Controversial Temitope Balogun Joshua, founder of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, is the centre of attention as Lagos State government investigates the collapse of a six-storey guest house in his church premises which led to the death of 80 people including 67 South African nationals
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Sep. 29, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT |
TEMITOPE Balogun Joshua, founder and general overseer, Synagogue Church of All Nations, SCOAN, is not a stranger to controversy. Such controversies do not always portray the man of God in positive light as can be seen from his poor management of the collapsed building belonging to his church and the hostility meted out to first responders and the media. This has prompted many people to ask whether the self-acclaimed prophet is actually a Devil or Saint.
Prior to the building collapse which has so far left 80 people dead, one of the issues that troubled the minds of people about Joshua was when the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, the umbrella association for Pentecostal churches in the country, waged a war against him. The PFN had publicly declared Joshua as an anti-Christ in a letter it sent to some Christian organisations around the world including in Ghana, signed by Ayo Oritsejafor and Wale Adefarasin, PFN’s former president and secretary-general, respectively, and addressed to Rt. Reverend Frimpong-Manso and Rev Deegbe, chairman and general secretary of the CCG. “As the custodians of the gospel that was once delivered to the saints, it has taken a divine grace for us to diagnose and expose the new wave of anti-Christ springing from Nigeria with one Fatai Balogun a.k.a Prophet T. B. Joshua of the Synagogue Church of All Nations as the arrowhead.”
According to the letter, “Armed with cosmetic testimonies of pseudo-miracles and an array of superficial charity, this pre-ordained enemy of Christ began his assault on the Church a few decades ago and the warning bell was sounded by the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, but foreign ministers from diverse nations who were captivated by the knitted prophecies swooped into Nigeria. Unknown to these gullible pilgrims, their presence simply validated the operations of the anti-Christ. The rash actions of these mostly white but misguided ministers fuelled a global expansion of the emerging anti-Christ.” We must confess to you that our past experiences in the handling of false prophets, false apostles… proved insufficient in the face of the new threats,” the letter said.
Also, Chris Okotie, pastor of the Household of God took to the airwaves accusing Joshua of having occult powers. Matters were not helped when some key members of his church aired a video denouncing Joshua and made all manner of unsavoury allegations that the man of God was sexually abusing minors who were church members. But all these allegations have always ended up being a nine-day wonder generating a lot of dust but leaving the prophet unscathed and without reducing his influence on his followers.
This is why the world is watching keenly the latest drama following the collapse of the six-storey building which is the guest house of the Synagogue Church of All Nations where foreigners who troop to his church stayed. There has been an attempt to cover the facts of what led to the collapse of the building which is under construction if though it was also being used as guest house at the same time. This latest controversy involving Joshua revolves around the collapse of a six-storey building under construction inside his church premises on Friday, September 12 which he has so far failed to take responsibility of the disaster. Instead the televangelist is blaming the collapse of the guest house on alleged terrorists who wanted to kill him. He told members of his church during the Sunday service, which Realnews attended on September 14 that the attack was targeted at him and not at them. Throughout the time of preachment from Joshua and prayers none was for the injured and the dead and their families. Instead Joshua concentrated effort at proving that he was indeed the victim of the happenstance and not culpable in any way. The prophet stated categorically that the collapse of the building which left 131 injured as at Thursday, September 18, was a Boko Haram attack.
Joshua justified his claim by showing his congregation on the Emmanuel TV the chronology of events shortly before and after the incident as captured by the church’s close circuit television, CCTV. “I received a phone call immediately I got here, just 10 minutes later when I was in the church, that there was a jet hovering over the mountain where I had just left. They said it was hovering at a close range. Before I knew it, I received another phone call that the same jet was now at the church hovering over the building, passing it four times at a very close range before the building collapsed,” he said.
Joshua equally read to the church a letter which he claimed was addressed to him by a Boko Haram, an Islamic sect, member, confessing how he had attempted to plant a bomb inside the church. He said his church was being attacked to scare away members. “This environment at Ikotun Egbe, we have never witnessed an accident of a building collapse. This is a very stable terrain. I have been here for the past 30 years. I am pregnant with words, but we have left the security agencies to do their job. Let us believe and educate our people and be alive.”
