Churches in Nigeria seem to use the December month as a time specially set aside to organize one form of crusade or the other to enable them win more souls as miracles, liberation from one spiritual affliction or the other, blessings among others are promised the faithful and would-be converts.
The month of December every year is a period when Christians in the country join their counterparts from other parts of the world to celebrate the Yuletide. The season is characterized with a lot of travels; movement of people within a country, and also into and out of a country as tourists. This is because there is no other religious holiday quite like Christmas for the millions world over, who observe it.
In Nigeria, citizens travel from the major states and cities to their various states/villages to enable them celebrate the Charismas with loved ones. Then, for into or out of the country, it could be for visits to interesting site-seeing of historic, cultural and religious heritage in other climes to fulfill social, psychological, cultural and religious aspirations or for relaxation.
According to the 2013 report of the United Nation World Trade Organisation [UNWTO], of the about 1 billion tourists that made international trips in 2012, over 300 million of them visited the world’s major religious sites.
Leveraging the December period rush in Nigeria, Christian Churches across the country organize these crusades or retreats so that members could use the events to seek God’s favour and also thank Him for sparing their lives during the out-going year.
The tourism potential dimension of this phenomenon is that visitors from other parts of the world come to Nigeria during this crusade/retreat-rush, especially the Christians, to partake in the various religious fiestas by the Nigerian Churches.
Therefore, if countries like Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan and others with Holy sites can be earning so much from religious tourism, there is every reason for Nigeria to explore the sub-sector to generate more revenue and boost the economy, considering the huge numbers of people visiting the country to perform pilgrimage during these December retreat rush!
After all, according to the Pew Research Center [a non-partisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world], Nigeria has the largest Christian population of any country in Africa, with more than 85 million persons in Nigeria belonging to the church comprising between 50 per cent and 67.4 per cent of the population with various denominations. The number of Christians in Nigeria has grown from 21.4 per cent in 1953 to 49.3 per cent in 2010. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_Nigeria.
Therefore, between 2010 to date, this figure might not actually be a true representation of the Christian population; it should be more than this.
No wonder http://www.vconnect.com/nigeria/list-of-churches_c515 [a Lagos-based homegrown tech startup that is transforming how businesses access their markets and how customers find and engage with local businesses] has 20,454 results as the number of registered Churches in Nigeria to date.
Of this number, there are the crowd-pullers or top churches that readily always come to mind whenever the issues of big churches are being discussed. Notable among them are: Redeemed Christian Church of God [RCCG], Deeper Christian Life Ministry, Mountain Of Fire and Miracles [MFM] Ministries, The Redeemed Evangelical Mission [TREM], The Lord’s Chosen, Christ Embassy Church, Living Faith Church Worldwide, House on The Rock, Synagogue Church of All Nations [SCOAN], Salvation Ministries among many.
As expected most of these churches hosted a mammoth crowd of worshippers at their various camps across the country during last year December 2016 crusades or retreats, with beehive of activities as people come in their thousands to witness the events, for instance: The MFM Ministries organized its three-day weekend deliverance program between December 23 to 25, 2016 at their Prayer City in Lagos.
The Deeper Life Bible Church had its 2016 December four-day retreat tagged, “Power for the present hour,” between December 23 and 26, at the Deeper Life Conference Centre, Km 42 Lagos – Ibadan Expressway.
The Calvary Reunion Assembly and Amazing Grace Christ Foundation had a three-day open air crusade tagged ‘Nigeria for Jesus Christ’, which held between December 15 to 17 with theme ‘Peace in the storm’ at God’s Will Success College, Giwa Oke Aro Agbado, Ogun State.
The Synagogue Church of All Nations [SCOAN], Ikotun Lagos State had a two day crusade that drew worshipers from across the globe for deliverance and healing.
The Voice of Salvation Evangelical Ministry, Alapere, Ketu Lagos had its annual week-long thanksgiving on November 27 with a walk against poverty and fasting and prayer on November 28. There was also a four-day anointing service while the grand finale held on December 4.
The House on the Rock Church held its 11th edition of annual gospel concert [The Experience Lagos 11, as it is popularly known] on December 2, 2016 at the Tafawa Balewa Square Lagos with theme ‘Revealing Jesus’.
The concert has been home to thousands of worshippers every December, as it heralds the festive vibes of Christmas. With over 750,000 worshippers gathered at the Tafawa Balewa Square yearly, there’s little wonder, gospel ministers across the world see this one- of- a- kind concert as a glowing platform for them to express worship.
