats loaded with security personnel invaded the community with the aim of scuttling the anniversary.
According to him, it has been the usual custom of the entire community to hold a procession round the community in their white garments. This was however disrupted by the security men.
He accused some members of the town’s elite group who wanted to forcefully install a leader.
“They wanted to install a leader not chosen by the Holy Spirit. They raised the false alarm that the celebration would be marred, all in the name of scheming to install the next king after the demise of the fifth Ogeleyinbo, Oba Guard Asogbon on February 12, 2015. This people broke into the church and forcefully took all the paraphernalia of authority. That action was a taboo against the custom and tradition of the community. Since the time of our forefathers, no election has been conducted to choose the any king; therefore, the whole community rejected the moves by this people.
“This led to closure of the only church in the land but the people of the community usually converge on the open street for their weekly church service. The first time the church was locked, the community resorted to the City Hall, which we built through communal effort. But we were prevented from using the City Hall by this people who brought security operatives to the holy land for the first time in 2016.
“Since the days of our fathers, Ayetoro was the only community without a police post and yet, the peace of the community was never breached. Now they have brought mobile policemen to our community and we are restricted in our own land and from our properties. But we will continue to live as communally as we used to,” Lemamu said.