Despites Odds, Synagogue Remains Most Visited Destination

On Sunday September 1, 2013, The Guardian Newspaper of United Kingdom published an article with an headline “Lagos Businesses Cash In On Lure Of Super Pastor TB Joshua” with a rider ‘Hotels, Shops, and Touts in district of Ikotun are doing a roaring trade as church draws visitors from around the world’.

The newspaper correspondent in West Africa named Monica Mark, who was in Lagos in her opening paragraphs wrote; “In Africa’s largest metropolis, the district of Ikotun Egbe has turned into a boom town; the draw? Temitope Balogun Joshua, one of pastors”, whose church attracts 50,000 worshipers weekly – more than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.

According to her, people seeking promises of prosperity and life-changing spiritual experiences, flock from around the globe and enterprising Lagos residents – those not turfed out by landlords turning their properties into hotels – have transformed the rundown area into a hotbed of business.

She stated further that”On a Saturday afternoon, traffic swirls around the four-storey, giant-columned Synagogue Church of All Nations. Delegates are pouring in for the following day’s service”.

“They should really build a branch in South Africa – it’s a long way to come and the hotels here are so-so,” said Mark, a sunburnt businessman from Johannesburg, accompanied by two friends from Botswana.
As the church’s palm tree-lined entrance gives way to a maze of skinny, unpaved roads, knots of touts materialise. “In one year I made enough money to buy my first car,” said Chris, using a tattered hotel brochure to mop his brow. He is paid 100 naira [about 40p] for each client he brings in.

Sparkling new hotels rise incongruously among the shacks. At one, with a logo suspiciously similar to the Sheraton’s, a new chef has recently been employed. “He can cook food from Singapore, because we were having a lot of guests from there who struggle with Nigerian food,” said the manager, Ruky, at a reception desk framed by pictures of Joshua.

Tony Makinwa said most of his Laundromat profits come from tourists. “God has favoured my business. People come here and fall in love with the place and overstay their visits,” he said.

Also doing a roaring trade are the international calling centres with foreign visitor discounts, clothes shops offering outfits to celebrate miracles, and the plastic chair rentals that cater for church overspill.

The area’s dirt streets are punctured by unfinished, barn like buildings as dozens of other churches offer all-day worship services. Almost as many mosques dot the area. Islam and Christianity are growing at blistering paces across Africa, with Nigeria home to the continent’s most populous mix of both faiths.

Money-changer Sidi Bah has travelled thousands of miles from Mali to continue his trade here.
“I came because I heard many people from many countries visit. In one day I can change six or seven different types of currency,” he said. “There are more mosques here than in my village in [Muslim] Mali.”

Miracle-promising Pentecostal churches took root across the continent in the 1980s, as African economies were battered by falling world commodity prices. Migrants poured into slums in search of jobs and dreams.

Ruky has converted her cramped home into a 20-bed lodging where mainly rural workers stay for 800 naira a night. Mattresses are half price. “If you are sick like me, you have no job, so you are used to sleeping on the floor anyhow,” said Andrew Olagbele, whose spine was crushed in a car accident, lying on a mattress in a crammed room. “I pray the Lord will touch me tomorrow so I can walk again.”

As dusk sets in, cars continue streaming in. A man hanging from the open door of a car thundering gospel songs waves copies of homemade CDs for sale. Denis Kokou and his wife, a baby on her hip, look on with weary smiles. “This is our first time coming from [regional neighbour] Togo. We are so happy to be here with our daughter”, he said.

However since the September 13 Synagogue Church lodge collapse, tourist visits to Nigeria plummeted and has already begun to have an adverse effect on Nigerian tourism and its attendant businesses.

According to a statement issued shortly after the incident by the Airport Car Hire Association of Nigeria [ACHAN] of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, and signed by the chairman, Summonu Oseni, business slowed down immediately after the building collapsed, and has not picked up as foreign visitors have dramatically reduced.

“The incident does not affect The SCOAN alone but also Nigeria’s economy,” the statement said.
“What happened is a big blow to the economy of the nation, most especially, the airport as most of the tourists to Nigeria are coming to visit The SCOAN. I mean, six out of every 10 tourists that come to Nigeria visit The SCOAN”, Oseni explained.

He described The SCOAN as a positive ‘brand’ for Nigeria. “The SCOAN is a big brand for Nigeria, and a lot of revenues are generated by those involved in the tourism chain, especially members of ACHAN, who provide nothing less than 35 buses and equally a large number of small vehicles to move these visitors on a daily basis”, he added.

According to the statement, Nigeria should encourage the ‘SCOAN brand’ and not carry out malicious campaigns of calumny founded on unsubstantiated information about it.

“We pray that this will not annoy the pastor and founder of the church, Prophet T.B. Joshua to relocate to another country, as other countries would like to have a man like him, who would boost tourism for their nation”, he pleaded.

A recent African Travel Times Magazine investigation revealed that airlines are also feeling the economic impact of the incident.

An aviation expert said that airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Arik Air, Aero Contractors, Air France and Lufthansa Airways, incurred the biggest losses from the reduction in spiritual tourists to Synagogue.

On the aftermath of the unfortunate incident, Prophet T.B Joshua suspended spiritual and healing activities, which are the two main programmes that have been driving tourists into Nigeria over the years; that has not paralysed commercial activities in that part of Lagos.

However, many are of the opinion that apart from recovering from the shock of the tragedy, they also suspected that the barrage of criticism and legal action from the Lagos State Government was also an issue that has now put thousands of jobs in peril in the state.

They argued that instead of the Lagos State Government working with the church to correct whatever mistakes that have been noted, branding the church for their neglect is counterproductive.

Speaking to African Travel Times Magazine recently, the Founder and General Overseer of Synagogue Church of All Nations [SCOAN] Prophet T.B Joshua said the tourism industry in Lagos State and Nigeria in general, is being betrayed by those that are supposed to the pushing its growth.

Sources close to the church told this magazine that hoteliers and other business owners have been pleading and begging for the resumption of spiritual and healing activities, the main attraction for the pilgrims.

Meanwhile, efforts to get a statement from the state’s commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture was unsuccessful as our source said that because of the sensitive nature and on-going court case, the ministry would like to excuse itself from speaking to this publication.

While the state continues to stay away, the livelihood of thousands that live around the Synagogue Church of All Nations community suffers; this is as the T.B Joshua’s suspension of miracle and spiritual healings that are the driving force pulling visitors from all over the world do not hold again.

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