No dirge for victims of Synagogue building collapse, two years on

• Church keeps mum on remembrance
• Hoteliers bemoan losses
By Tope Templer Olaiya
It is exactly two years since 116 people died at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), Lagos, when one of the ancillary buildings collapsed.

The six-storey guesthouse belonging to the church, which was under construction in the Ikotun area of Lagos collapsed, killing over 100 people, 85 of whom were South African worshippers.

The Guardian yesterday observed that the church seems to have given an unofficial closure to the tragedy. Unlike last year when Prophet Temitope Joshua, founder of the church, held a memorial service in honour of the victims, there was no dirge for the departed , whom Joshua had two years ago described as ‘Martyrs of Faith’ during yesterday’s service.

The collapsed building

Mum was the word during church service held yesterday and also on the social media pages of the church. On Joshua’s official Twitter account, @SCOANTBJoshua, which has over 146,000 followers, it was last updated on Saturday, September 10, with the following quote: “Nobody is too good or too bad to qualify for God’s grace – T.B. Joshua”.

The Facebook page of the church, TB Joshua Ministries, which has nearly 2.5 million followers, was regularly updated yesterday with proceedings from the service, particularly testimonies and messages of the Prophet; yet no mention of the tragedy or prayers for the victims. Attempts by The Guardian to get an official reaction met a brick wall as church officials refused commenting on the memorial.

At the first anniversary of the unfortunate incident, which held simultaneously in Nigeria and South Africa, Joshua had maintained that the victims, many of whom had visited the church to seek spiritual help and were staying at the guesthouse before it collapsed, were on an appointment with God when they met their death and therefore believes they did not die in vain.

Prophet TB Joshua ministering

Prophet TB Joshua ministering

This has, however, not dissuaded the Lagos State government from seeking prosecution of the contractors that handled the building of the collapsed structure.

After exhaustive legal fireworks between the state coroner and lawyers representing the church spanning many months, the case was eventually filed before an Ikeja High Court, where Akinbela Fatiregun and Oladele Ogundeji alongside their companies – Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Ltd and the trustees of Synagogue Church – are facing a 111-count charge bordering on gross negligence and criminal manslaughter.

At the last adjourned hearing of the case on June 22, 2016 before judges’ yearly three months vacation shut down the courts, a former Lagos State Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Olutoyin Ayinde, told Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo at the Ikeja High Court that the auditorium of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) did not have a valid building permit.

When former President Goodluck Jonathan visited the site of the collapsed building in 2014

When former President Goodluck Jonathan visited the site of the collapsed building in 2014

Hoteliers in the Ikotun-Egbe axis area are, however, bemoaning their losses due to low occupancy rate , blaming the situation on the Synagogue building collapse, which in turn affected influx of worshippers to the church.

Before the accident, thousands of Nigerians and foreigners alike thronged the church in search of miracle healings for various afflictions. The miracle-seekers, all of whom could not see Prophet Joshua in one day, took accommodation in hotels in the area.

But since the collapse, the throngs have thinned out, while the hotels have lost revenue running into billions of naira. According to an official of the Pilgrims Hotels Association of Nigeria, Chief Jerry Omorodion, the total number of bed spaces of different categories for all the hotels in the Ikotun area is about 3,500.

Before the accident, the hotels record nearly 100 per cent occupancy rate due to the church programmes, which hold three times a week. Sadly, the occupancy rates now fluctuate between 10 and 20 per cent all weeklong.

Sy 1

Manager of Phonix Pilgrims Hotel in the church’s vicinity, Paul Ogbeide, noted that since Joshua resumed ministering after his retreat following the tragic incident, religious tourists from across the world especially from Africa and Asia are returning in their thousands to attend the weekly deliverance services at the SCOAN.

“From Thursdays, our rooms are fully booked by foreign visitors who stay for one week to one month while those visiting from different parts of Nigeria stay about two days.

“Aside hospitality operators, these religious tourists affect the livelihood of many people positively and various sectors benefit from their financial resources,” Ogbeide explained.

A resident, David Efiong, who makes a living by connecting visitors with hoteliers, added that banks, currency changers and market men and women in Ikotun and its environs also depend solely on these religious tourists for survival.

synagogue

Ogbeide, however, recalled that the tragic incident of September 2014 had nearly brought the bubbling activities in the area to a standstill due to loss of patronage.

“The number of church visitors, who come with dollars, euros, pounds and other foreign currencies to enrich the local economy has reduced drastically. Many hoteliers converted their guesthouses to residential apartments because they thought government would seize the church. But today, normalcy has gradually returned to SCOAN,” he said.

According to an hotel booking website, http://www.hotels.ng, areas surrounding the popular church in Ikotun have a total of 110 hotels.

 

No dirge for victims of Synagogue building collapse, two years on

Onilewura… The Other Side Of Alluring Synagogue City

By TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA

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.