By Chuks Nwanne
(Originally published in The Guardian)
PROPHET Temitope Balogun Joshua, or TB Joshua, as he’s fondly called all over the world, is like a prism, offering different perspectives to different viewers. He is an enigma that is yet to be fully understood by many, including members of his church — The Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN).
Yes, he’s a very controversial figure, especially among Lagosians, who seem not comfortable with his “man of God” status. But outside Lagos, and beyond Nigeria, TB Joshua is treated like a ‘god’, with popular figures, including African heads of state, trooping in and out of his Synagogue on a daily basis.
Controversies aside, TB Joshua is a man you can’t ignore in Nigeria. Aside from his large followership, the prophet is known for his charity deeds, a trait that has endeared him to many, especially the poor folks, who look up to the Prophet for daily bread. In fact, his Emmanuel TV, which shows his church’s activities, is very popular across the globe, except in Lagos.
Unlike the days when orthodox Churches held sway, the coming of Pentecostalism in Nigeria has given religion a new outlook. The pastors and bishops in town are distinguished by their flamboyant life style: impeccable suits, jaw breaking grammar and you know? Private jets!
You need to live big — expensive outfits and designer’s perfumes — to belong, unless, you’ll be a ‘backbencher’.
Prophet TB Joshua is very endowed with these high tastes. He is perhaps more interested in preaching the word of God because there is one verse in the bible that says it will be easier for camel head to go through a needle eye than for the rich man to make heaven. Dorning designer clothes, speaking through the nose, riding on SUVs and globetrotting in private jets are not part of the things that marked him out.
Could this be the reason TB Joshua is not getting acceptance from his fellow men of God? Well, no matter what, people still look forward to his football predictions, especially when it favours the Super Eagles.
On June 12, Prophet TB Joshua will be marking his 50th birthday. I bet you, a lot of people will have a big smile on that day. Yes, Joshua’s birthday is usually an opportunity for some people to eat or be happy. I don’t mean just laying hands on people; some pockets will surely swell that day.
In fact, by now, workers will be struggling with bagging of Joshua’s Rice, which will be shared on that day; the bakery boys too will be on duty 24/7, baking bread for the poor. Erh, I doubt if any casual worshipper would be able to make it into the church’s auditorium.
International guests should be arriving by now, including top dignitaries; I bet you, one or two presidents would come. As usual, the security will be tight, no cause for alarm.
Notwithstanding, you might just hang around the church’s corridor if you persist. A lot of people prefer to take positions close to the prophet’s altar.
Generally, anointing would flow! Well, in case you won’t be able to make it to his Ikotun, Lagos Synagogue, Emmanuel TV will be screening the event live!
Now, I know you will be wondering where I got all these info? Okay, calm down. I’m not a member of SCOAN; I’m just an observer, who had the opportunity of being a ‘special’ guest of the ever-busy Prophet in 2010. That day, all protocol were relaxed. Even with the long list of visitors waiting to see the man of God, I got the first slot, a VIP one for that matter.
It took over a month to get that link to man of God. All previous efforts had failed. The plan was to have an exclusive interview with him, something he hardly does.
“I’ve spoken to his people, the Prophet has agreed to grant the interview. I will take you to him. Just call me on phone when you get there,” my link’s man said.
Driving to TB Joshua’s Synagogue that day was not an easy task. The heavy traffic that characterises the Ikotun-Ejigbo route worsened that day and vehicles crawled. The long stretch of road was in terrible condition.
As I drove to see the prophet, I kept wondering if that axis was actually part of Governor Fashola’s Lagos Master Plan. For more than two hours, I was in the heavy traffic, for a journey that would have lasted between 25 and 30 minutes.
For fear of missing Joshua’s appointment, I had to squeeze my tuketuke into one of the adjacent streets, praying that LASTMA boys won’t do their worst. Thank God for okada; that was the only option to the Synagogue within a short time. Unfortunately today, okada is banned from major roads in Lagos.
That evening, the Synagogue was bubbling with activities; guests were trooping in and out in their numbers. While some Nigerians were heading for South Africa that night to be part of the 2010 Nations Cup opening ceremony, a large group of South Africans, numbering over 700, were in the Synagogue to celebrate with the prophet.
From the gate into the main building, excitement filled the air. Somehow, we looked like strangers; even the congregation knew that. At that point, I made contact with my guide, who later ushered me into the Prophet’s special room.
Though not your massive apartment, the room is properly furnished, with a connecting door from the back. I was still admiring the furniture, when TB Joshua, dressed in a simple three quarter short, a polo shirt and a slip on sandal, stepped in from the back door.
To be honest, his simplicity baffled me. I expected some little drama and razzmatazz before the coming of the man of God, but it was not like that. If not for his Afro hair and beards, I would have mistaken the Prophet for some lowly member of the congregation.
“Sorry for keeping you waiting; I had to leave some of my important visitors just to grant this interview. I like The Guardian newspapers; if you go to my house, that’s the paper I read. So, when they told me about this interview, I felt it’s something I should do. What do you want to know about me?“ he quizzed, beaming with smiles.