Joshua did not tell his audience whether he reported the letter to the police but he assured them that God would bring the perpetrators of the attack to book. Joshua said that the decision of the insurgents to focus on his church might be the end of the Boko Haram’s activities in the country. “I know you will ask why the church? It is because of the spiritual blessings that God has bestowed upon us. A big head wears a large hat. Don’t forget about the Ebola issue too, it was God that rescued the church. Probably they would have dropped an Ebola patient inside the church, so that they would said there is an Ebola patient in the church, don’t go there. They are trying to scare you from coming to church. Don’t be scared, you are not the target, I’m the target. I know my time has not yet come. I have not yet finished my job. I want to assure you that our God will get back at them and you will know when he gets back to them. May be this would be the end of the whole thing,” Joshua said.
Joshua in the course of his sermon told his congregation that they must be wondering if he had seen a ‘revelation,’ because, he had encouraged his church members not to trust in their possession but the Giver of the possessions. The pastor also said some months ago, he reported that a member of Boko Haram was apprehended in his church, but the Lagos State government did not believe it. He claimed that a few months ago, the church sighted an aerial surveillance camera hovering above the church. He said members of the church knocked it down and brought it to him.
But Joshua’s Sunday sermon contradicted what he told journalists on Saturday, September 13. According to him, he was at the mountain when he received call that an aircraft was hovering around the six-storey building. “I was at the mountain yesterday, where I went to pray. After praying, I slept off there. The place is about five minutes from here. I left around 9 am. They called me that there was a plane trying to land, I told them not to worry; that only a helicopter can land, but they said they were worried that it was coming too close to the building and that maybe it was taking pictures. The same plane went around Ikotun. To our surprise, after moving round Ikotun, it came back on top of this building four times. There is a surveillance camera in here. We have a role to play; we cannot leave everything to God,” he said.
However, Yakubu Dati, coordinating general manager, aviation parastatals, disputed the claims of Joshua that an aircraft hovering around the church guest house caused the collapse of the building. “I am not aware of the aircraft hovering around the Joshua’s church building. I have never heard that an aircraft hovering can cause collapse of a building. If that’s the case, many building in Lagos would have collapsed because Lagos is a very busy place where we have many traffic of aircraft,” he told Realnews.
Dati also denied the allegation by the church leader that Boko Haram could have infiltrated the country’s air space. He said that such claim was baseless and should not be used to justify the collapse. “I am not aware of any Boko Haram’s infiltration of the air space in the country,” he said.
Despite Joshua’s claim as to what cause the collapse of the building, the Lagos State government said it had commenced investigation into the immediate and remote causes of the collapse with the aim of preventing future occurrence. The investigation will also find out if Joshua violated the state’s building regulatory law. It appears that the collapsed building didn’t have an approved plan from the government. Toyin Ayinda, commissioner for physical planning and urban development, said the ongoing investigation would determine if there was an approval for the collapsed building. He said he would be surprised if the church had no government approval for the building before it collapsed.
“Up till now we have no proof concerning the building and that is why we need the engineering team to explain a few things to us. Until we have carried out an investigation, until we determined the cause, I have said that I have no proof of the permit. Or maybe they have one they want to show me,” Ayinda said, adding that a decision will be taken if the church fails to present a building permit during the investigation. According to the commissioner, the government would partner with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, to unravel the mysterious plane that was linked to the collapsed building. “Part of our plan is to get in touch with the NCAA, give them a copy of the clip so that they can tell us which aeroplanes were moving at about that time,” he said.
On her part, Abimbola Odunayo, general manager, Lagos Building Control Agency, said her agency sealed off the building few weeks ago but the church ignored the worries expressed by the agency and continued working on the building. “Another thing we found is even if you ask them they won’t tell is that few weeks ago we sealed the place and immediately we left they opened it and continued working. And the fact remains that you can’t have an existing building and start putting up more structure on the building. And even before you could do such a thing, you must carry out structural integrity test to determine that the structure is stable to take more wait,” she said.
From all the statements so far from the Lagos State government officials, it appears that the collapsed building was built on a faulty foundation originally made for a two storey building which was later increased to four before it was raised to six floors which eventually collapsed while construction was ongoing. Also, there is no evidence that the Lagos State government gave approval for the building.
