The news of his death in the early hours of last Sunday hit home like thunderbolt and reverberated across the globe. For those who knew Prophet T B Joshua, the late founder and overseer of the Synagogue Church of All nations (SCOAN) and had experienced or heard of his exploits as a preacher, seer, healer and philanthropist, it was a piece of information too difficult to digest.
Many indeed lived in denial for hours, the media inclusive. Journalists’ discussions across social media platforms, as the ‘rumour’ circulated, showed a frantic effort to refute rather than confirm. Then came the hard fact: ‘It is true. The Commissioner of Police (Lagos State) has confirmed it,’ a correspondent close to the police posted on one of the social media platforms. Doubts and disbelief turned to finality; and then reality.
Naturally, the greatest concern as the finality of the reality dawned was what would become of the church. Or to put it more succinctly, what becomes of the massive religious empire he left behind? The question became particularly pertinent because all the activities of the church revolved around T.B. Joshua’s person. Was there a succession plan? Who is the prophet that is likely to take over from him? Questions, questions….
For the numerous businesses that have sprung up around Ikotun-Egbe where the church is domiciled; what are the chances of survival?
The Balogun of the neighbouring Bolounpelu community, Alhaji Ambali Adewusi, captured it all when he said: “There is no doubt that his demise will cause a huge downturn in economic activities in the area. Those who benefitted from him economically and fed their families from the activities deriving from his church are massive.
“As we speak, they are at a crossroads. Virtually everybody has been wondering if there is anybody in the church that can take over from him and carry on like he was doing.”
Adewusi was not done, as he proceeded to share more personal experiences with the late televangelist: “My brother, it is a massive loss. TB Joshua was not a small person in this community. Everybody loved him – both young and old.
“We all loved him. You would hardly hear anyone speak ill of him, because he was good to us and touched lives positively. Even as I speak with you (five days after), his death is still a huge shock to me and I’m pained and saddened.”
He recalled how, about a decade ago, the community’s transformer packed up and the revered prophet came to their rescue and gifted them with two transformers.
“He told us told us that every time he stood at the balcony of his church, he noticed that his neighbours were in darkness, and he didn’t quite like it,” Chief Adewsusi recalled.
“Within days, he gave us two transformers in place of the one that packed up.
“What that meant was that each of the two transformers now carried fewer loads, and we have been using them since then without any issue.”
Adewusi also spoke of how Joshua made it a habit to give the community 300 bags of rice and huge sums to share every Yuletide period; a habit he said he replicated in other communities around the Ikotun-Egbe axis.
Ironically, he said it was just about a month ago that he came to pay his condolence to the family of the community’s Baale, who passed on recently, gifting them cash and even promising to do more.
“That promise will no longer be fulfilled, but we are grateful for the much he did. Such was his kind of philanthropy that we can never forget him.”
More stories of his generosity, philanthropy
Chief Adewusi also told stories of how the late Man of God, as he is fondly called by his members, never discriminated against anyone, regularly reaching out to the disabled, widows and other less-privileged.
“He even embraced the street urchins and freely doled out cash to them. That explains why they all flocked the church to pay their condolences that Sunday morning.”
Florence Jemegbe, a grocery trader in nearby Ikotun market, told The Nation how the late Prophet reached out to her and other victims of last October’s #EndSARS looting.
“Prophet Joshua was extremely humble and generous. I say this because some of us who were victims of looting by the hoodlums who hijacked the #EndSARS protest last year benefitted from his generosity.
“Shortly after the #EndSARS protest, he gave lifelines worth several thousands of naira to some of us who were victims of the mass looting to start our business all over. In fact, I was shocked by the amount I saw in the envelope. If not for that money, I may well have gone back to my village in Delta State, because the hoodlums looted my shop clean.”
Joshua, it will be recalled, was also in the habit of reaching out to returnees of human trafficking; hosting as many as came to his church and doling out huge cash gifts to them to help them resettle quickly.
He also never discriminated on the basis of faith. Clerics of mosques around the Synagogue and as far as his Agbalumo, Arigidi Akoko hometown in Ondo State, where the head of his family was Imam, also reportedly benefitted immensely from his generosity.
A journalist once narrated how Joshua told him the story of how he was walking past a nearby public school, Muslim Secondary School, not far from his church, and he saw pupils literally taking classes under the sun. He said out of curiousity, he branched to ask why, and upon learning that it was due to dilapidated classrooms, he promptly funded the reconstruction of the block. The ‘Muslim’ tag that the school bore was not an issue to him.
Current vice Principal of the school, Mrs Eniola Adetukasi, confirmed the story and even showed one of our reporters the building during a brief visit on Thursday.
The Nation also learnt that he had wanted to rebuild it into a storey building, but he was restrained on religious grounds. “You know he was a Christian and the school was a Muslim school,” she reminded.
