Synagogue Church: The Vanguard of Nigeria As Religious Destination
The significance of the Synagogue Church of All Nations [SCOAN] to Nigeria with regards to the exposure it has given the country cannot be over emphasized. Though the nation may be seen by other nations as being corrupt and riddled with the Boko Haram menace and other social vices, which though are universal trends not peculiar to the country alone.
Several efforts may have been made by the government in image projection internationally in a bid to attract foreigners; especially investors into the country, but not much have really been achieved in that direction. Although one may say that sports and entertainment industries had done great exploits in that regards.
As a religious organization, one of the major things SCOAN in its capacity has succeeded in doing over the decades, is positioning Nigeria among list of top religious destinations in the world through its activities of rendering religious solutions through its religious deeds to people within and of course world over.
The Church which attracts an estimated 200,000.00 foreign tourists into the country every year generates annually about $12 million into the economy of Nigeria.
No wonder Nigeria and the Government of the Netherlands has signed a pact with the United Nations World Tourism Organization [UNWTO]; an international organization on tourism as reported.
Signing the agreement was the body’s Secretary-general, Taleb Rifai, and the Ambassador of The Netherlands to Spain, Matthijs Van Bonzel at the UNWTO Headquarters, and made available in a statement issued recently by the organization.
The agreement, which includes the celebration of a conference on ‘Religious Heritage and Tourism: How to increase religious heritage tourism in a changing society’, was to promote the role of religious tourism as an agent for cultural preservation, peace and understanding.
Rifai, while signing the agreement said “religious tourism is a powerful instrument to raise awareness of our common responsibility in safeguarding this lasting heritage and a key agent of peace, fostering tolerance and understanding between visitors and host communities, in an amalgam of different faiths”.
Religion they say is the opium of the people, no wonder every year there is this exodus of religious faithful visiting the different parts of the world where their religious aspirations could be met. It is in line with this that SCOAN has ensured that Nigeria is not found wanting on the list of religious destinations in the world.
The Church, rising from its humble beginning has grown to international limelight through the numerous astounding works of miracles. Those who visited Nigeria as religious tourists, will in return pass to their various countries the good news emanating from Nigeria, while those who could not visit the country to experience all these, are every Sunday watching the church live services as broadcast to millions around the globe through Emmanuel TV to see the ‘Man of God’, Prophet Temitope Balogun Joshua, founder and general-overseer of SCOAN perform miracles of healing, prophecy, deliverance from spiritual afflictions, blessing and salvation; also Healings of HIV-AIDS, cancer, paralysis, and of many other sicknesses and diseases on this Christian Station that operates 24 hours a day focusing mainly equally on the Church’s charitable works.
A report has it that Statistics from the Nigerian Immigration Service [NIS] revealed that out of every 10 foreign travelers coming into Nigeria; six are bound for the SCOAN.
As tourism activities is growing exponentially world over, people basically tend to travel to different places to visit and enjoy natural resources and nature.
The sector has immensely and significant contributed to economic growth and development of many countries. Of the about 1 billion tourists that made international trips in 2012, the international tourism sector accounts for one in 12 jobs globally, and for 30 per cent of world services exports, this is according to the 2013 report of the UNWTO. The same report states that of this number, over 300 million tourists visit the world’s major religious sites each year.
With the rising of religious pilgrimage adding to the trend, it is worthy of note that annually, millions of pilgrims travel across the globe to seek spiritual aspirations and experience elevation, transformation and to attain a new degree of wisdom in various endeavours.
These destinations could be birth places of religious teachers, where miracles were performed in ancient days, and also places where famous religious institutions are situated.
In fact, there are so many religions in the world today, with the dominant ones being Christianity [2.3billion in population]; Islam [1.6billion]; Hinduism [1billion]; Buddhism [400million]; Sikhism [30 million]; Judaism [20million]; Bahaism [8million]; Confucianism [7million]; Jainism [4.5 million]; Shintoism [4million] and other minor ones according to Wikipedia, an online dictionary.
Across the world today, one can imagine, the contribution and impact of these religious population in terms of tourism and world trade given its major foreign exchange earning capability, employment generation and of course exposure to tourists around the world.
Israel, Italy, Egypt, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India and a host of others are among countries where religious tourism flourishes greatly. They rake in millions of dollars every year through religious tourism. In fact they have succeeded in turning historic sites into a money spinner, thereby ranking among most visited by religious pilgrims.
For instance, a report by http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36250851 shows that “tourism industry currently generates about 2.7% of Saudi Arabia’s Gross Domestic Product [GDP], with religious tourists making up the largest group of visitors to the kingdom”.
The report went further to say that “The Hajj pilgrimage, which takes place in the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and lesser Umrah pilgrimages contribute $12bn annually to their economy.
Mecca and Medina are two holiest cities for Muslims; one is the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad, and the other the declared holy city for Islam; Muslims belief that a faithful who can afford it, should undertake the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.
Based on this, it was projected that this would rise to more than $20bn within the next four years, according to the Council for Economic and Development Affairs and that religious tourists coming to perform Umrah will grow from eight million this year to 15 million by 2020, and 30 million by 2030.
