It was Karl Marx who said that religion is the opium of the people. Marx was a German Philosopher and Economist who coined the phrase in 1843. In his opinion, religion is not only used by those in power to oppress the workers, (masses) but it also makes them feel better about being oppressed when they can’t afford real opium. He thought that if the comfort blanket of religion was taken away, the workers would have to do something about their terrible condition.
In most developing countries, Nigerian included, religion has been turned into an instrument to oppress the poor. Religious leaders preach the gospel of Heaven and Hell, and in the process, abuse, oppress and subjugate their followers. Yet, John Burroughs, (April 3, 1837 – March 29, 1921), an American naturalist and nature essayist, described the Kingdom of Heaven as not a place, but a state of mind. Again, Benjamin Disraeli, a British statesman, Conservative politician, and writer, who twice served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in one of his famous quotes said: ‘Where knowledge ends, religion begins’. And because we are too lazy to seek for knowledge in Africa and other developing parts of the world, we are easily deceived by many merchants of religion.
One of those merchants was Temitope Joshua, a controversial figure in life and even more in death, who took Nigeria and the religious world by storm through his activities while on Earth.
He was in the news once again last week, when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), released a three-part documentary on his queer activities in the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN).
In the documentary, Joshua was portrayed as a fake man of God who succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of many, and a man who committed several atrocities using the veil of a preacher and a man of God. In the documentary, many former members of his church revealed how they were forcefully raped, abused, and isolated from friends and family members by Joshua, who turned them to his disciples. The men among them figuratively became his slaves, while the women were turned to his sex toys.
It was an extensive investigative piece of journalism excellence by the BBC that took over three years to put together. But their findings and conclusions were not new to many seasoned journalists in Nigeria who practiced in the 1990s and early 2000s in Lagos State. Kola Olawuyi, a Yoruba programme presenter, did an extensive investigative report on Joshua and his Church and came up with the verdict that the man was a fake prophet. TheNews Magazine, Tell Magazine, Treasure Weekly and several others did similar exposé on the man and his Church and came up with similar verdicts. As a journalist, once you beam your search light on him and his church, Joshua would try all he could to worm his way into your heart. He would offer you money or a job with fantastic salary, depending on his fancy. If you refuse, he would use subtle threat. If eventually you publish, he would mop up all the Newspapers and Magazine from the news stand and come after you. An instance is that of Kola Olawuyi, who eventually lost his job with Radio Nigeria as a result of his programme, Nkan nbe, (Things are Happening/Strange Things) being yanked off the air from the radio station. He became an independent producer and continued the programme on Ogun State Broadcasting Corporation (OGBC), Abeokuta.
There are several questions begging for answers on the life and times of this Muslim-born Church leader who did more harm to the body of Christ than good. Joshua pretended to have super natural power and deployed the gimmick to enrich himself by masquerading as a servant of God. As a reporter in the 1990s, my encounter with Joshua was also not too palatable. Working with the now defunct The Week Magazine, owned by former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, I was detailed by my Editor alongside a colleague, to do an investigative report on the man and his Church in 2001. What I found out was too sordid. Many of his miracles were scripted. People were hired to pose as deaf and dumb and after waving his right hand in their direction, they would fall down and their sickness would ‘disappear’. Most of his disciples were young white ladies who worshipped the ground he walked on. Despite what I knew, I needed to get his side of the story to balance my report before publishing. I booked an interview appointment with him and on the first occasion, he kept my colleague and I waiting for over three hours despite being the one that fixed the date and time. His waiting room also had closed-circuit television cameras through which he monitored the activities and conversations of visitors while in there. After several complaints about our long wait, one of his disciples took us to their restaurant for light refreshments. He later apologised that he wouldn’t be able to keep the appointment and we agreed to reschedule, and a new date was fixed.
Long story short, the same story played out, but we succeeded in having a short meeting him. When we were eventually ushered before his presence, and after stating our mission, (his disciples had asked for a copy of our likely questions), he declined to provide answers to any of them. When I became persistent, he looked deeply into my eyes and I remember becoming uncomfortable. He then offered me a job to be part of the editorial team of his Church Magazine with a promise to pay more than what I was earning at my present job. Needless to say, I never returned and that was the end of my investigation, as I completely lost interest. However, through that route, many journalists became his friends and were placed on his payroll. So, the BCC report, to many reporters and editors in Lagos was nothing new.
