Meet Joseph Ibironke, a 68-year-old man from Ondo State, with a remarkable life journey. He shares his unique experiences after spending nine years in the United Kingdom and 21 years in the United States. However, an unexpected turn of events led him back to Nigeria after grappling with a mysterious illness. In an exclusive interview, Joseph Ibironke unfolds the chapters of his intriguing life with FATTEH HAMID.
Where are you from?
I’m Pastor Joseph Ibironke. Officially, I was born on February 2, 1955. I’m from Igbara Oke, in the Ifedore Idanre Local Government Area of Ondo State.
Where do you live now?
Currently, I live in Lameco, Sango Ota, Ogun State. The place is very close to the Nigerian Breweries in Sango.
What do you do to earn a living now?
I’m a minister of God, and some people support me to earn a living.
Where were you born?
How many siblings do you have?
We were 11 (children). I’m the last child. Before I left Nigeria, two died and after I left Nigeria and came back, I had six siblings, but at the moment, I have three siblings from my parents left.
Which schools did you attend?
I attended Anglican Grammar School, Igbara Oke, Ondo State, before I proceeded to the University of Lagos. However, I didn’t finish my programme over there. While I was there, I joined the National Bank in 1980. While working in the bank, I was studying for a certificate programme. I passed stage one in Nigeria before I moved to London. I can remember that Union Bank snatched me from National Bank at the time. So, I was working with Union Bank before I moved to London for further studies. When I got to London, I attended a Bible college and I also attended Unity College, North London.
What did you study at UNILAG?
I studied Banking and Finance in UNILAG, though I didn’t graduate before moving to the UK.
When did you leave Nigeria and how old were you then?
I left Nigeria in the 1980s. If memory serves me right, I was in my 30s when I left Nigeria and that should be between 1983 and 1984.
What took you abroad?
Just the same reason many Nigerians leave today. The system in the country was bad and all my friends and I were seeking greener pastures. I left Nigeria for a better life.
How many years did you spend in the United Kingdom?
I spent nine years in London before moving to the United States.
What did you spend your time doing during those years? Did you also have a job there?
I was working. I worked as a security officer after I was trained as a security guard at Burns International Security Services Limited, United Kingdom. I was trained as an armed guard. When I moved to the US, I also worked with them for a while.
Did you become a UK citizen?
I had a British passport.
Where’s your passport?
I misplaced it. I declared it missing and the British Government replaced it, but it went missing again. I went back for the passport and I was told that I was careless with the British property and that it wouldn’t be replaced for me.
When was that?
I can’t remember but it was in 2007.
Why did you leave the UK for the United States?
It was because the UK was too tight but America was free. You can make it very fast in the US. At that time, my friends were there and advised me to move to the US.
How many years did you spend in the US?
I spent 21 years in the United States of America.
Did you get another job there?
As I earlier said, I worked with Burns and I also worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation Police Department before I resigned because God called me to be a pastor. That was when I resigned in Los Angeles after working for about two years. Also, I had a store in Orange County, California, which was predominantly occupied by whites, no blacks lived there. In Orange County, I sold sophisticated electronics. I was always going to Japan to buy electronics and sell them. I was also the only black in Orange County at the time who made it (was successful).
Were you married with children when you were abroad?
Yes, I was married with four children. Right now, I don’t know their whereabouts and it’s very painful knowing you have children somewhere and you don’t know where they are. But I know that they can’t suffer over there. Their mother left me after my sickness.
What is your wife’s name and where is she from?
Her name is Helen, Helen Jones. She’s a citizen of the United States and is from Texas.
Where did you meet her?
We met in California before we moved to Tampa, Florida. From Tampa, we moved back to California and later back to Texas.
What are the names of the children you had together?
I don’t want to disclose their names.
In a video on social media, you claimed not to have known how you found yourself in Nigeria after spending 21 years in the US and nine years in the UK. Does that mean you never wanted to return to Nigeria?
No, I wanted to return home but was regularly stopped by my brother.
Were there times your family (parents or siblings) in Nigeria wanted you to return home for one reason or another?
