I’m not sure if this qualifies as the proverbial “case of curiosity kills the monkey.” However, I was aware that Prophet TB Joshua and his Synagogue Church had gained significant traction in Nigeria and beyond, and I had noticed this. I used to watch his Emmanuel TV station a lot back then when I was bored with the sad news from Nigeria. Even if I had my doubts about the validity of his amazing miracles, they yet cannot be disregarded. For me, it was a sort of comedic relief, and for the fanatics, it was cathartic.
Thus, when I visited my aunt in Lagos more than ten years ago, I was happy to accompany her to the Synagogue church upon her suggestion. Her living room wall featured a framed portrait of TB Joshua, a testament to her devotion to him. I couldn’t help but smile to myself at how the image smiled at me and anyone else who entered the house when I first saw it when I got to her house. The prophet – TB Joshua – had an endearing personality.
I came early with my aunt and we arrived early because we started out at first light, and I took a seat at the edge of a pew. I dislike being pressed up against others in public places, such as church services. A little while later, a woman who appeared to be ill, nearly walked in there on someone else’s back, and they both insisted that the sick person had to sit where I was sitting.
Normally, I would have moved to make room for her, but something advised me against it. My judicial and activist instincts were strutted by the way they approached the demand, leading me to adamantly refuse to comply. Yes, I turned down their request since it was so blatantly entitled. Her companion went and alerted the security. Still, I declined. By then, TBJ had already begun touring the church and inciting a fervor among the faithful while performing miracles. He was waving his hands and people were collapsing in heaps.
With her eyes closed and hands up in air, in a deep state of praise and worship, my aunt was seated next to me. Despite being Igbo, she had spent decades living in Lagos and is as fluent in Yoruba as any Isale Eko lady. She also acted in their manner. She was immersed in the craze and barely noticed what was going on between me and the two vying for my seat. She was singing the Yoruba gospel music thundering and reverberating in the church building.
Do you know that T. B. Joshua arrived at my precise location? He glanced at me before walking away without saying a word. All we did was glare at one another. It was gratifying sort of seeing him in person. I thought about the woman I dislodged and realised I wasn’t the person he anticipated seeing there. Is it possible that he came to accomplish a miracle for the woman, saw me in the way, and thought I was the obstacle? Your guess is as good as mine.
I left the church, distraught. I emerged in the open to witness a crowd purchasing holy water and framed pictures of TB Joshua. I had my suspicion confirmed. Salvation is supposed to be free, as it should be without any conditions for anyone to have the right to be saved. Therefore, why would one choose to sell his or her image for individuals to display in their households, where they treat such pastor as their saviour rather than Christ? What is the reason for selling holy water to repel malevolent spirits? What happens to the poor who don’t have? Being a Catholic, I found that quite disgraceful and disturbing but it firmed up my impression.
I strolled along the street towards a pub, intending to indulge in some drinks to kill time and pain while patiently awaiting my companion, who was still spellbound inside the church. The voice of TBJ boomed in the industrial speaker and I could hear him clearly. I thought of my aunt, hoping she would track me through mobile phone.
As I mentioned before, my aunt was a follower of TB Joshua and displayed a large picture frame of him in her living room. I was informed by her that the reason she went to the Synagogue was because of her ill brother.
“Did Joshua cure him?” I eagerly inquired.
She said to me thoughtfully, “No, he passed away shortly after.'”
I shook my head and maintained a neutral expression, to not shake her fate. She then added: “The great man of God informed us that we came late.”
I felt sorry for her. Some people out of experience don’t talk and certain things are better understood through personal experience. So, I kept my concerns to myself. My aunt reclined on her chair, looking away and staring blankly into space.
She told me that after the brother’s death, she chose TB Joshua to be her pastor and the Synagogue as her place of worship. I didn’t want to ask why she made the landmark decision without the brother being healed.
I felt sorry going to the Synagogue in the first place. I now also regret not writing about my encounter sooner rather than later. Maybe because no one would have believed me.
Do you know why I left the church after TBJ and I exchanged looks? This is the cause: Even though I felt unafraid, I had the uneasy feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be there. There might be repercussions because I had disturbed the applecart.
Had he touched me at that moment, I would have acted as though I had fallen under his anointing, complied, and avoided any consequences. Without a doubt, he was expecting to see a woman in my corner and I didn’t look sick even though I had an inner storm and would have welcomed any plausible prophesy even though it wasn’t what took me there.
It’s weird because, even now, I still think well of the man, yet something seems off.
I had a dream about the encounter that night. I observed a large group of people attempting to get out of a large pit and swimming in the mud. There was no sign of assistance and they had no prospect of success. After returning to Abuja, I had another dream a few days later in which TB Joshua spoke to me.
“Won’t you say thank you?” he queried.
I was at a loss for words. For what specifically am I grateful to you? I uttered in my thoughts. He said nothing to me the day he spotted me in his Synagogue. All he could do was glare at me as if I were an imposter. I had no idea if he was praying for me in silence. I therefore merely gave him a curious glance in the dream. I woke up as he turned to leave, looking at me like I was kind of ungrateful.
I saw the BBC broadcast portraying the man as a fraud and a sexual predator against this background. I can only conclude that it’s not all gold and glitter. The majority of these so-called men of God that you see are taking advantage of people’s frustrations and emotions while providing them with nothing but euphoria and temporary relief through catharsis.
Recognise this and experience peace: millions have fallen into these kinds of traps because they fail to accept that there are no fast cuts to achieving financial success or freedom from want. Seek the truth, and the truth shall set you free, as Christ Himself declared. Man will always be driven by the pleasure principle, or hedonism, which leads him to seek out easy lives with easy virtues and to try to avoid pain.
Additionally, religion is profoundly ingrained in people’s souls through brainwashing and that’s why Karl Marx called it the opium of the masses; those who are hooked can be released only by God’s grace. What’s more, those who follow these demagogues will never see them as frauds. Remember the Guyana Tragedy of Reverend Jean Jones? By forcing the church members to consume a cyanide-laced lunch in the hopes of entering paradise, Rev. Jones guided around a thousand individuals to their early graves. His remaining supporters still have faith in him. There are still followers of our own Reverend King who maintain that he was innocent despite his conviction and ordered execution just a few years ago.
Even years ago, Reverend Chris Okotie brought the nation’s attention to demonic forces operating in certain Nigerian churches, and fingered TBJ particularly. Rev. Okotie was written off as a jealous failure devoid of spiritual powers.
That’s why I didn’t take it personally when I saw that many people were calling the BBC documentary fake and ill-willed. There will be similar outrage against even my little account here. But what does that matter to me? Hold whatever beliefs you choose, but pursue God in spirit and truth. He is in every place.
Religiosity as opposed to spirituality, is based on delusion, which is holding onto false beliefs in the face of evidence to the contrary. You are the only one who can save yourself.
I come in peace !
·Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts; [email protected]; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.