Christian pilgrimages to Israel and other countries have equally formed an economic platform for the empowerment of their localities, contributing immensely to their GDP.
Ironically, African religious tourists to these countries comprise an estimated $100 million of the industry, with Nigeria taking a large chunk of this huge revenue outflow.
With this report, one can see how religious tourism is placing Saudi Arabia at the top of list of religious destination in the world.
Since travelling to sacred destinations for religious experience and journey is regarded as religious tourism, then it would not be out of place to say that with the influx of foreigners to visit SCOAN, the Church is actually placing Nigeria on that list of world tourism destinations.
One should not in a hurry forget that religious tourism, which travelling and pilgrimage is considered as the heart of this, is almost known as the oldest form of tourism. Most of these people are either Christians, Muslims and other religion faithful who visit holy places for different reasons.
SCOAN, based in Ikotun area of Lagos State has branches in Ghana, London, Greece, South Africa, and many other countries of the world.
It is on record that notable dignitaries including heads of countries had at one time or the other paid visits to the Church, seeking for one spiritual solution or the other. On list, one could find the likes of former Zimbabwean Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai ; Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s former wife; King Godwill Zwelithini of the Zulus, South Africa with his daughter, Princess Sibusile Zulu ,who was suffering from partial epilepsy ; Ghana’s president, John Atta Mills; King Moloto Solomon of the Limpopo Kingdom, South Africa; President Omar Bongo of Gabon ; Professor Pasal Lissouba, and one time president of Congo Brazzaville.
There are also Justice Ralph Beisner from New York; Prince Yormie Johnson, Liberia former warlord and South African Rugby player, Jacob Westhurzen. The list is endless as Europe, Asia, The Americas and others have stories to tell about the Church.
With these caliber of people visiting SCOAN, who then dare say Nigeria cannot be reckoned with when it comes to religious tourism worldwide.
It then depends on the government of Nigeria to tap into this money spinning sector to boost the GDP of the country, especially now that it is looking for alternative to oil as revenue earner following the continuous fall of oil price in the international market.
It is not enough to honoured the founder, T.B. Joshua by the late President Yar A’dua for his contributions with the Officer of the Federal Republic [OFR] award, rather government should take advantage of the tourism potentials of the Synagogue to deepen Nigeria’s involvement in religious tourism.
This they can do by borrowing from those countries that have achieved so much in that sector; talking about Saudi Arabia, Italy, India, China, Israel and others who have earned much from religious tourism.
If countries like China could be celebrating world Twins Day to attract foreigners, why can’t Nigeria with our natural, religious and cultural heritage rake in money through religious tourism; place like The Arochuku Shrine, Umuahia; Ife, which is regarded by Yoruba tradition to be a sacred city and fountain head of all Yoruba religions and ancestral home; The Cathedral Church of Christ [Lagos]: One of the oldest churches in Lagos; Noor Mosque [Abuja]; Central Mosque [Lagos]; Central Mosque [Kano]; Bible Site, Araya: The place a copy of the Holy Bible is believed to have descended miraculously in Araya in Delta State from heaven around August, 1914. The spot now attracts Christian Pilgrims from all over the country, especially during the Easter season and others.
It is not just al l about the visiting, Nigeria‘s infrastructure will be constantly be upgraded to meet international standards, and jobs would be created for the citizens through:
Travel Agents: Nigerians will be fully engaged in and acting as travel agents by providing advice to customers and help ensure that mistakes are not made in bookings for travels and accommodations and other activities at destinations.
Tour Operators: By organizing elements of a holiday into a package, such as visits to interesting sites in the country, jobs will definitely be created for the citizens as tour operators.
Part of the tour operators’ services includes creating a “bridge” between the residents in the destination and the religious tourists. This can be very helpful in educating the customers on what to expect and the resident suppliers on what to provide.
The Airlines: Airline operation in the country would receive a boost, as interlink services schedules will be provided by airlines. The airlines are chartered for a limited period to operate [usually] from point-to-point.
Hotelier and Accommodation: During these periods of visits, hotel and accommodation business will flourish, be it a 2 or 5 star categories, they vary in quality and prices.
Transportation: This sector will not be left out, as it will play a critical role of conveying tourists from one point to the other.
With the galvanization of all these activities, government, which at the end of it all will benefit through the foreign exchange this would bring to the country, would have no option than to provide and put in place necessary infrastructure like good roads, constant electricity supply, potable water and all that will ensure comfort for citizens and tourists in particular.
As tourism and by extension religious tourism, is providing huge social and economic good fortune [as an opportunity to make money], government should accord the sector a priority in agenda of item for national and communities development.
And as the spiritual demands of people is growing, this unprecedented phenomenon may help in boosting the economy should government cash in on this to develop a strategy for pilgrimage/religious tourism as a developing country, through policy framework in proportion with potentials that abound.
When fully developed, government and the different stakeholders at the end of it all should embark on an aggressive marketing campaign with respect to promoting these religious tourism destinations in the country, which SCOAN has provided the opportunity for exploit.