In spite of the documentary, some Nigerians are still in doubt, querying the motive behind the exposé when the man was no longer around to defend himself. Some even hid under the oft misused phrase in the Bible – “Touch not my anointed, and do my prophet no harm” (Psalm 105 v 15). Bunkum.
It is unfortunate that Joshua died under not-too-clear circumstances and was able to escape paying for many of the atrocities he committed while he was on Earth. In actual fact, Joshua could have paid with his life for the numerous crimes against many of those that worshipped in his church as those close to him could have been tempted to take him out. Was his sudden death investigated and cause of death made known to Nigerians? As at the time of his death, he was a prominent figure in Nigeria and all over the world, yet no word of an autopsy conducted to determine the cause of his death. Why the rush to bury him when his faith allows that he could be interred much later?
A man without formal education, Joshua was a lucky chap who knew what he wanted in life and prepared adequately to realise his objectives. Born in Arigidi Akoko in present day Ondo State on June 12, 1963, he had his primary school education at St. Stephen Anglican Primary School but soon dropped out of secondary school as his parents could not afford his education. After doing menial work, he soon found his way to Lagos where he started a Church on a swampy area in Ikotun. Within 10 years, he had become wealthy, with foreign nationals trooping to his church for religious tourism.
The presence of white men and women around him forced many Nigerians to embrace his church, including Heads of States in Africa. But he soon ran into trouble with the authorities in Cameroon, where he was banned in 2010. His church was blacklisted, having been described as an agent of Satan, hoodwinking unsuspecting members of the public with diabolical miracles. Cameroon’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Henri Eyebe Ayissi, in a communique issued titled ‘The Devil Is In The House’, described Joshua as ‘a son of the devil pretending to be a man of God’. He warned hundreds of Cameroonians trooping to his church in Lagos for miracles to desist from taking the trip or face the consequences as the country will not stand by them.
In Nigeria, many pastors found his brand of Christianity alien and his miracles funny. They stayed away from having anything to do with his church. He likewise found them of no consequence, and stayed alone. Pastor Chris Okotie of the Household of God on several occasions described Joshua as a fake man of God and a magician. Okotie, in a one hour, 15-minute-long video posted on You Tube, referred to Joshua as the ‘Wizard of Endor’, because his church was allegedly synonymous with Endor, where people look for temporary solutions to eternal problems.
But is it only Joshua that turned many Nigerians into slaves in the name of worshipping God? The answer is a capital NO, as there are several others in league with him. Reverend King is still behind bars, awaiting the hangman’s noose after he was sentenced to death for burning one of his disciples alive, eventually leading to her death. There are several other pastors still alive and with the same mode of operation. They will acquire supernatural power; some use juju and traditional African Science to acquire power, build a Church which they soon transform into a cult group. There is no week that goes by in Nigeria now without a report of rape by one pastor or Alfa (Islamic cleric) or the other who took advantage of young and not-too-young ladies among their followers in search of prayers or miracles such as seeking for the fruit of the womb, that throng their business centres masquerading as churches and asalatu.
The crux of the matter is that we have many Nigerians who have not bothered to establish a direct relationship with God and are constantly searching for an intermediary. Yet, God is with each and everyone of us. The problem of seeking a middleman to intercede between man and God will continue to fuel cases of victimization of the poor, hungry, lazy and desperate by these so-called men of God. What is even more puzzling is that the Government seems helpless about stemming the ugly trend simply because they need the same classes of Nigerians led by these ‘men of God’, to vote them to power during elections. With high numbers of those voters in the Churches and Mosques under the leadership of General Overseers, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain by looking the other way when votes have been gathered with the help of greedy men of God who have been settled on the sidelines by vote-seekers. Attendees of religious centres would always listen to instructions of their ‘Daddies in the Lord’ and General Overseers.
Our salvation would come the day government tackles poverty and succeeds in lifting millions out of the poverty quagmire. With the high standard of living, many of our colonisers that brought religion to Africa are dropping the holy books. Some of them don’t even believe that God exists again, if they ever did. Yet, they are prosperous and living their lives to the fullest. Religion has been sold to us in Africa and it seems to be tying down our destiny. You can forgive anyone who therefore aligns with the declaration of Karl Marx, when he described religion as the opium of the mind of the people.
See you next week.