The Experience Lagos is a free concert of gospel music event among Christians and non-Christians alike.
The Redeemed Christian Church of God [RCCG] had its 19th Holy Ghost Congress at the old Congress Arena along Kilometer 46 Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, The Kingsway International Christian Centre held a one-week spiritual event themed: “Power of Thanksgiving”.
Brotherhood of the Cross and Star [Olumba Olumba] based in Calabar also had its weeklong event, but was however, swallowed by the popular Carnival Calabar that is adjudged Africa’s biggest street party.
It is important here to note that of all these Churches and their various crusades/ retreats across the country, SCOAN attracted more foreign visitors than the other churches in terms of religious tourism, thereby adding more value to the economy than others whose crowds are mostly within.
In fact, The SCOAN has been described as “Nigeria’s biggest tourist attraction” and “the most visited destination by religious tourists in West Africa,” with thousands of foreigners flocking to attend the church’s weekly services.
A report also has it that over two million religious tourists visit Nigeria to take part in special spiritual revival programs and annual conventions by different churches; and of this figure, SCOAN alone attracts more than a million pilgrims to Lagos, as religious tourists from across the world especially Africa, Asia and Europe and America come in their numbers to attend the church’s deliverance service.
This corroborates the figures released by the Nigerian Immigration Service [NIS] according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._B._Joshua, which indicates that six out of every 10 foreign travellers coming into Nigeria are bound for SCOAN.
Another newspaper report as quoted also stated that SCOAN attracts more weekly attendees than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.
Notable Visitors to SCOAN
It is on record that no other Christian Church in Africa or Nigeria has had the opportunity of hosting the likes of late Ghanaian President, John Evans Atta Mills; South Africa’s Winnie Mandela; EFF leader, Julius Malema; The Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithinika Bhekuzulu; former Malawian President, Joyce Banda and Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangarai.
Others also are Tanzanian President, John Magufuli, who visited SCOAN in 2011 and the late Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, who once stated that he watched ‘Emmanuel TV’ daily, all from Africa; Prince Yormie Johnson, Liberia former warlord; South African Rugby player, Jacob Westhurzen and Justice Ralph Beisner from New York. The list is endless as Europe, Asia, The Americas and others have stories to tell about the Church.
Expected Contribution to Economy
Looking at the opportunities this provides in terms of revenue, governments at the federal, state and local levels could tap into it to develop and encourage religious tourism as a major source of foreign exchange earner in the quest to diversify the economy; since tourism has direct impact on employment, income generation, infrastructure development and raising standard of living of the citizenry.
At the end, as these foreign visitors make efforts to come to Nigeria, this will generate money for government through the issuance of visas at the nation’s various embassies abroad. What about the airline operators [international and local], there will be more air routes to the country, translating into revenue.
Transporters, who will shuttle these visitors to their hotels and church destinations at the end of the day, will have some money for the services rendered, adding to local economy.
When these foreign visitors arrive, they come with dollars, Euros, pounds and other foreign currencies to enrich the economy, as they will lodge in different hotels with some staying for a week or more to one month.
Apart from benefitting the hospitality operators, the livelihood of many people are positively impacted because connecting visitors with hoteliers alone generates income to ‘tour operators’ and ‘tour guides’.
Various sectors as well benefit from these inflows of financial resource, for instance banks and currency changers and market men and women make brisk businesses.
Equally, this potential boosts the building/estate sector, as estate developers would engage in the construction of five star-hotels of international standard to accommodate this massive influx of tourists.
Eatery operators will not be left out of the business. Since the government is looking at the agricultural sector as one of the possible ways to revamp the economy, this will equally boost the sector as more food will be needed to feed the visitors and Nigerians at large, meaning keeping the farmers fully engaged.
Other services sub-sectors will blossom, as jobs will be created both for the catering and hotel services.
To cap it all, some of these visitors will take advantage of the visit to make brisk purchases of some local fabrics and other things of their choice, thereby boosting the production of such made in Nigeria products.
So, for Nigeria to join the League of Nations reaping from religious tourism, it should take advantage of the Churches’ December-rush every year to develop the sub-sector and enjoy the foreign exchange benefits that it generates.
It would not also be out of place, if the Nigeria Immigration Service [NIS] would have arrangement with the likes of The SCOAN to have a special desk at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos to facilitate visa on arrival for the teeming visitors to the church.
By Canice Opara with additional report by Lucky Onoriode George