When I wanted to come home, I was advised not to return home and that Nigeria was bad. Also, I had people I knew in New York who came and returned to the United States. I felt that (returning to Nigeria) wasn’t anything to bother about and that I was going to return to Nigeria. If they (my family members) couldn’t be hurt, I wouldn’t be hurt. On my birthday that year, I called my brother and told him that I was going to visit Nigeria and celebrate the next Easter. I sent N25,000 to them in Nigeria and told them to help me prepare for my arrival but before February ended, I became sick.
What was the nature of your sickness?
My wife told me that one midnight after making love together and we slept, I started barking like a dog, and that I was foaming in my mouth. She told me that she was scared, called for help and an ambulance was called and they rushed me to Cal State Teaching Hospital, California. I was there for 14 months and the doctors couldn’t detect what was wrong with me.
Nigerians over there (in the US) who saw me and my condition said it was a spiritual attack and advised that I be taken back to Nigeria for treatment.
My family in Nigeria was called and it was arranged that I be taken to Nigeria. My elder brother, Williams, and his first son, Kayode Ibironke, whom I sponsored throughout his education, both received me at the airport (in Nigeria) and took me to the psychiatry hospital in Sabo Yaba, where I was abandoned.
What type of treatment did you receive at the hospital?
At the psychiatric hospital, they dragged me out because no one visited me or asked about me. Later, I was taken to (a correctional service in) Kirikiri by the hospital when they saw me wandering on the road. I was in Kirikiri when the Redeemed Christian Church of God came to visit the prison and heard about me, saw my records, and saw my documents, that I was from the United States. The church took me back to the psychiatric hospital and was responsible for my treatment, clothing, and feeding.
However, no one checked on me again after some time and I ended up under a bridge in Oshodi. I was there for a while before some policemen saw me. I told them my story and they checked my documents. One of them took me to Ikeja, gave me N5,000, and told me I would be able to get help there. On the third day, I was in Ikeja when Kolawole Olawuyi’s Labe Orun team came to see me with some human rights activists. I didn’t have an idea how they got to know my story. They told me that they were informed that someone from the US was sleeping there (under the bridge). It was Labe Orun who took me to Pakoto Prayer Mountain in Ifo, where I spent six years before I recovered, even though not completely. It was under the leadership of Prophet Ezekiel Oladeinde, popularly called Baba Pakoto, that I recovered.
At what point did you realise that you were in Nigeria?
After my recovery at Pakoto.
What year was that?
That was in 2014.
Do you have properties in Nigeria?
I used to have one before leaving Nigeria. I had a house on Number 14, Olasumbo Street, Sabo Yaba, Lagos State. It was only my brother that knew about it.
Who was managing the property for you when you were away?
My elder brother, Williams Ibironke.
Have you been able to take possession of the property? Or what happened to it?
When I was going to the UK, I called my siblings and I showed them all the documents of the house which I handed over to my Nigerian wife who I was living with, with two children at the time. In the presence of my siblings, after handing it over to her, she knelt in front of my brother and asked him to keep the house documents for us since he was a father figure in the family at the time. My wife gave it to my older brother and my other siblings also said that it was the best thing to do. I left for the UK after that time. I didn’t spend up to six months before my wife was kicked out of my Nigerian house, and it was sold. My wife ran to our village where my eldest son died after she was unable to pay N150 for his treatment as I was later told by my wife. She had to run to her village to take care of my second son who was barely four months old when I left Nigeria.
Where are your second son and wife now?
The boy is now 43 years old. He is married with three children. I met him physically this year in June after I fully recovered from my illness and went to visit his mother. He narrated to me how life was tough for him and he is still struggling.
Where is your brother and his son now?
Both are dead. Kayode died a few years ago.
Having claimed that your siblings took over your property, did you contact the police?
The police didn’t help me build my house. I don’t believe in the policing system in Nigeria. In a rotten system like Nigeria and against a dead person? Not happening.
Can you remember the exact day you returned to Nigeria?
I cannot remember.
Do you desire to go back to meet your family in the US if you’re cleared to travel back?
Yes, I intend to go back to the United States but my intention is not to die over there. I just want to live a good life.
What do you plan to do next?
To live a good life for the rest of my life.