Perhaps one of the biggest losses of his death would be the university he was said to be building in his hometown and the hundreds of students on his scholarship, whose fate now hang in the balance.
A product of a Muslim home, some of his members recalled that he always preached religious tolerance, reminding them that most people are either Muslims or Christians as a result of their birth rather than by choice.
His large heart also knew no bounds. Many will recall how he led his church crew on a mission to provide medical attention, food, cash and other relief items to victims of the earthquake in Haiti back in 2010. One of the high points of that mission was his pledge to adopt 500 orphan victims of the disaster.
‘An Iroko tree has fallen’
For his followers, who saw him as a huge spiritual being, the shock may yet take months to settle in. Not in their wildest imagination did many think the physical end to the prophet would come so soon, considering his age, energy as well as the fact that they still saw his ministry as a work in progress.
A typical example of their dilemma would be the scenario that played out last Wednesday when a crew of The Nation visited the famed Synagogue. While the team was busy interviewing some of the faithful, a fierce wind started blowing, followed immediately by a heavy downpour. Instinctively, everyone scampered for refuge. But that was not until one of the female members had run out of the huge church hall to tell them: “They said this rain is Papa’s rain; it’s rain of blessing, everybody should go inside the rain.’ Within seconds, virtually everyone who had run into the church ran back into the rain and remained there until it subsided.
It was the same scenario minutes later at his nearby Prayer Mountain on Ajisegiri Street, Agodo-Egbe, where he usually had his retreat and had operated from since the advent of COVID-19. All the security operatives at the highly secured entrance patrolled in the rain.
In the words of 50-year-old Tajudeen Alao, originally a Muslim, who said he became a member of the Synagogue Church of All Nations after he received healing for his acute knee pain, “A big Iroko tree has just fallen at its prime.”
Alao recalled how he had gone round churches in search of healing and spiritual fulfillment but found none until he visited Synagogue.
“God used Prophet Joshua to heal me of prolonged acute knee pain on a particular service day. He shook my hand, prayed for me and the pain in my knee immediately vanished,” he said.
He also spoke of how, on his first visit to the massive church, the prophet received him warmly and even offered him free meal along with other first-timers.
“I was awestruck by his humility,” he said.
About his death, Alao said: “I couldn’t believe the news when a colleague at work told me…until I heard it on TVC News and Emmanuel TV. I was devastated completely and wept profusely because I didn’t expect that his death would be so sudden. A big Iroko tree has just fallen in its prime.”
Forty-one-year-old Edeki Ebere, a businesswoman, who said she had been with the church since she was 11 in 1991, said “Prophet TB Joshua was a man I can never forget in a hurry because he impacted lives. Is it widows we are talking about? Is it orphans or children who don’t know anything? Is it people who are mentally challenged or from broken homes?”
She disclosed that Joshua’s large heart dated back to his days of little beginning. “I knew him for his giving spirit even when he had nothing and the members of his church, then at its old site, were fewer than 20. At times after returning from school, he would tell me, ‘You must come and say hello to me before you go home.’ Then he would give me N10 for my transport home.
“All through my school days, I was here. Today, I am a married woman but I can never forget his impact on my life. While here, I served as a chorister; I served as a disciple and worked at the restaurant for like two years. I equally worked with the protocol and later the visitors’ department.
“At times he would scold us, but all that was the normal father-daughter relationship. At times he would send me home and later call me back. Today, I can say that all the experiences garnered still live with me.
“The Man of God never believed anything could not be done. For instance, I don’t think he got a model for this church building from any architect. He only told them what he wanted and they brought it out.”
In the case of septuagenarian Grace Aina Oluwatimileyin, she has not only lost a spiritual leader but a son. She first encountered the man T. B. Joshua back in 1985 in Ikole-Ekiti when he was virtually unknown. Then, as a woman earnestly in search of the fruit of the womb, she said she had gone to that town, seven miles from her Isu-Ijesha hometown, to meet a native doctor, who told her to fetch water from a stream. There, she almost drowned and would have been swallowed by a huge python.
“Suddenly,” she said, “a lean prophet appeared to me on the other side of the stream, shouted ‘Halelluiah!’ twice and on the third, which I also chorused with him, stretched his hand over about 20 meters and pulled me up.”
After that incident, Oluwatimileyin never saw that prophet again until 1994 when somebody referred her to the Synagogue because of her fibroid. She recounted how Joshua told the whole church to stand up for her that day.
“My stomach was so big and I was deluding myself that it was pregnancy, whereas it was filled with blood. He told me he didn’t have the power to cure me but that his father would do it. He told me to be patient, and two years after, I was cured of the fibroid. Today, I am free.”
