Amazed. Amazed. Pastor Temitope Balogun Joshua amazed me. I was part of a delegation that visited him two days into the new year, on the platform of the human rights community. Our mission was to find out more about the six layer building that collapsed with upsetting death toll. Many of us on the delegation were fuming prior, but had a completely different impression at the end of the encounter.
We were seated in a glistering restaurant located downstairs. Several visitors, like the rhythmical movement. of a millipede, strolled gently into the restaurant where they had their breakfast and then left. We spent the time watching his Emmanuel TV said to be available in close to 100 countries. I had taken time to walk through the huge estate, soaked in some angelic aura. Thousands of people milled around; whites, Asians, and many more whose red colours made it difficult to place their ancestral homesteads. I saw a completely different community, far away from the Nigerian rot: electricity supply was 24/7, residents were generally calm, cool and collected, not with the usually hasty and stiff-neck idiosyncrasies of the average Nigerian.
A white man that looked like his personal assistance came to usher us into the living room; simple, immaculate setting. On the wall were framed pictures of several world leaders that had either visited him or had invited him into their country. At least, I saw him with the step mother of the President of the United States, Barrack Obama. One of Africa’s most powerful Kings, Goodwill Zwelithini, was also there. Years back, I had met the daughter of the Zulu King of South Africa. She told me she had epilepsy. She would be caught by the bug, almost every time during colossal, ceremonial events where she was to play a key role. She had visited so many countries in the world and met the best neuro- surgeons without success. She visited the church, and according to her, she was healed. There was also the picture of Pascal Lissouba, the former President of Congo amongst many other world leaders.
We were all waiting, speaking in low tones, perhaps , to meet the defined aura of some spiritual holiness and order. He walks into the living room in T-shirt on short nicker. He looks young, feminine and his eyes are like little comets. He has a piercing look. If he had not been a clergy, maybe, I thought in the realm of my cobweb of hallucinating imaginations, he probably could have been a farmer, or a diligent carpenter, if he had remained in his Arigidi homestead in Ondo State.
He has the look of an ordinary man, but as he walks into the room, some sort of extraordinary spirit in him caste in the space like a silhouette. As he opens his lips to reveal a set of what looked like milk teeth, in a charming smile, more like a reflex action, we all stand up to salute him.
In the recent past, I did not envy the so called men of God. I grew up as an Anglican. Later in life I became an atheist, having studied maxism, which places materialism at the center of human relations. It was not until after attending the bigger University of life and the tribulations thereof, that I sought a route back into the invisible creator of man, of plants, of animals, of the stars, of the creeping and flying things. So, for a long time, I saw religion as the opium of the masses, a set of people exploiting the gullibility of the poor, malnourished masses. A visit to the Synagogue Church of All Nations has now even rekindled some sort of conundrum.
He chooses his words, carefully. “I do not see myself as special. I’m just a man of God,” he says. He waits to see if you wanted to puncture him. On the collapsed building, Pastor Joshua insists the church was bombed. His logic is premised on the mystery plane that hovered around the building for some minutes before the big bang. What is shocking remains the fact that till date, neither the Federal Government nor the Federal Civil Aviation Authority, (FCCA) has come out to unravel the mystery plane. Who owns the plane? What was the mission of the plane? Where did the plane come from? Why should Nigeria allow this underlining dilemma to be swept under the carpet? We went on an inspection of the collapsed building. The sight is gory. Worst still, the FG has refused to make public the report of its findings. However, apart from the issue of the collapsed building, I was personally touched by the economic stories of the church. I’m not a member of the church. I do not intend to be a member, but I’m simply fascinated by the living stories built around the activities of the church, little wonder it appears the church is the biggest tourist attraction in Nigeria today. Though the purpose of our visit was on the collapsed building, we were enthralled by the humanitarian sector of the church’s multi-faceted fiefdom. I took time to investigate this inspiring enterprise.
