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Remembering TB Joshua BY Olukorede Yishau

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The first and the only time I met the late Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua (TB Joshua) was at his sprawling Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN). Two guests – a lady and a guy – were ushered in shortly after he answered my last question. From the stories they told, they were his students when he was a teacher at a tutorial centre. Their accounts portrayed a man dedicated to his duty and who saw generosity as something that should be done irrespective of your financial status.

Years before this encounter, I had been dispatched by my then employer to his home-town, Arigidi-Akoko in Ondo State, to dig into his background.

A man had come to our office and claimed he co-founded the Synagogue Church of All Nations with Prophet Joshua. He made all kinds of damaging claims. One of those I planned to speak with was the head of his family. When I got to the family house, the man’s shining, low-cut hair was like the first attraction. The second was, perhaps, his goatee. As he sauntered out of the room on the right side of the unpainted bungalow, curiosity could easily be discerned from his bulging eyeballs. The dark, tall man, who was then the Chief Imam of Agbalumo Arigidi-Akoko and head of the family which gave Nigeria a miracle worker, had just been told by an elderly woman who was seated with a young lady on a bench in front of the house that a visitor was looking for him.

The words rolled out fiercely as he walked towards me, asking me where I was from. I did not waste time in moving closer to him and telling him that the then Kabiyesi of the land had directed me to him  as being in a position to talk about his son, Joshua, the General Overseer of the Synagogue Church of All Nations.

The mention of Joshua’s name appeared to make an excess of adrenaline rush into his bloodstream. The Imam would not say anything about Joshua. Not that he would not like to, but Joshua, he said, had instructed him not to. It was as simple as that. A firm instruction from the Man at the Synagogue.

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The Imam said that “Eni buruku ti ba eniyan rere je,’ meaning “Bad people have made it difficult to tell who a good person is”. He went on to narrate how he had been interviewed in the past about Joshua, only for the outcome to be against Joshua.

By mentioning the name of the town’s traditional ruler, I had hoped to get some leverage, but I was wrong. Very wrong. Joshua never asked the old man to speak with a pressman on the basis of being from the king. His words: “O ti ni wipe oun gbodo fi iwe ranse tabi ran eniyan tele eni ti mo gbodo ba so nkan ni pa oun.” Meaning: “He has instructed that I should speak to anybody about him only if he gives the person a note or send an aide to come with the person.

“Se mo le ya foto ile yi” (can I take the picture of this house?) was a question considered by me a simple one. But the reply from the Chief Imam made me realise it was more than a simple request.

“lle wo? (which house?),” he charged.

“lle yi (this one),” I replied.

“Lae lae (Never!),” he decreed

I looked at the house lustily, eager to take some shots. The Imam would have none of it.

Typical of the never-say-die spirit of newshounds, I asked the Chief Iman for direction to the house, which the Kabiyesi said Joshua was building. He grudgingly directed me, using the tree in front of the building in question as a tool.

I walked up to the building. Heaps of sand and gravel were there; in fact, a tipper was off-loading some more sands at the point in time

Underneath the tree were seated two young men on a wooden bench. I walked up to them and was still not through with telling them my mission when the Chief Imam did a Carl Lewis to the place. He resorted to speaking the local dialect of the Akoko people, probably because he thought I would not understand him. But one thing was very clear: He was reminding them that allowing anybody to take a picture of the house or saying anything about Joshua or the house to a stranger amounted to contravening the instructions of the man at whose feet a one-time Zambian President, Frederick Chiluba, wept in acknowledgement of his prowess at performing miracles.

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The two young men got the message easily; in no time, they all seemingly abandoned me standing under the tree in front of the building that was at the decking stage (first floor). One of the two young men went into another light-in-complexion guy, who in no time beckoned on me to come into a shop.

“Se o gbo Yoruba?” (Do you understand Yoruba?)

I chose to speak English language with him. He made it clear there was a standing instruction from the man in the Synagogue.

“We cannot just allow you to take the picture.”

“I need the picture to prove that he is really assisting the society”.

“That does not change anything.”

“The Kabiyesi said the building is for a hospital or something. What is it really for?”

The reply proved that they took serious the firm instruction.

“Don’t worry,” was all the light-in-complexion guy volunteered. Not even the playback of the short interview with the ailing Kabiyesi (who died years later), which I did to prove that I had actually spoken with the Kabiyesi, and his complimentary card shown to these young men, could make them go against the grains of the instruction from Ikotun.

Perhaps they felt the need to give something away and one of them said:

“Come on Sunday and you will know what the place is all about.” Their hands were tied.

The fact that Arigidi was preparing for June 12 was not hidden that Sunday. This did not have anything to do with the anniversary of the June 12, 1993 annulled presidential elections. The June 12 the kings and the chiefs were preparing for was the 38th birthday anniversary of their son, Joshua

Going around the town portrayed the people as God-fearing Baptist Church, Cherubim and Seraphim members. Name it. But there was no single church bearing the name Synagogue Church of All Nations. It was only on some Suzuki mini-buses plying Ikare-Akoko, Arigidi-Akoko and Ugbe-Akoko, that stickers of the church were seen. In fact, the mini-bus which I boarded from Ikare-Akoko to Arigidi-Akoko had one of these stickers urging people to harbour right thoughts. I could not confirm if the drivers of these buses got them as part of the large heartedness of the man whose dream as a boy was to go to the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA) and become a military officer or travel overseas.

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The Kabiyesi revealed what the guys and the head of the family were hiding: the gigantic building was a hospital for the people.

Say whatever you want to say about TB, Kabiyesi assured, the town’s people were not bothered. So the Kabiyesi advised: “Joshua is a good man. Let us follow him!”

Many indeed followed him, some to their death and others to prosperous existence. Years after my interview with him, one of his buildings collapsed and killed scores of people— many of them South Africans and other nationals who thronged the church in search of miracles for terminal diseases. No meaningful enquiry was done and no one was brought to justice for the avoidable loss. For the families and friends of those who died in the building, he will be remembered for this and for those who survived and are surviving on his countless good deeds— including regular philanthropic gestures to people at home and abroad— they will never forget him for being a life saver, their messiah.

My final take: Unlike the Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), the Foursquare Gospel Church, the Apostolic Faith, the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), the Baptist Church, and others, the Synagogue Church of All Nations was built around its founder. What becomes of the synagogue now that the man from Arigidi-Akoko is no more? What becomes of the businesses that sprung up around the church? Will people still flock the church if his wife or one of the assistant pastors takes charge? It looks unlikely, but we will have a clearer picture in a few months.

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