Temitope Balogun Joshua epitomised the aspiration of every lowly roadside Evangelical preacher or a small-time pastor, ensconced in a small claustrophobia store or makeshift hut, whose voice and importance are amplified a hundred folds, usually by an oversized megaphone.
For such preachers, their dreams are usually the same – grow the sprinkle of devout worshippers who attend services at their usually austere places of worship into a multitude of ardent followers from all parts of the world.
They dream of becoming mega-preachers or admired televangelists with millions tuning in to hear them speak from lavishly furnished altars laid inside their gleaming religious edifices.
Such preachers want to replace their ascetic garbs with custom-made designer apparel, own expensive automobiles, usually driven in convoys with screaming sirens, ensuring they do not go through the tortuous inconveniences of ordinary people like sitting in traffic.
Some of them dream of, perhaps, owning private jets. They dream of ditching their usually rustic mannerism and accents for something more cosmopolitan. They want the good life. Why not? Even, Jesus, had his feet daubed with a jar of expensive perfumed oil.
However, like the seeds in the bag of the sower in that Gospel’s allegory, some of these dreams will fall on the path and will be snatched by birds before they even have time to grow. Some of them will fall on rocky ground, devoid of enough soil for sustenance and they will be soon withered and die. Others will fall on among thorns and will be asphyxiated, bearing no fruit.
A few like T.B. Joshua’s, will fall on fertile ground, grow into robust crops, yielding grains in hundredfold.
T.B. Joshua, as he was commonly known, was born into a Christian family on June 12, 1963, in the small town of Arigidi, Ondo State, South-west Nigeria. He started reading the Bible as a child. He told the Guardian Newspaper in 2019 that, at age six, he had finished reading the Bible from start to finish, twice.
“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 said.
T.B. Joshua dropped out of secondary school.
He admitted, in the same interview with the Guardian newspaper, that he did not have a head for books. Later in life, he tried to go back to school, he just could not cope, until he ditched the idea.
Also, he tried to join the Nigeria Army but could not make it to his interview at the defence academy in Kaduna on time because a train he was travelling in broke down at Jebba, in Kwara State.
The Young T.B. Joshua wanted more from life than what it offered at Arigidi, so he left home in a “bolekaja” truck transporting farm produce to Lagos. The trip was slow, perhaps because bolekaja trucks were usually sluggish, rickety, and broke down regularly. He said he spent five days on the road from Arigidi Akoko to Lagos.
T.B. Joshua arrived at the popular Mile 12 food market in Lagos and worked for a few days, washing the feet of traders as they left the muddy market before he left to join his sister in Ikotun -Egbe. He did a series of other menial jobs including working on a poultry farm. He did not find fulfilment doing menial jobs, if he was going to live a life of working menial work, he would have stayed back in rural Arigidi.
Desolate about his future, T.B Joshua switched to his first love- religion. He briefly served as a junior prophet at a parish of the Celestial Christian Church of God, a Christian sect founded in 1948 in the Benin Republic, whose adherents adorns white flowing robes and are required to be barefooted when dressed in the white garment.
Members of Cele, as the church is commonly known, are often scorned by other Christians because of their syncretic doctrine, which encourages the burning of candles, the use of seawater, palm frond, going into trance to prophesy, and elements of animism and sacrifices like practices in traditional African religion.
Clearly, T.B. Joshua’s sojourn as a prophet in the Celestial Church of God influenced the doctrine of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN). The use of white garments, in the early days, in the early days of SCOAN was apparent as T.B. Joshua primarily adorned white clothing.
However, they were not usually made into robes (in the styles of the Cele church).
Also was exorcism and his claim that his holy water could cure sundry ailments such as HIV and Ebola. (There were no independent authentications of these claims).
The Early Days of SCOAN
In 1987, T.B. Joshua founded SCOAN. It started as an eight-man congregation, which grew rapidly, thanks to T.B. Joshua’s acclaimed prophetic gift and miracle healings.
Like most religious upstarts, T.B. Joshua and his pioneer members worshipped in makeshift accommodations. The church moved a lot in its early days, mainly because it was often flooded, (not surprising as Ikotun was a swampy backwater Lagos neighbourhood) and the need for bigger spaces as his congregants grew.
By the time it moved to its current location, in 1994, it had changed locations four times.
Even before the virality of social media, T.B. Joshua understood the power of the media and meticulously documented how he rebuilt the churches after each flooding episode. There are still videos on Youtube of a scruffy looking T.B. Joshua lifting woods, bricks, and sand as he rebuilt the usually ramshackle edifices of his early church.
The videos also depicted him as a man of the people who ate with his followers. (One video showed him queuing to buy yam and beans worth N5, which was served in plastic utensils). Another showed him washing a toilet used by his congregants with a straw broom.
After Sunday services, he was escorted out of the church by a crowd of his members as he takes a commercial motorcycle to his praying and personal sanctuary in Agodo-Egbe, a nearby island.
As T.B. Joshua’s popularity soared, so did the scandals. A former disciple of the prophet, Bisola Johnson, wrote a book – (The T.B Joshua I know – Deception of the Age Unmasked) and granted several interviews where he accused T.B. Joshua of sexual slavery and sundry allegations including manipulation, diabolism, deceit, and contrived miracles.
Late broadcaster and investigative journalist, Kola Olawuyi, in the late 1990s, ran a series on his Nkan Mbe radio programme, where he spoke to several former backroom staff and members of the SCOAN who revealed all manners of alleged atrocities including occultism at the church.