One of the most intriguing is the monument of charity he has built in Nigeria and across the world. I watched and I was amazed at the effectiveness of his kingdom: the neon lights, in thousands and none is faulty; the orderliness of the people; the street lights and the effectiveness of his in-house economy. Our guide revealed storming stories of affection flowing from the church. Perhaps Pastor Joshua was the only African clergy that contributed immensely to the revival of afflicted souls after the earthquake that hit Haiti, killing many, and submerging hundreds of houses including the Presidential palace. The death toll was 230,000. The world held its breath in awe. Two cargo planes were chartered by Pastor Joshua. The planes flew from the United States to Haiti. They landed on a UN airstrip in Cap Haitien, northern Haiti just ten days after the tragic disaster. In history, most blacks in Haiti are originally from West Africa, mainly Nigeria. Nothing could have drawn this nostalgia than the news that a man from Nigeria flew in two cargo of planes filled with relief materials, bringing succor to the afflicted and putting an end to anguish, gnashing of teeth and mourning. Apart, he assembled medical doctors, nurses, engineers, pilots and evangelists spanning three continents to assist Haiti. They took a 10-seater plane from Ft Lauderdale to Cap Haitien. He also set up his team with relief clinic in Arcahaie, a fishing and farming town of roughly 150,000 locals. He had visited Surabaya in Indonesia where he addressed hundreds of poor people. He fed them and doled out hot meals of Kentucky Fried Chicken and money to them. He also gave 10,000 dollars to the Hana Ananda centre where the poor and the vulnerable shelter. He visited the poor in Colorado, US and fed thousands of people. He had discovered the homeless camp at the banks of the Colorado river with the welcoming inscription: “Cold, Hungry and Homeless, Anything helps.” From the account given to me, the charity covers about 50 countries and over 10 million families around the world. For the communities in the US, he was the first person in the world to have spent such a huge amount on the poor community in a country rated as one of the world’s richest.
A Muslim P.h.d student from Asia who was on a research visit to the center told me her findings indicated that Pastor Joshua provides for the needs of an average of 1 million people daily all over the world. “I’m here as a Ph.d student. I’m doing a research on modern religion and poverty alleviation. My findings indicate that Mr Joshua runs the biggest and most selfless charity in the. world,” he told me. I saw the physically challenged. I saw the blind. I saw widows. I saw thousands of students, Muslims, Christians and freethinkers alike going home with goodies on their shoulders. I saw armed and defenseless people alike, I saw the have-nots in thousands, during the new year festivity.
One of the most interesting aspects is his programme aimed at reviving armed robbers, commercial sex workers and the dregs in the society. “I was a hardened criminal. I used to kill. In fact, I came to this church, I was revived through preaching. I was given money to go and start a new life. I’m now a business man and will never go back to criminal activities again. I have been doing my business now for 10 years”, Andero, from Oyo state told me. Marvis, a former informant to armed robbers, one of which was his boyfriend, after a period of reformation; she was given 200,000 to start a new life with her husband, who was also rehabilitated.
“I have a list of 300 armed robbers rehabilitated this year alone,’ the Asian student told me, adding that she had verified all of them, including checking out with the police and discovered that it was real. There was a particular armed robber who attended the church with a gun in his pocket. He became one of the people to be rehabilitated in an extensive programme that has psycho-counselors on board. The numbers of beneficiaries in the education sector who obtain scholarship is countless, spreading across all the states of the federation and running through all ethnic groups without discrimination. I met many of his care givers, whose responsibility is to move from one home to the other, attending to the elderly and the sick, giving to them medicine and food. His community development programme is unparalleled. He runs a football club referred to as My People Football Club where hundreds of talents are frequently discovered. This is apart from a tourist haven that has been built at the church’s starting point, located in a swamp which has now been turned into a global magnet, drawing an average of 2 million people to Nigeria yearly. I now recollect. On my visit to Costa Rica, I was at first perturbed by the gale of revolting stories of drug, violence and corruption pinned on Nigeria by many. I had a similar experience during my visit to many countries including Thailand and Paragua and the United States. My consolation only came from the other side of the story when many who had visited the Synagogue Church began to talk about Nigerian in glowing terms.
Though the Church seems to have brought grandeur and honour to Nigeria, the country does not seem to appreciate this. One source told me that during Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s reign, instructions were given to TV stations to block out Pastor Joshua’s programmes prompting him to start the Emmanuel TV that now features in several countries all over the world. Yet, the roads leading to this great enterprise that has drawn global attention remain an eyesore. The government has definitely failed in seeing the golden offer of uplifting a crestfallen nation offered through the demagogue of the Synagogue spirituality and political economy. For me, from the economic and cultural perspective, let us even leave out spirituality, the Synagogue Church has become a fortune of tourism, perhaps with no equal in Nigeria. It has become one of the few iconic comets that brightens Nigeria’s darkening images. Unfortunately, there seems no institutional backing. I ask myself, if millions of Nigerians can go to Mecca and Jerusalem, with keen government interests on the visitors given the great impact on the local economy, why can’t the various governments of Nigeria tap from the Synagogue metaphor and thrill?
Written by Adewale Adeoye. Mr Adeoye is CNN African Journalist of the Year Award Winner, former West African Regional Secretary of International Alliance on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forest, (IAITPTF) based in Thailand and alumni of the United Nations Institute of Training and Research, (UNITAR)