Did she bear a child after? Her answer was no. But she said: “He already told me he would be my child and take care of all my needs. Since then, he had been taking care of me. My family members forsook me; they said I had gone to worship idol. He even sponsored me on a trip to the United States of America back in Year 2000. Would you believe that?
“On my return, he made me Sanitation Coordinator in the church. But his officials didn’t like my stance on certain things and eventually eased me out of the system. The good thing however is that the prophet never forsook me. He and his wife continued providing for me.
“Even today (five days after his death), his wife has given me money and food. So I have no doubt that the benevolence will continue.”
Another member of the church, Alifat Adeleke, 47, told The Nation of how her search for the fruit of the womb was rewarded when she met the ‘Man in the Synagogue’ in 1993.
She said: “I was battling barrenness that almost wrecked my marriage. I had been to several churches and spiritualists to no avail, and my husband and I were always fighting. The Man of God prayed to God to remove me from the circle of barrenness and truly, I became pregnant barely a month after and had a child. God has since blessed me with more children.”
No known succession plan
A major worry for members of the church, Joshua’s admirers and investors around the Synagogue, has been the issue of succession. Is there anyone in the church’s hierarchy who can take over its spiritual administration and maintain the tempo like he did?
At the moment, everything remains hazy. But Edeki Ebere does not seem to be worried.
“He is a prophet. We might not know of it now but I believe he had plans. He was always talking about not living here forever and leaving things for the unborn. So I don’t think such a person would not make preparations for his exit.”
Okorie Uguru, a journalist on the Tourism Beat, who is familiar with activities in the church, also expressed doubts about a formidable succession plan.
“In 2010, Prophet T. B. Joshua brought in about five people, whom he called wise men, namely Harry (a Greek), Apostle Chi (a Cameroonian), Rasine (Cote d’Ivoire) and two Nigerians: Christopher and Daniel.
“The funny thing, however, is that of the five, only one, Rasine, who is not a Nigerian, is still in the fold, and that leaves a bit of sour taste. While Harry went to found a branch of SCOAN in Greece; I think the others went to found their own churches.”
Multi-billion naira tourism at risk
A direct corollary to the succession discourse is what Uguru has dubbed ‘multi-billion naira tourism industry in jeopardy’.
It was United Bank for Africa publicist, Ramon Nasir, who perhaps first made a public assessment of the possible impact of the late pastor on tourism in Nigeria barely 24 hours after.
He wrote on his Facebook page: “My admiration became more telling on a Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to Lagos three years ago, when I realised that half of the passengers in that big plane were on religious visit to Synagogue Church of All Nations…. Pilgrims to his church were virtually from all parts of the globe….”
Nasir went on to narrate how the airline attendant told him that the church remained their biggest market in Nigeria and concluded that “the country has lost a good ambassador.”
A similar story would be how Air Namibia had to, at some point, suspend its schedule to Nigeria the moment the Nigerian embassy in that country (due to some diplomatic row) stopped issuing visa to visitors headed for the West African country.
Uguru recalled: “I was in the team that met with the Prime Minister of the Southern African country, Mrs. Saara Kuugongelwa, during an effort to revive its tourist sector. We found out that 95 percent of the travellers to Nigeria were headed the Synagogue; and once the embassy stopped issuing visa, the airline had no choice but to suspend its operations to Nigeria.”
Assessing the impact on hotel businesses, Okorie said 80 percent of non-business tourists who come into Nigeria were headed for Synagogue Church of All Nations. As at 2016 when he did a rough assessment of hotel facilities around the church, he said there were about 3,500 bed spaces. And that is excluding informal lodging business that is known to thrive in the environs.
“Between 2016 and now, we have had nothing less than 1,500 additional bed spaces. The question therefore is how are these businesses going to survive if there is a sudden stop to the activities that attracted them in the first place?
Solomon Andrew, Assistant General Manager, D One Lodge Hotels on Adamo Street opposite the church, reflected the mood of hospitality business owners in the axis, when he said, “The whole place has been quiet since his death was announced. In fact, it’s as if his death occurred right here, because it is affecting our business both in the area of lodging and patronage to our restaurant.
“I tell you, we have not overcome the shock. Up till now, we are still looking forward to someone coming from nowhere to tell us that the story is not true. We know how his person impacted our business. Since he started skeletal activities at the prayer mountain, we had started seeing a steady inflow of tourists coming into this place; but now that he has passed on….” Andrew left the statement hanging.
Asked if he was aware of any succession plan, Andrew said, “With the kind of person he was, he must have had something in the pipeline for the future of the church. TB Joshua is not a selfish person that would want whatever he was doing to end with his death. He always made it clear that whatever success you have, if you don’t have a successor, it is failure in disguise. So I want to believe he made arrangements for his succession.”
Source: The Nation