By Bolanle Bolawole
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Monica (not real name) took me to the Synagogue Church of all Nations (SCOAN or Synagogue, for short). One of her daughters had demonstrated signs of Sickle Cell anaemia (SS) and, ooh, how she ran from pillar to post! She patronised hospitals to no avail, spending a fortune. Then she heard of TB Joshua and the Synagogue and decided to visit. Anything and everything – just to receive help. And she did believe she received help. Whatever anyone said did not matter to her.
On my first day at the Synagogue I asked many questions. Most of the people around were or acted like illiterates. As is usual with places of worship, especially churches, women were preponderance in number. It was obvious on that very first day that there was something other than worship that brought many of the people there. I was intrigued that there were many “Alhajas” who made no pretence of their religion. They called and addressed one another as “Alhaja” right inside a church without batting an eyelid. Later I got to know that Temitope Balogun Joshua himself had a Muslim background. His mother visited the Synagogue while I was there and she was addressed as “Alhaja”
I speak of those giddy days of military dictatorship and the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections – some 28 years ago. When, as editor of THE PUNCH, I was detained for three days in my office beginning Saturday, June 11, 1994 before being whisked off to the SSS headquarters at Ikoyi, Monica witnessed it all, standing by me. A woman is like a man! The closure and later proscription of The PUNCH allowed me ample time to visit the Synagogue with Monica. My first complaint was about the canteen and conveniences; in those days they were nothing to write home about.
My first service at the Synagogue left me puzzled. The way TB Joshua fixed his gaze on this and that person as he moved or waved his right hand, first slowly and then at accelerating tempo; the way the person at the other end responded, gyrating this way and then that, eventually falling to the ground, left me wondering. I asked Monica what was going on. She told me to keep my cool and watch. Another puzzle was when it was time to pray and everyone was commanded to “be in the spirit” Not knowing how I could be in the spirit, I looked around to see how everyone else did it but still got no clue! Monica was already in a world of her own and I did not want to disturb her.
After a few more visits to the Synagogue, I met TB Joshua on one of the occasions that he attended to Monica. He was elated to hear I was a highly-placed journalist. I would be required, he said, to team up with others to drive his vision to have a television station, radio and even newspaper. The TV/Video room used to be a small office then. He sent for his Number Two man (simply called Prophet T) and introduced us. Unlike TB Joshua who was barely literate, I learnt that Prophet T (Taiye) was a graduate with a post-graduate diploma to boot. The story I heard was that Prophet T suffered diabolical attacks and was brought to the Synagogue for prayers. He would be okay and go back home only for the attacks to relapse. He eventually had to stay and became TB Joshua’s “Man Friday”, as it were.
In those days, the old site of the Synagogue was in the swamps down Ajisegiri Street, Cele Bus stop, Agodo-Egbe; the new site at its present Egbe site was just developing and was not the world-class edifice that it is said to be today. Both TB Joshua and Prophet T maintained offices and chalets at both ends and church activities also took place at both ends. I remember there was a “holy water” well at the old site that worshippers, neighbours, and others from far away places queued and rushed to fetch. Sorry to say, the untreated water looked somehow for my comfort. When the Ilajes who were members of the church completed the construction of the swamps at the old site into a tourist attraction, TB Joshua conducted a few of us around the edifice. It was a wholesome and delectable edifice even as at that time. The instruction was that none of the wildlife should be disturbed or the fauna destroyed.
No one who attended Synagogue in those days would fail to notice TB Joshua’s “disciples”! Generally, they were rude, uncouth, overzealous, pompous, and arrogant. They respected few people. They allowed no free access to TB Joshua. As people thronged TB, they would elbow this one here; push that one there; and slap another the age of their mother or father! On occasions TB would scold them and placate the aggrieved and abused. Then he would run to escape the throng! And his disciples would have a hell of a time keeping the crowd away from him. It was a drama! One day I complained seriously about the “disciples” and TB laughed and likened them to the biblical narrow gate that anyone desirous of making heaven must labour to go through!
Prophet T had his own disciples but they were more civil and behaved better. I got closer to Prophet T as we worked on the church newsletter. TB was the publisher and Prophet T, the Editor-in-Chief. I remember that elderly Bro. Adeoshun was the Chairman of the Editorial Board and I, the Editor. Bro. Fabanwo was our compugrapher/artist as well as Member of the Board. Bro. Segun Obanla and some other guys I cannot immediately remember were also on the Board. I brought in Moses Ebong, my colleague at The PUNCH, as cartoonist/designer.
Being educated; it was delightful relating with Prophet T. The unruly behaviour of TB’s disciples had put many of us on the Editorial Board off. When TB realised this, he consented to our dealing directly with Prophet T, who would then liaise with him. Prophet T gave us unrestrained access to his office/living quarters. From Prophet T’s quarters we could just walk across unhindered to TB’s own quarters. When TB’s disciples noticed this, they quickly erected a barrier which they manned – just to deny us access! We then decided to abandon the newsletter altogether! TB called for a truce and we agreed a day every week that he would meet with the Editorial Board at a neutral ground – the then car park beside the church. And he honoured the arrangement as much as his schedule permitted.
In public, TB presented an outwardly friendly personality. He smiled most of the time. Many of those who worked intimately with him, day-in, day-out, however, had stories to tell. Many occasions when our paths crossed within the church and he asked whether I wanted to see him and I answered ”No”; he would retort “Uncle n binu” (Uncle is angry). He called me “Uncle”. I am years older than him. One day he was attending to a lady and I watched from Prophet T’s compound. Afterwards, he beckoned on me and asked: “Uncle, do you like that lady?” I was like, how dare you: That one that was swirling and twisting like a snake? He laughed and said “Uncle is afraid. Just tell me if you like her. She is from a good home. What is good needs prayer and what is good otherwise also needs prayer” I said that was not my purpose for coming to the Synagogue and left!
TO BE CONTINUED.