15 years after incarceration, Rev King's church thrives in Ajao Estate

But for some young workers at the entrance of the building, nothing gives the edifice away from afar.
15 years after incarceration, Rev King's church thrives in Ajao Estate
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But for some young workers at the entrance of the building, nothing gives the edifice away from afar.

Unlike some churches, the Christian Praying Assembly, located on Ugo Nnabuife Street, one of the sprawling suburbs in the Ajao Estate area of Lagos State, did not have the usual signposts that welcome visitors or passersby to its daily services. Close to the church gate were a few cars belonging to some of the congregants. The church is founded by Rev. Chukwuemeka Ezeugo (aka Rev King) who is currently on death row.

“Are you here for the service? We don’t receive phone calls inside the church,” one of them, on sighting our correspondent, who he mistook for a new member, asked as he ushered him in. Before our correspondent entered the church premises, another church member who was within earshot merely glanced at the newcomer and launched into prayers. He stood out among others with his striking appearance– a goatee mimicking the looks of the church’s founder and General Overseer.

Journey into prison

Rev King, as fondly called by his disciples, was arraigned at the Lagos High Court, Ikeja on September 26, 2006, on six counts of murder of a member of his church, Ann Uzoh, and the attempted murder of five other members. The cleric was said to have poured petrol on the deceased, five others and set them ablaze on July 22, 2006, for allegedly committing fornication. Uzoh was said to have died on August 2, 2006 from the injuries she sustained from the burns. In a judgement delivered on January 11, 2007, the then trial judge, Justice Olubunmi Oyewole, convicted King and sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment on each of the five counts and a death sentence for murder.

The cleric challenged the judgement at the Court of Appeal but lost after the appellate court upheld the decision of the trial court. Not satisfied, he approached the Supreme Court. But on February 26, the apex court affirmed the judgements of the Lagos High Court and the Court of Appeal. The gory nature of King’s action left the public in shock so much so that the late Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court, who read the lead judgement on behalf of a five-man bench led by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, described the fact of the case as one that “could have been lifted from a horror film.’’

“The prosecution’s case was that the appellant accused six of his people of immoral behaviour. He called them together, beat each of them with many hard objects and after the beating, he assembled them downstairs, made them kneel and he caused petrol to be poured on them and a struck match thrown on them. They all sustained various degrees of burns. While five of them escaped, the sixth of them who later died sustained 65 per cent degree burns. You can imagine her last day in the hospital.

“Appellant denied this incident, saying though he punished them for immoral behaviour, the punishment was different from the incident that gave birth to this charge. He said they sustained injuries when a generator exploded. That was his case. But throughout the proceedings, this mysterious generator was never produced,” the late Ugwuta had said in the judgement.

The signing of King’s death warrant is still pending.

Disciples struggle to keep ministry going

The church’s fenced premises are like an open auditorium devoid of a tiled floor from the backend. The building was apparently under construction before the project was halted. Inside the auditorium is an altar with diverse seat sizes for ministers and senior officials. But many of the seats were not occupied when Sunday PUNCH visited on Sunday, September 26. Below the altar were plastic chairs neatly arranged to accommodate at least 500 congregants. However, less than a quarter of the seats were filled, indicating a low turnout of worshippers for service.

The turnout also suggested that the cleric’s travail might have robbed the church of impressive attendance as his followers visibly strive to keep the ministry going. It’s not out of place to state that the church would have been structurally upgraded had the clergyman not been convicted for murder.

Our correspondent observed that the current situation fell short of what Sunday PUNCH saw some years ago during one of Rev King and his church members’ tours of Lagos streets on evangelism. That day, the cleric and his church worshippers were the cynosure of all eyes on the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway near Ile Epo Bus Stop in the Agbado Oke-Odo Local Council Development Area. They occupied state-of-the-art cars with a few open-top automobiles in their convoy and heaving drumming and singing announcing their mission. Congregants wore white T-shirts with an embossed photo of the cleric and the heavy-bearded clergyman sat majestically in a black-coloured car and waved gaily at passers-by who tried to get a glimpse of him. The worshippers danced, sang and exuded boundless joy. However, one of the congregants told our correspondent on condition of anonymity that they had a bigger turnout before the jailing of Rev King, expressing hope that the situation would improve.

COVID-19 protocol

Like many public buildings, the church provided soap and water for handwashing in tandem with COVID-19 protocols. The church members were also well-spaced. Thus it was easy for them to take off their face masks while seated in the auditorium.

There was nothing strange about the sitting arrangement; men and women were not separated. The choir stand was close to the altar in the upper left corner of the auditorium. The choristers were easy to identify in their shiny black and white robes made of silk. Many of the children, male and female, wore white long-sleeved shirts and a pair of brown trousers, indicating their membership of an organisation within the church.

Most of the congregants sang and danced to Christians songs, mostly sung in Igbo, for about an hour while a few of them sat still in a meditative form. However, some of the church members danced in a grand style. One of them, a young man with dreadlocks, darted from his seat to the altar as if in a trance. He hopped towards the altar, strode backwards and momentarily moved in circles. He later took off his jacket and danced in a way typical of reggae lovers.