Look, Prophet TB Joshua is a fine man. Oh, yes, he is. Imagine if that Afro hair is trimmed down a bit and the beards shaved?
Right, have you taken time to look into his eyeballs? Alright, imagine Joshua dressed in one of those expensive suits, like the ones Pastors Chris Oyakhilome and his brother Chris Okotie usually wear? Now, you see.
BORN into the family of Mr. and Mrs. Kolawole Balogun of Arigi village, Ondo State, Joshua was brought up as a Christian. His farmer father was then the secretary of St. Stephen’s Church in his community; he played the role of a translator, whenever there was a visitor that couldn’t speak Yoruba.
“He was not well lettered, but was better than most of his peers around then. Though he died while I was still small, I was like his pet. He would carry me to the Church and as a little boy, I would always run around and jump from the choir stand to the catechist’s table. I miss him dearly,” Joshua said.
With early exposure to Christianity, young Joshua developed interest in Bible knowledge; it was his favourite subject in school. He finished the New Testament book twice while still in primary six.
“My interest in the subject grew to the extent that I could read the whole Bible on the average of two months during my secondary school days. I was also the leader of the Scripture Union (SU) of my school,” he informed.
From all indications, TB Joshua’s large heart has little to do with his status as a prophet; it is an inborn thing.
“I had always wanted to be like any other person; when others are crying, I cry, when they are happy, I would be happy. I was really concerned about humanity; I mean people’s interest. I always want to make people happy by helping them,” he said.
In school, Joshua’s charity heart was always at work. On many occasions, he used his school fees to settle other students’ fees.
“Not that I was rich, but because I could not withstand their tears. After giving out my school fees, I would go to the farm or construction sites to do menial jobs to settle mine. I did that many times and missed my classes, too,” he recalled with a smiling face.
And your mother is happy with you?
“Well, the first time I did that, my mother was not pleased with me because she was the only one financing my education. My father died when I was still a boy.”
Instead of endearing him to his mates, Joshua’s kindness yielded negative results.
“I was alone; they derided me, called me names and described me as a dunce that could give out any of his property to people. I repeated a class for about five times because I was always outside looking for menial jobs to pay my school fees. Then, I was propelled to do good by forces. But today, all that has changed; what I do right now is to help people to stand on their own and to be a channel of blessings to others,” he said.
From all indication, the ‘hatred’ on Prophet TB Joshua is actually not a new thing to him; the man seems to be used to it.
“As for me, I want to help people; I really want to help them. Not for anything, but because Jesus Christ wept with those that were weeping and celebrated with those celebrating,” he harped.
At what point did you realise that God wanted you to serve Him?
“The moment you start obeying His instructions, you’ll start hearing His voice. The moment you begin to obey that voice, He will start using you,” he said.
According to the prophet, Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) is beyond the physical structure; it’s more than that Gothic architectural masterpiece you see along Ikotun Road, Lagos.
“It started right from my childhood. It goes beyond the physical structure you see, but that which comes out of the structure. My mission is to see people succeed in life; I’m not cut out to be materialistic, but to make people happy. For every thousand Naira I get, there are a thousand people to spend it on. So, making people happy, putting smiles on the faces of the downcast is my mission,“ he said.
If not for his calling, Joshua would have been a soldier; he would have perfectly fitted into the army with his stout frames.
“My first school was Ansar-Ud-Deen Grammar School, Ikare, Ondo State; I couldn’t finish my studies there because of my magnanimity. And my mother, who was the secretary of a co-operative society, was not happy with it.”
Left with no other option, he obtained the form for the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna. He passed the examination and was actually invited for the interview.
“Going for the interview, the train I boarded broke down at Jebba. As I had no money to continue the journey, I stayed there for the train to be repaired. By the time that was done, I set off to reach Kaduna, only to discover that the interview had ended. That was how I missed the army,” he recalled.
Like Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America, TB Joshua’s Coming to Lagos is another interesting story. I wonder when Nollywood producers would discover the synopsis of the Prophet’s journey to Lagos. This will surely make a good movie script.
“How I came to Lagos was a very long story. I came through the buses that carried farm produce such as cassava and cocoa. We spent five days on the way before getting to Lagos. When I alighted at Mile 12, I stayed about 10 days washing the feet of traders coming out of the muddy market for money, until I came across some people speaking my native dialect,“ he breathed.
He quickly introduced himself.
“I told them I was from Arigidi and could not trace my sister. Luckily, one of them directed me to some people that linked me up with my sister at Egbe, a suburb of Lagos. I have done different menial jobs including being a conductor. And today, I have an NGO for motor park boys, because I was once among them,” he narrated.
While in Lagos, Joshua made efforts to complete his secondary education, but somehow, it never happened.
“I attended many schools in Lagos, but the ones I could remember are the New State High School, Mushin; Metropolitan College, Isolo; and Ansar-Ud-Deen College, Isolo.”
Why the frequent change of school?
“This is because I don’t want to see people suffer. I was always sacrificing my comfort, including my school fees, to make people happy. Whenever I see people suffering, I always feel bad even though I’m poor; I would get out the little I have to save the situation and go without anything. It was this path of life that made me to change school so frequently. I attended one school for two months, only to be sent away because of school fees. I was contented with what I was doing, using my fees on others.”