This must have made Kunle Awobodu, president, Building Collapse Prevention Guild, BCPG, to say that government would need to adopt strict ways of supervising buildings as well as strengthen its manpower. “In our society of today, so many people take laws into their hands and they don’t follow due process when it comes to building their houses. So it’s a matter of sensitising the people to appreciate the danger of handling construction recklessly. Government itself does not have sufficient staff strength to handle the complaints and this could be discouraging,” he said. For instance, he said that the coordinators of BCPG under Maryland branch discovered some of the buildings that were not being properly constructed. These was brought to the attention of our collaborators and the government, they came there and sealed the buildings. But somehow, the people will continue working. It was quite discouraging,” Awobodu said.
It is not only the Lagos State government that has taken interest in the Synagogue collapsed building affair. The federal government through the Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, is equally on the case. Bede Obaye, head, inspectorate and compliance, SON, said a team from the agency had taken samples of some of the materials used for the construction of the collapsed building, adding that the investigations would be comprehensive. “We have come here to see exactly what happened and we have watched the clip of what happened. But beyond that, we are here to investigate the remote causes of the collapse; to look at the materials and to ask questions about the engineers and contractors that handled the project. We have taken samples of the materials used, especially the steel materials. The Standards Organisation of Nigeria, in 2011, took steps to ensure that all steel products that are manufactured in this country are properly controlled and within the standard specification. That we have done and that is why today, we have been able to identify all the manufacturers of the steel products used for this construction and that is the first step that can lead to further investigation. Our investigation will not be limited to the materials alone. The materials may be right, but the selection and combination may be wrong. The contractor and engineer who handled the project will have to provide us with vital information,” Obaye said.
For most part of last week, rescue operation was still ongoing on the collapsed building. By Wednesday, September 17, the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, reported that 63 dead bodies had been removed from the rubbles, while 131 people were rescued alive. Ibrahim Farinloye, public relations officer, NEMA, who gave the figure, said 80 percent of people rescued from the collapse building were women. He said two female children, aged four and eight were among those rescued from the building.
Contrarily, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa in a statement on Tuesday, September 16, said: “I am greatly saddened to announce that 67 South Africans died and scores of others sustained injuries, after a building at the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed on Friday, 12 September 2014, in Lagos, in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This is a particularly difficult time for South Africa. Not in the recent history of our country have we had this large number of our people die in one incident outside the country.”
Zuma, according to timeslive.co.za, said he had directed various government departments to ensure that relatives of the deceased were taken to Nigeria to identify the bodies their loved ones. He added that the government wanted to ensure that the bodies were repatriated as soon as possible. When Realnews contacted Farinloye to react to the casualty figures given by President Zuma, he said: “When we finish, everybody will know the total and who belongs where.”
The different figures presented by NEMA and South Africa have raised doubt in both political circle and the international community. Some people have questioned the creditability of the figures released by the NEMA and South African government. Tunde Oseni, a don at the Lead City University, Ibadan, Oyo State, said the figures were contradictory because nobody knew the number of people trapped under the debris. “There have been controversies about the cause, so that controversy has also extended to the number of the people who are dead. The issue is that the number of individuals cannot be ascertained until the debris is totally cleared. The difference in the total number given by NEMA and South African government is still temporary because we don’t know how many people were trapped down there. The figures given by South African government is based on the figures of their citizens that left the country for the church and they must have gotten the figure from their embassy and immigration. I don’t think that either of them can be said to be wrong as of now because those that are in the hospital may still be part of those they are counted as causalities,” Oseni said.
The lecturer warned that the contradiction could have negative effect on the integrity of the country in keeping records if the NEMA and South African government failed to reconcile the figures. “In the short term no, but in the long term if we are not able to reconcile the total causality number claimed by the outsiders who actually have people there, then something is wrong with our data processing in relation to managing crisis and accidents. But I still want to believe that in the next few days NEMA and the Lagos State government would be able to reconcile the figures.”
The building collapse may be drawing the attention of the world now to the Synagogue Church of All Nations but this is not the first time it is attracting public scrutiny. On March 9, it was reported that a ruffled looking man showed up at the church with a mind boggling confession to make. The man who called himself Mustapha, a repented member of the Boko Haram terrorist group, claimed he and four others had planned to bomb the church on a certain Sunday. But watching Joshua praying on the church’s owned television, Mustapha said he and his group mysteriously became confused and abandoned the evil mission. Mustapha said after they decided to abort the attack on the church, he would see Joshua in his dreams warning him not to return to the sect. “Any time I lie down, I will be seeing you (pointing at Joshua) in my dream. I don’t sleep in the night. You are disturbing me. You keep praying for me. I cannot close my eyes without seeing you. Please, help me,” he said.
