By Tope Templer Olaiya,
Assistant Lagos City Editor
It’s been one week since the quiet Onilewura community, in Ikotun, Lagos, lost its serenity after it was robbed of peace by the cruel angel of death, and it may take many more weeks before the former state is restored, if it will ever be.
For residents of the area, particularly adherents and visitors to the famous Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), it is still a long dream they are yet to wake up from, especially how in a moment, a significant part of their alluring city became a crash site, attracting citizens and dignitaries alike.
To those who were eyewitnesses to the disaster, one week is not enough to shake off the shock of the building collapse that has claimed over 60 lives.
The church founded and shepherded by Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua, truly lives to its billing as a church for all nationalities under the sun and its architectural masterpiece tells a different story about Nigeria. Everything about the church is beauty come to life.
Visitors and tourists who flock to the church in their multitudes have one aim in mind – the elusive search for healing.
Meeting the down-to-earth man in the Synagogue, Prophet Joshua, is a lifetime opportunity many would relish reliving and that aacounts for why they keep coming back from all over the world.
But beyond the frontiers of the church is where 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 dormitories to three star lodges. There are over 50 in the area.
Until the latest tragedy that befell the church, residents were resentful that not a trace of the good life at the synagogue city was filtering into the community.
As neighbours, they only see the beautiful life and miracles on television, while every Sunday, members of the church ‘oppress’ them with the exotic cars that line their streets and give undue pressure to the roads already in urgent need of rehabilitation.
For the community, the building collapse is an unfortunate incident and as a group, they have been rallying to convey their sympathies to Prophet Joshua but it has been unsuccessful.
Chairman of Onilewura Landlords and Residents Association, Mr. Olusola Adisa Oseni, told The Guardian that they are using the opportunity of the present media spotlight to bring to the fore their plight and concerns as a community.
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.
“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. Members of his Church litter the whole community with cars, while the church keeps its serenity even on worship days.
“Also, there has not been any effort to make the roads motorable, apart from tarring the street up to where the church ends, leaving the rest of the street in bad shape. It is a serious issue that is even difficult for people to believe,” he said.
Oseni explained that all efforts to take their grievances to Joshua met a brick wall and their last stop was the church’s Chief Security Officer, who promised to broker a meeting between the community and the prophet.
“Unfortunately, for over three months, we are yet to be granted access to him. You can see how close we are yet far apart as neighbours. When you are not able to see him, no help is forthcoming and there would be no benefit to members of the community.
“Before the building collapsed, we had requested for a heap of broken blocks from the site to be given to us to use as palliatives on the road. One major issue why we wanted to hold a meeting with the prophet is the closure of the road during service to all road users and residents.
“We have been trying to see what we can do as it is not only affecting us but other churches on the same street like Foursquare, Redeem and WOSEM. Their members cannot bring their car in and they have complained to us that they are losing a lot of their worshippers, many of who may not know the windy long alternative road to use.
For us residents, we have accepted our fate since many years now, and only sought his (T.B. Joshua’s) assistance to, at least, make the road motorable. We have through communal efforts tried to rescue the situation but no contribution from our biggest neighbour. We keep appealing to our members to be patient with SCOAN and not resort to violence.
“At our meetings, we had even suggested writing to the Inspector-General of Police and Governor Babatunde Fashola, but some among us suggested we should meet with Joshua first as our neighbor before we start reporting him to somebody else and if nothing comes out of it, it won’t be a surprise to him if we approach the authorities.”