By TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA
THE Synagogue Church of All Nations in Ikotun, Lagos, founded and shepherded by Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua, truly lives to its billing as a church for all nationalities under the sun, and its architecture masterpiece tells a different story about Nigeria. Here, at the Synagogue city, beginning from the long tarred road lined on both sides by flowers, is beauty come to life.
For a first time visitor, who is cleared to access the hallowed auditorium, the welcome becomes cordial and everyone greets you with ‘Emmanuel’ (God with us). The large splendid church of 140 by 70 metres often called cathedral has been built with the church’s people and resources and it’s being expanded daily.
The emerging Synagogue city is a beautiful fancy to behold. There is a place for 20,000 people and they have almost 30,000 members. There is also a shop where you can buy ‘everything’.
Beside the church is a large area with open tents where education is given to the young and the old, who are full time workers in the church and it is a mixed body of Nigerians and expatriates. When not receiving instruction, they carry out their assignments conscientiously, singing to themselves.
At the other side of the road is a large area with many workshops: garage, metal and wood working. Beside it, are a large kitchen and a bread bakery. There is a little parking space for buses, which bring down members from all parts of Lagos.
A walk along the church shows how nicely it is finished. On the church walls are beautiful murals of the last supper and Jesus in conversation with Nicodemus.
It is not for anything that world leaders, African heads of government and notable personalities have had course in recent past to visit the church, particularly the man in the Synagogue. During an encounter with The Guardian last year, he said the source of attraction to the church is a simple answer: “It is because their needs are met.
“People will always be attracted to wherever their needs will be met and the needs of men vary. What I want and like might be different from what you want; but it is not in my power, it is God, who is answering the needs of His people.
“Even in the Bible, people travel far and wide to where their needs will be met. Also, the work of God is like honey. Wherever honey is, insects seek and find it. When God is doing a new thing in a place, people are attracted there. So, these presidents and other foreign nationals come to the church, because of what God is doing here,” he said.
Just recently, the land flanking the church on the eastside, which once housed a petrol station and residential buildings, were acquired and construction has already begun to annex it to the church’s auditorium.
BUT beyond the frontiers of the church is were the scenic sights ends. In seconds, you are transported from fantasyland to the grim reality of a Lagos ghetto, replete with its trademark shanties and bad roads. That community, known as Onilewura, is the other side of the Synagogue city.
Onilewura is partly an industrial area, but mostly residential. It comprises seven streets namely Sadiq Estate, Leona Ajayi Close, Akerekoro Close, Ise Oluwa Street, Orija Street, Onilewura Street and the entrance into the community, which houses the Synagogue church, Segun Irefin Street.
There are a host of companies and warehouses, prominent among which are Albert Company, JMG Generators, IPI and Olam, an agro-allied firm. A noticeable impact of the church’s presence in the area is the clusters of hotels and guesthouses, ranging between one star dormitory to five star lodges. There are over 50 in the area.
Residents are, however, resentful that not a trace of the good life at the synagogue city is filtering into the community. As neighbours, they only see the beautiful life on television, while every Sunday, members of the church are ‘oppressed’ by the exotic cars that line their streets and give undue pressure to the roads already in urgent need of rehabilitation.
The voices of the embittered residents were echoed by the chairman of Onilewura Landlords and Residents Association, Mr. Olusola Adisa Oseni, when The Guardian visited the area last week.
According to him, the church’s fame has only brought pain to the community. “On Saturdays and Sundays, it is a no-go area for everybody, the whole community is turned into a garage with transporters and car owners crowding out residents in every available space and the church is not doing anything about it.
“The community has succeeded in having an audience with the founder only once in the last three years. Unfortunately, he doesn’t allow his members to park around the vicinity of the church. They don’t have a parking space despite the fact that he has been acquiring properties around the church. He is content allowing his members to litter the whole community with cars, while the church keeps its serenity even on worship days.
From the junction to my house, which is a distance of just 10 houses, there was a day I spent over two hours to get home. Sadly, there has not been any effort to make the roads motorable, apart from tarring the street up to where the church ends. The company next to the church also followed suit and tarred the road to its entrance leaving the rest of the street in bad shape.”
After countless letters sent to Joshua by the community explaining their plight, he eventually gave community leaders audience in November 2011, where he promised to do something about the roads. In the mood of the season, which was close to Yuletide, the promised Onilewura residents bags of rice and two cows. Nearly 18 months after, the residents are still awaiting the promised Christmas package.
“We were happy when he told us that after doing so much for outsiders, he is now ready to extend his hand of fellowship to the community since we are his immediate neighbours and in the past, he used to walk across the road on foot. He also said to make us happy during Christmas, he would give us two cows and bags of rice to share. Sadly, we haven’t seen a grain of rice since then.
“And because of the general attitude of the church to the community, companies and factories in the area have also been nonchalant about giving back and being socially responsible. The other option is to look up to government and that is a dead-end, because the local government is only interested in harassing citizens to pay council rates,” Oseni said.
In the CDA’s account books, the community has expended N953,000 on road rehabilitation alone in 2013. To carry out the palliative measures, residents were taxed with a monthly levy of N200, N100 for shop owners and N50 for one-room occupants.
“We had to go to Ladipo where they were peeling asphalt to source for materials to fill up the roads, but to our dismay, MTN came to begin defacing the roads again on the excuse that they have sought permission from government to lay optic cables. They just dig the road and abandoned it.
“It got so bad that for some days, some residents were denied access into their homes. We had to secure parking spaces for some of them in other peoples homes because it is not all cars you can leave on the road overnight.”
Another community leader, Henry Nwosisi, said the influx of church members posed huge security risk to the community, as so many strange faces are loitering around the area. “We don’t know who is who. A lot of phones and bags have been snatched from people in this area and they hide under the cover of the crowd.
“Apart from the church’s immediate environment, there is no much concern for the welfare of the community. It is giving us sleepless nights that the church and the companies are not socially responsible to the community. We have done a great deal of appealing to our youths to maintain peace, if left for them, they know what to do to get what they want.
“The community cannot spend millions to put the roads in shape without Joshua’s contribution only for his members to park their cars in every available space on Sundays. That would raise some negative sentiments and feeling towards the church and its members,” Nwosisi noted.
Attempts to get the church’s response were stalled by the church’s protocol personnel, who stood firmly in the way of The Guardian. None of the church’s workers was willing to speak on behalf of the founder, while access to Joshua was bluntly rebuffed.