Tales from Onilewura II… The number game continues

By Tope Templer Olaiya,
Assistant Lagos City Editor
IN the last few days, Prophet Temitope Joshua has taken time out of the flurry of activities arising from the building collapse and rescue operations to, at intervals, give reassuring messages to his teaming multitude of members across the world, effectively using the social media to preach to his followers.
With a membership base of over one million, the prophet personally posted on the his face book on Tuesday: “The purpose of life is to glorify God in both good and hard times.”
This was immediately followed by another personally signed post: “Hard times may test me, they cannot destroy me.” And with this, there was a more elaborate message for his flocks.
“To withstand hard times, stand with Christ. When you face trials, hard times, you can ‘count it all joy’ (James 1:2-3).
“It is through hard times that you gain the necessary experience and maturity to handle whatever responsibility given to you.
“We are most likely to go astray from God and forget Him when things are easy with us in the world because we often become proud and stupid with wealth and pleasure. God visits His people with hard times that they may learn His way. His ways, though hard to the ungodly men, are desirable and profitable because they lead us to safety unto eternal life.
“God allowed the enemy to overcome Israel so that they may learn the difference between serving God and serving the devil. If not for our hard times, we would not have sought the face of God. I mean, if not because of hard times, man by his wicked nature would not have sought the face of God. This means, God sometimes uses hard times to draw us to Himself so that we can take our proper position and possession in Him.”
That post did its intended magic as a temporal soothing balm, which went viral across the world with over a thousand shares, 5,000 comments and 7,000 likes in less than an hour.
Prophet Joshua must probably have also heaved a sigh of relief coming at a time situation report from site was somewhat depressing, with recovered dead bodies climbing to 65, as at Tuesday.

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Prophet T.B. Joshua

Further damage struck later when news rented the social media space that South African President, Jacob Zuma, announced on Tuesday evening that 67 of its citizens died in the Synagogue building collapse that occurred on September 12.
The South Africans were in Nigeria to seek spiritual help and were staying at the guest house before it collapsed. It was announced by a BBC Africa tweet: “President Zuma announces 67 South Africans died in the Lagos building collapse on Friday, disputing the 60 dead cited by Nigerian officials.”
In the midst of the chaos and grief at the Synagogue was the cherry news of a 45-year-old woman, who walked out of the rubble alive, after being buried under the debris for four days.
Joshua had attributed the collapse to a ‘mystery’ aircraft, which he said hovered around the building for about 30 minutes before the building came tumbling down. This was further corroborated with the release of a footage captured by a CCTV camera attached to one of the church’s buildings.
This prompted officials of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) to visit the site and assess the debris.
Though officials of both airport agencies refused to respond to media inquires, saying they would come up with an official reaction after investigations would have been concluded, an unnamed official rejected the link between a hovering aircraft and the building, as claimed by the church authorities.
According to him, Ikotun, Ikeja, Shasha, Iju, Egbeda and environs around the airport and a plane approaching the Murtala Mohammed Airport could be sighted hovering in these areas due to congestion in the air and delayed landing.
“It is not unusual for an aircraft to be seen hovering around in these areas until it is cleared to land, particularly in Ejigbo and Ikotun areas because it is on the flight route on the east of the airport, which is the outbound traffic route of most flights. All incoming flights descend to the airport from the west around Agege, Ogba, and Iju-Ishaga.”

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The crowd that assembled at the Synagogue Church immediately after the building collapsed.

A public affairs commentator, Dr. Nick Idoko, in his reaction to the incident, urged Prophet Joshua to be more scientific and come up with tenable explanations for the building collapse.
“Rather than his half-hearted attempt at attributing a fatal collapse to a hovering plane, he should tell the world how that building was approved to be increased from a two-storey building to six and he must apologise to all Nigerians and families of the dead.
“I even understand that there is an ongoing expansion on the main auditorium of the church as we speak, which is why the government must act fast to prevent another calamity. That ministry has for a long time been very notorious and corrupt, especially in land deals. The state government should also investigate all the lands acquired by the ministry in the area,” he added.
Rescue workers have been picking through the rubble with heavy lifting equipment and using sniffer dogs, although the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) said the search for survivors could end on Wednesday.
“The church is not co-operating with emergency workers at all,” NEMA’s spokesman for the southwest region, Ibrahim Farinloye, told AFP, giving the latest toll as 67 with 131 survivors.
“For the first three days of the incident, the church people were very hostile and prevented rescue officials access to the site.
“It was after the visit of the (Lagos state) governor (Babatunde Fashola) when he threatened to close down the church that we were allowed to work.
“Perhaps if we had had early access to the place we would have been able to save more lives.”
Already, the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has commenced investigations into the causes of the building collapse. The head of inspectorate and compliance of the organisation, Bede Obaye, made this known when he led a team to the site to take samples of some of the materials used for the construction.

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Ongoing rescue operation at the site of the building collapse.

According to Obaye, the investigations will be comprehensive as the organisation intends to get to the root cause of the collapsed structure.
“We have come here to see exactly what happened, we have watched the clip of what happened, but beyond that we are here to investigate the remote causes of the collapse, to look at the materials and to ask questions about the engineers and contractors that handled the project.”
When asked on his findings from his inspection so far, he said, “We cannot say for now. There are lots of questions to be asked. Structures don’t just collapse like that. Our investigation will not be limited to the materials alone. The materials may be right, but the selection and combination maybe wrong.
“The contractor and engineer who handled the project will have to provide us with vital information. For now, it is too early for SON to say what the cause of the collapse is but when we are through, we will brief Nigerians on our findings.”
Similarly, the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) on Monday vowed to unravel the immediate and remote causes of the collapse of the six-storey building. The council, in a statement issued in Abuja and signed by its President, Kashim Ali, said it had mobilized its team of Engineering Regulation Monitoring Inspectors to visit the site of the collapsed building.
It said while preliminary report of the visit had been received and is being processed, a more detailed investigation is ongoing.
The statement reads in part: “Council wishes to commiserate with the Executive Governor, the Government and people of Lagos State over the loss of lives and properties as a result of this unfortunate incident.”


Onilewura… The Other Side Of Alluring Synagogue City


The Synagogue Church of All Nation in Ikotun, Lagos.

The Synagogue Church of All Nation in Ikotun, Lagos.

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.

Prophet Temitope Joshua

Prophet Temitope Joshua

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.

The other side of Segun Irefun Street, entrance into the Onilewura community

The other side of Segun Irefun Street, entrance into the Onilewura community

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.

Chairman of Onilewura Landlords and Residents Association, Mr. Olusola Oseni, points to a broken culvert filled with debris, which caved in under pressure from heavy-duty trucks.

Chairman of Onilewura Landlords and Residents Association, Mr. Olusola Oseni, points to a broken culvert filled with debris, which caved in under pressure from heavy-duty trucks.

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.