Mustapha’s testimony generated a little controversy, Umar Manko, former Lagos State commissioner of police, who was asked to confirm that Boko Haram members infiltrated Lagos and actually planned to bomb SCOAN, laughed off the claim and said it was baseless.
But in SCOAN, such testimonies of miraculous exploit are commonplace. This is, perhaps, why the 30,000-seat in the church is always filled to capacity every Sunday by Nigerians and foreigners who throng the place to seek healing and financial blessings. For instance, Bulus Hosea, who claimed to be a Boko Haram agent, appeared in the SCOAN on May 11, saying he was paid to bomb the church building. “I am one of the Boko Haram members. They said they would give me N2 million if I blow up a church. They said they would give me a big house and a wife,” the man said, adding that Joshua’s power forced him to abandon the mission.
The miraculous powers attributed to Joshua have always elicited criticisms in the country. Although some of his critics agreed that he has some powers, they claimed that his powers were from indigenous African occultism and not from God. Joshua is not the only miracle worker in the SCOAN. There are four other members of his church who can perform miracles and they are called the “Wise Men”. They are Wiseman Racine Bousso from Senegal, Wiseman Daniel Emelandu from Nigeria, Wiseman Christopher Orji from Nigeria and Wiseman Harry from Greece.
Joshua along with his acolytes have commercialised their miraculous powers. Some church attendees claimed to be healed through the church’s ‘anointing water,’ popularly called Jesus water which has been blessed by Joshua. A bottle is sold for N5, 000. The ‘water’ sparked controversy when four people died in a stampede in Joshua’s Ghanaian branch when an unadvertised service where it was being sold drew huge crowd far beyond the church’s capacity.
Apart from his miracle powers notwithstanding, Joshua is also renowned for predicting events in the lives of individuals who attend his church services as well as events happening in the world. Some of the events Joshua is believed to have successfully predicted include Michael Jackson’s death, the Boston bombing attacks in America, the disappearance of the Malaysian airline and the outcome of various football matches, including the death of former Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika. He was also believed to have predicted the two recent African Cup of Nations final matches, which were won by Zambia and Nigeria, respectively.
Joshua’s Synagogue Church of All Nations is reputed also to have become a tourist Mecca of sorts for many presidents and heads of governments from various parts of Africa. In January 2009, the late John Evans Atta-Mills, who just became Ghana’s president, visited the church and had a thanksgiving service there to celebrate his victory as Ghana’s president which he said was predicted by Joshua. During the service, Atta-Mills recalled that his relationship with Joshua dated back to the time he was vice-president of Ghana. “I am no stranger to the Synagogue. Indeed, I have been here very regularly. And I have known the man of God for more than 10 years,” he said
Like Atta-Mills, several other African heads of states have also visited Joshua for spiritual assistance. They have literally turned the church situated in Ikotun-Egbe, a Lagos suburb, into a place of spiritual connection. Prominent among those who have visited the church include, the late President Omar Bongo of the Republic of Gabon; Goodwill Zwelithini, king of the Zulu from South Africa; former President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia; Andre Kolimba, former president of the Central African Republic; former President Pascal Linssouba of Congo Brazaville and the late Yormie Johnson, former Liberian warlord. The recently defeated Malawi’s president, Joyce Banda is also a regular visitor to the SCOAN.
Joshua is believed to also have ties with a large section of the Nigeria political class, including former heads of state. But unlike their foreign counterparts who make public their visits, Nigerian politicians do so at night. In 2009, the late president Umaru Yar’Adua’s government honoured Joshua with the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic, OFR, for his humanitarian efforts. But some critics say the honour was for Joshua’s spiritual consultation to Yar’Adua. Also, when the Appeal Court discharged and acquitted Hamza Al-Mustapha of the murder of late Kudirat Abiola, his first point of call was to Joshua.
As the controversy rages, it is yet to be seen whether the Lagos State government and other relevant authorities would muster enough courage to prosecute those responsible for the collapsed building or even take over the piece of land hosting the collapsed building as stated in its law. Nigerians and, indeed, the world are watching.
Additional reports by Olu Ojewale.