No doubt, despite his conviction for murder and attempted murder, Rev King still commands respect and is highly revered by his followers who strongly believe in his ideologies and teachings. In February 26, this year, his followers placed advertisements in a newspaper to celebrate his birthday, describing him as, “Daddy G. O., His Holiness, The Most Honourable, Dr, Rev King,” among others.

Interestingly, the church still conducts baptism for converts and members who have yet to be fully accepted into the church, as announced by a female worker probably in her mid-40s.

“There shall be baptism on Monday, September 27, 2021; time is 4pm. Those that are qualified to be baptised should convene on the church premises by 2pm for their screening. Praise God! We shall have our G. O.’s offering on Sunday, the third day of October 2021. Be prepared. Praise God! Praise God!! Daddy G.O. shall live forever in Jesus name,” the woman said as she walked from the altar to her seat.

Immediately after, one of the church officials made an altar call, a Christian practice encouraging worshippers to make spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ publicly.

The benediction

There was solemnity when an official walked towards the altar. Obviously, the congregants were aware of his mission as he announced a prayer session which lasted about 10 minutes. Thereafter, the worshippers immediately knelt down and spread their hands in symbolic anticipation of ‘spiritual gifts’ when he disclosed he was to give them the G.O’s benediction.

He read out the benediction to which the congregants energetically responded to each sentence with a chorused amen at regular intervals.

The benediction read in part, “Thou shall get to your destination in peace. The Lord God Almighty – the God of our G. O., His Eminence, the Most Honourable, Dr Rev King – shall always deliver you…. May the Holy Ghost of the Almighty God, which is above all things, be with you all, lead you through all your success, protect you all, guide you all in all your going out and your coming in, give you peace, joy, love, understanding, greatness, fruitfulness, endowment of blessings now and always, through Jesus Christ of Nazareth our Lord and saviour. Amen! The Lord be with all. Go in peace, I love you all.’’

The same situation played out in January 2020 during a visit to the church. That Sunday, the worshippers stretched out their hands and shouted ‘Amen’ as an official read out what he described as the G. O’s benediction to them. The turnout for Sunday service was not different from the last one except that those who came late were made to remain outside for a while before they were allowed in. The use of mobiles in the auditorium was strictly enforced.

It was, however, not clear how the church leaders got the G.O. messages intended for the congregants. But a senior official in the Nigerian Correctional Services who spoke on condition of anonymity to Sunday PUNCH said it was within the right of any inmate to receive visitors. Perhaps, the church leaders pay their embattled G.O regular visits to get messages from him to his church members.

The official also stated that Rev King had been moved from a correctional centre in Lagos.

He said, “He has been moved from Lagos correctional centre. Any inmate who has been sentenced can be moved to any correctional centre.’’

Shortly before the end of the service last Sunday, an announcement was made for some church members to wait behind. Immediately the service ended, the church gate was shut while our correspondent also stayed in. But as our correspondent pretended to have received an emergency call he needed to answer, one of the workers manning the gate, believing the urgency of the false call, slightly opened the gate and beckoned on him to leave.

Lawyers’ view on the matter

Speaking on the development, a lawyer, Mr Tunde Esan, said the former governors of the state were to blame for not signing the death warrant of the cleric or granting him pardon, as the law permits, more than a decade after he was condemned to death.

“Since 1999 till date, has any governor here (in Lagos) signed an execution warrant? The answer is no, from (Asiwaju Bola) Tinubu to (Babatunde) Fashola to (Akinwunmi) Ambode to the current governor (Babajide) Sanwo-Olu. Nobody has signed an execution warrant.

“On whose doorstep do you place the blame, if a governor refuses to sign an executive warrant? Are they (death row inmates) entitled to state pardon? Again, that is a moral question that falls on the table of the governor, if he thinks they are or are not. It is no longer a legal question because the truth about it is that the laws give him the right to grant a state pardon. Whether he wants to do that or doesn’t want to do that falls on the table of the governor to do that,” Esan said.

He added, “Whether the man (Rev King) commands respect from the prison, what is anybody going to do about that? One may look at it that as a condemned prisoner, there should be a limit to the interaction he enjoys with other inmates but if that is not done, whose problem is that? That becomes the problem of the correctional services centre when he is kept. One could just go on and on about people not doing what they are meant to do.”

But another lawyer, President Aigbokhan, argued that the convict could be granted a pardon by the government, adding that doing so would not deny the victim and those injured by the cleric’s action as they cannot supersede the state’s decision.

Aigbokhan said, “I think it (death sentence) can be converted to life imprisonment. It is at the discretion of the government, state or federal. If he (King) commands that level of respect, he can be given a pardon. He should be granted pardon based on his following. He can be pardoned. There is no offence that is not pardonable. Having been sentenced, it could even be converted to 10 years, 20 years and life community service. An offence against the dead or the injured is an offence against the state. It is the state’s decision that will supersede.’’

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