And you repeated classes?
“Oh, yes; in fact, I couldn’t finish my school. I left secondary school and decided never to go back to it. But when I started gathering children between the ages of five to 10 years, I felt the need for it and enrolled in adult education class in Mushin. I would teach the children from 8am to 2pm, then leave for my evening classes at the New State High School, Mushin. It was the money realised from the morning lesson that I used to pay my school fees and registered for GCE. I attempted entering the University several times, but it didn’t workout.”
Done with academics, Joshua took up his first major job in a poultry farm. “I was among those taking care of the birds and clearing their droppings. I did the job with some foreigners from Niger Republic, Ghana, Cameroun and Benin Republic; I was the only Nigerian among them and I never let people know I was a Nigerian. I declared myself a foreigner too; in my own country.”
How much were you paid then?
“I did it for a year to raise money for my GCE and to do other things. Let’s not talk about that because the amount was too small, but I was able to keep some for my studies,” he said.
Asked to give a brief assessment of his progress so far, TB Joshua simply said, “Well, I don’t know, but let’s put it this way. As we all know, the race is not always for the swift, and the battle for the strong. It’s too early for me to assess myself. If God raises you, you are to raise people, who would be able to do what you are doing or do even better than you did. If today were your last day on earth, what would people remember you for? Is it properties or what,” he quizzed rhetorically.
In case you don’t know, the prophet loves football; he’s been churning out stars; the likes of Daniel Amokachi, Ogeyi Onazi and Sunday Emmanuel have links with the Prophet’s football team. However, football is just an aspect of his activities in the Synagogue.
“It’s not only a club; we are into different areas of life. All the carpentry works you see here (the Synagogue) are all made within the church premises. We empower people to be self-reliant,” he said.
One of the controversies about TB Joshua is his wife. While some said he has none, others alleged the woman left him so many years ago. But in the room, his wife’s portrait is conspicuously hung on the wall — a pretty, tall, fair lady. You wonder how
they met in the first instance?
“She is better placed to tell you; she will surely tell you that whenever you meet her,” he responded with laughter.
What really attracted you to her?
“What exactly do you think would attract a man to a woman other than her virtue? Nothing, but virtue of God in her.”
In some quarters, it is believed that TB Joshua has no child. But that day, we saw one of his daughters, a first class material in the United Kingdom, who was on break in Nigeria at the time. Joshua invited her to the room, but did not mention his media guests.
Minutes after that call, the young lady stormed the room playfully. But seeing her father in the midst of strangers, the ebony black lady withdrew to her shell, though she kept on beaming with smiles.
“She’s one of my daughters; she just came in for holidays, but she’s helping with works in the Synagogue. I have a very big family. All the children you see here are mine; I don’t think you have a larger family than I do,” he said jokingly.
At the end of the session, SCOAN members, including two Japanese volunteers, conducted us round the premises. From the private room, we moved to the Synagogue proper, where those miracles you see on TV happens. We also got the opportunity of seeing the Emmanuel TV studio, with young chaps busy with buttons; their editing suit is fully loaded.
From the studio, we were at the rice bagging session, where a group of young men were packaging bags of rice for the poor. On our way to the bakery section, where thousands of loaves of bread were baked on a daily basis, we met a young guy constructing a special car; he is under the sponsorship of the prophet.
“This car will run on the road, on water and will also fly,” the ‘engineer’ said.
Well, we saw the construction process, though we are yet to see the vehicle on Lagos roads. Yes, we also saw the mini football pitch, where some of those star were made.
The hotel section is massive; the furnishing was in progress when we visited. From the rooms to the laundry section, kitchen… the facility is finished to taste; I’m sure the structure is complete by now.
So, behind that structure called Synagogue, there are hundreds of activities going on; both spiritual and physical. Behind the man TB Joshua, there’s more than just a religious leader.
How it all started
THE Synagogue, Church of All Nations did not just come by chance. Many years ago, a small gathering of eight members came together to hold their first meeting in a humble shelter in a squalid, swampy jungle, in the location of Agodo-Egbe in Lagos, Nigeria.
As time went on, it became increasingly clear that T.B. Joshua was not just an ordinary pastor, preaching ‘ordinary’ words and doing ‘ordinary things’; clear evidence of outstanding miraculous occurrences began to arise. The lame began to walk, hopeless cancer patients were lifted from despair, and desperate situations were turned to scenes of life, joy and peace.
Questions started rolling in: ‘Can this be true in our days?’ ‘Can a human being perform such feats?’ ‘Is the Bible still true for us today?’
Purportedly, on the instruction of the Holy Spirit, The Synagogue, Church Of All Nations moved to a large expanse of land in Ikotun-Egbe, in the outskirts of Lagos. Thousands began flocking to the services as they heard about the miraculous events taking place there.
In a very short space of time, an area without walls and barely a roof was transformed into a mighty cathedral. Hard benches were replaced with comfortable chairs; poor lights were turned to intelligent lighting; fans were exchanged with refreshing air conditioning. The great changes that took place in such a limited time span have become a subject of debate.