The scandals even trailed T.B. Joshua beyond the borders of the country, The Cameroonian government placed a ban on his church in the country in 2012, describing him as “diabolical” in a statement titled “The Devil in the House”.
“The Cameroonian Government warns these pilgrims that they will face the consequences alone. This is motivated by the painful and shameful fact that Cameroonian men and women, in search of deliverance and blessings, once in that church, find themselves in bestial and pitiable conditions,” the statement signed by the country’s foreign minister at the time, Henri Eyebe Ayissi, read.
He was also accused of causing the death of several HIV and AIDS patients who thronged to his church for faith healing after he discouraged them from taking their medication or the claim that his holy water has healed them of the ailment.
In 2016, PREMIUM TIMES revealed that T.B Joshua and his wife had incorporated a shell company, Chillon Consultancy Limited, on June 20, 2006, at the British Virgin Island (BVI), a notorious offshore tax haven. The clergy dismissed the story as false. However, this newspaper published original documents he submitted while registering the company.
The Collapsed Building
Without a doubt, the biggest scandal that trailed T.B. Joshua was on September 12, 2014, when a refurbished guesthouse within his church collapsed, killing 116 people, most of them South Africans, who had travelled to the Ikotun- Egbe headquarters of his church for pilgrimage.
Though T.B Joshua suggested that the collapse was caused by an explosion from a bomb purportedly planted by Boko Haram terrorists (the church also suggested that a low-flying aircraft which flew past the church premises moments before the building collapsed might have been responsible), officials of the Lagos State building regulatory agency stated that the church did not seek requisite approval before adding more floors on the collapsed guesthouse.
It was later revealed that T.B Joshua bribed some journalists who covered the tragedy with N50,000 each to report the incident with a slant that presents the church in good light.
T.B Joshua refused to attend the coroner’s inquest organised by the state government to reveal how the victims died, despite being invited multiple times.
Religious Tourism and Ikotun-Egbe Economy
Before SCOAN, Ikotun Egbe was a mostly swampy, often forgotten, backwater of Lagos. T.B. Joshua is, without a doubt. the biggest singular accelerator of development in the neighbourhood. With tens of thousands of pilgrims from mainly Southern African countries and all over the world visiting his church yearly, the economy of the area grew faster than many parts of Lagos. Small businesses providing ancillary services to the pilgrims sprung faster than trees planted by the river.
Residential buildings were turned into commercial centres, malls and hotels catering to the needs of the unending flow of pilgrims from all over the world. So much was his influence in the area and beyond that in 2017 when he suggested he was going to move his church to Israel, it elicited a statement from the state government appealing that he should reconsider his decision.
A former staff of one of Nigeria’s leading airlines told PREMIUM TIMES that his church was one of the biggest money-spinners for Nigerian airlines, and in fact, several airlines from other places, that fly pilgrims from all over the world to Lagos.
The biggest propagator of T.B Joshua’s evangelism is his Emmanuel TV, arguably the most-watched Christian television channel in the world. With the help of the station, which is mostly run by foreign members of his church, he reached millions of his supporters worldwide. Emmanuel TV YouTube page, which was recently suspended for posting homophobic content, was one of the most subscribed religious channels in the world, with over 1 million subscribers.
The philanthropist and lover of sports
Apart from his religious activities, T.B Joshua catered for the physical and material needs of people around the world. His humanitarian giving spanned beyond the country’s borders into countries like Haiti, Pakistan, Ghana, Zimbabwe Ecuador, and several other places.
He is also very popular among the community of physically challenged people in Nigeria for his philanthropy. He is reported to have several scholarship programmes for indigent students across Africa, some of who he sponsored to institutions of tertiary learning abroad.
T.B. Joshua often hands food items and bundles of cash gifts to people he purportedly healed or exorcised of demons during his services.
His philanthropy is only matched by his love for sports, especially football. He is the proprietor of My People Football Club, a Lagos based football club he founded in 2008. Notable among members of the team, who rose to national prominence, are – Ogenyi Onazi and Sani Emmanuel.
He was reported to have supported individual players with funds and claimed to have helped heal the injuries of some notable national football stars such as Joseph Yobo and Kanu Nwankwo, who once visited his church for faith healings. Many of them, however, subsequently got proper healings from subsequent medical procedures.
He was also popular with African movie stars.
Africa’s most influential preacher
Like many evangelical preachers, T.B Joshua regularly foretold political events. This has helped endeared him to political leaders across Africa.
In 2009, days after his victory in the country’s presidential election, late Ghanaian president John Atta Mills, flew to Nigeria for a thanksgiving service at the Synagogue Church. Mr Mills said the preacher had accurately predicted his victory at the poll.
T.B. Joshua was scorned by majority of Nigerian evangelical Christians, who are often uncomfortable with his doctrine, which they consider too syncretic and in fact, occultic to be have been ordained by God.
He was the source of a bitter feud between two of Nigeria’s televangelists, Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy and Chris Okotie of the Household of God in the early 2000s. Mr Okotie had reprimanded Mr Oyakhilome for fraternising with T.B. Joshua, who he described as “the vicar of the devil on earth”.
T.B. Joshua was as controversial as he was influential, eliciting extreme love in others, the same way the mention of his name, in some quarters, provoke deep resentment.
He died suddenly on June 5, 2021, a week before his 58th birthday. He was survived by his wife Evelyn and three daughters. SCOAN did not reveal the cause of his death. He will be buried today in Lagos.